Make Your Thing
February 27, 2012 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Make Your Thing: Metafilter's own Jesse Thorn's "12 Point Program for Absolutely, Positively 1000% No-Fail Guaranteed Success" [google cache]
posted by drezdn (243 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite

 
Metafilter's own Metafilter have apparently destroyed this poor website.
posted by felix at 12:12 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not loading for me.

Maybe it's my stinkin' thinkin' and fear of success.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:12 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


First, be smart from the very beginning....
posted by The Whelk at 12:13 PM on February 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Yes-Fail guaranteed failure of the link
posted by Floydd at 12:13 PM on February 27, 2012


Google tells me it was on Boing Boing, too. I blame it on having to maintain connections with Boing Boing readers' steampunk computers.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:14 PM on February 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I believe the dead link is a metaphor on success.

isup.me: It's not just you! http://transom.org looks down from here.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:19 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Success is overrated anyway.
posted by The Whelk at 12:20 PM on February 27, 2012


Success FAIL!
posted by sexyrobot at 12:22 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've got it. Let's make the server walk across some hot coals and then do some trust falls with it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:22 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


If one of the twelve steps involves "ignoring poisonous people" or some platitude to that effect I'm going to projectile vomit onto my flatscreen...
posted by jnnla at 12:23 PM on February 27, 2012


Here's the Google cache version.
posted by gwint at 12:23 PM on February 27, 2012


coverage on the boing:
It took a few years, but now I make a good living from my show. I’ve got three full-time employees, and two interns. I also pay thousands of dollars a month to several teams of producer/hosts whose wonderful shows I’ve helped monetize. I’m not rich or anything, but when my wife had a baby a couple of months ago, I didn’t have to be all freaked out about it. Well, I was freaked out about it, but not so much about the money part. My business is stable, and maybe even thriving, despite the reticence of many parts our industry to embrace my show. I still love public radio, and am immensely proud to be part of it, but it’s a great relief not to have to rely on it to pay my bills. (Just ask Luke Burbank, or Faith Salie, or Bob Edwards.)

But here’s where you start asking a very pertinent question: JESSE, HOW DID YOU DO IT?

I achieved all of this through something I like to call my 12 Point Program for Absolutely, Positively 1000% No-Fail Guaranteed Success.

Whether you want to build a show like mine, build your own media empire, or simply re-grow up to 50% of the hair you’ve lost due to male pattern baldness (especially at the temples and crown), my program is for you.

Here it is.
posted by rebent at 12:24 PM on February 27, 2012


There are no poisonous people.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:25 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


What if you're talentless, passionless, and have no desire to make things?

Oh wait, MBAs.
posted by The Whelk at 12:25 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


What if you're talentless, passionless, and have no desire to make things?

Mitt? Is that you?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:26 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


What if you're talentless, passionless, and have no desire to make things?

Congrats! You've succeeded!
posted by The Deej at 12:27 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


While we are waiting for the page to be necromanced back into life, I'm going to look into my crystal ball and make some predictions about this 12-step program:

* Focus

* Be passionate

* Balance your work and life

* Flow

* Work hard

* Wow! people

* Network

* Sell Yourself
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:31 PM on February 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I like one nugget of advice from a longer article about game development from Derek Yu (of Spelunky fame).

Paraphrasing, he says that you should choose projects are an intersection of projects that you want to do (enjoying the process of doing the project), that you'd like to have finished (those are often ideas you think would be great to act on, but might not be able to follow through on), and projects that you can do well.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:34 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ops, forgot the last four ones. If you really want to get the remaining ones, fart backwards into your armpit.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:37 PM on February 27, 2012


Count me as someone who's proud to be kicking in a few bucks a month to make the existence of Simon Thorn less terrifying to his dad, and hooray for people who make things.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:41 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


What if you're talentless, passionless, and have no desire to make things?

Those who can, do. I read MeFi instead.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:45 PM on February 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is well timed.
posted by feckless at 12:47 PM on February 27, 2012


5. Be Authentic

Damnit, now I can't!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:48 PM on February 27, 2012


5. Be Authentic

It's why I dropped the 'wendell' persona. Now, I'm not sure if he/me was more authentic than me/me.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:51 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


And thus were 28 social media startups (now with appified UIs!) launched in Seattle.
posted by diorist at 12:52 PM on February 27, 2012


Be Authentic

" Because she's a REAL phony . . . Because she honestly believes all this phony junk that she believes . . ."
posted by The Whelk at 12:53 PM on February 27, 2012


That is the first time anybody ever explained Insane Clown Posse to me sensibly. I don't know if his observations are any good, but they do make some sense. And I have never seen that before.
posted by bukvich at 12:54 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


If one of the twelve steps involves "ignoring poisonous people"...

For a split-second, I misread that as "twelve steps involving 'growing poisonous people.'" Then I imagined growing in my backyard strange hybrid plant-men with venomous tendrils that would snake from their grasping green hands, ready to kill at my command. And I thought HELL YEAH I WANNA READ THOSE TWELVE STEPS!

Then my reading comprehension skills caught up with me.

Dammit.

Does anybody know how to create strange hybrid plant-men with venomous tendrils that snake from their grasping green hands, ready to kill at their master's command? Maybe there's something on eHow?
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:54 PM on February 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


Actually, I kind of liked a lot of what he had to say, and he used entertaining, easily relatable examples. Unfortunately, this came way too late in my life to be useful. Instead, I used IRFH's 1 Point Program:

Keep failing until you succeed.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:57 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like Jesse Thorn. And I don't understand how he has enough hours in the day to get everything done that he does.
posted by something something at 1:00 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


That is the first time anybody ever explained Insane Clown Posse to me sensibly. I don't know if his observations are any good, but they do make some sense. And I have never seen that before.

I think it comes up here pretty regularly - every year when the infomercial for their annual confab comes up. I couldn't care less for their music, but I gotta admire the vertical integration.
posted by jquinby at 1:01 PM on February 27, 2012


[Added google cache to the main post because the site was down - let's try this? Please don't copy/paste the entire article in as a comment. Thanks]
posted by jessamyn at 1:32 PM on February 27, 2012


I like Jesse Thorn. And I don't understand how he has enough hours in the day to get everything done that he does.

Clones. Three of them. Informally, they're Jesse, Jessie, and Jessy.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:39 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does anybody know how to create strange hybrid plant-men with venomous tendrils that snake from their grasping green hands, ready to kill at their master's command? Maybe there's something on eHow?

This is covered in broad strokes in Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Gods of Mars; basically, you want to produce your own Plant-Men of Barsoom. I suggest writing to the Burroughs estate; his early notes may have more information on the breeding program.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:41 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is one of the points: "stop reading RSS feeds all day"?
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:52 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is "Be born rich. I mean, insanely rich. Like richer than Croesus." anywhere on this list? Because that helps a lot, or so I hear. Unless we're talking spiritually successful, in which case, well, it still doesn't hurt.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:56 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


A list with Kate Beaton, Merlin Mann and ICP in it demands to be read.
posted by tommasz at 1:58 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Clones. Three of them. Informally, they're Jesse, Jessie, and Jessy.

Not true, they're all Jesse, but their last names are spelled Thorn, Thorne, and Þ.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:01 PM on February 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


"There is no room on the internet for Special Snowflakes who want to procrastinate all day and then drink themselves to sleep and dream about their unwritten novel."
Damn you! This is the advice I needed twenty years ago!
posted by octobersurprise at 2:02 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: room on the internet for Special Snowflakes who want to procrastinate all day and then drink themselves to sleep and dream about their unwritten novel
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:03 PM on February 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


"There is no room on the internet for Special Snowflakes who want to procrastinate all day and then drink themselves to sleep and dream about their unwritten novel."


I'm confused, I thought this was what the Internet was for?
posted by The Whelk at 2:04 PM on February 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


Does anybody know how to create strange hybrid plant-men with venomous tendrils that snake from their grasping green hands, ready to kill at their master's command?

This is the easy part. Getting rid of them once they have done your bidding is a little harder.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:06 PM on February 27, 2012


Anyway, success sounds exhausting, naps sound awesome.
posted by The Whelk at 2:08 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are no poisonous people.

I want your life.
posted by rahnefan at 2:08 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm waiting for the world to catch up to my ongoing project, A Middle-Aged Guy in His Underwear Working His Way Through a 1 Liter Bottle of Jameson (currently $29.00 at Trader Joe's) Would Appreciate Your Attention. The passion and commitment are there so I like my chances.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 2:15 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Transom's back up.)

Sorry, they just couldn't handle MeFi and BB at the same time. They're used to people reading articles about microphone wind baffles.
posted by YoungAmerican at 2:18 PM on February 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Sorry, they just couldn't handle MeFi and BB at the same time.

That's what your beloved family member said last night. BAM!

keepin' it classy over here
posted by Think_Long at 2:27 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Alan: ... but first, here's Jackie to tell you how to rid the world of all known diseases.

Jackie: Hello Alan.

Alan: Hello Jackie.

Jackie: Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvellous cure for something, and then, when the medical world really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there'll never be diseases any more.

Alan: Thanks Jackie, that was great.
posted by scruss at 2:28 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hey Jesse, since you're here, I've been curious. Did grouse get a T-shirt?
posted by roll truck roll at 2:31 PM on February 27, 2012


They're used to people reading articles about microphone wind baffles.

I came for the 12 point program but I'm staying for the microphone wind baffle articles!
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:40 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Horace Rumpole: "Not true, they're all Jesse, but their last names are spelled Thorn, Thorne, and Þ."

Would this be the same Jesse Thorne who was beaten with a rawhide?
posted by brundlefly at 2:50 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know this is just some article, and the advice is basically pretty sound, but... But jesus I hate the "results guaranteed!" tone, almost as much as I hate the thick air of self-congratulation that covers every word with a slimy film of smugness.

Newsflash for you, Thorn: Lots of people work hard, have talent, and *don't* get rich and famous. I live in NYC, and I see theater companies that put out several terrific shows a year, musicians gigging four nights a week, writers churning out funny, smart blog posts several times weekly, prolific painters and sculptors... And the overwhelming majority of them never get any recognition, much less money.

In fact, most people who make things never get recognition or money. Maybe they didn't have the connected relative who brought a big agent to their show. Maybe they didn't have a college-attending friend who could pass their work around the dorm. Maybe their sick mom needed care that kept them in Podunk, and doing experimental theater in the barn just wasn't much of a road to riches. Maybe they had a good network, but just didn't get that one lucky break---that's why it's called "lucky", you know.

If you really think that working hard will guarantee success, you haven't been paying attention. Working hard is a prerequisite for success, sometimes (though certainly not always). But it's no guarantee. Thorn's piece is full of helpful tips, but the smug right-wing assumption that success is a reward for hard work makes it barely readable.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:52 PM on February 27, 2012 [45 favorites]


> Does anybody know how to create strange hybrid plant-men with venomous tendrils that snake from their grasping green hands, ready to kill at their master's command?

Maybe.
posted by bukvich at 2:53 PM on February 27, 2012


Step 1 - Ignore Poisonous Compounds.
posted by benzenedream at 3:01 PM on February 27, 2012


I know this is just some article, and the advice is basically pretty sound, but... But jesus I hate the "results guaranteed!" tone, almost as much as I hate the thick air of self-congratulation that covers every word with a slimy film of smugness.

I agree with ThatFuzzyBastard here. What amuses me about articles like this is that they seem to be basically more-tasteful, more-palatable versions of the kind of pablum that is peddled by Tony Robbins and success gurus of his ilk. Au courant, hip people today who laugh at people like Tony Robbins and Steven Covey don't cast the same skeptical eye on essays like this, for some reason. People who laugh at those cheesy self-help gurus seem to love people like Merlin Mann, who, by my reckoning, are offering much the same stuff in a more up-to-date package.

It is really, really easy to encourage people. It is really really easy to make success look easy. Putting the hard work in, battling the moral ambiguity, loneliness, isolation and defeats you face in building your life by creating new paths, cannot be made any easier by these talk-is-cheap enumerated lists that, with wild optimism, guarantee you can become a success. Yes, perhaps taking these lessons to heart can help you accomplish your dreams, but I don't see this kind of stuff as being any different from the stuff that has been peddled by Norman Vincent Peale, Tony Robbins, and a thousand other self-help feel-good gurus.

It is easy to take established successes -- who pursued idiosyncratic paths that likely would work only for them -- and point at them as if they somehow provide assurance that you can do the same. He uses the example of the group Kaspar Hauser: two professors, an MD, and a lawyer. What is the chance that you could get three friends with high-status jobs and a lot of responsibility to all take off two weeks to go do comedy on another continent? And what is the chance that it would be any good? That all of you would be talented? My issue with many of the examples offered is that they are pointing to things that worked ... well, for each thing that worked, I'm betting there were fifty earnest, heartfelt attempts by other people, that didn't work.

So, the list is inspiring. But does it offer anything that you couldn't get from standard-issue self-help inspirational literature? Does it offer any degree of assurance beyond what you could get from the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People or Awaken the Giant Within? I don't think so.
posted by jayder at 3:11 PM on February 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


"There is no room on the internet for Special Snowflakes who want to procrastinate all day and then drink themselves to sleep and dream about their unwritten novel."

Yeah, well, I'd like to see you try to make me leave.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:15 PM on February 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


Working hard is a prerequisite for success, sometimes (though certainly not always). But it's no guarantee. Thorn's piece is full of helpful tips, but the smug right-wing assumption that success is a reward for hard work makes it barely readable.

Yeah, there's a heavy 'successmanship' vibe here. It reads a lot like a Malcolm Gladwell or Seth Godin article or something from Lifehacker (which he happens to criticize). Kind of like the pick-up artist types, it offers a clean method to solve a problem that is incredibly messy. People love to hear that, and even better if it's in list format with plenty of celebrity references.

All that said, we already know the tips are valid, and it's still worth giving it a shot, even if the results are not "1000% guaranteed."
posted by ignignokt at 3:15 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


jayder: I think this is much worse than Tony Robbins, actually. Most MeFites would sneer at a GOP Senator who said that people who aren't successful aren't working as hard (remember when Mitt insisted that high corporate taxes were "punishing success"?). But deliver it with links to kewl sites, and it suddenly becomes appealing. Triple-ugh.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:20 PM on February 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Are people here really not able to tell that he's not being completely serious about "Absolutely, Positively 1000% No-Fail Guaranteed Success"?

Just so you know, this advice will also not help you re-grow up to 50% of the hair you’ve lost due to male pattern baldness (especially at the temples and crown), or cure your lack of sense of humor.
posted by smartyboots at 3:21 PM on February 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


It grew hair on my palms, though.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:29 PM on February 27, 2012


Uh, yeah, smartyboots, we know that, for one thing, because there's no such thing as "1000% guaranteed."

Are you saying, though, that he doesn't really "mean" the advice he offers? He clearly does. Are you saying he doesn't mean to say it's a surefire way to success? He clearly does.

Yeah, we're not going to hold him to the 1000% thing, but he means everything else. And that's where he ventures into rah-rah inspirational literature you-can-be-awesome, take-your-passion-and-make-it-happen territory.

So the problem is with the glib advice, not our lack of a sense of humor.
posted by jayder at 3:30 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


It sort of reminds me of an episode of some dumb talk show, I want to say it was Oprah, years ago, where a woman was given the opportunity to pursue her life dream with Oprah's help. I forget the specifics, but after a lot of rigmarole and building-up to the big decision of what her life dream was that she was going to pursue, this poor woman announced, with great fanfare, that her life dream was to help others achieve their life dreams. It was a bit of a letdown.
posted by jayder at 3:34 PM on February 27, 2012


Newsflash for you, Thorn: Lots of people work hard, have talent, and *don't* get rich and famous

Yeah, we're not going to hold him to the 1000% thing, but he means everything else. And that's where he ventures into rah-rah inspirational literature you-can-be-awesome, take-your-passion-and-make-it-happen territory.

So the problem is with the glib advice, not our lack of a sense of humor.



So what's your advice then? Kiss ass and stab your fellows in the back in hopes that your boss will give you some crumbs from his table?
posted by KingEdRa at 3:36 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the part that Jesse glosses over a little bit is also one of the more important parts which is Be Likeable. This is a tough one because there is definitely a down side to being likeable and you have to decide if you want to be super likeable to just some people [and do polarizing stuff that will make you Be Hateable by other people] or generally likeable to a lot of people which is a little more like Affable but can still get you to where you want to be.

But another way of putting this is Don't Have Any Strikes Against You which is I think what some people may be somewhat reacting to in this piece. Because and some unspoken level it's saying "don't be depressed" "don't be disabled" "don't be poor" "don't be ugly" or just "don't be difficult" just the same as a lot of well-meaning advice. And of course it's not saying that because Jesse is an honestly sincerely terrific person who wouldn't say any of that. Period. But everyone's going to say "this doesn't resonate with me because..." if it doesn't.

