This video update was recorded live after my recent half-marathon in Forest Grove, Oregon. A tired runner (me) and the sound of cowbells (for someone else who finished the race mid-video) is included at no extra charge. If you can’t watch the video, here’s a short longer-than-usual summary. If you’ve read along for a while,…Read More
I've already written 79 pages about this subject, so this follow-up is mostly for the 50,000 people who have read that report so far. What I want to do in this article is focus on using multiple spheres of influence to create widespread, perceived authority.
One of the most important parts of developing a following is answering the “reason why” question and proving yourself to be an authority on at least one thing other people care passionately about.
From the very beginning, it's important to understand that almost all authority is perceived, not objective. What this means is that if people think you're smart or interesting, voila, you're smart or interesting. In 279 Days I wrote about this in the strategy I called “Be Bigger than you Really Are” - also known as “Fake it 'till you make it.” A big part of building influence is essentially creating the perceived authority.
Usual disclaimers: I'm not an expert (no one is) – I've made many mistakes along the way. Use what helps you and ignore the rest.
To kick things off, take a look at this image (click to enlarge):
This image represents the largest traffic sources that regularly bring readers and visitors into the AONC site. I haven't broken them all out into percentages or anything quantitative, mostly because I don't worry about things like that. I'm more interested in the qualitative characteristic of having perceived authority in several areas that each help me get more readers.
THE PRINCIPLE BEHIND MULTIPLE SPHERES OF INFLUENCE
Just as you don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to, you also don't have to choose one specific topic to develop expertise in. As long as you can a) be somewhat interesting, and b) work hard over a sustained period of time, you can develop the following you need to achieve almost any goal.
This represents an effective diversification of influence, and ultimately a diversification of followers.
THE BIG PICTURE (for this site)
I write about nonconformity in Life, Work, and Travel – a topic that is admittedly quite broad, and thus it draws readers from a variety of backgrounds. I have a USP – see the great Sonia Simone for more on how that works – for each primary area of my interest.
Life – Within Life, people come to the site to read about challenging authority, finding alternative ways to set and accomplish goals, doing great things for yourself while also helping others, and standing up to vampires and other small-minded people.
The USP in this subject is what I mentioned earlier (and continue to mention frequently, because it's important): You don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to. In the image above I defined it as, “Be yourself, because everyone else is already taken” - one of my favorite quotes from Oscar Wilde.
Work – Within Work, people come to the site to read about unconventional business ideas, the products, and general advice on breaking out of traditional employment. I connect with entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, executives, and people who aspire to those roles.
The USP in this subject is that, for better or worse, I have been self-employed for my whole adult life. Whenever I get endorsements from business bloggers (especially someone like Seth – who is essentially a one-man Business Week, except much more interesting), I get a large group of new business-minded readers who want to know more about how that works.
Travel - Within Travel, people come to the site for the Journey to Every Country, the Frequent Flyer Challenge, general travel hacking info, trip reports, and sometimes just to connect with another world traveler.
Just as with work, when it comes to travel I'm much more of a generalist than a specialist. I don't claim to be the most widely-traveled person in the world, or a photojournalist who spends months taking pictures of villagers. Other people can do that much better than me.
Diversifying my perceived authority has led to a diversification of traffic sources. Every day new readers come to the site from a variety of referrals. The largest ones are listed and explained below.
Blogs – By far my biggest source of traffic, readers, and good vibes comes from other bloggers who tell their own communities about the site. If you want to help, the best thing you can do is link me up. If my site was never indexed in Google, I'd still all of the traffic I needed thanks to other blogs and sites who link to me.
World Domination Manifesto – I wrote the Brief Guide to World Domination to be flagship content – something that would draw readers in and help me define my stance as a professional authority-challenger. The manifesto has been online since June 2008, but every day I still get emails from people who have discovered it for the first time. I love that!
279 Days Manifesto – The follow-up to World Domination, this report has brought in even more readers – which is ironic, since I wrote it for a more limited target market than the first one.
Twitter – The only major social network I regularly use – although feel free to add me on LinkedIn as well. I explained recently how I use Twitter – basically the goal is to add value, connect with people, deliver helpful information, and make other people look good. Say hi anytime – I'm @chrisguillebeau.
