Why We Create
By Ben Greenman, Paul LeCrone, and Jamie Russo
A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my friends Jamie and Ben about carving our paths in the creator economy. This is the result of that conversation. And it’s the first guest post on the blog, so that’s cool.
The mission of this piece is to help you realize that no two journeys are the same, and that everyone who possesses the power of creative energy can build, collaborate, and try new things without fear of judgment. After all, everyone starts as a beginner somewhere.
“My Journey Is Complicated, Kinda Like Art and Taxes”
by Jamie Russo
Both of my parents are small business owners. They left the corporate world in the 1980s to carve out a small corner of the universe to call their own. My father, a CPA, manages a small accounting firm in northern New Jersey. He’s the only employee. For the past 30 years, he has helped families, neighbors, and small businesses file their taxes. My mom is an artist — a painter, to be more specific. She travels the country, showcasing her work at the largest arts and crafts festivals. So when art and taxes collide, — you can imagine my dilemma as a child. Trying to figure out “where I fit in” has not been easy.
I studied finance as an undergrad, just like my father, and when I graduated, I went to go work in consulting for five years. After burning out in finance, I went to go work in startups. “It will be more fulfilling,” I thought. But after eighteen months, I discovered that not all startups are rocketships. As WeWork was sinking, I was forced to figure out what was next. Since the world was in the middle of a global pandemic, I turned to the internet, started writing, and discovered a tight-knit group of other creators that inspired me to dream big. I picked up a pen, busted open a notebook, and took the first step towards building my life’s work.
In 2019, I was laid off. In the dark moment, I started writing. Along the way, I met a publisher willing to take a risk on a first-time author. My debut title, “The Underdog Paradox,” is available in 10,000+ bookstores, 130+ countries, and has been recognized as an Amazon #1 Bestseller. Behind every overnight success is years of hard work. When I started writing online, I committed. “I’m going to write 500 words per day for 90 straight days,” I said. And so I began. Every creator’s journey starts the same way — with a single step. I had no confidence, no direction, and no clue where to begin. I just started. Of all places to begin, I started writing on LinkedIn — after all, I thought I was trying to land my next dream job. Within a few weeks, the LinkedIn team reached out and asked if I would be interested in piloting a new feature called the LinkedIn Newsletter. They had heard about my story, and even though the feature was in Beta at the time, I decided to give it a shot. Within 90 days, I grew my newsletter from 0-10,000 subscribers. Now, you might hear these numbers and think, “Holy cow!” But there’s another side to this story.
While writing on LinkedIn, I discovered that I was building a corporate audience. In retrospect, this is a “no duh” kinda moment. But when I was getting started, I didn’t know what I wanted. Ninety days later, I knew I wanted to write for a different archetype — solo creators — because they were like me. I didn’t realize this until I dropped everything on LinkedIn and went all-in on Twitter. This happened over 2-3 months as I slowly began exploring other platforms to showcase my ideas. Twitter was a natural habitat for me. On Twitter, I found other creatives lifting one another up, encouraging one another to push boundaries, and find innovative ways to productize their passions. “These are my people,” I thought to myself. “These are the people I’ve been searching for all these years.”
For me, writing has been a form of therapy, an avenue of expression, and a tool to accelerate my entrepreneurial journey. Most people don’t think of writers as entrepreneurs, but writers, artists, and digital creatives are entrepreneurs in the truest sense in the creator economy. The early 2000s conditioned us to think of tech titans like Bezos, Zuckerberg, and Musk as the world’s biggest innovators. But those guys are a one-in-a-billion type of person, and the internet possesses a boundless potential for millions of solo-creators. I hypothesize that the next century’s most significant innovation will not occur in board rooms but bedrooms and dorm rooms. Packy McCormick conjectures that we’ll see the first trillion-dollar company with just one full-time employee in two decades. This idea isn’t farfetched when considering audience-first products. Kylie Jenner built a billion-dollar business around her personal brand with Kylie Cosmetics and the Kylie Jenner Lip Kit. Anyone that’s building for the long term, and thinking in 20+ year increments, has the potential to win big in any number of ways. I’m not looking to build a billion-dollar company; I’m just hoping to carve out a tiny sliver of a big pie that will allow me to live comfortably, happily, and in peace.
