I have been mentoring a bright young guy trying to start a marketing business. I just received this note from him:
I’m still full of questions about this whole marketing business thing. I think I am setting the bar too high for myself and failing. I’m comparing myself to friends like you and Jay Baer and not seeing the same results. I am trying to lower the goal, but when I am surrounded by what you guys do I don’t really know what that goal is.
Here is my response (I told him I was going to make a blog post out of this!) …
When I started my own business in 2008, I didn’t have any roadmap so I looked around to see who was doing it well and what I could learn from them. My role model was Chris Brogan, who had the number one marketing blog in the world. So my mantra became “Be like Chris.”
Chris was constantly pushing the envelope and he has taken a lot of punches over the years when he tried something new. But every blogger owes him a debt of gratitude because many of the rules of the road we take for granted today were pioneered by him. But he was more than an innovator and role model. He was a content-producing cyborg. Sometimes he was publishing two or three times a day. And it was all so good, and it was all him: funny, raw, poignant, smart, and above all, honest.
So that’s what I tried to replicate … and I nearly killed myself trying to keep up that pace. Brogan is a singularly unique talent as a blogger and the biggest mistake (among many) in my early career was trying to be somebody else.
Don’t be Chris. (Or anybody else.)
I am speaking from experience when I say that it’s difficult to not compare yourself to others and want to replicate their success. After a couple of months I realized that I was not Chris Brogan … sure, I could build on what I learned from him but I had to find my own blogging voice, my own path, and my unique audience. Over time, I discovered that I was pretty good at being me and really, that’s the only choice we all have!
Obsessing with the success of others only leads to disappointment. You will never be me, or Jay Baer, because you haven’t lived our lives, you don’t have our experiences and personalities. But the lesson you will learn soon is that nobody can be you, either.
Here are a few pointers to help you settle into your own space:
Block it out. If you are having a hard time staying centered and you’re obsessing with comparisons, stop reading our blogs, tweets and posts, at least until your confidence comes back. If comparisons are a distraction, ignore them.
Be patient and let your audience help you. Starting out, you probably put a stake in the ground and thought “this is what makes me different.” I did that at the beginning too — and I was wrong. I thought I knew what made me different but it didn’t really come together until my audience TOLD me what made me different. And the only way to learn that is to publish consistently for a long time and listen. My “niche” is still evolving as my readers tell me what they appreciate most.
You need courage to rise. To stand out on the web, you need to be original. And to be original, you need to dig down deep and have the courage to show your personality and passion through your content. There is only one you. You have no competition, including me and Jay. Be you and attract your own audience.
Don’t obsess with your “niche.” The job you’re doing now — is this exactly the job you thought you would be doing five years ago? The answer to that is almost always no. You carve your path in life by discovering your opportunities all along the way, Blogging works the same way. If you don’t know your niche yet, don’t let that stop you from creating content. Just start. It’s likely that your specialty and interests will evolve and perhaps even transform over time until things become more clear.
So the answer to your question is, don’t look at me or anybody else to establish your “goal.” You will never be happy or fulfilled by judging yourself by external measures. Look inside and start with the “why.” Why are you doing this? How are you being rewarded by the journey? If the journey isn’t meaningful and you don’t have internal peace, do it another way.
Don’t ever be me. Be the best possible you.