Newspaper Column – I recently started writing a travel column for the Oregonian, the largest newspaper in Oregon. My column is in the printed paper about once a month, with a few blog posts in the Travel section of their site in between. It doesn't really bring a huge amount of traffic, but being a newspaper columnist produces a certain amount of perceived authority, and I'm hoping to syndicate the column to a broader audience in the future.
Other Media – So far the site has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Times, La Presse, MSNBC, and a bunch of smaller outlets. Of course, new media authorities like Slate.com, LifeHacker, and Huffington Post are also important, and I'm grateful to them as well. I regularly build relationships with journalists, offering to help without being quoted, and trying not to be anal about whatever they want to say about me. (This process could be an entire article, so I'll save it for the future.)
Huffington Post – Speaking of syndication, the ever-insightful Gretchen Rubin told me recently, “Ubiquity is the new exclusivity” - meaning that the more places you can be with the same message, the better. I thought that advice was brilliant - and it's basically the approach I used when HuffPost asked me to start writing for them.
The gig is unpaid, and I was concerned about writing original content for them when I'm supposed to be writing a book (in addition to everything else), so I was happy when they told me I could cross-post some of the travel articles I publish here on AONC. They win because their readers get access to content they didn't have before – presumably it's good content! - and I win from the broader exposure of the HuffPost name.
(In fact, I have another, similar deal coming up this week – I had to quickly edit this article, since I originally included the source by mistake. Oops... hopefully they won't notice!)
Organic – I don't get a huge amount of organic (search engine) traffic, but it's slowly growing. The beauty of legacy content is that, over time, a few of the better articles receive good indexing in Google, and new readers every day through the archives.
Some of the Google results I see are really quite funny. Last month three people arrived when searching for “ass kicking of a lifetime.” Another person came in by searching for “take over the world while being nice.” Lots of people drop in for variations on terms like frequent flyer miles, round-the-world plane tickets, world domination, working for yourself, jobs that travel the world, and so on.
HOW TO BALANCE MULTIPLE INTERESTS
When I first started writing, one of my big concerns was about defining a core audience with the broad topics I wanted to write about. Would people “get” it? Would entrepreneurs care about international travel? Would people living in cubicle nation want to hear what I had to say about working for yourself?
The answer turned out to be a qualified yes.
I had to learn to mix it up, preempt objections, and accept that not every article relates to each reader, but those things were to be expected. It also helped when I learned to provide more details and background – how much it costs when I travel, all the details of conducting your own annual review, and so on. I was worried about writing longer posts (this one is more than 2,000 words), but it turned out that the details are what most of my readership really wanted.
At this point, I'll say that I honestly don't worry about it that much. For the most part, I write about whatever I feel like as long as I think it is interesting and centered on helping others. After one year of writing, I have a strong archive of legacy content on multiple subjects. If I head out on a long trip and write about travel for a while and someone gets tired of it, there is plenty of other content they can consume if they want.
They can also just stop reading, and I know that I can't please all of the people all of the time. The other day someone unsubscribed because “the articles are really long!” I told him he was right – if you want to read an online comic strip, there are plenty of those out there. I'm trying to attract a more thoughtful crowd.
This model is unconventional because the traditional wisdom on building an online presence (or small business) is that you should start small and expand outwards.
If your passion or business is golf, you're supposed to write only about golf. According to this theory, no one cares what golfers think about tennis, let alone politics, the state of the world, or anything related to your personal life.
Naturally, I think this belief is wrong... or if not wrong, it's clearly old-school.
The model I used to build out this project is unconventional, but it's no longer unusual. About 50% of the people I wrote about in 26 People I Highly Respect are following a similar model.
At some point I'll post a more detailed update on the reception to 279 Days, including my response to some of the limited criticisms of the report. One of the criticisms I disagree with is the idea that as more people start blogging (or whatever medium you choose), there will be less “followers” and the value of any one person's project will become diluted.
I may be wrong, but I believe the opposite: the field is wide open. One person's success does not cause another person to fail. If anything, there's never been a better time to begin an unconventional career.
In other words:
Be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.
Avoid scarcity; embrace abundance.
Help others and do what you want.
That sounds good to me... how about you?
If you're still reading after 2,064 words, here are a couple of questions:
- What is your perceived authority?
- How can you leverage it to help others and create multiple spheres of influence?
Feel free to share stories, tips, or other questions in the comments.
