Imagine you’re standing in a room filled with people.
You’ve come to teach them. You’ve lugged your workbooks and fancy presentations, and you’re hopped up on three cups of coffee and who knows what, because OMG I have to stand in front of all these people. You were the kind of kid who got up early for school and did all their homework. As an adult, you’re prepared for the zombie apocalypse and your passport’s up-to-date. So you’ve spent hours preparing for this moment and as soon as you open your mouth to speak you notice that…
Half the people in the room are tapping on their phones. They’re tethered to these phantom limbs with their buzzing and pulsing lights. Some even do the unspeakable — they make phone calls on speaker. They pound at their miniature keys, and the tap tap tap reverberates. You consider killing these people — just a little bit. But homicidal impulses are so 2013, and instead, you kick the phone-tapping chumps out of the room.
What remains are the people with their laptops and notebooks ready to take notes. What remains is their laughter and thunderous applause. You got rid of the dead weight, the people who weren’t interested in all that you have to give.
Now, you’re surrounded by the people who matter, and you’ve got their undivided attention.
Last week, I deleted 2,346 subscribers from my email list. This fact would make the people who clock their stats like listening for a heartbeat apoplectic. Who removes that which they’ve worked hard for? But I’ve never been one for vanity metrics and mass market appeal. I’m polarizing, and I’m okay with this.
Believe me when I say that every unsubscribe and unfollow is a gift. People are doing the work for you to self-select themselves out of your orbit. No longer do you have to pay to send them emails they’ll never open or read. No longer do you have to convince them you’re the one when they’re shtupping30 other people in the joint.
Your life isn’t an episode of Hoarders. You don’t need more to be significant.You don’t need to be one of the cool girls with shiny hair or a guy with hair to matter. You just have to care about connecting with the people who care about what you have to say. Numbers are irrelevant, only serving to deliver false comfort.
I have friends who have been on the NYT bestseller list. My first book sold 10,000 copies, and I considered that a triumph because that’s 10,000 people who read the words I worked decades to create. Fewer people read my second book, and I’m okay with this too because these are the people who write me to tell me how my work has shaped and impacted them, and that means more to me than a number I can brag about. A number that is temporal and fleeting.
So when you see people brag about their 100,000 Instagram followers or talk about the millions on their list — who the fuck cares? You are not them. I’ve heard people complain that they only have 600 people on their email list, to which I respond with: imagine sitting in front of those 600 people. Do they feel small now? Are they insignificant because they’re not more? They don’t carry a few extra zeroes on their back?
If a person self-selects to be part of your world, this is a gift. They’re giving you something valuable — their attention. Maybe down the road, their money, but that’s not everyone’s end game and it shouldn’t be. And when someone steps out of the room, that’s a gift too because you didn’t have to make the effort to drag them by their collar out.