Everyone's going to view it through their own lens, sure, but as someone who does sort of fall on the "How do you do it?" side of things with a life I truly enjoy most of the time and who is often scratching her head answering the question ["don't have a family" is one of the things I tell people who think I am kidding but I am definitely not kidding] there is an aspect to the "Make sure you don't have a shit ton of student loans to pay off" path to success. Because that certainly helped me a lot, but it's hard to talk about with people because 1) you can't tell people when they're already 25 that this is the way things should have gone for them eight years ago and 2) it smacks of the sort of privilege it's tough to talk about. And part of what you need to be a person who gets to the point where you have a life you enjoy is to be a person who can really enjoy ... things. And that often means having some level of security or stability already, for starters, that goes unspoken but is really also sort of baseline level important to get to the next stage, most of the time.

I liked this article a lot because I think for people like me it's helpful and has advice. But there's a big "how do you even get to that point?" part of it that goes unspoken but that can silently chafe. But I don't really think that's Jesse's fault, more something that's just true about the world, which is still lousy and unfair in many ways, though I also believe the playing field is ever so slightly leveling which I think is what he is pointing out.
posted by jessamyn at 3:37 PM on February 27, 2012 [43 favorites]


I don't want to pile on this guy, I'm sure he's nice and well intentioned, but...

This is that thing about successful people leaving luck out of the equation. Didn't someone write a book partly about this? I've known and worked with a lot of very successful people. Most of the ones I've known had it fairly easy, and got very lucky, but not all of them saw it that way. Of the ones that worked hard, most saw that as the reason for their success (why wouldn't they?) and many realized they were also lucky. Of the ones that didn't work hard, most knew they were lucky, except the ones with giant egos who thought it was all due to their overwhelming God given greatness, and/or vastly over rated the amount of work they did. The less people acknowledge the role of luck in their success, the harder they are to be around.

On the other hand, I've gotten very lucky, and worked hard, but think that I could have much more successful if I was more of a hustler, a self promoter. I'm not though, and I'm OK with that. But people shouldn't confuse hustling with work, and in articles like this they often do.

This guy is writing about passion, hard work, blah blah, but the way he describes his situation is that it basically fell into his lap and he went with it because he didn't have any better ideas. This article might as well be about how you can win the lottery if you really want it and think outside the box, with interviews with lottery winners to back the theory up.

On a side note, I'm always stunned that people can make a good living with blogs and podcasts. Weird, not that I have any problem with it, but is that a sustainable thing? I really don't see how it's a model for more than a few though.
posted by bongo_x at 3:45 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


And part of what you need to be a person who gets to the point where you have a life you enjoy is to be a person who can really enjoy ... things.

Perhaps being a miserable bastard wasn't my best strategy, then? Hmm. Noted.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:54 PM on February 27, 2012


Kind of odd that "be authentic" is some of the advice coming from the guy who single-handedly made me stop listening to Jordan, Jesse, GO at all (though I'm willing to put up with him for Judge John Hodgman) due to things like the affected preciousness with which he over-aspirated the "h" in "whip" ('cause hey, reminding me of Family Guy is gonna earn you a lot of points) or referred repeatedly to his "information-phone." It just really drove me nuts, partially because of the sense that he thought he was just the cleverest thing ever.

This is a pretty well written article, though.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:56 PM on February 27, 2012


Yeah, we're not going to hold him to the 1000% thing, but he means everything else. And that's where he ventures into rah-rah inspirational literature you-can-be-awesome, take-your-passion-and-make-it-happen territory.

So the problem is with the glib advice, not our lack of a sense of humor.


So while you're certain that the "1000%" part is a joke, but he actually definitely does mean "100%"? Really? You don't think it might be a way to say "hey, MetaFilter, put the good guy populist stick away for a bit and let me tell you what helped me get this far"?
posted by Space Coyote at 4:18 PM on February 27, 2012


Was it elves?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:20 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I asked the elves for help and all I got was a crap ton of useless wooden shoes. Thanks a flying fuckload elves.
posted by The Whelk at 4:27 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


So while you're certain that the "1000%" part is a joke, but he actually definitely does mean "100%"? Really? You don't think it might be a way to say "hey, MetaFilter, put the good guy populist stick away for a bit and let me tell you what helped me get this far"?

Why are you quibbling over the title of his post? Nobody offering up criticisms of his piece has mentioned the title. ThatFuzzyBastard said, "jesus I hate the "results guaranteed!" tone," but it's you and smartyboots focusing on the title like we took it literally or something.

I'm saying it's glib advice. It's Tony Robbins/Oprah Winfrey YOU CAN DO IT lifestyle-industry fluff. That's it. Forget about the percentage. Jesus.
posted by jayder at 4:34 PM on February 27, 2012


This advice is meant for college-educated folks with financial fallback positions (family with money, savings from a previous job, etc.) who can afford to chase a wild hare.

Which isn't to say more power to them, but I would guess even on a site like metafilter there's a small minority of readers who would find the advice germane to their lives, let alone someone struggling to make ends meet.
posted by maxwelton at 4:43 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The kind of advice that you REALLY need in order to succeed in life is specific to your life. How best to cope with your weaknesses and advertise your strengths. What friends to keep even when you don't like them because there's some quality about them you can't name or describe but you think you might need it later. I suppose I'd get more from this post if it were tips on how to find *that kind* of solution, rather than a set of virtues that probably aren't as generally applicable as they're made out to be. No foul.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:44 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Kind of odd that "be authentic" is some of the advice coming from the guy who single-handedly made me stop listening to Jordan, Jesse, GO at all [...] due to things like the affected preciousness with which he over-aspirated the "h" in "whip" [...] or referred repeatedly to his "information-phone."

Is that stuff not genuine? It's pretty obviously his actual sense of humor. If Jesse Thorn didn't make Jordan Jesse Go and suddenly discovered it one day, he'd love it. Can you say the same thing about Chuck Lorre?
posted by roll truck roll at 4:45 PM on February 27, 2012


Yeah, I'm sure his heart is in the right place but what he writes isn't so much a path to success as a run-down of some successful people he's fond of and what qualities he thinks made them successful. I mean, if someone in his position really wanted to give people tips for being successful, he'd first need to narrow his scope to, like, "how to successfully build an Internet following," and he doesn't really do that. Probably because, as has already been stated, there's the luck factor, and "be lucky" isn't very useful advice.

If there was an easy step-by-step path to achieving your dreams (that isn't making money off of selling people dubious step-by-step paths to success), then everyone would be successful, etc. But jessamyn is right, your chances of pursuing something you enjoy and finding success are a lot better if you don't have a family (or more specifically, kids),. Well that's assuming you aren't a horrible person that would abandon your family to pursue your stupid dreams. That's always an option, though. But seriously most everyone I know that's had kids are, for better or worse, settled down, and will likely never pursue the kinds of dreams that take real investments of time and energy (because that time and energy goes into the kids). So, like, everyone stop having babies, okay?
posted by palidor at 4:47 PM on February 27, 2012


But people shouldn't confuse hustling with work, and in articles like this they often do.

Hustling is damn hard work, yet he also left out the names of specific computer programming languages. Do we also say people shouldn't confuse programming with work?
posted by rhizome at 4:50 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are no poisonous people.
not if you mean like literally belching cyanide but yeah, yeah there fucking are
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:51 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Most of the ones I've known had it fairly easy, and got very lucky, but not all of them saw it that way. Of the ones that worked hard, most saw that as the reason for their success (why wouldn't they?) and many realized they were also lucky. Of the ones that didn't work hard, most knew they were lucky, except the ones with giant egos who thought it was all due to their overwhelming God given greatness, and/or vastly over rated the amount of work they did. The less people acknowledge the role of luck in their success, the harder they are to be around.

This is the Fundamental Attribution Error, which I don't think is germane to Mr. Thorn's article.
posted by rhizome at 4:54 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


People are venomous, not poisonous. In fact, the more venomous people tend to be the most delicious, in my estimation.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:00 PM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


So this is just standard "how to be a success!" motivation speaker pablum, but with quotes from hip, famous people, right? Because, unless I'm missing something, I don't see what is so novel about this advice.
posted by asnider at 5:02 PM on February 27, 2012


Yeah, I'm with "glib" on this one. I'm sure he means well, but it's definitely 1000% glib.
posted by Forktine at 5:10 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


that is a real easy thing to say, IRFH
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:19 PM on February 27, 2012


This advice is meant for college-educated folks with financial fallback positions (family with money, savings from a previous job, etc.) who can afford to chase a wild hare.

Which isn't to say more power to them, but I would guess even on a site like metafilter there's a small minority of readers who would find the advice germane to their lives, let alone someone struggling to make ends meet.


You know what they say about people who assume, LogicalDash?

My family had ZERO money to give me. I lived with my mom after college for a year and a half or so and she let me use her car to drive to Santa Cruz once a week to do my show (I paid for the gas). My state benefits I was entitled to as the child of a 100% disabled veteran helped pay for my (public) college tuition. There's the sum total of the money I got from my parents to support my career. And it wasn't to teach me a lesson, they don't have any money to give me. They are both working at 65 and scared they'll never be able to retire. I'm hoping that I'll get to the point where I can help them.

As I wrote in the article, after some very difficult periods of unemployment, I worked as an administrative assistant and paid intern at some non profits, including the one my dad ran (which was a very small one, where I was rarely assured a paycheck). I didn't make a full-time living from my show for the first seven years it existed, and I didn't earn more than $30,000 in a year until three or four years ago.

I would argue that the fact that I was struggling to make ends meet was the REASON that I built my show into what it is. If I was a dilettante who did this shit for fun, I'd probably be one of the ten bajilliion hobbyists out there with a tumblr about what music they like lately.

The reason that I built the show into my full-time living is because I needed to eat.
posted by YoungAmerican at 5:36 PM on February 27, 2012 [27 favorites]


With regard to the folks who are of the opinion that what I wrote is glib: easy for you to say.
posted by YoungAmerican at 5:37 PM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


So this is just standard "how to be a success!" motivation speaker pablum, but with quotes from hip, famous people, right? Because, unless I'm missing something, I don't see what is so novel about this advice.

I'm not really familiar with the canon, honestly.

I'd guess that most of your Zig Zieglers don't put the emphasis on owning what you create, on building alliances with other creators, on medium v. content, on authenticity... basically 2/3 of what I wrote about.
posted by YoungAmerican at 5:39 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey jayder - at the time I wrote my comment there were at least a couple of comments specifically about the 1000% thing (or at least I sincerely thought there were - they're not there now). I was responding to those remarks, not yours. It wasn't my intention to call you out, although that's totally what it looks like I was doing.
posted by smartyboots at 5:43 PM on February 27, 2012


that is a real easy thing to say, IRFH

Something is poisonous if it cannot be safely ingested. As a metaphor for psychic toxicity, I find "poisonous" is too passive to make the point. Something is venomous if it can inject you with a dangerous toxin. As a metaphor for psychic toxicity, I find "venomous" to be much more striking. Literally.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:43 PM on February 27, 2012


Yeah, so I'm kind of nursing a wild speculation back into a healthy theory that your life in the US is basically over once you're in your mid/late twenties. If you've generally gotten lucky and set on a path to stability and (who knows?) maybe even success by the time you're 25, then you're set--your afterlife will be pleasant enough.

If you had the gall to be born in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or waited a few years to go to college or never went to college or went to college right away and wracked up ghastly student debts or had a baby or had sextuplets or didn't have a baby or married or never married or never met that one person through that one job or did meet that one person but left that one job or didn't have the family to support you or did have the family to "support" you or...

I guess I think our society is really unforgiving. If you make a mistake--even if your mistake is never making a mistake--then your life is pretty much destroyed and it's very difficult to recover back to even relative stability.

I can't think about this too hard, though, because I have to be awake at four in the morning. I'm not expecting a pleasant afterlife.
posted by byanyothername at 5:51 PM on February 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Kind of odd that "be authentic" is some of the advice coming from the guy who single-handedly made me stop listening to Jordan, Jesse, GO at all due to things like the affected preciousness

It's possible to be authentically affected, I guess.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:04 PM on February 27, 2012


My 2 cents, YoungAmerican: So I'm one of the ones who kind of liked what you had to say, but I can't say that I'm too surprised at the backlash, either. One of the inherent risks we take whenever we give advice is that there will always be a percentage of people who either can't take the advice, for whatever reason, or who feel that they've already tried it, without the desired result. This tends to make people feel defensive, as if they are being judged for circumstances maybe beyond their control, or sometimes just plain tired of hearing the same stories over and over, when those narratives don't seem to fit their worlds. And this dynamic seems to play out no matter what the advice is.

I think it was said well above that it can go a long way to make a point of what a crucial role luck has to play in the paths we take through our lives, no matter how hard we work, and how creative we are. Personally, I think the comic hyperbole of your title overshadowed what was essentially some reasonably on-point career and business advice. Had you written the story of your particular path to relative success within your field, complete with entertaining examples, I think this might have gone over differently. Instead, you made this about our path to (or away from) one idea of success, which is a much touchier proposition.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:06 PM on February 27, 2012 [6 favorites]




palidor: " But jessamyn is right, your chances of pursuing something you enjoy and finding success are a lot better if you don't have a family (or more specifically, kids)"

Jesus, I guess that makes me just twice the loser now, I don't even have the excuse of having kids dragging me down like little cute ball-and-chains.
posted by Red Loop at 6:21 PM on February 27, 2012


I should hastily add before I go to bed that I actually did like the article, mostly because I think the people used as examples are interesting (even if their work is not appealing to me--except for Kate Beaton, who could write a comic about making toast and I would think it's just the funniest thing ever) and the metric of success is spread a little broader than you'd ordinarily see in similar articles, but also because each point is a little more thought out than typical advice for "succeeding," and I really do like positivity.

I was responding more to one of the undercurrents in the thread that was expressed really well by jessamyn--that there's all this other stuff that needs to happen for you before you're even ready to think about "How will I succeed," and it's frustrating because there are lots of people for whom that other stuff is impossible. After living years and years as Pollyanna, I do kind of wince at pep talks that start from the assumption that the reader's life is already in working order, or can be fixed up quick as a jiffy with a little ingenuity and common sense.

I know it's totally unrealistic to expect every single piece of advice to try and fundamentally solve every single social problem, but whatever. I'm stubbornly utopian like that. A little nod to creative people struggling, and some acknowledgement that struggling doesn't mean you're less talented, passionate, educated, interesting or whatever, would be nice. It's, like, all we're ever likely to get.
posted by byanyothername at 6:28 PM on February 27, 2012


For all the endlessness of the Dakotas, all the sweeping horizons and boundless skies, there is very little vision. I grew up in a place where growing up meant Getting A Job and Having A Family and Stuff Like That, and no one ever told me I could make my own thing. I struggled to do it anyway, out of some malformed and intense sense of rebellion, but honestly, if you told me even five years ago that I'd be where I am, traveling the world getting paid to do the insane and intense things I do, I'da told ya to go to hell, yer fulla shit.

The first problem for young people everywhere is having the vision. I was online early. I watched people write themselves to where they wanted to be - become worldwide experts in things because they'd been blogging about it so long and so well, because they were so much more accessible than the old guard. And better informed on the latest and greatest. I watched these people with great interest as I developed my own. It took me a couple years to see the pattern. Some of them are commenting here. Some of them are now my friends IRL.

But even for those crazy kids - for those 19 year old kids in the flyover states or the slums or the wherevers that actually get that there is more out there, even if it's only in some vague, abstract dreamy sense, that there is more out there for the making, it's damn near impossible to know how to do it.How the hell do you do it?! You can see how you might do it if you were in NYC, or LA, or if you had all that nice equipment or that PhD or whatever but you don't make enough to pay your tuition or just barely, and besides the main pressures on you are getting the degree, getting hitched, having kids & nailing down that Best Buy gig, why don't you think it's OK? Are you too good for it? Why do you spend so much time on the computer? What's that weird hobby taking up all your time? No one wants to encourage you to leave. So many kids leave. No one is thinking about some spark of yours going starlike in the darkness.

They are the darkness.

Some of us get lucky. I'd been putting work online since 2000, at quite a pace, but one of my projects really hit a nerve and catapulted me and my work into the public eye. Seriously, I was living in a basement, eating from the Red River, the building I worked in collapsed, and things were really, really fucked - and in the same week I'm giving talks at MIT and Harvard, being flown to the far north of Canada to do my thing. Pretty soon I was cross-country working with people I think are heroes - people whose names I'd read on blogs and papers, people doing significant work. Still feel the backache from that cold basement floor. Still hungry, sometimes.

To all the people taking a glib shit on this writing, remember this - it's hard enough for young people to have a vision of where their work can take them and the fantastic lives they might lead. But once they have that vision, they need a sense of the work ethic, the kind of motivation, and the specific choices (no family, low debt, mostly) that will get them there. Then they need a way and a place and a voice to put to it, and that's your ten thousand words hours photographs sculptures radioshows. This is the kind of thing I wish I'd read when I was 19 and struggling. This is the kind of thing more "famous" and "successful" people should be sharing back. Seriously, at 18 I was gonna join the Army just to get out of Bismarck. That was the sum total of my vision. From experience, I can tell you - it's hard to know what is possible. So hey, if you know some secrets, you should write 'em here. Someone might find them and do something great with them.