(By the way, thanks for your patience with the delayed comment posting over the past couple of weeks while I was traveling. I'm home this week and can interact more quickly now.)
What if we could come to the end of our lives with true fulfillment, looking back on a rich history of experiences, relationships, and accomplishments?
Either metaphorically or literally, we could point to a list of steadily-pursued dreams that turned into accomplished goals as we moved through different phases of life.
The sad alternative, of course, is to come to the end of life unfulfilled – something best phrased in this intense quote from Thoreau I’ve been pondering a lot recently:
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them.
I don't usually like to assume, but in this case I'm going to assume you don't want that. If so, one of the ways we can overcome the “quiet desperation” is by clearly identifying the activities that help us to be more alive.
In other words, writing a life list can help us to live. This article will show you how to do it.
What’s a Life List?
A life list is simply a list of long-term personal goals, often expressed as “X things to do before I die.” Life lists are related to, but also different from the Ideal World scenario, the Annual Review, and your ongoing list of active projects.
These lists have become fairly common due to the popularity of the web site 43 Things. On this site, users create and share a personal list of, well, 43 things they want to do. You’ve probably seen some of these lists around the internet – if not, the site is at least worth a quick look.
While I appreciate any resource that gets people thinking about goal-setting, I’d also say that 43 Things is a “lite” version of goal-setting. This is not really a criticism of its design; it’s just a reflection of the way most people use it to think about their goals. Because it’s so easy to set up and add goals that other people have chosen, you can literally set up your life list in 5 minutes.
My philosophy is that goal-setting is not a casual practice. I intend to actually complete the goals I set, so I want to spend more than 5 minutes writing them down. If you agree and want to go further with building your own life list, keep reading.
Why Have a Life List
You don’t need a life list, but if you’re struggling with direction or just want to be open to personal growth, a life list can definitely help.
A good life list is an anchor. It grounds you in your purpose, gives you hopes and dreams for the future, and helps you understand more about yourself.
There is no right or wrong way to make this kind of list. You simply devote an hour, or however long it takes you, to thinking about your life. What do you want to do? To have? To be?
Again, there isn’t one way to do this, but it may help you to examine or revisit a few key concepts about lifestyle design.
What Goes On the List?
Many of the goals chosen by 43 Things users are “fuzzy” or representative of general desires instead of passions to pursue. Some of them are essentially desire habits rather than goals. “Drink more water,” for example, is a good habit, not necessarily something that should appear on a life list.
Here are a few vague, non-measurable goals (all taken from the 43 Things site):
- Travel the World
- Be Happy
- Eat Healthier
- Be In Shape
- Have Better Posture
- Save Money
- Make New Friends
In addition to being vague, you can probably see a trend there – all of them are aspirational goals related to personal well-being. Hold that thought and we’ll come back to it in a moment.
On the other hand, here are a few measurable goals (also taken from 43 Things users, which shows that not everyone follows the crowd):
- Meet the Dalai Lama
- Become an Ordained Minister
- See the Northern Lights
- Go on a Road Trip with no Predetermined Destination
- Learn American Sign Language
Realistic Big and Discard Fear
As you compose your own life list, remember that the basic rule of brainstorming is “Don’t limit yourself.” You should also avoid thinking about your present situation. This is your whole life list; it’s meant to be something you work on and refer to for your whole life.
In other words, throw out realism… or more precisely, what you initially think of as realism. As you go through the journey over a long period of time, you may very well find that what you thought was reality was actually quite limiting.
As much as possible, you should also throw out fear when you write your life list. The fear of failure, and even the fear of success, holds us back from attempting many of the things we secretly wish for. In the practice of actually achieving goals, it takes some time to work through this – but you can start by blocking the fear from entering your life list. If you have to, just tell yourself “It’s only a list.”
Adventure vs. Non-Adventure Goals
If you’ve been reading the site for a while, I realize you probably know all about vague versus measurable goals, as well as thinking big. Let’s take it a bit further.
In addition to the “be happier” goals that crop up, “adventure goals” are another frequent theme on most life lists I’ve seen. I define adventure goals as any goals that are physically challenging or involve adrenalin. Examples include climbing mountains, racing cars, swimming in lakes or oceans, completing athletic events, and so on.
