Doing One Thing Well, or Not

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When I started this “be a professional creator full time” adventure at the start of 2022, I got lots of advice. And as a quick recap for those who don’t know about my “Big Year” (sans birds), which is honestly most of you, because I didn’t really shout about it from the mountain tops, here’s the deal:

For the past decade plus, I’ve been a trainer for CBT Nuggets. Many of my videos are still in their catalog, and most people would have no idea I’m not working there anymore. I’m currently a full time sysadmin managing a bunch of Linux systems in various datacenters around the western US. But a couple things made me want to do more than just my DayJob.

  • The pandemic proved that jobs are not a sure thing. So many folks were laid off, or lost their jobs entirely, it was a scary wakeup call. A single income stream, even a really good stream, is scary if it might disappear.
  • I really really miss making training videos.
  • I really really miss writing for Linux Journal.
  • My kids are grown now, so I have a little more time on my hands.
  • My kids are grown now, and they’re currently trying to survive in an economy where surviving, much less thriving, is difficult. I want to set an example on how to diversify income.

Anyway, for those reasons and probably more, I decided to go “all in” for the entire 2022 calendar year. I still have a DayJob, so this means lots of after-work work. But again, it’s a good time in my life for that sort of thing. I’m not missing anyone’s basketball games, etc. As of right now, I’m about a third of the way through the year, and I’ve learned a few things.

There’s no Right Way, but Lots of Wrong Ways

My biggest focus thus far has been with YouTube. Yes, a 46 year old man becoming a “YouTuber” seems like a sad sort of midlife crisis, but I actually have a lot of experience making videos. And I’m a bit of a camera whore (I really like being on camera/mic). So YouTube actually makes a lot of sense. But oh my goodness are there nuances with the platform. For example:

You Must be Genuine

I think I do OK with this one. I’m not good at being fake. But… I’m a fairly weird dude, so maybe I should strive to be genuinely Ryan Reynolds… but Ryan Reynolds already does that, so y’all are stuck with me. Seriously though, I think people assume that unless they’re super charismatic, they’re too boring. That’s honestly just not the case. I’m a pretty boring guy. But when I’m passionate or excited about something, that’s when I light up. And everyone is like that about something. I tend to get excited about a LOT of things (more on that later), but the common adage to, “write what you know” works for YouTube as well. When you’re excited about something, that passion is contagious.

You Must be Unique

This is really a carryover from the previous point. If you’re genuine, you’re unique. Because no one else is like you. When I started taking YouTube seriously, it was tempting to emulate other successful people on the platform. There is some value to seeing what works and doesn’t work but it’s important to only emulate what they do, and not who they are. It’s hard to be genuine or unique if you’re trying to be just like someone else.

Those two “rules” are the most important, at least I think so. Look, I’m not a professional at YouTube, and this isn’t an article on how to be a YouTuber, but I think without following those two ideals, it’s impossible to be happy as a content creator. The next points are important to be a financially successful YouTuber though. And I like them much less. 🙂

You Must be Specific

This is the whole idea of “niching down” on a subject. The narrower you focus your content, the more people you draw in. This seems backward, because a broader array of topics would capture the interests of more people. You know, a bigger net catches more fish. But since there are an almost infinite number of YouTube channels, people tend to gravitate toward the ones where every video hits their sweet spot. If you branch out, the number of people your particular eclectic tastes match will dwindle quickly.

For example, a few of my passions are Linux, A/V equipment, Birdwatching, Renewable Energy, and Kool-Aid. Any one of those subjects might resonate with people. But if I made a YouTube channel with all those topics? Very few people would subscribe, because while they might like one or two of those subjects, they’d get annoyed by videos popping up in their feed on the less desirable topics. So, they look for a channel that has videos on their specific likes, and subscribe to multiple channels. So a person with my particular tastes would subscribe to a Linux channel, a birdwatching channel, a few A/V review channels, and an 80’s retro beverage channel.

That’s difficult for me. Because while I intellectually understand why having a specific niche is vital for YouTube success, it feels very limiting. And honestly, I get bored. Even if it’s one of my passions, if I don’t feed the other beasts in my head, they get restless. And that is sorta where the point of this whole post is going. Because the last “rule” of YouTube is…

You Must be Consistent

Oddly enough, posting videos every day isn’t 7 times better than posting once a week. Sure, you get marginally more views, but more importantly than number of videos you produce is the consistency with which you produce them. But honestly, even this is extremely flexible.

The consistency you MUST strive for is having consistently good content. Releasing regularly is also good, but not as important as having consistently good quality videos. And look, what “good quality” means is very much up for debate and evolution. For example, most people agree that having music in videos keeps people watching. But… I generally don’t, because it feels contrived for my style. I just talk into a camera, demo stuff, and try to teach complicated topics in a way that makes them easy to understand. A soundtrack seems to detract from that, so at least for now, I don’t add music.

Bonus Must: Audio

This isn’t YouTube specific, but just a tip for anyone making video. People will look past questionable video quality (to a point), but audio quality is king. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on a microphone first.

So What’s My Point?

I started the year making lots of videos in pretty short order. That was partly due to me really missing the training process. But also, I wanted to have a backlog of videos in place that new viewers could “binge” and get a taste for my style. So I worked hard to get a full “Linux Essentials” course created, making multiple videos a week, and publishing them in rapid succession. But that came at a cost.

At a mere 2 months in, I started to feel some burnout. This is not because I don’t enjoy teaching, or because videos aren’t interesting. It’s because some of those YouTube rules above are really oppressive. I understand my YouTube channel needs to be mostly Linux focused. But as a person, *I* can’t be all Linux focused all the time. So while the idea of doing one thing and doing it well is good advice, when it comes to creativity, it doesn’t always work. My inability to be disingenuous works against me here. If I’m genuinely miserable doing one thing, that one thing I’m doing will be a miserable version of the thing.

I Need More Irons, and More Fire

Toward the beginning of my “Big Year”, I tried to follow the standard advice of not having too many irons in the fire. If I do lots of things, it spreads my time and talent thin, so everything will be mediocre at best. And even reading that last sentence, it makes sense. But human meat sacks don’t always follow logical rules. I’m starting to discover that if I don’t put lots of irons in lots of fires, my one big fire will burn out. I know that is stretching the metaphor hard, but basically, I can’t focus all my energy on one thing or that thing suffers.

So as I enter the second trimester of the year, I’ve decided that I need to do more things. Even if I do those things a little less regularly, the things should end up being better in general. This rekindling of my blog is a prime example. I miss writing regularly, and the best way to scratch that itch is to write. Where better to write than in my own personal blog, where the only rules are ones I make up? I’m doing other things too, and will probably write about them here eventually, but off the top of my head:

  • Reading this blog as a “blogcast”, which is a word I made up. I think. It’s like a podcast, but is just me reading these words out loud.
  • Reviewing things on my review site.
  • Adding a video aspect to those reviews, probably on a new YouTube channel (not yet created).
  • Video blogging on a secondary YouTube channel (INSIDE The Brain of Shawn)
  • Speaking at events (virtually for now)
  • Drawing my comic
  • Learning Spanish
  • Constructing a micro datacenter at my farm
  • Trying to go outside more

My point is, rules are important, but they should always be examined and revised. Plus, the definition of success varies for the individual. I hope this “Big Year” of mine proves to be the start in a life long pursuit of passions and revenue streams. But if at the end of 2022 I discover that I really don’t like the whole “be a creator” thing? That’s valuable too. I’d rather be absolutely certain I don’t like something, than forever wonder what could have been.

Learn everything. Do what you love. And most importantly, be kind.

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