I'll tell you mine: work your ass off. Publish everything now, publicly. Yes, be likeable. Don't shit on other people's work. Don't mistake curation and criticism for production, and if you look at everything with a very selective stinkeye, or if all the "most intelligent" people you know do, consider the value of that. And yeah, we all know there is darkness in the world. We all know not everyone can be an astronaut. We all know there is damn near no justice, and that is the bargain from birth. But that's no reason to discount words like these from people who were able to make it their own way. That they were supported, if they were supported, is a testament to the strength of their networks, communities, and families, and not some stake you can keyboard-jockey-jab in the heart of people who are actively making the world they want to live in. Get Excited And Make Things, and Share That Shit Online, I say. Stay free and you'll go further than you imagined possible.
posted by fake at 6:33 PM on February 27, 2012 [65 favorites]


byanyothername: ...(even if their work is not appealing to me--except for Kate Beaton, who could write a comic about making toast and I would think it's just the funniest thing ever)...

well, it's not about making toast, exactly (and makes way more sense if you're familiar with Heritage Minutes.)
posted by heeeraldo at 6:37 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'll tell you mine: work your ass off. Publish everything now, publicly. Yes, be likeable. Don't shit on other people's work. Don't mistake curation and criticism for production, and if you look at everything with a very selective stinkeye, or if all the "most intelligent" people you know do, consider the value of that. And yeah, we all know there is darkness in the world. We all know not everyone can be an astronaut. We all know there is damn near no justice, and that is the bargain from birth. But that's no reason to discount words like these from people who were able to make it their own way. That they were supported, if they were supported, is a testament to the strength of their networks, communities, and families, and not some stake you can keyboard-jockey-jab in the heart of people who are actively making the world they want to live in. Get Excited And Make Things, and Share That Shit Online, I say. Stay free and you'll go further than you imagined possible.

Repeated for emphasis. Haters gonna hate. Be nice.
posted by ColdChef at 6:43 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Haters gonna hate. Be nice.

Well which is it, young fellar? You want I should hate, or you want I should be nice?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:46 PM on February 27, 2012


One of the inherent risks we take whenever we give advice is that there will always be a percentage of people who either can't take the advice, for whatever reason, or who feel that they've already tried it, without the desired result. This tends to make people feel defensive, as if they...
posted by rhizome at 6:47 PM on February 27, 2012


If you had the gall to be born in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or waited a few years to go to college or never went to college or went to college right away and wracked up ghastly student debts or had a baby or had sextuplets or didn't have a baby or married or never married or never met that one person through that one job or did meet that one person but left that one job or didn't have the family to support you or did have the family to "support" you or...

A few years ago, i took a gamble and left a decent paying job in IT to attempt a new career. I was 30. I took an unpaid internship and worked on the weekends for extra scratch. I worked super hard, and i was incredibly lucky, and i got a job in the new field i was interning in. Six months later, because of labor department concerns, my company stopped offering internships to people who werent currently enrolled in college.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 6:48 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


YoungAmerican, the reason I found the article difficult wasn't your tone, or that I thought it was glib or anything like that. It was the fact that, like most people who have achieved success, it conflates the prerequisites for success with a method for success. Yes, most of the things you mention in your article are required for success, but following them by no means guarantees success by any standard metric. Usually, success in creative fields is a high-risk endeavor. It's also a low probability outcome. To succeed, one must have most or all the tools that you mention, and that unpredictable statistical fluctuation. It's a complex, emergent system that no one has yet mapped out. I'm glad that your efforts brought you fruit, but in a high-risk, crowded field, that's not going to happen to even most of the people that follow the rules. That being said, the odds are no more against you in a creative field than in say, law or academia these days.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 6:53 PM on February 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Perhaps I should clarify a bit... I wasn't annoyed at Thorn because he started with advantages---he's quite right in saying that many of the most successful people are those who *have* to succeed to survive. What annoyed me---and still annoys me in his replies here---is the assumption that there's an If/Then relationship: If you work hard, then you will succeed. It skirts perilously close to saying that the ones who didn't succeed just didn't work hard enough, or weren't as talented, as he was.

In interviews, I've found one sure sign of whether a band will be cool or assholes is by asking them about other bands in their local scene. If they say "Such-and-such band was incredible---better than us, maybe. We just got the lucky break", then they're cool. If they say "We were the best band in town, and worked harder than the rest, and that's why we're here," then guaranteed asshole.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:54 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


(or, now that it's been posted---what nonreflectiveobject said better than I did)
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:55 PM on February 27, 2012


Yeah, no.

I have spent my life making my Thing. I have sacrificed everything for my Thing, devoting all my efforts and money to it. I am passionate about this Thing. There are very few people left on the planet who make this Thing, and most of them are dying or retired. According to the judgement of my peers, my skills at making this Thing are preeminent, I have raised this Thing to previously inconceivable levels. Everyone wants this Thing..

..until they see the price. It costs me four times as much to make this thing as I could ever sell it for. And that's only accounting for the cost of materials, which is far less than the labor I put into it. I can work for a week making a single Thing, and it can fail at the last moment, wasting a whole week making a useless Thing. I can't even get a grant to make this Thing.

That's why they stopped making this Thing commercially in the 1890s.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:57 PM on February 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I always had hoped to hear YoungAmerican's talk live, but this is the next best thing.

The lesson learned from any of this is that the greatest reward is pursuing your passion, regardless of the outcome. If you do it for the money out the gate, you're doing it wrong. Also, it's going to be hard. But nothing in life is worth doing if it's always going to be that easy.
posted by cyb0lt at 6:58 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course there's no method to guarantee success. That's why I subtitled the article (and the talk) the 12 Point Plan for Absolutely, Positively 1000% Guaranteed Success. I honestly don't know how I could have emphasized more emphatically the irony of that subtitle. Emoticons?

I do know a great way to guarantee failure, though: not to try.
posted by YoungAmerican at 7:03 PM on February 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


I don't know why I'm still surprised when MeFites shit all over stuff, especially when it's written by a member of this community. I should be used to the snark level by now.

Your inability to recognize humor and hyperbole is your failing, not his.

Here's the thing, you are not a unique special snowflake. Not everything is written to perfectly align with your worldview and experiences. I know that can be a shock.

The truth is that in most cases directing your hard work along a good plan leads to positive results. It's not a "smug right-wing assumption", it's reality.

Just because you can cite how it didn't work for you or another snowflake, doesn't mean it's not good advice for a majority of people. Otherwise, you are advocating telling people "set your sights low, the world sucks, and you'll probably fail so don't try anything..."

What Jesse wrote is good, realistic advice for young people wanting to do creative things.

For those of you that feel it's bad to try hard to do what you love, I hope you find satisfaction in some other way.
posted by Argyle at 7:06 PM on February 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


As someone who hates dismissive Internetters who shit on everything, and someone who used to listen to TSoYA and enjoys Jesse's work, my problem is simply with how the article is framed. Yes, I understand the irony inherent in introducing it with hyperbole, so I wasn't expecting some secret guaranteed plan for success to be revealed. I just think the article would have been received better if it was framed solely as "here are some successful people that I admire, and the qualities that I believe influenced their success" rather than even mentioning any kind of "plan" or methods, using irony or not.

Anyway here is my guaranteed plan for success:

1. Sell drugs
2. Use drug money to finance hip hop album
3. Release album on the Internet
4. Start a Twitter account and retweet anyone who mentions you
5. Repeat as necessary, until you either end up in jail or on Pitchfork
posted by palidor at 7:22 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Argyle --

I usually hate the phrase, "Metafilter doesn't do this well," but I'm kind of feeling that way about this. We don't do well at discussing articles/artworks/films/writings in the presence of their creators. Being critical of something is not shitting all over it; but I agree it can seem weird and uncomfortable to have colorfully assessed the failings of a work, and then have the author show up and start participating in the conversation.

I think that the nature of our discussions here is kind of like sitting around your living room with your friends, sort of being serious but also trying to score conversational points, and sort of bullshitting and engaging in hyperbole to score those points. You wouldn't want the author of a work listening in on your semi-serious, semi-bullshit discussion.

With regard to YoungAmerican's piece, I really do think it falls into this weird niche of acceptable, "cool" success literature that has grown up with the web. I'm actually sort of a fan of self-help books. But I think his piece assumes a lot of unexamined "privilege" on the part of its audience. It would be of little help to someone who was not already loaded with a lot of cultural advantages (advantages one can have even if one grew up poor). The piece serves a purpose, but I don't think it says anything that hasn't been said a million times. The insights of self-help, success literature are pretty much perennial, and they continue to enthrall people.

The failing of this piece, which is just a failing of success literature in general, is that it takes examples of successes as the rule, and basically ignores all the people who did everything right and failed. It ignores the complexities and burdens of life that weigh heavily against success of the nature he describes.
posted by jayder at 7:22 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Okay, so either it's empty and generic motivational speaker tripe, or it's ironically generic motivational speaker tripe.. from someone espousing the importance of being genuine.

I haven't listened to TSOYA in years for no particular reason, had no idea he had changed names. But it always seemed to me the type of hipster baiting, irony laden stuff that I may enjoy on occasion but eventually the weight of all the snide LOL it's a picture of me with a stuffed squirrel stuff even if it tried to appeal to "The New Sincerity" still reeked of.. well, the sort of irony laden hipster baiting stuff I can't stand in the first place. But trying to hide the void of substance in this cheerleading advice behind a veil of "humor and hyperbole" is.. eh, I'll just shut up.. anyone who is a fan of Jesse Thorn I'm sure will love this in all the self aware splendor that it's just a Tony Robbins seminar with Find/Replace activated and then go chase their dreams in the most fatuous-with-a-wink manner they can think of.. so.. keep on trucking?
posted by mediocre at 7:24 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and as to the supposed irony of the title. Suppose someone wrote an article with a twelve-step plan for "having spine-tingling, toe-curling, hair-raising, scream till you wake all your neighbors up, best-in-your-life sex."

And then I criticized the apparently sincere and serious advice about having such great sex.

And then defenders of the article showed up, saying the title was ironic and that I was an idiot for thinking the author was serious about my toes actually curling or my hair standing on end or my spine actually tingling.

Yeah, that's pretty much what's going on here. The irony of the title doesn't matter. Of course the title is ironic, it would be tacky and vulgar to seriously just call the article "how to be a success." That wouldn't fit with the hip and current and humorous nature of this guy's work. But it's silly to harp on us not "getting the humor" of the piece. Huh? The piece was serious, is anyone claiming it isn't?
posted by jayder at 7:31 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


The truth is this: If you work hard enough, sacrifice, and are a little lucky, you can be what you want to be. And yes, social and financial position has something to do with it, raw talent has something to do with it.

But as someone who's about to see the downhill side of 40, I can tell you that hustle makes a huge difference. Two things that have held me back the last 39 years: My crushing self-esteem problems, and my inability to hustle. The former is finally being dealt with (thanks to expensive psychotherapy). The latter, well, I'm tired. All the time. Because I work a lot. And a lot of times I'm better at dumping random thoughts 140 characters at a time into Twitter than I am at dumping 2000 words into a blog post.

And it kills me. It kills me that I have people asking when I'm going to go back to blogging. It kills me that Internet Famous people have asked me why I'm not writing anymore, because damnit, we loved your stuff. It really kills me that were I to just push myself I could take my apparently amazing ability to give a presentation and turn it into a side gig that pays well and gets me one of those "thought leader" identities that mean I can make some money actually being me, not this exhausted user experience designer who has to do 15 wireframes over again tonight because of faulty requirements gathering.

And no, hustle isn't a cure-all, it isn't this magic panacea for being poor that the GOP frames it up as. But I'm continually haunted by the might-have-been.

I was reminded recently that when Willie Nelson was my age he'd walked away from Nashville thinking his career in country music was over. Four years later, he had his first #1 country single. 10 years later, he was the most popular country music star in the world. So I hold on to that. To paraphrase Haven Kimmel, I'm not to old to get up off the couch.
posted by dw at 7:31 PM on February 27, 2012 [18 favorites]


I enjoyed the article & the advice, even though (because?) I'm over 35 and my dream of greatness doesn't really involve the internet and has not died. I thought the message to "do more" and " keep your eyes open" was intrinsically useful for anyone at any stage, on any stage.

Also, had I realized cloning was as easy as name-variants, I wouldn't have killed off my imaginary dopplegangers when I was 15.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:41 PM on February 27, 2012


Well if we're serious-face timing this and then I think it's always a roll of the dice, so you have to roll the dice as many times as possible and hopefully you'll get a 20. My thing was always just to say yes to everything, work with as many people on as many projects as possible as much as possible and if you don't know how to do it, you will learn By doing and maybe with luck and a junkyard dog grim meat hook mercenary mentality you may actually go somewhere cause creative work is so fucking unstable.

But honestly, I had a lot of high profile, high risk disasters. Some of them based on sheer blind bad luck, some of which I had spent literally years developing, and I would have become way more bitter and disengaged if I thought I was actually able to do anything else ( lots of jobs out there for unemployed college drops outs who have never had a " real" job?) or if I was replying on the money from these projects to like, eat.

Actually, huh I hadn't thought about that before but dropping out and removing myself from Normal Life in order to force myself to work on my creative life is what worked but it's terrible advice to give cause the failure rate is so high and US culture is so brittle that a few bad decisions basically mark you for life.

Then again the promise of success is so broken that you might be better off doing what you want to do rather than toiling away in a basement for the hope that maybe, in a few years, you might make enough money to pay back your loans.
posted by The Whelk at 7:42 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The failing of this piece, which is just a failing of success literature in general, is that it takes examples of successes as the rule, and basically ignores all the people who did everything right and failed. It ignores the complexities and burdens of life that weigh heavily against success of the nature he describes.

So what the f*ck kind of advice am I supposed to give? A list of reasons that people will not succeed?

Most things fail. All you can do is increase your chances of succeeding. You can work hard and smart. More inputs means more chances to succeed, better quality inputs means more likelihood of succeeding.

Again: there is NO guarantee of success. That's why the title of the article is ironic.

HOWEVER there are CERTAINLY things you can do to increase your chances of succeeding. I worked very hard at outlining twelve of them in that piece. Some of those are the kind of thing any self-help guru could tell you (they probably tell you them because they're true). Some of them are specific to the circumstance (independent media in the age of the internet).

What I don't understand is why not specifically addressing every problem that may come up for every person, or every darkness in every crevasse of the world invalidates everything else I wrote, or changes the above.

So to sum up: GUARANTEE ironic. TECHNIQUES sincere. Life is uncertain and difficult, but you can improve your odds.

As someone wrote here (the thread is long, and I'm being called for dinner): the only guarantee of success is to do something that is rewarding in and of itself. That is why I did my show for seven years without getting paid. That goes for WHATEVER it is.
posted by YoungAmerican at 7:44 PM on February 27, 2012 [20 favorites]


Being critical of something is not shitting all over it

Ranting and complaining about it as if it ran over your dog, knowing full well that the person who wrote it is likely going to read what you wrote, tends closer to the latter than the former. It's a post on a website. drezdn liked it and wanted to share it. Not your thing, totally AOK, but some folks seem to have trouble calibrating their responses sometimes, I feel.

And I also want to know what charlie don't surf's Thing is.
posted by jessamyn at 7:46 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I agree. Show us your Thing.
posted by The Whelk at 7:50 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


So what the f*ck kind of advice am I supposed to give? A list of reasons that people will not succeed?

I think he wanted something more like a business book, describing techniques and situations they work in and caveats all in one place.

They're pretty hard to write. I think the market is pretty small, too.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:51 PM on February 27, 2012


So what the f*ck kind of advice am I supposed to give?

Here is some very good advice:

Most things fail. All you can do is increase your chances of succeeding. You can work hard and smart. More inputs means more chances to succeed, better quality inputs means more likelihood of succeeding.

Again: there is NO guarantee of success....

HOWEVER there are CERTAINLY things you can do to increase your chances of succeeding...

Life is uncertain and difficult, but you can improve your odds.

The only guarantee of success is to do something that is rewarding in and of itself. That is why I did my show for seven years without getting paid. That goes for WHATEVER it is.


That is sincere, helpful, encouraging, no-BS advice. I agree 100%.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:57 PM on February 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


So what the f*ck kind of advice am I supposed to give?

Well, this crystallizes for me precisely why I'll never be Successful: my answer to that question is "none". Wouldn't ever occur to me to give other people advice; what's worked for me has no guarantee of working for them, and I'm all too aware of the massive role luck has played in my life. (Mostly in the form of being born white, male, and upper-middle class.)
posted by asterix at 7:57 PM on February 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Jesse needs no defense from me, or anyone, but I have to say a few things.

I've followed Jesse's career since before it was a career. I'm nearly twice his age, but can honestly say he has been one of the most inspirational people I've ever met . He has a genuine passion for creativity and life, coupled with a passion for helping others find and succeed in "their thing." Despite an ironic sense of humor, he is genuine, sincere, and giving. Nothing seems to make Jesse happier than helping others to find happiness.