When some people set out to write a life list, the majority of items on the list end up being these kinds of goals. I’m not entirely sure why; perhaps this is because their current lifestyle is more sedentary than they would like, or perhaps they just like being outdoors and overcoming physical challenges.
While I agree that physical activity is important in overcoming the “quiet desperation” of conventional living, I also think that focusing strictly on adventure goals is a bit basic. I have a fair number of adventure goals on my list, but I also have a lot of other goals.
When trying to figure out what to put on the life list, think carefully about the question, “What do I really want to do?” Remember, the idea is to dream big and avoid limitations. You can be in the Formula One and write a novel. The fewer limits you place on your list, the better it will be.
Again, this is a personal practice, so if you’re an adrenaline junkie and all of your items involve climbing Mount Everest or competing in the Olympics, go right ahead. Most of us, however, will want to think beyond adventure goals.
These categories may help you brainstorm:
Friends & Family, Travel, Business, Spiritual, Health, Service, Learning, Financial (Earning), Financial (Giving), Financial (Saving)
(Note: These categories are from How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review. As that article explains, the categories are suggestions and not meant to be exclusive. Additional categories for a life list might also include “Unusual Experiences” or “Big Achievements,” since most lists include a few things that are done only once.)
Experiences versus “Stuff”
Writing and thinking about life lists can often cause us to evaluate the way we spend our time and money. Interestingly, most of the items that end up being on the typical life list involve life experiences far more than things we wish to own.
This can reveal an imbalance in how our resources are actually spent. If the p on our list of ultimate goals consist primarily of experiences, but we know that we spend most of our time working to earn money, we’ve just discovered a source of discomfort or “quiet desperation” within us.
I’m not being judgmental – if someone really values owning “stuff,” then perhaps it’s best for them to focus on earning money to pay for it. I do think it’s fair to say, though, that most of us find the ownership of “stuff” to be somewhat fleeting in the end. As they say, you really can’t take it with you when you go.
Accomplishment is something worth being proud of, but the pursuit of significant goals is valuable by itself. In a couple of interviews I’ve done recently, I’ve heard the question. “What will you do after you’ve visited every country in the world?”
At first, I was perplexed by the question. After a few seconds of awkward silence, I finally learned to say that whenever I finish that journey, I’ll probably set another big goal. I also think at least as much about the process of the goal as I do about the eventual, hoped-for achievement.
Many challenging life goals require a great deal of process. Running a marathon (26.2 miles) requires at least 420 miles of training. To go to every country in the world requires spending a lot of time in airports and bus stations. At a certain level, you have to enjoy the process and the accomplishment.
Publishing Your Life List
What do you do with your life list when it’s finished? If you’re like most people, you put it away and forget about it. Of course, you’re not most people – you want to actually complete the list, right?
If public accountability would help you take your life more seriously, consider putting your life list online. Here are a few people who have published their life list for the world:
Publishing is optional, of course. I haven’t published my full life list online, but I spend a lot of time writing about some of the bigger goals (visit every country, write a full-length book about unconventional living, and so on).
Done offhandedly, life lists can be vague lists of dreams and desires – but when taken seriously, a well thought out life list can be deeply meaningful. While there may still be some benefit in thinking about goals even on a basic level, John Goddard, one of the original list writers, first wrote his list of 127 goals at the age of fifteen.
From exploring the Congo to typing 50 words a minute, John has gone on to accomplish most of the goals he set decades ago and even forge a career out of the experience. Naturally, the mere presence of a list is not enough. But I think that identifying the goals at a young age and striving to live consciously had a lot to do with John’s success.
By the way, like a lot of life design exercises, the structure is there to help you. If it doesn’t help, discard it and do it your way. It’s your list, after all. You’re the one who is going to make the goals come to fruition, so you might as well have them written down in a way that makes the most sense to you.
If you’ve never written a life list before, consider taking an hour or two to chisel down your dreams. I think you’ll find it extremely insightful, inspiring, and maybe even motivating enough to shift where you put your focus. As mentioned, life lists can be private or public. If you'd like to share some or all of yours, feel free to do so in the comments. I can't wait to see what some of you come up with!
Have you made a life list? What are some things on your list?
Related AONC Articles:
[Note: This 3,000 word article is all about creating your own legacy project. It’s not short reading, but it can help you work towards building something beautiful.]
