Updated: Jul 31, 2020
Welcome to Creative Zero, where we explore in depth how artists succeed from nothing. This is the first in what I hope will be a long series of articles and blogs that will help artists forge their path because let’s face it, the deck is stacked against us.
Let’s talk about taking on too many projects. This topic was inspired by a YouTube video from Andrew Kirby where he critiques “hustle culture”, a movement all about working ungodly amounts of time with zero holidays, all so you can strut around in a fancy G6 stacked with cash and supermodels.
It's the American Dream, but on Adderall.
In the video Kirby mentions three phases entrepreneurs go through. In this post however I want to discuss the first phase: Work—or rather—leverage. He mentions a quote which summarizes his point well:
“If you put me in the right place I’ll be able to move the world.” - Archimedes
This is important because, as creators, a part of us desires to move the world with our work. Hemingway, Disney, Kojima, if they could do it then why can’t we? But you already know the answer.
Because the cards are stacked against us.
It’s difficult to earn money, let alone a living, from art. The starving artist is a cliché for a very, very valid reason. So how the hell do you move the world when you can’t even buy a lunch?
The answer, Kirby states, lies in leverage. And there's one resource that we can all use to our advantage.
“When you start off, you don’t have many things to leverage. The only asset you have is your time. So you’ve got to use your time in a way to create leverage.”
And this is where the positives and negatives of hustle culture comes into play. It teaches you that work ethic always beats talent, especially in the beginning. In my opinion this is true. The only way to achieve any goal is consistent hard work. However, work too hard and you soon reach a point of diminishing returns. Burnout is a real problem. Spreading yourself too thin is a real problem.
And once you use that time, it's gone.
Before I watched the video, I kept myself extremely busy
Writing a short story on my phone
Editing a different short story on the computer
Writing a choose your own adventure text video game I was going to code myself
Producing mock ads to build a copywriting portfolio
Building a Twitter following
Filming content for YouTube
All this on top of 40-hour workweeks in my construction job among other life events.
Unsurprisingly, I always felt drained. There never seemed to be enough time. And I didn’t feel like I made real progress in my projects. It was unfocused.
When I realized this, I sat down and asked myself, “How do I create leverage? What is my goal for the moment?”
I concluded that I had to build an audience from nothing. I know, it’s obvious, but when I put it down on paper and created a masterplan for how I was going to get there, it all became clearer. I couldn’t just rely on the “greatness of my writing” to sweep thousands of people off their feet, especially when they don’t know who I am.
I’ve cut down on the number of projects I’ve been working on, focusing on quality instead of quantity. I also had to provide value, something that would make my audience’s life easier.
Hence the Creative Zero was born.
A blog with no reader isn’t world-moving leverage, but it might pick up a small rock. Maybe, after reading a couple of other pieces I’ve written, that rock can support me and pick up slightly bigger rocks. And maybe if I keep repeating this, then I can start to move the world.
But that’s a big maybe.
Another great example Kirby brings up is Elon Musk, the definition of hustle culture. SpaceX, Tesla, Boring Company, Neuralink, flamethrowers...
People dub him the real-life Tony Stark for a reason. However, he doesn’t do it alone. He employs tens of thousands of people and has billions of dollars at his disposal. Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Musk has a freakishly insane work ethic, but it’s remarkably easier to run several companies when you have that kind of leverage.
There’s a great quote by Seth Godin (who I will be writing about in the future) about marketing. The entire interview is a gem, but the section between 32:50 to 35:29. A commenter summarizes what Godin says perfectly:
“Everyone is not the goal, someone is the goal.”
If you put your energies and passion into an art that will help one person, then maybe that person will go tell another. That is how you build an audience.
What did you take away from this? What other topics would you like us to explore? Leave a comment below!