Obviously, we all have different tastes. Honest critique is to be expected anytime someone puts themselves and their ideas in the public eye, even if some of it falls into "your favorite band sucks!" territory. But I'd much rather listen to a positive person encourage me to pursue my thing than someone telling me it's pointless.

Give it up, haters! Keep it up, Jesse!
posted by The Deej at 8:01 PM on February 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I guess I take that back: the advice I'd give would be "work to develop a more-equitable society and a government that supports it". Not terribly fulfilling if someone wants to be a more personal success, I guess.
posted by asterix at 8:03 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


And I also want to know what charlie don't surf's Thing is.

Me too.

This has been an interesting thread - I'm glad it has been multi-sided. I find myself agreeing with almost everyone who has posted, whether pro or con the OP. My favorite points:

-you can't succeed without producing
-you are more likely to be successful if you are following true interests and talents
-it will always be a crapshoot, and most people will fail, whether due to their own faults or just bad luck, but it is still worth trying
-beware of the "hard work breeds success" trope, with the inevitable corollary "if you aren't successful you are a bad person".

My own observations:
-it's worth noting that Thorne benefitted from both CA state schools and entitlements - institutions that are by no means inevitable. I had a conversation with someone from Germany today who said unemployment support from the state, and especially benefits for unemployed starting a new business, played a key role in his career. These kinds of support are so important. (on preview, what asterix said).
-It can help to be aware of the odds of your gambling - and plan accordingly. Sometimes people gamble too much on high odds and end up not acquiring skills which allow them to find decent backup gigs. That can be a really bad scene. Sometimes being realistic about the odds also helps you focus on less risky paths that are still satisfying.
posted by ianhattwick at 8:06 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not your thing, totally AOK, but some folks seem to have trouble calibrating their responses sometimes, I feel.

I dunno. I get that he's you-all's friend, that his "maxfuncon" events are promoted here, that his show and MetaFilter itself are interrelated phenomena, etc. And if that means that saying something critical about his article is forbidden, I can live with that, no problem.

But I'll absolutely assert that pointing out an article's flaws is in no way being a "hater," much less shitting on something. If it's not the discussion you want to have happen around your friend and his piece, that's cool, but I'm not going to preemptively go down that path for you.
posted by Forktine at 8:07 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


> The truth is this: If you work hard enough, sacrifice, and are a little lucky, you can be what you want to be.

That's ridiculous - and I say that as someone who has worked hard, sacrificed a little, and basically became what I wanted to be.

Everyone gets a little luck. A little luck isn't enough. I know a great deal of people who tried to do what they wanted for decades, never made it despite the excellence of their work, and eventually gave up because they were old and tired and having to work a lot simply to live.

You need a huge talent; or a huge amount of luck; or a huge amount of money before you start (which is really a huge amount of luck). Even just a huge amount of work won't necessarily do it - and you'll have to do that even with the huge talent unless you have the huge money.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:08 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm kind of surprised at some of the responses here myself, we're all pretty creative people and do and like creative stuff, I figured after I read this early this morning off Twitter I'd see people patting Jesse on the back for a job well done.

Anyway, here's what I had going against me:

- I spent 7 years in college to be a soil chemist after going in to college to save the earth in the early 90s (it was a popular thing to do). I loved it and it got increasingly more technical and I ended up doing some trace metal studies of lake sediments while being a TA for a course on the study of lakes and rivers (Limnology, in case you need to know for a future scrabble game). There was a time I could tell you the texture (% sand/clay/silt) of soil by touch, within 5% of the actual amounts (it was a thing we were all trained to do in the Soils department). So I did this, basically got trained to work in a chemistry wet lab for the rest of my life or teach at a community college level, and my first job as an environmental engineer was something you could train monkeys to do. I made copies of things and compiled them into environmental impact reports, so that Sprint could put up more cell phone poles in California. I made sure the actual poles didn't damage the environment. I got to quit after two lousy months. I owed about $25k in college loans, and I left the profession I spent all my college years learning for the hobby of web design I learned in my (little) free time.

- I lucked into a web designer job at a major University in a well-funded computer group. It was the first job interview I totally nailed because I was super passionate about my love for the web and I think it just sort of bled over onto everything I did in the resume/cover letter process and interview (Did I mention I only found the job in the LA Times general classified section? Yeah, those were the kind of odds I was up against).

- BUT I literally spent 2.5 years working 12-16hr days soaking up the web and doing design, and branching out, and testing myself, and learning programming, and being a sponge. I loved web design before the job and I only got to do it a couple hours here and there on the side and now it was my full time job so I took advantage of it. This is the part where I might say MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK by working your ass off so when opportunities arise, you will be ready for them.

- MetaFilter was a side project and my first real database programming project for myself because my day job work wasn't challenging enough. I used the lessons I learned to write software for my job after that so it definitely helped.

- Getting to meet your heros is a big thing for me. When I was younger, I was into BMX and after a few years, suddenly the top pros were personal friends. I'm a pretty shy person and I'm not a weirdo stalker guy, but I guess I have some talent for getting to meet my heros and then suddenly we become friends. So after a few years of grinding away at stuff I got to meet everyone I admired in the blogging world, among them Ev Williams and Meg Hourihan and Paul Bausch. When I got a lucky break of working on Blogger, I took it and did all I could for it.

Jesse's advice is sound and good, and if I could add anything it would be A) work your ass off at the thing you love so you are really good at it in as many ways as possible and B) take advantage of any lucky breaks you receive by showing off that expertise and just generally being prepared for anything, and C) don't be afraid to make the leap to do the thing you love, you will be so much, much happier after doing it, even if you are struggling for years.

Also, failure comes with the territory. I have ten failures for each success. I have always kind of loved the review part of failing, where you blow something or stop doing it or whatever and after you stop feeling bad about it, you ask yourself why it went wrong and what could have made it go better and the next time you try something you take those lessons and your failures start to get less and less common.
posted by mathowie at 8:10 PM on February 27, 2012 [35 favorites]


I think this is a sensitive topic for many Mefites because there are many frustrated creators among us. Posting YoungAmerican's article here is kind of like posting an article about a surefire way of losing weight on a message board where there are lots of obese people.
posted by jayder at 8:19 PM on February 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


> So what the f*ck kind of advice am I supposed to give?

Don't imply that if people follow your advice they are almost certain to succeed.

It's the attitude that "anyone can do this" that is offending people. For example, someone I knew from childhood always wanted to be a police officer - but he's color blind - there is nothing he can do.

I always remember an article I read years ago about three kids who were burned to death in Harlem because they couldn't open the heavy window guards. The oldest, 11, had made a determined attempt with a crowbar to get them off but failed because it was simply too big. She should have succeeded.

You succeeded. Others failed. This does not imply necessarily imply that you have some virtue that all of these others lack.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:20 PM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Posting YoungAmerican's article here is kind of like posting an article about a surefire way of losing weight on a message board where there are lots of obese people.

That's funny -- I was going to say something similar, but not as well.

On the other hand the world of frustrated creators is a breeding ground for cynical and discouraging philosophies that can darken other creators' confidence and must always be fought back. Even though I don't feel like the peppy marketing-ish thing of 43 Folders is for me, I say, you go and keep fighting the darkness, Mr. Thorn.

Speaking as someone who has survived epic creative industry trainwrecks.
posted by steinsaltz at 8:34 PM on February 27, 2012


p.s. Yeah. I posted this.
posted by steinsaltz at 8:36 PM on February 27, 2012


As a creative person, it's good to keep in mind that the act of creating is in itself a success. I don't make my living with photography, but I've created a lot of work I'm very proud of. I'm not going to stop just because it might not "pay off." I don't consider myself a failure just because I make my living in a more boring and conventional way.

Keep doing your thing! It's not a waste of time if you don't get a paycheck from it. The joy of creation is in the process and ending up with work you are proud of.
posted by The Deej at 8:43 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I always remember an article I read years ago about three kids who were burned to death in Harlem because they couldn't open the heavy window guards. The oldest, 11, had made a determined attempt with a crowbar to get them off but failed because it was simply too big. She should have succeeded.

Seriously? You just compared this whole conversation to this? Yes, because working your ass off for seven years is so much like a tragic fire because an 11 year old didn't manage to turn into the Hulk at the right moment.

You succeeded. Others failed.

Bullshit. EVERYONE FAILS ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

Jesse himself admitted to failure. Hell, look at that list of people he cites -- Jonathan Coulton was a washed-up programmer, Felicia Day a middling at best actress, the ICP a band who lost their record deal when the Christian Right went crazy on their label. Hell, Merlin Mann is a catalog of failures.

Coulton changed careers. Day pivoted on an idea. ICP said fuck this shit, we're going to do it ourselves. Merlin, well, he just kept being Merlin.

The point is not that ANYONE can do it. The point is that EVERYONE FAILS ALL THE FUCKING TIME. And until you accept that and take your fate into your own hands -- and accept you're going to FAIL ALL THE FUCKING TIME -- you're going to sit on the couch and wonder what the fuck happened to you and your dreams.

It IS about putting in the work. It IS about the cards you're dealt. But it's also about FAILING ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

Seriously. Fucking bullshit bringing up a tragedy like that, because that's so beyond the point I don't know what to say. No one is being all Horatio Alger here. No one is telling people to go jump off a building to see if they can fly. What everyone is saying is you stand a higher chance of making a living off what you're passionate about if you do the work.

God damn. I'm getting my ass off the fucking couch right now. Is this really what I look like when I'm as cynical as I am every day? Fuck.
posted by dw at 8:58 PM on February 27, 2012 [22 favorites]


And I also want to know what charlie don't surf's Thing is.

OK, I'll be more specific. I've talked about this on MeFi before. You'll be sorry you asked, I get a bit wound up about this.

You know, I was a chemistry geek that dropped out of pre-med in college to learn this Thing. I've been working on it since 1976. And today, just to buy the chemicals to make this thing, you have to register with the Department of Homeland Security. And I really have no way to show my Thing to people, I spent a lifetime working to make it something that you can only experience firsthand, so the Real Thing can't be seen in reproduction on the web.

I do Gum Bichomate photographic printing, an "alternate process." It's sort of like the yesterday's MeFi post, In Vibrant Color, carbro prints from the 1940s. Most people do little 4x5 or 8x10 prints, I make HUGE prints, which is basically impossible. Nobody does this, the process was basically abandoned in the 1890s because it is too difficult and too likely to fail, even at small sizes. Large prints multiply the difficulties exponentially. But I found some ways to work around these difficulties. My main work is with multilayered metallic inks in weird abstract ordered-but-nonrepeating patterns that reflect light with birefringent effects. Each layer of photo emulsion is hand painted on the paper, printed, hand washed, and reprinted, sometimes up to 20 times.

But since nobody is interested in that crap, I decided to do something totally commercial and sell out, in order to fund my work. I made huge landscapes, and "barns & farms" prints that sell around here (or so I thought). I will show you one, it's a failure from 2008, and only about 8x10. I only had about 20 hours of labor into this one before it failed. The colors are weak and weird.

But I worked on this one print for about 3 more years. I made some technical breakthroughs that I had tried to solve for 35 years. Now my years of work all came together. I scraped together all my money at a time when I had none, even went without eating for days each week, to be able to afford the hugely expensive color separation negatives to make one perfect 11x17 print, to be the centerpiece of a 2012 State arts grant proposal. The print was rich and sharp, the colors perfect, but with beautiful texture showing the handmade work. It even stunned me with its quality. It is a museum piece. I showed my latest prints to my old art professors, and even his graduate students who are trying to work in this process, they all said what I was doing was incredible, impossible and how the hell did I do it? I told them, you learn a lot of tricks when you work on something for 35 years.

Now I can make these prints almost any size, which is even more insanely impossible. I proposed to produce twenty prints (with framing) at 20x36, for $6500, and donate them to local museums and libraries. I would barely break even, and labor for a year, but after that, I could use the negatives and print more (and keep the profit, if any). After a year's labor, free money.

Side note: my art school is considered the preeminent printmaking school, for one thing alone. An instructor came along in the 1940s and did what I just did, for etching. Previously, etchings were usually up to 16x20. He came along and made them like 48x60 and larger. Now everyone does etchings that large, but before that, nobody ever tried, it was considered impossible. His large work was a watershed event. So now I did that for Gum Bichromate prints.

But even before the State cut the Arts Council budget, my grant did not make the cut, it was too expensive. I threw hundreds of dollars, my last dollars, down the drain, in a last ditch attempt to continue my work. I achieved the highest mastery of my craft, the peak of my career, and it is all worthless. In a decent gallery, my huge gum prints should sell for several thousand dollars, just on the technical accomplishment alone, even from an unknown artist like me. The prints are totally archival and I estimate will still be bright and vivid in 500 years, or maybe even outlive the archival paper they're printed on. And they are absofuckinglutely worthless. Nobody will buy a 20x36 archival fine art print for $4000 when they can buy an inkjet print for $40 that will fade away in 50 years. My life's work was undercut by a technological change in the market. Nobody can really make a living as a photographer anymore, let alone a specialized fine art printer. I'm so broke, I don't even own a decent camera anymore. I might as well be the world's finest buggy whip maker.

And that is how you Make Your Thing.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:00 PM on February 27, 2012 [76 favorites]


Also re: luck, I mean there where a thousand ways things could have gone, I mean if Matt had decided to just junk the site early on we wouldn't be here talking about it. I don't mean luck in the oh-just-wait-and-you'll-be-discovered because you are a princess way, but in a " random chance gives you opportunities that are not equal or level or given to everyone and how you react to these opportunities can change your life or you can still fail due to forces beyond your control." like, I know I work hard and I'm talented, but I also know my entire comics carrer is due to asking a girl about her cool antique notebook on the first day of life drawing class.
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 PM on February 27, 2012


Also I wouldn't wish my carrier thought process on anyone

" man, being a cartoonist is basically impossible and you never get paid, I know, I'll learn to sing and dance cause surely comedic acting isn't a bloated underpaid field!"
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 PM on February 27, 2012


I don't make my living with photography, but I've created a lot of work I'm very proud of. I'm not going to stop just because it might not "pay off." I don't consider myself a failure just because I make my living in a more boring and conventional way.

I still have one of your photographs over my desk. I think your work is great.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:05 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I fantastic-flagged charlie don't surf's comment because it's absolutely heartbreaking, and why I hesitate to take life advice from a comedian. As a society, we really do value a weird and narrow subset of things.

For example, I spend a lot of my limited spare time — left over after my day job, classes, homework, etc. — translating a Soviet-published book on colloquial Persian. That takes a pretty specialized skillset. It's painstaking work, it's slow, and it takes a lot of research. After I finish the translation, it might get published in an obscure monograph series. It could be enormously useful to a very small handful of highly specialized scholars. Or, you know, it might never get read by anyone, even if it's the best fucking English translation of a Soviet-published grammar of colloquial Persian ever. I mean, there's not much hustling one could do there.

I have an acquaintance who is an unemployable expert on medieval central Asia. He reads primary sources in six languages, including Mongolian. It's his life's passion. There's no room for him in academia, and to the non-academic world he's basically worthless. Try and come up with some way he could "popularize" what he cares about most. The average person doesn't care a crow's feather about ninth-century Tibetan kingdoms. To develop a broad audience, my friend would have to broaden his focus so much that he'd become indistinguishable from a Wikipedia-skimming dilettante.

My day job is at an MRI research center. We work on awesome, cutting-edge things that would take years of intense study to understand completely. And we're not at all unique in this respect, because every MRI research center is a very active research site. Let me tell you about phase and frequency encoding in q-space, I'm sure you're dying to learn about it. And after a couple of years we'll solve a small part of some technical puzzle having to do with, I dunno, white matter tractography. It'll be super-exciting, and completely irrelevant from a clinical perspective. It will advance Science! though, so there's that. And the closest we'll get to popular acclaim would be if we started to do MRI scans of fruit, like that blog guy in Boston, and sold prints of that.

I don't want to say that work similar to mine is more vital than comedy, or web design, or running a Neopets fan portal, all things that take talent and dedication. I understand that almost everyone values having big laffs in their life. But the array of possible things to be passionate about is so much richer than the set of things people might conceivably earn you money and popularity, like running a podcast or being a YouTube celebrity. Even supposing that you have the luck and resources to get the right training, and have the right skills, and do the thing you care about most, and do it to the utmost limit of your abilities, and succeed — there's a very good chance that not enough people will give a shit, because it's not something they can watch on their computer at work or buy plastered on the front of a Hanes Beefy-T.
posted by Nomyte at 10:41 PM on February 27, 2012 [18 favorites]


Well, YoungAmerican, I think the piece is great. I'll be saving it. Since like a lot of yokels around here, I contemplate this problem.

Thing is, when it comes to "inspirational" stuff like this, to some degree it has to be generic. Yeah, I want someone to write the book that tells me personally how to do every single thing I'd need to do step by step and holding my hand, but life doesn't work like that. Every single one of the examples in the article is drastically different from each other, work in different mediums, follow their own wacky stars. No net guru or Tony Robbins or whoever CAN help you THAT specifically, and you can't expect them to. I like Barbara Sher and Martha Beck for being folks who encourage you to follow whatever your random weird thing is, but even with them, it can only go so far.