In the spring of 2007 I was feeling stuck. As amazing as they were, the four years I had spent in Africa were fading off into the distance. In my new life I had migrated to Seattle, entered graduate school, started a new business, and began traveling independently to faraway places during school breaks.
These were all good projects. Grad school, check. New city, check. Business, travel, volunteer work, marathon training, check. But despite the fact that these were worthwhile ways to spend my time, I knew something big was missing:
I had no legacy project, and it really bothered me.
I thought of a legacy project as something I’d create that would outlast me; something I could point to years from now and have more than just memories to show for it. In other words, I wanted something tangible and documented for anyone who wanted to see it at any time in the future.
As I was looking for a new focus, I considered a few options that initially seemed to be good choices. The major ones were:
1. Create Wealth for Myself
2. Enter a Ph.D. Program
3. Go Back to Africa (or elsewhere as an NGO executive)
All three of these options were attractive, but the more I looked at them the more I realized they were all flawed. The first one, “Create wealth for myself,” would offer long-term benefits (financial independence, increased opportunities), but I had enough experience with making money to know that it needs to be rooted in something deeper to prove ultimately fulfilling.
It’s not strictly a question of denouncing wealth-making in general. Most wealth is created by entrepreneurs, and for a particular season, I don’t see anything wrong with focusing on building up some long-term savings. All I know is that for me, this was no longer an appealing prospect, and it definitely wasn’t a legacy project.
The next option, “Enter a Ph.D. Program,” was something I was also excited about in the beginning. The more I learned about the process, however, the less inspired I was. In addition to a number of conversations I had with advisers I trusted, I attended a conference on African studies (my field of study) around this time, and I was surprised at how petty and critical the conversations were. It appeared to me that many attendees – professors and other graduate students who would be my colleagues if I pursued the Ph.D. option – were more interested in bringing down other people’s ideas than in finding common ground or advancing their own good work.
I know that some people can be remarkable in academia, but experiences like that conference helped me to see that it would be hard for me to be one of them. I’ve heard it said that academics are so contentious because the stakes are so low. I found that to be the case, and I also realized I did not want to put my legacy project on hold for 5-10 years while I went through the rites of passage required with an academic career.
One of the things I’ve thought a lot about is that I spent roughly the same amount of time writing my Master’s thesis as I did writing the World Domination manifesto. The thesis was read by a grand total of three people, the committee members responsible for approving my graduation. They all said nice things about it, but the point is that it was a lot of work for only three people to read.
The World Domination manifesto, on the other hand, has been downloaded by more than 100,000 people so far. It took me a while to figure this out (my friends were telling me for months, and even a couple of my professors), but if I want to reach a wide audience, I think I’ve found my platform.
On to the third option – go back to Africa or elsewhere as an NGO leader. Again, this was attractive, but I also had reservations about it. The time in Africa was incredibly life-changing and foundational for both Jolie and I, but we also believe that we need to keep moving forwards, not backwards. The time to leave the best job in the world is right when you are still enjoying it, and that’s pretty much how it worked out in our case.
Thus, while I enjoyed my time as an NGO executive, the thought of returning to that kind of environment, having to look for a job, and giving up my independence to a certain extent help me realize that this path would not be the best way to create a legacy project.
Good Choices versus Legacy Projects
Note that I viewed all three of these options (Create wealth, continue with graduate school, or return to full-time charity work) as good, valid choices. They were just not the best choices, and I didn’t view any of them as legacy work.
Sometimes you need to reject a number of reasonably good choices to create a legacy project.
This is because legacy work is different from other good, valid work. If you want to create something that will provide tremendous value to others and outlast your own life, you have to be able to clearly answer the question, “How will this really help people?”
For most of us, asking this question can be difficult because it may cause us to realize how little we do that has only negligible long-term value. For me, I knew I had helped people on an individual basis, but I wanted to help more people on a broader basis. That was one of the primary motivations for the legacy project, and the three initial options I considered were somewhat lacking in this regard.
The Next Step: Deciding on What to Do
I began to think about what I was good at and how I could expand on those skills. For me, my primary skills are 1) leading small groups and 2) writing. I’ve had a lot of experience leading groups over the past five years, and while I enjoy that kind of work, I didn’t really see how I could use the skill to help more than one group at a time.