Call me jaded, but I no longer want to rely on my employer or a W2.
“Everybody At The Library Is Gonna Think I’m A Sh!tty Writer”
by Paul LeCrone
“I’ve Got An Itch, And Someone Needs To Scratch It”
by Ben Greenman
I’ve considered myself a creative person for the majority of my life. Long before I started publishing things on the internet (or even showing other human being the things I’ve created), I was making things. Whether it was writing and recording songs in my bedroom, filling sketchbooks with drawings and paintings, or just writing for the simple meditative practice — my world has always felt most at peace when I’m creating. But why? What is it about this practice that makes exercising your mind and making things so fulfilling?
Development is the sweet, fulfilling nectar that kept me coming back for years and years, even before I started publishing. The process of creation involves honing your thoughts into easily digestible bites for your audience. In order to do this successfully, you have to have a very good understanding (I call it control) of your thoughts in the first place. This takes practice, intention, and time. Take writing for example. When you sit down and write, you’re taking a diverse array of thoughts and trying to mold them into something fluent. The thoughts you come up with are all from your own noggin of course, but they’re motivated by different areas of your personality. Some are motivated by passion, some are motivated by curiosity, and others are motivated by insight. When you sit down and write, you’re taking all these different thoughts and dumping them in one big mixing bowl.
If you’ve ever been in a kitchen before, chances are you realize that throwing whatever ingredients you have on hand into one big concoction won’t get you the best result. But after some time, practice, and intention, you’ll start to figure out what works. Writing is hard. Like I said, it takes practice, intention, and time. But without it, I’ve found I’m left with only individual thoughts. Those individual thoughts aren’t the worst in the world, but I know they can be (and are) so much more once developed.
Have you ever fallen down that infamous “rabbit hole” on YouTube? You start by watching a video on how to change the oil on your car. Then you watch a couple of the related videos that YouTube recommends. Next thing you know, it’s three hours later and you’re watching videos on the Tibetan monks and dreaming of a life where you can ditch your cars and possessions and live a life of peace. These rabbit holes are typically a nuisance, but I kind of love them. Creating leads me down a similar path. If I were to write an essay on how dogs are objectively the best house pet, I would have to ask myself some questions. “Why do you like dogs?” “What makes other animals bad pets?” “Have you ever actually had a house pet before that’s not a dog?” Since the answer to that last question is “no,” I would have to do some research.
Previously, I only thought there were 3 different kinds of house pets: dogs, cats, and fish. Once I start doing my research, I find out there are so many more (ferrets, guinea pig, turtles, etc). I love turtles! So I start writing about how turtles are the best house pet. While I’m writing this essay, I get a friend to read my first draft and they say “What about goats? I love my pet goat.” I respond “HOLY COW, I DIDN’T KNOW A GOAT COULD BE A HOUSE PET!” It’s a silly example, but I find myself running into similar situations on a daily basis with ideas and ways of living. Creating promotes questions and questions promote growth. Creating and asking questions can feel like a lot of futile work, but it’s actually a beautiful process. It leads us to so many opportunities and outcomes in life that we didn’t even know existed previously.
At the end of the day, I create for the purpose of creation and I think that’s okay. We all have a desire and feel a call to do something with our time and I have found a lot of fulfillment out of creating things in any shape, size, or medium. I’ve gone through periods of my life in which I’ve been bored. I would get home from my day job, make dinner, and drink a beer while I watched hockey until I fell asleep. Drinking beer and watching hockey are still two of my favorite pastimes, but I wanted it to be more of a special occasion — not every day. Since then, I’ve filled my time with creative work. Sometimes, thoughts creep in that ask, “maybe I should be more successful,” or “maybe I should be making more money out of my creative pursuits for the amount of time I put into them.” But not all pursuits — not all uses of our time — need big logical explanations for why we do them. Like I said, we all feel a call to do something with our time. We don’t want to be bored. We feel an “itch.” At the end of the day, pursuing creative work scratches that itch for me and that’s all I could really ask for.
Paul LeCrone isn’t used to writing in the third person, but Ben and Jamie are doing it so he might as well go along. Paul talks to creators across the globe on The Penguin Latte Podcast. He also documents world-class online courses and communities.