You have to do the rest of the work yourself because what worked for Felicia/Merlin/Chris/Kate/whoever is not something that will copy over to your life, even if you are pretty damn sure you want a webcomic or TV show. They had to blaze their own trail, and you're not going to be able to directly rip off their success. Some of these self-help books I've read talk about finding role models to see how they did it, but hell, whatever I want to do, nobody else has done it yet. I do think uniqueness/being "the first" to do your Thing helps a lot. As the Internet goes on, the ability to be First! does go down to some degree, so it gets harder. Internet is now a job requirement, really.

Back on the topic of Other Requirements You Need To Do Your Thing For Money, in addition to the "not in debt, don't have kids" stuff, there's also the life requirement that you (or a loved one) don't have any illnesses requiring you to have a day job that gives you health insurance. For all of the "I do my own thing and run my own business, WHEE!!!!" stuff I've read, hardly ever does that last one get addressed. Except by Steve Pavlina, who I seem to recall just flat out saying he didn't care if he gets sick later in life. Meanwhile, I watched my dad die for ten years and call me crazy, but I am not cool and froody with following my heart and then having Bad Shit happen to me because private insurance will reject you for anything. I've had conversations with my shrink about trying to find kr8tiv legal loopholes for health insurance should I make the leap, but it's still scary.

Oh yeah, and you need really, really good business skills, which hasn't come up here yet, but should. Not every artist was born with mad math skills-- hell, I suspect I have dyscalculia. But if you want to have an artistic career, it seems like you are REQUIRED to run your own business. I keep looking for some way to get hired to Make Things for a regular paycheck, but I live in America and not a third world country and uh...it doesn't quite go like that. You have to be in charge of it and know everything and not fuck up on your taxes. This is usually where I hit my limit because every time I've attempted Business and Selling My Things, I've hated every damn second of it.

I'm tired of people telling me I should sell my work because it's that good--well, yes it is, but it's not worth my time and effort and stress to make $8, which is what I made the last time I sold my goods. (Yay economy. Also, my Things are quite expendable in the economy.) And as charlie don't surf and Nomyte point out, your Thing has to be profitable if you want to be able to do it for the 8 hours a day you are required to do money-making things in order to survive. Really, I just want a business nanny, but since that doesn't exist (and even if I had one, I keep picturing myself ending up like Maddie Hayes in Moonlighting, financially screwed because I left it all to them to handle), I guess I'll be doing my Things as hobbies forever.

This article is a great help in some ways, but every time I have to boil it down from the general to the specific/realistic, that's where I end up hopeless and being a hobbyist instead, every time. I'm tired of it. I am bored of having to spend 8 hours a day typing in order to afford to make things for fun, but... I haven't figured out my special fucking snowflake problem either there.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:54 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


God, my lengthy comment got zapped at lunchtime when this thread apparently got deleted briefly. My point was that, as much as I love Jesse (seriously, I subscribe and am a fan of everything you do), my problem is the definition of success. Yes, follow your passion, work hard at it, and be generous to people -- that's always good advice -- but, like most Internet Personalities, Jesse equates "success" with "getting people to notice you." Surely there is better reason to follow your passion than: you could be famous like Insane Clown Posse.

There are millions of us who get up and do the work we love, sacrificing money, security, even safety without the recognition of our peers and that, in no way, diminishes the success and satisfaction we perceive doing this work.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:58 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


If I can sum up this entire thread, Jesse Thorn wrote a piece on giving advice how to succeed, and did a crappy job framing it with irony-by-exaggeration. His first paragraph made the whole thing appear like Just Another Pep Talk piece, and it poisoned the well for many of the people reading, especially MeFites with oversensitive bullshit detectors. From my POV and life experience (and I'm older than most of you and have had more failures and more emotional obstacles than most...), it was about 1/3 obvious stuff we've heard from all the Pep Talkers, and 2/3 stuff you don't usually hear (BUT two or three of the points I would take issue with). So over 50% valid useful, non-obvious advice is pretty good. Just not 1000%.

And Nomyte just made a very valid point. If you're not in the communications/media/entertainment/social fields, LESS of it applies to you. If Matt had been happy with his work in Environmental Engineering, his career trajectory would have been very different and not necessarily needing the same mindset. I worked for 10 years at an Environmental Engineering firm in a non-engineering capacity, and just supporting the work they were doing was the most satisfying 'non-creative' work I ever did... for most of that time. But I was there when the focus of the company, and really the whole field, shifted from actively cleaning shit up to doing paperwork. Environmental Impact Reports discouraged a lot of engineers who had been working there a lot longer than Matt. (so... many... trees... killed...)

And jenfullmoon made another great point, the need for a Creative Person to also be a Business Person. Which is a 13th separate point that really the piece lacked.

Otherwise, he really hit the Bullseye.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:05 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed the essay - including being reminded of the inscrutable Andrew W.K. - and am always glad to have a little pep talk along these lines. The way to make things is to just get busy making things rather than worrying about what ifs. Right on Jesse, keep on keepin' on.

charlie don't surf, I think your process and prints sound fascinating and I'm sorry you've not had any luck in finding a patron to support you making them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:18 PM on February 27, 2012


I just kinda wish the show was still called TSoYM.

But we all have to move on eventually.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:19 PM on February 27, 2012


I'm going to wait until I hit 50. That's not all that far off...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:20 PM on February 27, 2012


As I look back at what I wrote earlier I realize that it sounded pretty negative. I didn’t hate the piece at all, I’m full of platitudes in my day to day life, but just had some problems with it. I realize what I was thinking was not fully represented in what I wrote, and other people can’t read my mind. Happens to me a lot and I suspect that’s what happened in this article. But I’m not a professional internet talker.

The guy who wrote this article is though. I don’t think it’s right to come on here and get to defensive about people not liking the piece. Not if you’re a professional. I tend to draw a pretty firm line when it comes to whether you got paid for something, and whether I should criticize. If someone does something for free I try really hard to keep my dislike to myself. Complaining about free software, for instance, is just awful. But if I paid $.99 for it, or Nabisco paid you to write it, then everything changes.

If your business is selling an image of yourself, be it Oprah, or Cory Doctorow, or Katy Perry, then part of that is realizing that people have paid for the right to criticize. You sold something, whether through ad space or whatever it doesn’t matter, people get to say whether they liked it or not. It seems like a lot of bloggers, podcasters, and other "new media" people want to have it both ways, make a living off it, but play the part of the talented amateur.
posted by bongo_x at 11:47 PM on February 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I still contend there are vast swaths, maybe most of the population, for whom this type of advice might as well be, as someone else said (I think) "win the lottery."

I'm not suggesting that the people who have found success via some variation of this advice didn't work hard.

I posted this list ironically in the warehouse thread up page because I can say, with some sense of certainty, they simply have no way to follow this advice. They work 10 hours a day for a pittance, probably drive two hours to get there, and then have families to see to, not to mention they have to eat and shower and shit and maybe try to relax for an hour or two. That's all 24 hours spoken for, seven days a week.

I keep thinking of the "Brian" character in the warehouse story, fired for being absent for his child's birth from his 10-hour-a-day exhausting job, clearly desperate for money, and being ground down daily by his shitty workplace. He can't afford to gamble everything and fail.

Lord knows I've failed plenty, and I'm not any model of success, but failure is a luxury when you don't have a safety net and society hasn't provided one.
posted by maxwelton at 11:50 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


TSoYA I meant, of course. Oops.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:10 AM on February 28, 2012


What if you're talentless, passionless, and have no desire to make things? Oh wait, MBAs.

We get our kicks from something much better than making things. We make you use your talent and passion to make things for us.

Except we don't want those things. We just like to make you do stuff. It's better when it's stuff you don't want to do, but we're not picky.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:23 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's worth noting that Mr. Thorn isn't a Tony Robbins, in the sense that he's not arguing you can become wealthy following these rules (which Robbins specifically does propose.) Thorn can't, as he makes a modest living doing what he does, and, as he mentioned, he only started making this living recently.

But making a living doing something you care about is a success story. And there will be limitations. People with less education will be more limited. People with less money will be more limited. People with certain disabilities, or from certain backgrounds, or of certain age ground or genders or sexual preferences will likely face stumbling blocks -- not of their own creation -- that make Thorn's suggestions harder, or impossible. Yes, this is true, yes, yes. It's worth noting.

I probably come from sort of the same background as Thorn. I am college educated, but it was a public college. My parents probably could have helped me out in a way Thorn's couldn't, but I never asked, and have never received more than maybe $2,000 from them in the quarter century since I turned 18. And I had my bad breaks, including homelessness and being in a city that was hit by a hurricane.

I can't claim success in life, but neither can I claim failure. I have written plays, and they have done pretty well (one has enjoyed something like 20 productions, and my weirdest one, which I released to the public domain because I didn't expect there to be any interest, is about to have its third production.) I participate in a prestigious theater conference every year as a respondent and educator, and that's nice, but I make less money as a playwright than I could by working minimum wage, part time, for a month.

I've released three albums of my own music. I'm pretty happy with them -- each is intended to be a learning experience, and has been, and I am satisfied with what I have made. I have probably made $600 total on all three albums, but, then, I recorded them for almost nothing and released them digitally, and so any money I make at this point is profit, which puts me ahead of, say, Meatloaf, who had an album in the top 100 for 20 years and was bankrupt.

Here's the thing, though. Even though I haven't made much money at these thing, they have almost all lead to opportunities that caused me to make money. They have increased my experience, and expertise, and provided me with a certain cache. I regularly find work as an arts journalist, as an example, and have done pretty well at that, and it was my own work in the arts that created this opportunity. Thorn has one approach, and it's one that I respect, which is that he really dedicated himself to doing one thing, and building a following for it, and put in the time required. I have seen that pay off time and again. Not every time, and perhaps not even the majority of times, but often enough to be a valuable approach.

I would also offer my approach as an alternative. I am a dedicated flibbertygibbet. I pursue my wide-ranging interests with real passion, I don't expect to get much out of it, and then I keep my eyes open for whatever opportunity might accidentally pop up as a result. And this has also not worked a majority of the time, but it has worked often enough for me to feel confident enough in it to pack up everything and move to Los Angeles just over a month ago, because the sorts of opportunities I want are more plentiful there. And Thorn did the same thing -- from what I recall, he's a dyed-in-the-wool San Franciscan, but made the decision to come to Los Angeles because it was where what he wanted to do would be easier done. And that's an important decision. It's important to be in a place where there is opportunity, if you can.

I'm doing background work right now, and God knows it isn't high paying. But, you know something, I may accidentally have arrived at exactly the best moment possible. It seems like that SAG is about to merge with AFTRA, making the two major actors unions one. And SAG can be very hard to get into, and is expensive, but AFTRA is open to anybody who wants to join, and is more reasonably prices. And I saved money, so I joined AFTRA, and if the two merge, I will have accomplished in just a few months what many people wait years to be able to do. Because union pay is higher than non-union, and there are, in the long-run, more opportunities.

Will it actually pan out? Who knows. I sure don't. But if it doesn't, I'll just try something else. And I'll keep looking for opportunities. At least I'm doing what I enjoy. As long as I can pay my bills, I'm fine. I still write and make music, and I own everything I make, and whatever happens, they can't take that away from me. I guess it all depends on how you define success. I'm not a millionaire, but I feel pretty successful anyway.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:38 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh. I also have a voodoo shrine to Mambo Ezili Danto too. That seems to help.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:48 AM on February 28, 2012


well, this advice only works if you're a winner. if you're a loser, you can go your whole life hearing people say "You can do it!", that they have confidence in you, reading books on building your self-esteem and actualizing your goals and life planning, after a certain point of destroying that confidence by being lazy and not as smart in reality as you are on paper and just being plain to afraid to take a chance because of the other chances you've taken that have failed, or because you're scared of the consequences, scared that you'll lock yourself into some path you might not be happy with and then you see you're approaching middle age, and you squandered your opportunities, and that you have locked yourself onto a shitty path and you realize you are a loser.
posted by Snyder at 3:15 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with the piece isn't that it's glib. It's that it's smug. It reeks of Jesse thinking he's figured something out, and is written from that vantage point of self-satisfaction. The concepts might be utterly sincere, they might even be good (and they are, although they're nothing Seth Godin hasn't said better, and Seth Godin is still an irritating ass), but when they're delivered so obviously from the inside of Jesse's skull, they sound arrogant.

This isn't a problem of actually being arrogant. It's a problem of communicating in arrogant ways. I had a friend who had this issue: he was utterly humble, possibly even to the point of low self-esteem, but he couldn't get it in his head that when you broadcast ideas outside yourself, they become about the person you're talking to, not about you. Unless you're making an obvious effort to get out of your head and into your audience's, then you'll have that tone to your words that suggests you're talking to hear the sound of your own voice.

I can't say I know much of Jesse's work, because for whatever reasons I find podcasts and radio completely alien, but his friend Merlin Mann has this problem in much of his writing, save the really great stuff, where he seems to go, "You know what, this is really important – so important that I don't know how to express it to you. So I'm going to try, and it might suck, but I really do think this is important," and suddenly there's a humility to the writing which Merlin never has otherwise. And his best work really is damn good.

Jesse's irony bugs me because it reads like a smirk rather than a gentle, sympathetic smile. It's not him going, "Hey, I know it's tough, life can be hard, this advice might not be able to help, but maybe it might help you figure something out, you know?" It's him laughing at his own wit. It's him being unnecessarily perky not because it's going to help his audience, but because, shit, beats me.

His humility sounds like smug humility. His jokes sound like smug jokes. His advice reads like smug advice. The places it does try to connect with me, it feels calculated, like he knows cerebrally that he ought to be humble or issue a disclaimer but he's only going through the motions. And then he comes here and continues the same tone of condescension.

I do know a great way to guarantee failure, though: not to try.

So to sum up: GUARANTEE ironic. TECHNIQUES sincere. Life is uncertain and difficult, but you can improve your odds.

What I don't understand is why not specifically addressing every problem that may come up for every person, or every darkness in every crevasse of the world invalidates everything else I wrote, or changes the above.

His every sentence sounds like it's coming from a frustrated schoolteacher trying to cram a concept into his dimmest students. It's sarcastic and irritated and never once apologetic. Never does he say: "I'm sorry some of you were turned off by the way I said this. I never meant to imply that success was easy, or even predictable. But these are the things that my favorite makers-of-things did to find success and I think there's a wisdom to this process. I hope that it helps some of you find what you're looking for." It's all telling us critics to go fuck ourselves.

Jesse, you might want to try sounding like you're aware that there are people in the world beyond you and your super-cool maker friends, and that when you fail to communicate with them, the problem is on your end. Not ours. Specifically, it's with how you decide to broadcast yourself. The ideas are decent, if way too overwrought (you could have written this better in a fourth the space), and you seem like a sincere enough fellow, but simply being sincere doesn't mean you instantly become good at expressing yourself, and it doesn't mean you're allowed to get mad at people who you fail to reach.

I'm saying this as a young adult who read Merlin Mann at 17, found something he liked, but ultimately was turned off of Merlin and the posse he rides with because they have this cliquish insularity to what they do. You're clearly reaching and moving a lot of people, and that's incredible. But if you can't keep yourself from getting pissy with the people you're not reaching, then you'll never find a way to reach them, and it'll be a shitty loss for both you and them. Especially for them, because I promise you: there's no better way to lose people's faith in a good idea by delivering it in a way that turns them off.

Like it or not, you're one of the miniature icons in this scene of yours, and your actions will determine whether people find the (presumably really great) things you have to offer. Please don't let yourself fuck this up.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:08 AM on February 28, 2012 [22 favorites]


I am a massage therapist by trade. Recently the New York Times covered a story on research proving the beneficial effects of massage where young men had biopsies of muscle taken, first from their exercise-exhausted, then from their therapeutically-massaged thighs. The tissue examined, it was shown that cytokine function and thus inflammation was reduced. Just a self-reporting that they felt much less sore after the massage, thank-you, would be too anecdotal for rational-minded Times readers to fork out $80 for a massage, no, they need REAL PROOF. So, now someone has GIVEN THEIR SUCCESSFUL FLESH to the cause of SCIENCE and my workday as a result is so much busier. I'm more successful this month than last because of the Times, these nameless young men's vastus medialis sacrifice, and Science. And of course in the comments section of the article, every CMT was advertising their own particular mid-town rate of flesh pressure and patented technique as being the Most Scientific of the lot, but don't call me a "masseuse" because I'm not a durty hoor, I am a scientifically-proven Thing, just need your credit card, and here is my webpage.

If you conflate "success" with not just making a Thing--a solid, good Thing for the market, a sturdy thing apart from your Self that involves no bits of yourself being hacked off in the process-- but rather patenting your Big Idea and putting your face on the Thing, or commodifying your Ego for the Thing, I find the "Make Your Thing" article useful. But what if you just want the pure Thing, no hustle? For example, I watched "Brian Greene's Elegant Universe" on PBS and came away with entirely too much Brian Greene and not nearly enough elegant universe. I did not learn anything I did not already know, and because I don't know all that much, I was disappointed. I did however come away with the notion that Ed Witten is a hoot, and perhaps that is enough. But I really wanted to learn something and all I got these auto-CAD looking grids and multiple, rotating Brian Greene heads.