I also knew that coming off my experience working overseas, any major leadership role I took on would undoubtedly be a step down. In Africa I had a staff of 120 people, and I regularly traveled around the region meeting with cabinet ministers, ambassadors, and even presidents. It’s hard to get a job like that back at home when you’re 30 years old and have no record of conventional employment.
Thus, I started looking towards developing my writing as a way to create the legacy project. I decided to create a web site, originally called the 3x5 Project and then The Art of Nonconformity. The goal of the web site would be to encourage independent, unconventional living. I would show how I achieve my own goals (travel to every country in the world, work for myself, etc.) and help other people set and achieve significant goals of their own.
Planning and the Slow Growth Method
That was the idea in a nutshell, but I had a long way to go to make it happen. In fact, the process of planning and outlining took about 12-18 months before I published anything, working off and on while I was going to school and doing other things. If you’ve read about my business work, you may recall that I advocate the ready-fire-aim model for starting something up and then correcting along the way. That is what I’ve done for every business project I’ve ever worked on, but for the legacy project, I wanted to be a bit more careful.
I knew that the personal web site would be something that I’d be working on for a long time. The primary goal was not to make money, but to spread ideas and create a community. You don’t get a lot of second chances with goals like that, so I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing before I jumped in. Instead of ready-fire-aim, the idea here was to be very intentional and deliberate.
In that 12-18 month incubation period, I also started writing regularly without publishing anything. I had in mind that I was writing the initial site content, and in fact I did use some of it later on, but as I worked I realized that my focus was naturally shifting. I tested out different ideas and wrote several drafts of early material. Writing is like any other skill in that you tend to improve over time as long as you keep working on it and make it a regular habit. If you've been following the site for a long time (6 months or more, let's say), I hope you can see some improvement. Of course, I am still far away from being a fluent, professional writer, but I'm glad I took some time in the beginning to work on it before putting things out there for the world to see and critique.
Things to Think About
I’ll continue telling you the story of how this web site came to be, but this is a good transition point to begin thinking about legacy projects in general. When you set out to create something that will outlast you, there are a number of characteristic you need to consider:
- Beneficiaries – who will benefit from the project
- Method or Medium – how you will do the work
- Output – what will be produced as a result of your work
- Metrics - how will success be measured
- Future Visualization – how the world will be different because of the project
I’ve listed my own answers below. As you’d expect, your own legacy project will require your own answers – I offer mine as examples, but each project is fundamentally unique.
Beneficiaries: A relatively small group of loyal readers who want to change the world
Method or Medium: Writing (primarily; I also create multimedia products and do some limited events)
Output (2008): 3 essays each week, 1 manifesto, 75k words
Metrics: Visitors / Subscribers / Page Views / Product Sales (although the last one came later)
Future Visualization: You can see the original vision from the first post here. It’s fair to say that things have changed a lot since then. In fact, I now view the original vision as quite limited, as I’ll explain below.
Big Vision / Small Vision
As I wrote on my own for three months, and then as I started the project and began receiving daily feedback, my vision expanded from what I now see was a fairly narrow mission to the current plan.
The small (original) vision included goals like 1,000 readers and a detailed email series. The big (current) vision includes my full-time writing career, major media coverage, the development of a real AONC online store, and a few other things I am keeping to myself for the time being.
The difference between the small, original vision and the big, current vision is quite significant. When I started, I wasn’t certain I would ever monetize the project, and now it provides the bulk of my income (albeit much less than when I worked strictly on entrepreneurial projects). I achieved 1,000 readers within a month of starting up, and quickly realized that it was more important to recruit 1,000 true fans - a small army of remarkable people, as I call it.
A couple of goals took longer than expected – I’m still working on the book contract, for example – but overall, I’ve moved on to bigger and more challenging goals. I view this as evidence that your vision expands as you follow your calling. It works in your favor and serves as confirmation that you’re doing the right thing.
A Legacy Project Requires Legacy Content
When I chose writing (and the default medium of blogging), I knew I wanted to write about subjects that would be relevant for many years to come. I definitely did not want to spend much time writing about current events or politics, even though I closely follow those subjects every day. Instead, I wanted to write what is sometimes called evergreen content, or work that does not lose its value and relevance as time goes by. For the purpose of this article, I’ll call it legacy content.
