The Slow Death of Hustle Culture, Nicheless Media, Reads | #211
January 21st, 2022: Greetings from Austin! We’re getting down the home stretch of baby prep and I’m spending most days wandering the trail in Austin checking out strollers. There are some nice ones! Hope everyone has had a fantastic week.
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#1 Foster’s “Nicheless” Media Strategy
Foster is building a business helping writers access high-quality editing and for the past few years has been using the default content strategy of posting a lot of stuff about writing, and playing the SEO game.
Driven by, fan of lowercase letters and coiner of “the pattern,” they have embraced a new approach that seems simple but is rather non-obvious.
They are anchoring around three principles for their content:
Publishing cyclically to maximize opportunity for experimentation and renewal
Going niche-less to create media that’s vibrant, diverse, and unmistakably human
Creating fluid playbooks to meet our changing needs amidst a shifting landscape
I think the most interesting part is about going “nicheless.” Here is Rob:
The prevailing wisdom is that to succeed in internet media, your work must be hyper-niche and specialized. It’s all about finding a singular, narrow market to serve, then adding as much specific value as possible. For years, this has been the most reliable strategy for earning attention in our competitive digital landscape. That recipe applies equally to solo creators, content marketers, and indie media companies. Niche down or perish, the story goes.
This resonates deeply and perhaps signals the start of a broader embrace of flexibility in digital content strategy in startups and companies. I’ve argued that finding a mode of life you can show up in is vastly more important than finding a niche. But that is on a solo path where burning out means you are out of the game.
What about an organization? Strategy still wins, right? If an employee burns out, just replace them and keep grinding.
That probably will continue to work for a while and is the playbook for many things in the business world. But the willingness of talented people to put up with repetitive nonsense is declining, and the expectations of consumers of media are rising every day.
In another essay (I’m still working my way through all of it), Hardy offers this thought:
And for creators, marketers, and media organizations of all types, the years ahead are certain to be full of new possibilities, while being equally strange, frustrating, and difficult to navigate using the playbooks of the past.
Welcome to the pathless path marketers!
#2 Why do people like my book?
There is a certain aspect to creating something that once you ship it to the world it is up to other people to tell you what it means. What the book meant to me is different than what it means to other people. For some people it is a reason to reflect a little more on the default path. To others it is permission to hit eject and leave it behind and for those already on a weird path its a fellow friend saying over 220 pages, “you’re not crazy!”
One reader, Ed, gave me a nice shoutout as he recapped quitting his job in
I messaged him and asked what really resonated with him. His reply was so thoughtful and interesting that I asked if I could share it with you.
Here is what he said:
I really appreciated how non-prescriptive it was. I tried to touch on this in the piece I shared today. Basically, everyone is coming at this from a completely different place and it always gives me pause when I see someone who seems to have all the answers or who thinks that their experience is overly-generalizable. I saw a couple of negativeish reviews of the book saying that it wasn’t practical enough and tbh I think they completely missed the point…
It’s tied to the above point but you articulated your uncertainty and sort of crablike journey to reaching a path that you were comfortable with. This resonated with me far more than if you’d approached the book from a position of certainty.
This sort of contradicts what I’ve just said, but I think there is just a lot of value in seeing other people who have taken the leap and how they have handled it. Like I just find it reassuring seeing how much you’ve thrived and it makes me think maybe I can too. - It gets a bit more abstract here but I think you helped me reconceptualize what the end game is. What am I actually trying to achieve? What should I be optimizing for? Etc etc
This point isn’t that generalizable but the fact that you came from a Big Career background resonates with me as an ex-lawyer.
You’ve managed to memeify it really well. Terms like ‘default path’ and ‘scripts’ etc are all pretty common vocabulary now in our corner of Twitter. I use them without thinking. Pretty sure they came from you? You basically managed to articulate in fairly straightforward language concepts which were still pretty abstract, or at least which hadn’t been redeployed in the world of remote work and COVID. These aren’t really comments on the book, but more widely at this stage, I’d say the three reservations I have about the process are:
Money. I’m still worried about money.
Kids. I got engaged over Christmas and kids are on the horizon. I do feel a responsibility to provide for the family (even though my other half is more than capable of providing in her own right) and I’m genuinely unsure how my path is going to interact with the gradual adoption in my life of genuine real-world responsibilities like a mortgage, kids etc. I know you’ve got a child on the way (congrats by the way!) so I’m really interested to hear how your path changes over time.
Articulating my journey. When I speak to people I used to work with I still sort of phrase it as that I’m ‘ having some time out’ rather than the more dramatic language of a ‘career change’ etc. I’ve always got half a mind on whether I should be keeping the door to the old life ajar. I’m unsure whether this cautious approach is a hindrance or a help.
#3 Rejecting Productivity & Hustle Culture
There seems to be a broader awakening of the limits of hustle.