What I can't figure is why he even deigned to try make sense of these things to me, and why I needed six rotating Brian Greene heads on a TV screen to illustrate some dubious point about a posited multiverse. Why do I have to know who these people are when I've no clue as to what they're really getting at, and they can't make me any smarter or more useful, just perhaps better entertained? Is it to make me feel smug and old, and yet dumb and ineffectual simultaneously? Or is it rather to confound and perturb the hopeful children into expounding upon a better, more horribly Ego-Ridden, Inelegant Thing of Which 10 Billion Will Take a Shoddy, Incomplete Glimpse in the future? I see a multiverse of grumpy 12 year-olds covered in chalk dust, thinking, "Screw you, Brian Greene, and your Elegant Universe! We will make it ever so more inelegant for everyone!.... You will pay!"

At any rate, I am glad I chose the career of massage therapy, I am proud and pleased at my continued ignorance of speculative physics--11 compact dimensions, heh, my ass!-- and that the New York Times has rated my calling, if not a Pure Thing, at least an applied Engineer of Science. And when I again make rent March 1st, and wonder about consolidating my student loans, I will thank Science and New York Times and consider myself a Success.

You are all so lucky I cannot draw cartoons.
posted by eegphalanges at 5:14 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I enjoyed this a whole lot, and maybe I missed the point entirely but I didn't see it as "do these things and you, too, will be a success. 1000% guarantied! " I saw it as written more for the slackers among us who dream big, think of creative shit to do all the time, but then turn on the TV and never actually make anything.

To me, what he's saying is that these are the minimum things you need to do. You can sit and dream all day but if you don't get off your ass and do something, it is 1000% guarantied that you will not amount to shit. Do these twelve things and you will have a better chance at actually going somewhere.

It's not smug. It's helpful.

I've never listened to this guy's podcast or NPR show (is it even on WBUR in Boston?) and I'm only really aware of him through Metafilter, but I found it inspiring and I really enjoyed the examples he used. I hope the typical metafilter "I NEED TO GO BEYOND DISAGREEING WITH THIS AND STEP UP TO HATING IT AND SPITTING VENOM AT THE CREATOR!" thing doesn't drive him away.
posted by bondcliff at 5:46 AM on February 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's not smug. It's helpful.

It's both.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:47 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's both.

I did not find it smug. Having justifiable pride in one's achievements is not the same as having excessive pride. This sounds like a variation of the tone argument -- well, I agree with what you said, I just don't like how you said it.

And that's fine. Nobody has to like anybody else's tone. But it's not an absolute. Somebody might find somebody else's tone perfectly insufferable, while somebody else finds it charming, or simply plainspoken.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:56 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Exactly, Bunny, it's a tone argument. Jesse's comments here suggest that he thinks people are getting riled up because he made bad points. But nobody's criticizing his points that I see. It's all about the irritating way he writes them up.

Considering that writing of this sort is almost entirely about rhetoric and persuasiveness, I see nothing wrong with critiquing his tone. Walter's not wrong, he's just an asshole. Enough people here had the same reaction to this piece that I felt my perspective might be useful or interesting and not just threadshit.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:12 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ha. Well, if it's all about tone, I wonder how anyone here in this thread could offer advice on tone with a straight face.
posted by fake at 6:19 AM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've re-read the article and have changed my mind. Jesse is way too smug about being "pretty good at dick jokes." Look, Thorn, the vast majority of us never get a chance to tell a dick joke, let alone get "pretty good" at it. I am not college-educated, and don't have family money to fall back on if my dick-joke-telling fails. Stop rubbing your dick jokes in my face!

Give it up, Thorn!
posted by The Deej at 6:19 AM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


So... quickly scanning the thread, seems like there's some controversy? Uhh... whatever. That was a really great read. Thanks for writing it, Jesse: you totally encapsulated a lot of "lessons learned" from around the business world. Rule #13: Fuck all the haterz?
posted by ph00dz at 6:58 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't find his article smug or glib or as having a tone or any of those things, it is well-written, well-intentioned, and seemingly sincere---it's just that my idea of success does not jibe with his idea of success, and that success is pretty bristly a topic if people do not share the same definition of a very loaded word. Just because you have achieved "It" and suddenly achieve the graceful state of breadstuff finding its way down your gullet in a clever, look-at-me fashion does not make things any easier or more restful just because you, Fatcat, now control the means of production. So full, so hungry. This is known as the Chapel Perilous: whole nation-states devoured.
posted by eegphalanges at 7:27 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't find the article to be smug either, and I honestly didn't think it was in the least insincere, but I've been listening to various YoungAmerican podcasts on and off for a while so maybe I'm just used to his sense of humor or something.

I do think there's a line that any sort of career advice walks, where on one side you want it to be applicable to a wide range of people, but on the other side the more generally applicable it is, the less useful it becomes, because you wind up with platitudes like "work hard" and "don't give up on your dreams." The advice Mr. Thorn gives out here is obviously not intended for someone whose time is 100% consumed by working in a shitty warehouse job and caring for family members. At the jumping-off point of the essay, he's already had some amount of success in a creative endeavor and is trying to figure out how to make a living doing it. He also has a clear idea about what he wants to do, which I imagine is not the case for every possible reader of this piece.

The early part of the essay also makes it pretty clear that a good deal of happenstance was involved in him getting that initial early success in the first place. It's pretty clear to me that there's no way to take luck out of the equation for success, but what's the point in saying so, really? There's nothing you can do to change your luck, so there's not really a lot of advice that applies.
posted by whir at 8:07 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I didn't find the article to be smug either, and I honestly didn't think it was in the least insincere, but I've been listening to various YoungAmerican podcasts on and off for a while so maybe I'm just used to his sense of humor or something.

I think another thing that is weird about this sort of microcelebrity thing, is how it can blur the line between what we think of as "famous people" and what we think of as "schmucks like us" And so when people ask $FAMOUS_PERSON for their suggestions for cooking or fashion or success, it's only partly because they think the person is the best goto person on this topic, but also because other people really want to know what that person has to say. So just being them, talking about these topics has value to many people.

And so you might be able to say "Well, who cares what Zooey Deschanel says about ukulele playing, she's not THAT good..." but the answer is really that a lot of people care what she has to say, just because she's well known and she's pretty and people like to see her talk and play ukulele. And this then becomes a double-edged sword because you wind up getting accusations of being a showboat or a fame whore or thinking you're so clever or smart or whatever when really you're just sort of answering questions people pose to you and talking about your life. People ask mathowie about stuff just to hear what he has to say, he doesn't have to prove that his observations are interesting to people, he's already done that. And that can be frustrating for people who think maybe their observations are just as good, heck they may BE just as good, but they're not slotted in the same place, for whatever reason. It's an odd and fickle combination. Part of being well-known most of the time is also wanting to be well known and having that be a priority in its own weird way.

I'm just viewing this through my own lens, obviously. I get interviewed for stuff a fair amount and have minor celebritydom in the library world. And so people ask me "Hey how do you do $THING?" and you either need to include a zillion up front disclaimers ["first have no student loans, then don't have kids, then become somewhat obsessive about the thing that your friends make fun of you for, then promote yourself sort of relentlessly, then ignore the haters completely, then answer all your email and always call reporters back..."] or you try to explain why you think the magic works.

Because no one wants to hear "Well, first be me" because that's unhelpful but if you say "First you could try to be like me or these other people because this is what worked for them" and hope that something sticks for people. Because we don't all succeed in the same way, obviously. But the people who seem to be able to do the things they love and make a living at those things share some characteristics that might not be the ones you'd think. But if you don't know Jesse (and I'm more of a friend of a friend, really, don't think I've ever really spoken to the guy) it's easy to think he's done it one way when he's really done it another. And I learned more about that in this thread almost than I did in the article though both were sort of useful.
posted by jessamyn at 8:23 AM on February 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


For those of us on the cynical side of the argument, this seems relevant.
posted by asnider at 8:50 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm glad this came along. I'm thirty in a little more than a month, and that's making me feel pretty solipsistic. I'm thinking about the things I wanted to do at sixteen, and the things that got in the way of doing them at eighteen and twenty five and last week, and I'm wondering whether it's even too late. Now I feel like the idea of having to DO SOMETHING before one turns 30 is only the case if you want to be a catwalk model or a professional footballer, and for everything else it's a bit of a false idea. It's OK to do that thing at thirty five that you couldn't do at twenty five...or is it? I don't know.

I used to be a 'gifted child' according to some tests I did when I was two or three, but my talent happened to be reading early, and by the time you're five being able to read well isn't really that impressive - much less by adulthood (barring dyslexia etc., obviously). A couple of people I've been out with liked to rail against the middle classes/establishment, and say that the only people that succeeded were those with rich parents or a private education, and I came to realise that there's a point where it doesn't matter what your parents do* or where you went to school, unless you make it so. It becomes a good reason not to try harder. I fell into that trap for a while because I was around people who weren't sufficiently ambitious for themselves, and looked for external reasons to blame. But perhaps I'm doing that too, in my own way - not starting work on something I really want to do because I'm terrified it'll be awful.


* this was literally the first thing I was asked at my Cambridge entrance interview. The second was where my father worked. One of my biggest regrets is not being confident enough at 17 to give those questions the response they deserved, instead of politely answering and thinking 'hold on, they do want more state school pupils here, yes?'
posted by mippy at 8:59 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


This thread was more interesting than the original linked article. I remember when Graeber's book on the history of debt was published and people here were discussing pros and cons and then Graeber showed up and crap was flying all over the place--there was a Metatalk thread, and one of the mods said they thought the whole thing was a little embarrasing, and then Graeber left in a huff. This thread presents an interesting contrast to that one. A couple other remarks:

1.) Was anybody's criticism of Graeber in that thread any different in quality and quantity than what people said about Thornton here? I don't think so. Two of the comments I can still remember where one poster accused him of hyping his crappy overpriced book and another one advised him that even though most of our userid's looked kind of silly there were several people on the thread who had intellectual superpowers.

2.) I was really interested in that book (in a great deal of Graeber's work, actually) and I saw him pull a similar stunt at Ribbon Farm and on Amazon. These are internet comments section nobody really cares much about and it isn't rhetorically skilled to enter the forum and use a tone like you are standing at the front of a hall behind a podium. A couple of the people in this thread claimed they saw that in Thornton's comments in this thread although I definitely did not.

3.) Some of this is a question of taste and "your favorite self-help guru sucks" stuff. Perhaps every single metafilter user has a self-help guru they completely despise. I despise Tony Robbins and The Secret and I sincerely feel their fans are pretty damn dumb. I have a taste for Carl Jung and Richard Bandler and I know there are millions of people who think they are crackpots.

4.) Imagine if you will what would have followed if instead of Thornton the author of this were Cory Doctorow or Xeni Jardin or Phil Greenspun or Tim Ferris and they had entered the thread with even a remotely approximate approach to they are standing at the podium and addressing a lecture hall. The mods might have been up half the night. These internet comment threads are not yet a mature dialectical format.
posted by bukvich at 9:05 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lots of people work hard, have talent, and *don't* get rich and famous.

I'm not interested in being rich and famous. I want to make something of which I can feel proud. Usually if something is done for the money/exposure to many beautiful ladies it's obvious, and it makes for bad art that wastes everyone's time.
posted by mippy at 9:05 AM on February 28, 2012


So what the f*ck kind of advice am I supposed to give? ... Most things fail. ... HOWEVER there are CERTAINLY things you can do to increase your chances of succeeding.

The problem is that success is so rare that doing all of these things increases the chance of success only a very tiny amount. Thus, giving advice of this type is problematic and should be accompanied with massive disclaimers, not guarantees, even ironic ones. It definitely shouldn't come with even the barest suggestion that these things are necessary, sufficient, or even particularly strongly correlated with success—because they aren't. They're just things that probably don't hurt and maybe help a tiny bit.

In fact, I would argue that such advice shouldn't be given at all, even with disclaimers, because people are all too happy to grasp at straws. It would be better to say "I got lucky. In my case luck came after seven years of doing it for free, but in other cases luck comes immediately. In most cases it never happens at all. Only try if you can afford to fail." That's honest, practical advice that recognizes reality and helps people avoid getting crushed by failure.

The focus should be on mitigating the emotional and economic impact of failure rather than on how to succeed because failure is much, much more likely than success and because people cope with unexpected success much better than they cope with unexpected failure.

I worked very hard at outlining twelve of them in that piece.

Don't beat yourself up. Most things fail, after all.
posted by jedicus at 9:09 AM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


(NB I don't know if kids do generally read well at five. At the risk of humblebragging, if you can read a newspaper at three it skews your idea of what kids do when. I couldn't ride a bike 'til I was 26, and most kids could before they turned 10, so it works both ways.)
posted by mippy at 9:17 AM on February 28, 2012


it's worth noting that Thorne benefitted from both CA state schools and entitlements - institutions that are by no means inevitable. I had a conversation with someone from Germany today who said unemployment support from the state, and especially benefits for unemployed starting a new business, played a key role in his career. These kinds of support are so important. (on preview, what asterix said).


Someone born two years before me could have gone on to university for free - full student grant, no fees to pay at all.

Someone born ten years after me will struggle to get a loan high enough to live off, and will have to pay triple what the maximum fee was when I was a student (I didn't pay very much in the way of fees thanks to some arcane way of calculating these things that no longer applies.) They will be more likely as a result to a) pick a degree course that will later turn to money, rather than studying something they are just very very interested in b) not see university as an excellent reason to leave the shitty small towns in which they live, because the increased cost will mean moving to a more expensive city or even moving out of home is going to seem prohibitive.

Despite this, I don't think there'll be a great shortage of twenty year olds doing something great in the next few years. Granted, the internship culture that's taking hold over here (and has been around in the States for longer) is going to mean the plucky working-class kid with something to say is going to have to shout a lot louder to get it heard, but it's not going to stop it happening.
posted by mippy at 9:25 AM on February 28, 2012


I have always kind of loved the review part of failing, where you blow something or stop doing it or whatever and after you stop feeling bad about it, you ask yourself why it went wrong and what could have made it go better and the next time you try something you take those lessons and your failures start to get less and less common.

This has always been true for me, too. In that spirit, I feel like I've personally learned a couple of things from this thread:

1) Success on the Internet is at least partially measured in readers, listeners, and/or viewers. So a moderately successful ongoing project will attract a following of people who are, on balance, sympathetic to your goal and familiar with your style. But the more successful you become, the less control you have over your audience and the context of your message. So if you create something with a potential to move outside the boundaries of your normal sphere of influence, you should make sure that your project communicates your intent clearly, outside of the context of your personality.

My feeling is that maybe Jesse's success actually worked against him in that regard. Within his community, Jesse's advice may play as a breezy but heartfelt testimonial to working hard at things you love. Outside of that carefully cultivated environment, though, some of his voice got lost in his words. This has happened to me plenty of times here on MetaFilter, too. And I'm pretty sure it's been my fault every single time.

2) The more touchy a subject is, the more likely it is to escape into the wilds of the Internet, and the more likely it is to not be received as intended by those who are not familiar with you.

3) When discussing a touchy subject, never lead with irony.

4) "Success" is a touchy subject.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:29 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


A couple of the people in this thread claimed they saw that in Thornton's comments in this thread although I definitely did not.

Thorn (not Thornton) is YoungAmerican, if you want to read his particular comments in this thread.
posted by asnider at 9:30 AM on February 28, 2012


oops thank you for the correction asnider.
posted by bukvich at 9:44 AM on February 28, 2012


In fact, I would argue that such advice shouldn't be given at all, even with disclaimers, because people are all too happy to grasp at straws. It would be better to say "I got lucky. In my case luck came after seven years of doing it for free, but in other cases luck comes immediately. In most cases it never happens at all. Only try if you can afford to fail." That's honest, practical advice that recognizes reality and helps people avoid getting crushed by failure.

I don't understand how a successful person who is offering motivation is suddenly liable for our dreams not panning out.

I mean, I'm a pretty cynical person, but this is a bizarre argument. Is there really no place in this world for motivation? From now on, every successful person should be in the business of failure mitigation. What a fucking disaster that would be for culture.
posted by Think_Long at 9:54 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


In fact, I would argue that such advice shouldn't be given at all, even with disclaimers, because people are all too happy to grasp at straws. It would be better to say "I got lucky. In my case luck came after seven years of doing it for free, but in other cases luck comes immediately. In most cases it never happens at all. Only try if you can afford to fail." That's honest, practical advice that recognizes reality and helps people avoid getting crushed by failure.

Wow.

This is a triumph of self-defeatism and fatalism.

If more people had this kind of attitude, we'd still be sitting around a fire in animal furs hoping we'll be lucky enough that the spirits will make more food appear...
posted by Argyle at 10:01 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there really no place in this world for motivation? From now on, every successful person should be in the business of failure mitigation. What a fucking disaster that would be for culture.