I’d say that about 70-80% of the essays and posts on the site now fit this description. Articles like this one, the annual review planning outline, all of the detailed information on international travel, and posts that combine theory with practice (How to Be Awesome, A Short Collection of Unconventional Ideas, etc.) are examples of what I consider legacy content. Admittedly, the trip reports from every country do not necessarily fit in this category, but some people enjoy them and I like having a written record of each trip as I pursue my goal.
One of the things I am most excited about is that several of the archive articles have gone on to a life of their own and continue to receive new traffic every day. While I am thrilled that thousands of people are following along with the new articles, I am equally excited that hundreds of (new) people also stumble on the archive content every day. Presumably, I could stop writing now, never post anything else, and the site would remain somewhat active thanks to the legacy content.
Of course, I have no intention of stopping. I just appreciate that I have articles and other content out there that add value to readers’ lives even while I am out traveling the world or writing about new ideas. For me it is one of the most rewarding things about the project, and further confirmation that I made the right decision to focus on this more than anything else.
A Legacy Project Requires Serious Commitment Because I’ve maintained several big commitments simultaneously in the past, I initially thought it would be no big deal to add another one. I found out I was wrong about this. Even though I have been creating web sites for 10 years, I still underestimated the amount of time required for successful marketing and connecting with other people on this one.
Yes, technically I can crank out the writing in 10-20 hours a week depending on what is going on – but I didn’t foresee all the other tasks and mini-projects I’d need to actively take on to make this project a success. I do no outsourcing and respond to every email myself.
The reality that I need to work more than I thought has required some sacrifices I did not expect in the beginning, and it took me a while to become comfortable with this. Multitasking and managing multiple, big projects has worked for me for 10 years and counting. Technically, I still have a lot of plates in the air, but far fewer than I’m used to. I wrote the post on Radical Exclusion during a week when I was taking a serious look at how I spend my time, and I do strive to accurately model the things I write about.
I don’t think everyone’s experience with this will be the same. I’d expect that a person who is dedicated enough could create a legacy project by working only a few hours a week over a longer period of time. However, I don’t work very well that way, and even if you do, I think it’s fair to say that it will require more time than you expect in the beginning.
Art and Fear
During the early part of the process, I experienced a lot of fear that I would fail. No one would read, people would read but not care, I’d give up after a few months, I’d give in to distractions and wouldn’t keep the schedule, and so on. The question I kept asking myself through the 12-18 months before getting started was, “What if I don’t try? How will I feel then?”
I was uncertain about a lot of things, but this question had a clear answer: if I didn’t try, I had no doubt I would regret it. More than anything else, that answer was why I started the site.
Far from Over
My legacy project is far from complete; in fact, I think it is just beginning. I write a lot more detailed, how-to articles like this one because they are what the majority of readers respond best to. We made a big writing and design change in early January. All of the metrics I track are up at least 20% over the past month, and more good things are on the way.
Every day I get up thinking about how to improve this project. I haven’t felt this kind of confidence since the second and third years of my time in Africa. I have learned from many of you, and I’m glad that you’re keeping me accountable and encouraging me to keep raising the standard. And as I said, the end goals are much bigger than when I started. If you’ve read this far, I assume you’re fairly committed – and I greatly appreciate you being along for the journey.
Your Own Legacy Project
By nature, this article was all about my work. I try to share by example and with a fair amount of transparency. If it sounds like I’m fairly confident about this subject, I can assure you I’ve made countless mistakes and false starts along the way. I'm pretty sure that's how it works when you set out to change the world.
Also, I’ve used the example of writing because that’s what I do. Obviously, there are other mediums you can use for a legacy project. My personal hero is a guy who lives in Africa and does free reconstructive surgery for people who lack adequate medical care. I think most people would agree that is an extremely meaningful legacy project. Since it’s probably a good idea to get some training before setting out to do surgery, I chose writing instead.
I also know that I did a lot of unrelated things before I started working on the legacy project. I see those things as prerequisites, not wasteful years. I am far more interested in looking to the future than to the past. All of the things I promote on a regular basis – intentional thinking, questioning expectations, finding your way through the wilderness, are important in this process.
You can do this too, in your own way.
You can make something beautiful that will outlast you.
You can help others in a way that is unique to you.
Remember: we all get one life to live. You might as well take it seriously, and a legacy project will ensure that what you bring to the world will continue to be valuable for a long time.
Are you up for it?
Are you up for it?
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