I’ve seen a surprising number of former productivity and tech people embrace what Evan Armstrong deems the “unoptimized life” in this recent essay. I always have a hard time relating to the details of these articles because I never really had a hustle phase. Even when I was working for top companies, I was usually the first one to leave the office. But I do resonate with being completely disconnected from my intuition and not knowing the upsides of leisure until my thirties.
I found this passage pretty interesting from Evan, where he talks about how he shifted from aiming at success to running the newsletter “poorly”:
When I first started writing online, I felt a lot of pressure to do things the “right” way: tweet the threads, create a newsletter “product,” etc. I studied people more successful than me and tried to emulate their style. The business results were fine, but I got burned out to the point where I had to take a few weeks off from writing anything at all.
Now, I run this newsletter poorly. There is no rhyme or reason behind my topic selection; my tweets are riddled with spelling errors; the courses I teach are challenging to find. I don’t do podcast interviews, and just the thought of attending an event to “network” makes me break out in hives. If I schedule more than five or six meetings a week, I start canceling them, regardless of their importance. (Sorry if you’re one of the people I’ve canceled on and are just finding out the real reason right now). Despite that (or for the sake of my argument, because of it), my work was read over 1 million times last year.
Evan seems like a smart dude and clearly is saying he’s running it “poorly” for effect.
What’s cool is that he’s realized a lot of what I’ve realized - that not writing and creating space in your life is actually the easiest way to get more good stuff done:
But my success has also happened because I’ve given myself space. I ignore all the extra things I’m “supposed to do” that I mentioned above so I can pursue something called “afflatus.” Afflatus is a Latin word that refers to a sudden rush or inspiration, seemingly from the divine or supernatural. Moments of afflatus are euphoric and intoxicating. When they occur and I create output, I always end up happier.
Here are some other recent examples I’ve seen of people questioning the default more, more, more pull of the modern world:
Maria insays “to hell with ambition”
- revisits an essay he wrote in 2018, "vacations are for the weak" with a new perspective:
“Hustle culture gave my anxiety a home. In my blinding grind, I wholeheartedly believed that entrepreneurs did not take vacations; especially entrepreneurs in finance, who raged around town in their fleece vests manifesting their next win. No. Days. Off. But reflecting upon this now, I cringe. Who was the guy who wrote this, and why was it me?”
A fascinating essay about Geno Auriemma, the greatest women’s basketball coach of all time (I am biased but this is true, fight me) saying that he still fears being fired:
“After all these years, believe it or not, I take every pass, every dribble, every cut, every box-out, every single thing personally, to heart, like I didn't do a good enough job coaching…“You don't understand,” he added. “I've coached for 35, 40 years thinking if we don't win the national championship, I’m going to get fired. That's not a healthy way to live.”
I sense this is part of a slow shift away from an industrial economy that was accelerated during the pandemic. In an industrial and national economy, margins and discipline matter. To put your head down and struggle is good for the bottom line. But in a global and digital economy, creativity, flexibility, and strategy matter - and over the long rung, a blind embrace of suffering and struggle as a stance toward work isn’t going to get you there,
#4 More Reads had a great essay on differentiation:
Follow curiosities down deep rabbit holes and emerge with unique ideas. Partake in vivid and varied adventures to build up a set of experiences that is unique to you. Run away from the areas in which you are average and towards those where you might be special. Start a company because the world needs it, and because if you don’t start that specific company, no one else will.
writes about financial nihilism:
The world will be a richer, more colorful place when more people are freed up to learn, create, and build novel things that only they can. This might be technology’s greatest gift to humanity. **By making the competition to be better at someone else’s game practically futile, it frees us up to play different games.*
on the "permaweird"
Financial nihilism comes down to an even more fundamental problem. It is an epistemic problem. Many people simply see nothing worth believing in and so they are, in the words of Neil Postman, amusing themselves to death.
Unfortunately, I think it’s even darker than that. Financial nihilism very often stems from a basic (unacknowledged) belief that life is simply not worth living.
If we’re bankrupt a few years from now, who cares? We don’t want to be here in the first place.
If a person lacks the will to live and engage deeply with the world, what is there to fear about financial loss? The pain of loss may in fact be the only way they have left to feel anything at all.
I think this is happening because we are attached to a fixed sense of personal agency that is inseparable from a fixed sense of the present. And the present is getting too complex for any such attachment to be a stable one. So you are forced to choose, moment to moment, whether to perpetuate your sense of a stable normalcy, or your sense of your own agency. If the show must go on, you must accept helplessness within it. If you reject helplessness, there is no show.
#5 Visakan has a PhD in Internet
I loved riffing with my friendon a podcast a couple weeks ago. We have both been approaching working and sharing ideas on the internet for almost our entire adult lives. We riffed on quite a few topics, including:
Poasting trajectories of internet creators
The gravity of money
Micro existential crises
Getting paid $1000 for one book
Check it out:
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