There’s this lie I’ve been telling myself for the past decade: Once I get through this next stretch, things will get easier.
But I know what’s going to happen. After this stretch of work, after this stretch of travel, after this stretch of busyness, things aren’t going to slow down. Things aren’t going to stop.
There’s always going to be more.
Things don’t magically get easier at the end of these stretches. There will be new challenges, new problems.
There’s always more.
But the good news is: Even though it doesn’t get easier, that doesn’t mean it’ll get harder. You’re always learning and figuring out new ways to solve problems. New obstacles appear, but you’re also learning more about how to get past them.
No, it never gets easier. But you’ve gotten through hard things before. You’ll get through these, too.
At age 30, in my annual Things I Believe post, I wrote:
You don’t need to be able to predict the future — but it helps if you can see what’s coming around the corner.
I certainly don’t know what the future holds. But I think I can see certain pieces that will matter in the decade ahead. I think small, curated, in-person events will matter. I think relationships will matter. I think expertise will matter. I think that there will still be a desire to learn new skills — that will matter.
I was talking with a friend the other day, and he told me that something was annoying him. He’d been talking to his parents, who are both retired. He’d asked if they could help him with this big task, but they said they couldn’t — they were too busy.
“I don’t get it,” he told me. “They’re having lunch or dinner out every day, they’re playing pickleball, they have volunteer projects. That’s all stuff they’re choosing to do! But I’ve got work and family stuff. I’m the one who’s really busy!”
They’re not busy, I told him — just occupied. (Too occupied to take on this one task, unfortunately for him.) But it’s easy to confuse “busy” and “occupied.”
And it reminded me of something I used to do — or, if I’m being fully honest, that I occasionally still do — when I want to feel busy. I’d collect a bunch of small tasks and put them on my to-do list. And I’d cross them off. At the end of the day, I’d feel like I’d accomplished something — look at all the tasks I’d completed!
But then I’d look at the bottom of the list, and there would be one big task still on my list. It’d been the one thing I had to accomplish, and I hadn’t even started it. Deep down, I knew that I was only taking on all these other tasks to try to make myself feel better about avoiding the big task.
I went to the driving range once and found myself next to a couple that was playing golf for the first time. They had an instructor with them, and within the first minutes of the lesson, he was walking them through the complex biomechanics of the swing. He was telling them that there were more than three dozen different parts of the swing, all of which had to work together. He was giving them tips from professional golfers. He was getting into the mental side of the game.
In the hour alongside them, I didn’t see either of them swing the club a single time. The entire lesson was on golf theory.
And I remember thinking: These people will never come back and try to play again — because they never had that first win.
Golf can be a frustrating game, and yes, a really good swing is a complex thing, but the reason you come back is because of the feeling that happens when you hit a really good shot. That feeling — the sound off of the club, the whoosh of the ball in the air, seeing the ball fly — is what every golfer chases. You come back to try to recreate that feeling, over and over again. Those first-time golfers weren’t going to hit a drive 250 yards or experience a perfect wedge shot, but they never even got the chance to try.
With anything you’re doing for the first time, you’re chasing that first win.
Maybe that first win is the first time someone compliments your work.
Maybe it’s the first dollar you make.
Maybe it’s the first time a lesson starts to click.
The goal is to get that first win as soon as you can. Because once you’ve gotten that first win, you’ve experienced a taste of what the work is for — and can decide whether you want to come back for more.
When I first started Inbox Collective, I thought most of my job would involve projects and travel.
I’d do an audit for a newsroom, then travel to their office to lead a workshop. I’d take the lead on a big project, where I’d get into a client’s email platform to build something for them. I’d do talks in person. I’d speak at conferences in front of big rooms.
And the job changed when the pandemic hit. I wasn’t traveling for work anymore, which meant more calls and presentations on Zoom. A lot of friends told me they hated Zoom — I found that I loved it. I could actually work with more teams and help a lot more people since I wasn’t spending all my time on planes. I could work with newsrooms and writers in far-off parts of the world, and do so on my schedule.
And at the same time, I started to realize that I didn’t love project work. It took up a lot of time and was full of frustration — exactly the stuff that made me want to go solo in the first place.
So the job changed. I shifted towards the work I liked most: Coaching, writing, and IRL work that involves lots of 1-to-1 time. I took on some audits, but only occasionally. I farmed out work that I wasn’t enthusiastic about to other consultants or agencies.
This week, I traveled to LA for work for an on-site with a client and a Dine & Deliver dinner. I was in LA for 36 hours. I landed just before 2 a.m. in California. I got home the next day after midnight.
And I loved the work I did on site, but it was a reminder of how happy I am with the job I’ve created for myself. It’s definitely not the job I thought I’d have four years ago.
That’s me on the flight back from LA. I might not have been smiling if I’d realized that I’d get home at 12:30 a.m.
I had a few candidates take editing tests this week for a part-time editor role with Inbox Collective. (I paid them for their work — it’s only fair that they should be compensated for their time and talent.) And reading through their notes, I kept thinking: These edits are going to make these stories so much better! They pointed out all sorts of edits and structural changes I hadn’t thought of.
To put together a really great website, I know I need editors to help make my work better. My ideas are pretty good, but they’ll be sharpened by a smart editor.
I operate as a one-man operation, but I still need a team around me. I need part-time editors to help out with stories. I need freelance writers I can turn to. I need friends in the industry who I can talk to for advice. I need people I trust who I can bounce ideas off of. I need to do surveys and have lots of conversations with readers to get their feedback.
I need all this extra input and help. It’s hard to do this work alone. And recognizing that means that I can look for ways to add support around me to make sure I do the best work I can do.
I’m doing this solo, but that doesn’t mean I have to go it alone.
We live in an age of copycats. When someone has success in a particular way, there’s a rush for others to copy that model.
There’s nothing wrong with learning from others. There’s no reason to make the same mistakes that others have already made. Ask good questions, listen, and learn from others. Use existing examples to make the work you do better.
But you have to find your own way, too. You have to find ways to take what you’re doing and put your own spin on it.
Only you can do what you can do. So don’t be content to copy and paste — learn from others, and find a way to make things your own.