I started this post years ago, but the topic came up again recently at a business conference in Saigon.
The speaker, John Logan of Consulting Unleashed, said something like this:
Why would you want to grind or hustle? Don’t force it if it’s not working.
There was a lot of confusion in the room, because entrepreneurs are familiar with stories about startup founders who struggled for years, dedicated themselves to a goal or idea, failed hundreds of times without giving up, and finally found success.
The original title of this blog post was “the difference between THRASH and failure” but I can’t remember where I found the word “thrash” – problem some psychology of creativity book, or possibly from this presentation by Derek Silvers a few years ago.
Thrash, hustle or grind are especially dangerous for creative entrepreneurs like artists and writers.
Hundreds of successful creatives and guides to creativity will tell you to Do What You Love or Follow Your Passion.
And that works out, sometimes, by accident – if you’ve made something that also resonates with a large audience, or if you stick with it long enough to grow your own audience. But for many, MANY creative people, that turning point never comes, because they weren’t creating anything of value (creative work does NOT have inherent market value. Your work is worth whatever you can convince someone to pay for it, multiplied by how many people you can put it in front of).
Minimal Viable Products
Entrepreneurs are usually beginning from the business standpoint of providing value by solving problems, which means there’s a much greater chance for their projects to be successful, unless it’s a bad idea that nobody wants. Before you spend five years building a company, you can usually test your idea in 24 hours or less, with an online offer.
Do you have THIS PROBLEM? Tired of SOMETHING ANNOYING? Sign up for my free guide/PDF/checklist and learn BENEFITS.
You can set up a landing page, run some cheap Facebook ads to your target audience, get a 3D mockup made… and test the idea before you’ve even written anything. If people respond to the offer and signup, make something for them. Ask them for feedback. Figure out what they really want. Then create a solution for them (software, service, course, ebook, etc).
You can get better at the selling, but nothing will work if people don’t see and appreciate the benefits.
When should you give up?
If people aren’t loving what you’re doing, STOP!
It may take awhile to figure out what people want and are willing to pay for, but you can usually test immediate feedback – when you talk about your business idea, do people’s faces light up? The appropriate response should be “That sounds awesome! How can I buy/get involved/learn more?” Your thing should be cool enough and have obvious benefits that people don’t just nod politely.
If nobody is excited about your project but you… it might be a red flag.
Of course, most people didn’t “get” the iPad, and thought it was ridiculous and unnecessary.
If you’re already an expert in your field or market, if you’ve done market research and know exactly what people want and need (because you’ve asked, and they’ve told you), and if you’ve already had some big successes, you’re more likely to get things right. But it should take YEARS. The feedback loop is short these days.
Don’t work on something longer than 3 months without getting feedback on it (real feedback, as in a trial offer or something).
Writers usually make what they want at first. But if you’ve finished 5 or 10 books and it’s hard work and you’re not earning any money, you’re probably not writing books that people want. You can PIVOT, and use your newfound publishing skills to write books that entertain more people and watch what they’re actively searching for.
It’s easy to self-identify as a misunderstood creative genius, suffering for your art, but failure does not prove artistic merit or quality.
Sometimes, failure is just failure.
Sometimes, that tipping point where you are suddenly discovered and take off like J.K. Rowling never comes.
Creative work shouldn’t be a grind or a hustle; and it also shouldn’t be isolating or frustrating.
It should be inspired, joyful, interactive, and resonate with your audience (people should love it so much they can’t help but share it).
If you’ve done the work but aren’t seeing success, there’s nothing noble about persevering in the face of obscurity and an uncaring universe. Almost always, you need to pivot and discover your value.
It’s possible to get paid to do what you love, but only if you’re helping or serving your audience.
Also check out this post: the 3 main reasons your creative business will fail.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.
Nice post as usual, Derek. Do you think you could write one about your daily routine? How much do you write, at what time, for how long? Do you have any rituals before starting? Do you push through bad writing days? Etc.
Sure, but my daily routine is pretty terrible. I wake up in the afternoon, work a few hours then watch Netflix. Some weeks I work 12 hours a day, some days I don’t check email. I’m pretty bad at writing, actually – in that I’m slow with rough drafts. I need to get better/more consistent so I can publish faster. But I know it’s something a lot of writers struggle with – productivity vs procrastination – so I’ll write some articles about it.