I think there's no place in the world for motivation that encourages (or worse, deceives) people to make irrational gambles if they aren't prepared for the consequences of failure. It's a pretty poor culture that relies on countless starry-eyed artists having their dreams crushed so that a lucky few may be successful.
posted by jedicus at 10:02 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think there's no place in the world for motivation that encourages (or worse, deceives) people to make irrational gambles if they aren't prepared for the consequences of failure. It's a pretty poor culture that relies on countless starry-eyed artists having their dreams crushed so that a lucky few may be successful.

What a dull, boring world that would turn out to be.
posted by bondcliff at 10:14 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a triumph of self-defeatism and fatalism.

Well, it's my honest response to being unsuccessful in an area I tried to be successful in and being wildly successful in an area that I got stupidly lucky in. If I had it to do over again I wouldn't have bothered with the former because the cost of failure was too great and I was unprepared for it. And while I would have bothered with the latter, I recognize that the success came from luck, and so I wouldn't have put more effort into it than I did because my success was almost completely uncorrelated with my effort.

If more people had this kind of attitude, we'd still be sitting around a fire in animal furs hoping we'll be lucky enough that the spirits will make more food appear...

What? This doesn't follow at all. All I said was 'don't invest / gamble more than you can afford to lose.' You apparently asserted that essentially all of human progress has relied upon people ignoring that advice. Please explain how that's the case.

I mean, just to take your example at face-value: hunting and gathering are reliable methods of getting food. By contrast, hoping that the spirits will provide food is a great example of gambling more than you can afford to lose (i.e. doing nothing while risking starvation). So I really don't understand your point.
posted by jedicus at 10:14 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a pretty poor culture that relies on countless starry-eyed artists having their dreams crushed so that a lucky few may be successful.

There was a related editorial in the NYTimes last week, Why Are Harvard Graduates in the Mailroom? It basically argues that it's a pretty poor culture that relies on countless starry-eyed lawyers having their dreams crushed so that a lucky few can become Partners.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:18 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a dull, boring world that would turn out to be.

Ah, you're right. What we need is more people to invest their lives in nigh-impossible dreams and ignore the suffering of the unsuccessful majority.

For example, more children should focus on trying to become sports stars. Sure, the vast majority will fail and end up impoverished and forgotten, but the handful who succeed produce quality entertainment for the rest of us. It definitely makes no sense to suggest that maybe it would be a good idea to encourage children to focus on goals that are more readily achievable or for which the costs of failure are not so high. That would be so dull.

It basically argues that it's a pretty poor culture that relies on countless starry-eyed lawyers having their dreams crushed so that a lucky few can become Partners.

As one of those formerly-starry-eyed lawyers, I agree completely. The law firm structure relies on exploitation of labor by capital in myriad ways. I could go into great detail, but that would be a derail.
posted by jedicus at 10:22 AM on February 28, 2012


Just as a recap, here are the 12 things Thorn wrote about:

1. Start Now (Kate Beaton)
2. Make Deadlines (Jonathan Coulton)
3. Keep Your Legs Moving (Killer Mike)
4. Don’t Confuse Content & Medium (Boing Boing)
5. Be Authentic (Andrew WK)
6. Follow Your Passion (Chris Hardwick)
7. Focus on Great Work (Merlin Mann)
8. Connect with People You Like (You Look Nice Today)
9.Own What You Create (Felicia Day)
10. Find the Money (Kasper Hauser)
11.Build a Community (Insane Clown Posse)
12. DO A GOOD JOB

Not one of those, to my recollection, says anything about gambling your entire future on a lofty goal. These are mostly practical or thematically inspirational points for creative people to take to heart as they do their thing. If you are a motivated creative person than yes, you should do these things. Keep your day job. Feed your kids. But if you want success then heck, these 12 steps sure can't hurt.
posted by Think_Long at 10:50 AM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not one of those, to my recollection, says anything about gambling your entire future on a lofty goal. These are mostly practical or thematically inspirational points for creative people to take to heart as they do their thing. If you are a motivated creative person than yes, you should do these things. Keep your day job. Feed your kids. But if you want success then heck, these 12 steps sure can't hurt.

Agreed. As much as I think that this list is just a "cool" rehashing of old motivational speaker ideas, I don't quite understand why people are getting bent out of shape and suggesting that Thorn is advocating taking insane risks.
posted by asnider at 10:57 AM on February 28, 2012


jedicus, I don't agree that people shouldn't be giving advice on how to realize their dreams – maybe most of that advice will fall flat for most people, but look at the people even within this thread who find something worthwhile in Jesse's piece. There's value in inspiration, and in teaching people to try and do what they want.

I don't think that any of Jesse's points deal with artists or creators whose unsuccessful risks would have led to failure. If nobody had responded to Kate Beaton's comics, would she have turned bitter or died of starvation? Would she have been denied from taking other, future risks?

You're right that many people's goals aren't directly achievable in contemporary society, but that in and of itself is an opportunity. Look at a site like Kickstarter, which saw how many people wanted to make things that they couldn't, and developed a technological and business solution which has helped however many hundreds or thousands of people do their thing. There's absolutely an art to letting people follow their dreams, and there's money in it for the people who do it well.

Almost every single person Jesse mentioned was a person whose success came in part from the Internet. We're still tip-of-the-iceberg-ing w/r/t the Internet's capacity to disrupt. This whole global connectivity thing lets people do things they could never dream of doing before. For Valentine's Day I got my girlfriend some really nice handmade soap from somebody whose entire career is based on selling soap nationwide through Etsy. Is making soap too lofty a dream to pursue?

In fact, with only a few exceptions Jesse's article only covers people whose successes could be defined as "indie". These aren't the sports starts. These are the microcelebrities, of whom Jesse is himself one. They reach an audience of a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand people, and that's enough to make a living, and there's room for thousands of people like this to each survive within their niche. Certainly more than are making a living right now. And Jesse's not just saying, "Go do what you want to and hope you don't fail!" He's saying, "If you're not successful with what you do right now, here are some ways to succeed within a niche. Pursue your weird quirky passions. Find an audience. Look at where there's money." Ways for those smart, talented, unsuccessful people to maybe rethink their approach.

We need more of this. As much of an ass as I think Seth Godin is, he's inspired thousands of people to do some really awesome things. As unintentionally smug as I find Jesse's tone, I think his advice is right on. Not only do thoughts like this have the potential to change the world, they are changing it as we speak.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:59 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Every single example of success he cites is of someone in the entertainment industry. Every single one. Bloggers, comedians, writers, actors, musicians, etc.

Tell me, how important is it to be "authentic" if I want to be a surgeon? Do I really need to "follow my passion" to run a successful metal fabrication company? Does the expression "own what you create" even make any sense when applied to a guy who wants to open a chain of laundromats?
posted by Pastabagel at 11:00 AM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Pastabagel - I think the advice is pretty clearly targeted at "creatives." It isn't necessarily meant to apply to surgeons or metal fabricators.
posted by asnider at 11:05 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lots of people work hard, have talent, and *don't* get rich and famous.

Why is it so important to be famous? Rich, I understand. Being rich is not having to worry about all of the things that people who aren't rich worry about. But famous? What does that even mean? Chris Hardwick has 1.5 million twitter followers. So? Do they each send him checks every month? Do they all take turns sleeping with him? Have they agreed to come over and help mow his lawn?
posted by Pastabagel at 11:07 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is the Internet. The advice may have been intended for "creatives," but it was targeted at everybody.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:07 AM on February 28, 2012


Not one of those, to my recollection, says anything about gambling your entire future on a lofty goal. These are mostly practical or thematically inspirational points for creative people to take to heart as they do their thing. If you are a motivated creative person than yes, you should do these things. Keep your day job. Feed your kids. But if you want success then heck, these 12 steps sure can't hurt.

I agree that they can't hurt. But I think it's important to be clear that most people will fail despite doing all of these things. And since people will mostly fail anyway, I question the value of the advice in the first place. And because they will fail, it's important to be clear that one probably shouldn't risk more than one can stand to lose.

The article isn't necessarily overtly encouraging people to gamble their futures on a lofty goal, but it can leave people with a false impression of the likelihood of their success, so long as they do these 12 things. That, in turn, can lead them to take what they think is a reasonable gamble but is in fact an unreasonable one.
posted by jedicus at 11:11 AM on February 28, 2012


Pastabagel - I think the advice is pretty clearly targeted at "creatives." It isn't necessarily meant to apply to surgeons or metal fabricators.
posted by asnider at 2:05 PM on February 28


That's where you are wrong. This isn't target at creatives. It's target at wannabe entertainers. A blogger is not a "creative." It's someone who talks about creatives.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:13 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I think it's funny that YoungAmerican is favoriting comments that agree with him rather than joining in the fray himself. Considering how riled up his critics got after his last few comments, that's probably a smart move.)

Pastabagel: Let me point you to Ling's Cars, whose owner manages to turn leasing cars into a passionate, creative expression, and whose extremely idiosyncratic web site has made her an enormous success.

I don't know a single goddamn laundromat with personality. I haven't met a surgeon yet whose presentation to the world was anything interesting. Most of the people who get the value of creativity and authenticity turn to entertainment mediums because that's traditionally where these people are found, not because entertainment is the only fucking reason to be goddamn creative.

Do I think there's a market for a passionate, expressive surgeon? Let me introduce you to Jay Parkinson, a medical practitioner whose startup Hello Health is doing really interesting things to help doctors. He's not a surgeon, but you know, I wish more surgeons were as thoughtful, well-spoken, and innovative as Dr. Parkinson.

The advantage to being creative isn't that you get Twitter followers. It's that you're more memorable and personable, you come up with new ways of thinking, and you start to matter to more people than simply the ones who pay you for a service. Not everybody needs to be creative, no. But plenty of people would like to be, in all sorts of fields. It ought to be encouraged because it leads to wonderful things and lets people be happier doing what they want; that it might lead to unexpected economic success is just a side benefit. "Creative" isn't simply an economic field.

Tell me, how important is it to be "authentic" if I want to be a surgeon?

I've met plenty of inauthentic medical practitioners. I hate them. I don't trust them, I don't like spending time in their care, I resent having to pay them. If there's a talented doctor in the same field who's known for being personable, I'm dropping the inauthentic shitty one in a flash.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:14 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but if you want to be a doctor, if that's your passion...to some degree it's easier because that is a set path. You get your undergrad, you go to medical school, you jump through all of the set hoops that the authorities have set for you. If you can jump through those hoops, voila, you are a doctor. If you want to own a laundromat, it's probably not the world's most complicated problem to solve the job of figuring out how to buy one and run it. (Not saying it's easy, laundromat owners. I'm just going on comparison.)

But being a creative person and wanting to do your creative Thing all day long for money...we don't really have set paths for how to do this. I can't just apply to be an in-house artist anywhere, land the job, and booyah, creativity and security. Getting a master's in some kind of art may have no effect on how well I can get booked for jobs. If you perform, it's probably a lot of auditioning for short-term jobs that may make you money or not. It's a giant fuzzy mess of improvisation and throwing things at the wall to see if anything sticks, and seeing for how many years you can stand to throw things at the wall before one sticks or you get fed up and look into buying a laundromat.

The fact that there's no set path for this kind of thing compared to being an academic or a doctor annoys the crap out of me, but there it is.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:30 AM on February 28, 2012


I've met plenty of inauthentic medical practitioners. I hate them. I don't trust them, I don't like spending time in their care, I resent having to pay them. If there's a talented doctor in the same field who's known for being personable, I'm dropping the inauthentic shitty one in a flash.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:14 PM on February 28


And yet, the median salary of a inauthentic shitty surgeon is nearly $350,000 a year. Oh, right, but they aren't famous. That qualifies as successful, regardless of your opinion.
I don't know a single goddamn laundromat with personality.

Well, I assure you they exist, because in areas where there are many laundromats, differentiation is paramount. Everyone uses the same machines, and customers usually have their own detergent, so they differentiate on experience-music, decor, additional services, etc.

But this is the point. Like Jay Parkinson demonstrates, you have to be creative to be successful in anything, including running a laundromat. But this isn't about creativity, it's about entertainment. And the reason I've seen this article on 4 websites so far today proves that the symptom of our age is the desire for fame.

The examples on the article are people who are, oddly, more famous than they are rich, which is a new feature of this era. Which perfectly identifies who the article is directed to: people who want to be famous regardless of whether it makes them money.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:31 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


A blogger is not a "creative." It's someone who talks about creatives.

Ze Frank. Jonathan Coulton. Allie Brosh. Kate Beaton. Chris Onstad. Kieron Gillen. David DeSandro. Paul Ford. David Hellman. Andy Baio. Come on, man, that was an extremely stupid thing to say.

The examples on the article are people who are, oddly, more famous than they are rich, which is a new feature of this era. Which perfectly identifies who the article is directed to: people who want to be famous regardless of whether it makes them money.

Was society better off when everybody wanted to be filthy rich? Success comes in many extrinsic forms. What matters is intrinsic success, or rather: are you happy doing what you're doing? David Foster Wallace famously wrote that if you worship anything material, be it money or fame, you'll be eaten alive.

But Jesse isn't writing about becoming famous. He's writing about how to parlay that thing you love doing into something that sustains you. You do that by sincerely doing what you want to do, and finding the people who'll pay you to do it. If you're a doctor? Great, make that $350,000 a year. Your niche is huge. This article is for people who don't have that immediately visible career path, and who need to figure it out for themselves.

why am i even defending this article i didn't even like it
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:43 AM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


A blogger is not a "creative." It's someone who talks about creatives.

So you're saying that writing is not a creative endeavour? I disagree.

But, then, I also view "creatives" as a broader term, in the sense of Richard Florida's Creative Class, which includes scientists and hairdressers right alongside the artists who are more typically thought of as creative people.
posted by asnider at 11:47 AM on February 28, 2012


I've been listening to various YoungAmerican podcasts on and off for a while so maybe I'm just used to his sense of humor or something.

There may be something to this. I have also listed to Thorn quite a lot. And so this didn't read as smug to m, but, then, despite his longstanding "new sincerity" thing, which he earnestly believes in, there is a layer of irony to a lot of what he says, in part because, in his way, he's part of the LA comedy scene, and comedy and irony walk hand in hand. So this doesn't sound smug to me, it just sounds like Thorn, and I can see where he's being ironic.

But then, dishing out advice is always going to strike some people as smug, and maybe it is. I try to make it a habit never to offer advice unless it is specifically requested, and even then, if I give the advice I think somebody needs to hear, I do so knowing there may be some pushback. People often aren't actually looking for advice, but instead looking for somebody to confirm that their approach is right, even when it's wrong, and do not like to hear otherwise.

Any advice, no matter how sincere or well-intended, is going to sound smug to somebody. Maybe it is, a little. I guess you're free to ignore it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:49 AM on February 28, 2012


This is the Internet. The advice may have been intended for "creatives," but it was targeted at everybody.

It seems like the target is narrowed down pretty well by saying "It took me a while to realize that there is one other thing that I can actually offer some valuable perspective on, and that’s making independent media. Making it, and making it your job." and posting the piece on a website for people interested in producing public radio.
posted by waterlily at 11:54 AM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Fame is kind of a requirement (and tool) these days if you want money to come in. If people haven't heard of you, not too many people want to give you money for what you do. If you want a sustaining-ish career in creativity, you have to get known by a lot of people. I don't even know if wanting fame is a good thing or not, but it does give you money (at least some, most of the time, these days), validation, and job offers.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:55 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is the Internet. The advice may have been intended for "creatives," but it was targeted at everybody.

Your definition of the Internet is very different from mine. For me, this is a place of small, likew-minded communities and niche markets. I mean, Thorn wrote this for Transom, a website specifically for Public Radio contributors, which was such a small niche that our linking here (coupled with Boing Boing) instantly broke it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:03 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most of the people who get the value of creativity and authenticity turn to entertainment mediums

Thorn's use of a quirky rocker to represent his value of "authenticity" and your use of it here as a value that people turn to entertainment in search of, suggests that the word might be being used in an unfamiliar way. Designating entertainers, which means mostly, in one way or another, performers, or makers of fictions, or both, as "authentic" seems an odd use of a word that has traditionally been used to refer to something real, or genuine, or in accordance with fact. I'm not suggesting that some lack of this makes entertainment or creative work less worthy of respect; not at all. "Authenticity" is practically a meaningless word in a discussion of (pop) cultural products. I am suggesting that when Thorn (and maybe you) use the word "authentic" you really mean something more like "consistent brand identity."
posted by octobersurprise at 1:47 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Despite the arguments about Andrew WK's actual identity (complicated by some confusing tweets from the artists himself), Thorn is using the word "authentic" correctly here. Thorn has face-to-face experience with Andrew WK, and his argument is that the musicians public persona is an authentic representation of the artist himself, not a manufactured public persona that he has managed to turn into, as you call it, a "consistent brand identity."

You may disagree, but Thorn is not misusing the word. He believes that it was Andrew WK's authentic representation of himself and his interests that connected to audiences. He essentially makes the same case for Chris Hardwick, and, in fact, it's a theme that runs throughout the article.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:53 PM on February 28, 2012


That's a very cynical way to look at the word "authentic". While I do find brands fun, and while I think there's value to people expressing themselves in effective and compelling ways, I think that expression needs to be a sincere reflection of who they are and what they believe. "Authentic" entertainers aren't entertainers with a good brand; they're entertainers who are honest with themselves, their interests, and their motivations. That this honesty makes self-branding much, much easier than anything manufactured is just a byproduct of common sense.

(There's a difference, too, between inauthenticity and artificiality. Fiction and performance can be authentic; attempts at truth or sincerity can be inauthentic. In fact, much artificiality in the arts comes from artists asking where specifically authenticity ends. Am I my innermost thoughts or am I what people see? Should I express myself however I'm predisposed and risk people not getting the message I'm trying to convey, or do I labor upon my means of expression in the hopes that I can manufacture a message which is more easily interpreted? You can be anywhere along that spectrum and still be authentic.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:09 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Come to think of it, that aside gets at the thing that bugs me about the original article, which is that I assume Jesse's idea of sincerity involves expressing himself as honestly and directly as possible, whereas I think that when you're writing for an audience, it's your responsibility to shape your message into something that the audience will accept. We probably weren't the intended audience of that piece, though, and I can understand why he might be upset that we've been snarking the message to death like we were meant to be its arbitrators.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:14 PM on February 28, 2012


It seems like the target is narrowed down pretty well by saying "It took me a while to realize that there is one other thing that I can actually offer some valuable perspective on, and that’s making independent media. Making it, and making it your job." and posting the piece on a website for people interested in producing public radio.

That defines the subject and the intention, but doesn't limit the target. What I mean by "it was targeted at everybody" is simply that the Internet is a massively public space. Limiting your topic and starting point doesn't necessarily limit your audience here, especially if you already have some measure of Internet fame. In fact, the only reason we're even having this conversation is that Jesse has proven his success at extending his audience. Writing for the Internet is like target shooting with a grenade.

Your definition of the Internet is very different from mine. For me, this is a place of small, likew-minded communities and niche markets. I mean, Thorn wrote this for Transom, a website specifically for Public Radio contributors, which was such a small niche that our linking here (coupled with Boing Boing) instantly broke it.

And yet, here we are arguing about it someplace completely different, because we did link to it and Boing Boing did link to it. And we broke the site because somebody wasn't prepared for that result. And we're arguing about that content because it seems that it may not apply as widely out here as it did inside that like-minded niche community.

Jesse's 4th point is actually, "4. Don’t Confuse Content & Medium." On the public spaces of the Internet, your content may be small and niche, but your medium is open. If your medium is public, you don't control your audience. And the more "successful" you are at promoting yourself, the less control of audience you have.

That's all that I meant. If you make your living putting content out on a public medium, don't forget that your content will soon be public. If you choose not to adjust accordingly, you may risk alienating some of your audience. Whether or not you even care if that happens is a honey badger of another color, of course. I'm pretty sure the Insane Clown Posse don't give a shit.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:10 PM on February 28, 2012


And we're arguing about that content because it seems that it may not apply as widely out here as it did inside that like-minded niche community.

The fact that something can be accessed by a larger audience who don't feel it applies to them doesn't mean the content was wrong. I mean, I watched some German videos the other day and didn't understand a word they were saying, but is that really the fault of Uter?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:15 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've never said his content was wrong. I've actually said I agree with most of it. I've pointed out that framing that content with an eye toward a possibly wider distribution than seems to have been attempted here might have been a more successful strategy. Cause, you know - Uter.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:23 PM on February 28, 2012


Uter does plan to be an international movie star, if the subtitled were any indication. But they were fan generated, and you know how that goes.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:27 PM on February 28, 2012


Cool idea: if this explicitly wasn't intended for you, and you believe it does not apply to you, then don't read it and/or waste your time and mine talking about how bad it is for the above reasons!

Instead, try looking at it, thinking, "Hmm, it appears this was intended for an audience other than me and would not be useful to me," then thinking, "maybe I'll do a different thing, perhaps something I will enjoy and benefit from."
posted by YoungAmerican at 3:53 PM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


then thinking, "maybe I'll do a different thing, perhaps something I will enjoy and benefit from."

But what if I enjoy and benefit from criticizing people on the Internet?
posted by asterix at 3:56 PM on February 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


I already flossed today, Jesse.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:57 PM on February 28, 2012


But Thorn, I don't always enjoy and benefit from different things. Your narrow-minded suggestion is so conservative.
posted by Think_Long at 4:10 PM on February 28, 2012


But what if I enjoy and benefit from criticizing people on the Internet?

Then go back under your bridge like a good troll.
posted by Argyle at 4:37 PM on February 28, 2012


Cool idea: if this explicitly wasn't intended for you, and you believe it does not apply to you, then don't read it...

This was linked on MetaFilter, which is not a limited audience.

The MetaFilter FPP:
Make Your Thing: Metafilter's own Jesse Thorn's "12 Point Program for Absolutely, Positively 1000% No-Fail Guaranteed Success" [google cache]

The intro on the linked page:
Intro from Jay Allison

The commercial world guards its secrets. The game is competitive and money is the prize. The non-profit world, when it is functioning the way it should, upholds a spirit of generosity and common good. The two cultures tend not to mix very well, but Jesse Thorn ("The Sound of Young America," now "Bullseye") has brought to Transom a big-hearted and wise Manifesto in which he tells you how to make good things and, more surprisingly, how to make money at it. He could have kept the secrets to himself. Instead, he wrote "Make Your Thing: 12 Point Program for Absolutely, Positively 1000% No-Fail Guaranteed Success" with fascinating parables from comedy, hip-hop, blogging, cartooning and more. Jesse's own experience stretches across all sorts of independent media and performance. His words are practical and inspirational, and funny. They'll help you do better work. Jesse is donating his secrets in the best non-profit tradition.

Make Your Thing: 12 Point Program for Absolutely, Positively 1000% No-Fail Guaranteed Success

For the past two years or so, I’ve been crisscrossing the country, delivering an award-winning talk called Make Your Thing. (I should note that it has not won any awards, and while I have done it on both sides of the country, and once in Canada, crisscrossing is probably a little strong, too.) It’s an attempt to share a bit of what I’ve learned so far in my career.
See, even though I like your cool idea, it's hard to determine at what point readers were supposed to figure out whether this thing applied to us and whether we should stop reading it - I guess the last sentence of the next paragraph finally limits your scope to the making of independent media.

Counter Cool Proposal: If your work is producing media and you put some media out on the Internet, but you only intend it for a limited audience, stating the scope in the title or opening sentence might go a long way toward displaying the good-will you seem to want from your readers.

or waste your time and mine talking about how bad it is for the above reasons

Perhaps I'm being dense, but it sounds as if you're saying that independant media in general and/or advice in particular published on the Internet should go uncritiqued except by insiders. So I suppose I'm wasting my time offering the advice that I have. In fact, you've said so, explicitely.

And since you've characterized this conversation as a waste of your time, I can't say that I'm inclined to invest any more of my time on it, either. Instead, I strongly suggest you go back and read mathowie's comment upthread.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:46 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Where did the idea that this piece was targeted toward some narrow/niche group come from?
posted by jayder at 6:14 PM on February 28, 2012


It was posted to a website/community for aspiring public radio producers.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:18 PM on February 28, 2012


It was posted to a website/community for aspiring public radio producers.

I didn't know that until I read that in a comment well down this thread, long after I had read the article itself. "Transom.org" is a pretty generic name; for all I was aware, it could have been a website about rowboats.

Where did the idea that this piece was targeted toward some narrow/niche group come from?

The closest you get is at the end of the second paragraph (third if you count the introduction):
It took me a while to realize that there is one other thing that I can actually offer some valuable perspective on, and that’s making independent media. Making it, and making it your job.
That's pretty targeted, but it's also not exactly foregrounded in the piece -- I didn't catch it until my second reading of the piece, for example.
posted by Forktine at 6:24 PM on February 28, 2012


Let me just be clear: If I write a piece on, say, the Treaty of Westphalia, and I post in on a small niche site dedicated to Osnabrück, and it gets linked to on a site like this, and people start complaining because they are not from Münster and do not need to recognize the independence of Netherlands and Switzerland, that would somehow be my fault for not foregrounding my intentions enough?

I'm just trying to follow how this works.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:45 PM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hmm, the very intro to the piece says it's about "how to make good things" and "how to make money from them." That's pretty broad.

Things of general applicability get published in specialist publications all the time. Doesn't mean people who are not in the audience of the publication, strictly speaking, shouldn't have an opinion about the piece.

Saying all of us who are not in public radio shouldn't have an opinion about this piece on "how to make good things" is pretty silly, with all due respect.
posted by jayder at 6:56 PM on February 28, 2012


I think anyone has a right to an opinion about the piece, but I think the intended audience for the article is something to consider when forming an opinion.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:13 PM on February 28, 2012


No good deed goes unpunished.
posted by rhizome at 7:31 PM on February 28, 2012


Saying all of us who are not in public radio shouldn't have an opinion about this piece on "how to make good things" is pretty silly, with all due respect.

Nobody has said that. You absolutely have a right to have an uninformed opinion that makes you look foolish when you express it in public.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:54 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


You absolutely have a right to have an uninformed opinion that makes you look foolish when you express it in public.

Well, when you so generously take the lead...
posted by Forktine at 8:22 PM on February 28, 2012


Lead by example, that's my motto.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:30 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let me just be clear: If I write a piece on, say, the Treaty of Westphalia, and I post in on a small niche site dedicated to Osnabrück, and it gets linked to on a site like this, and people start complaining because they are not from Münster and do not need to recognize the independence of Netherlands and Switzerland, that would somehow be my fault for not foregrounding my intentions enough?

I'm just trying to follow how this works.


Did you fall so in love with your ironic title, Who Moved My Münster Cheese?, that you forgot to mention the Treaty of Westphalia in it? Did you completely leave the Treaty of Westphalia out of the first paragraph, too? And most of the next one, too? Did the audience have to literally comb through the article to figure out it was even tangentially related to the Treaty of Westphalia? Then, yeah - that was your fault.

Furthermore, are your bona fides dependant at least in part on your skill as a communicator and yet you made these basic mistakes? Are your other bona fides dependant on your understanding of the new media landscape - Hell, did you even write an entire section in this piece profiling Boing Boing, which looooves to link to Treaty of Westphalia and Osnabrück porn almost as much as it looooves to link to profiles of itself - and then you just can't believe your piece ever escaped into the wild? Well, then, brother, either you think you've gotten too big to care or you're seriously overselling your expertise.

You absolutely have a right to have an uninformed opinion that makes you look foolish when you express it in public.

As perfect a description of the Internet as ever I've read. This is the soil in which our seeds are sewn.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:32 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Did you fall so in love with your ironic title, Who Moved My Münster Cheese?, that you forgot to mention the Treaty of Westphalia in it?

Have you read the treaty of Westhphalia. It takes forever to get to its point.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:43 PM on February 28, 2012


Heh. Every couple of days around here for awhile, seemed like. It did have the benefit of a useful title, though.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:55 PM on February 28, 2012


That's it. I'm posting the whole thing in here.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:06 PM on February 28, 2012


I can no longer tell who is being more of an ironic smart ass in this thread.
posted by asnider at 9:35 PM on February 28, 2012


I am a sincere smartass.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:39 PM on February 28, 2012


I'm more onic than the both of you combined.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:46 PM on February 28, 2012


Until reading this thread, I sincerely did not know that there were people who felt that people should never give aspirational advice. I certainly can take issue with some of the privileged assumptions in Jesse's piece, but given its target audience, those assumptions of privilege were probably fair. (And since we're all people with leisure time, high levels of literacy and personal access to a computer, our privilege is nigh indistinguishable from Jesse's.)

But, putting aside the privilege concerns, are there some of you so beaten in spirit that it pains you to see others encourage strangers to pursue their dreams? To try to be creative in work? To try to do things that they find meaningful? I can't believe anyone's that far gone unless they're dealing with a level of depression which would impair their judgment.
posted by anildash at 9:57 PM on February 28, 2012 [18 favorites]


I used to work in radio (a BBC local station) and I didn't twig that this was aimed at radio people. But really, that doesn't actually matter too much. The message is general.
posted by mippy at 1:57 AM on February 29, 2012


I think the lesson we can all take away from this thread is to never say anything to anyone, ever, about anything.
posted by bondcliff at 5:37 AM on February 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


So strange to read the assumption that having kids means you can't be successful in independent media. Do you all know how many people have been successful largely because they have kids? Maybe I read a different internet. Even outside of that, in creative fields from poetry to photography to uh, other stuff that I don't care about as much, many women have children AND rise to the top of the field in their chosen artform.

Don't get me wrong, having a kid is an unbelievable drain on resources and time (less so after the first few years) but it is by no means an autofail for those who desire creative success as is being implied by many of the comments here.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:05 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Speaking briefly to Anil's secondary point: this is certainly intended for a first-world audience.

The NGO I worked for when I didn't do my show for money, The Jhai Foundation, did community-driven, often internet communications-based development work in the third world, and I'm very sensitive to the imbalance in opportunity there relative to here. I think and hope that the benefits that have accrued to indie media-makers in the first world will start to accrue to those in the third soon, though many face governmental and business climate challenges in addition to financial and technical ones.

That said: I do really believe that the door is wide-open to those in the first world who are literate and use the internet - which is the vast majority of the audience for folks who are reading my article about making media on the internet on the internet, I presume.

And with regard to having kids... I think I should point out that having a kid was the primary impetus behind Jonathan Coulton's success.
posted by YoungAmerican at 7:47 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


And with regard to having kids... I think I should point out that having a kid was the primary impetus behind Jonathan Coulton's success.

Dude, seriously? Coulton's at one end of the bell curve, so trying to draw meaningful lessons from his success is a chancy thing to start with; the fact that he managed to take what would have been a disadvantage for most people and turn it into an advantage doesn't mean a hell of a lot. You can always point to people who've overcome tremendous hurdles to be successful, but that doesn't change the fact that if you're trying to maximize your chances of success you want to have as few hurdles as possible.
posted by asterix at 10:40 AM on February 29, 2012


You can always point to people who've overcome tremendous hurdles to be successful, but that doesn't change the fact that if you're trying to maximize your chances of success you want to have as few hurdles as possible.

Well, duh.
posted by YoungAmerican at 11:58 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it's a "[w]ell, duh", then I have to confess that whatever point you were trying to make there went completely over my head.
posted by asterix at 12:15 PM on February 29, 2012


The point is not that ANYONE can do it. The point is that EVERYONE FAILS ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

I guess that some people had a hard time picking up on that message when reading a post with a title that promises success, however sarcastically. Ironic success is still success, right?
posted by LogicalDash at 1:55 PM on February 29, 2012


13. Fail as quickly as possible.
posted by wobh at 5:00 PM on February 29, 2012


Re: wasting everyone's time.

As critical as some of our comments in this thread were, it seems like a compliment to Thorn that his article spawned so much discussion. Seems like a far better thread than if it had been thirty comments basically saying "cool article, bro."
posted by jayder at 5:05 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Did grouse get a T-shirt?

For the avoidance of doubt, almost immediately after I saw the announcement that Bullseye would be the new name I "suggested" it on AskMe (LOL! A funny joke!). To his credit, Jesse MeMailed me out of the blue and offered to send me a T-shirt if I felt that I came up with the name independently.

As for the main topic of this post, I don't really have positive or negative feelings towards this essay. I've been reading Hacker News for a while and it is full of this sort of essay about the necessary and sufficient elements of success, many by people who don't really seem to be all that successful, and I tend to tune them out. I have enjoyed reading the discussion in this thread though.
posted by grouse at 9:33 PM on February 29, 2012


I'm kinda amazed to discover that people from my generation and the next are actually willing participants in "self-help" culture.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:52 PM on February 29, 2012


well, when your life sucks and is passing you by because your a fuckup, people will all sorts of different avenues to change. doesn't mean it works tho.
posted by Snyder at 11:07 PM on February 29, 2012


We all have to make changes to our life at some point or another, or risk remaining perpetually a child, or perpetually caught in some terrible habits. It's hard to know what the right thing to do is. It's not weird to see what somebody else has suggested. Obviously not all stuff that passes as self-help is worth a damn, but, hey, not everything that shows up on Ask MetaFilter is worth a damn either. Doesn't mean there is any harm in asking. And sometimes you get really good suggestions.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:44 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: Oversensitive Bullshit Detectors.
posted by artlung at 11:48 AM on March 1, 2012


Being very late to this thread, thanks first to Jesse Thorn for his podcast and for his article, and for everyone else for telling their stories here.

Lots of food for thought, and I'm pondering how both hard work and luck play a role in success and building a personal metaphor around that. It's clear to me that both are needed. Luck is like the wind; hard work can be a boat or kite or windmill or wind chimes. One has to work, or should have to work, to put oneself in position where luck will lead to desired success. Sometimes, there is no luck, and the hard work is for naught. But the opposite can happen all too often too; luck happens, but there's no hard work there, and nothing happens.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:11 PM on March 8, 2012


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