When most people hear the word “stoic” the first things that come to mind are “boring” and “dull” – both negative characteristics. That’s too bad. Because there’s a lot we can learn from the Stoics of ancient Greece.
Most don’t realize that Stoicism was a tried and true ancient way of life, a way of engaging the world. While there were many Stoics and many variations on the central tenets, here are 3 basic principles that I have taken to heart:
- You should not worry about or place value in anything you cannot control.
- You should spend most of your time doing, not thinking or theorizing or planning.
- You should strive to locate happiness in things you can control.
I was chatting with a friend about these principles and it occurred to me that these are quite possibly the best 3 pieces of advice an online publisher could receive. And from there I set about writing this article.
Let’s tackle each principle individually, looking at how we can apply it to the world of online publishing.
1. You should not worry about or place value in anything you cannot control.
Worrying takes time. But it does no good unless it quickly motivates action. Unfortunately, there are many things we worry about that we cannot do anything about (e.g. whether or not the person you emailed will link to your article -> it does no good to worry once you’ve done what you can do).
Remember the feeling of taking final exams and then spending the next 5 hours worrying whether you had made stupid mistakes? This serves no good purpose. And it’s a waste of your time and energy. Worrying gets in the way of productivity.
However, worrying is just one example of the common mistake of placing too much value in things we can’t control. Think about how you spend your time. That’s a good indicator of what you value. I know that I spend a lot of my time watching things happen. Just observing. Statistics. Social media campaigns. Search engine placement. What’s the latest news on Drudge or HuffPo?
In moderation, this stuff is not bad and we can be edified by it. The problem is apparent though when these things A) occupy the majority of our time, cutting into productivity and B) stop enabling, and start inhibiting.
At the end of the day, we should only worry about the things we can control, and even then we should quickly move to stop worrying and start doing. Further, our time is best spent focused on things we have control over (things we can make happen), not things we are just passively observing.
2. You should spend most of your time doing, not thinking or theorizing or planning.
I think far too many of us spend far too much time reading about publishing tips or marketing theory, and far too little time actually doing stuff. Once you know the fundamentals of publishing and marketing, it’s time to “just do it.”
Sure, you should stay up to date with the lastest and greatest strategies from sites like Copyblogger, but don’t think for a second that just because you read about how to write great titles, the articles will somehow start magically writing themselves. Definitely learn from blogs like Copyblogger, but spend 10x as much time writing and developing content as you spend reading about how to develop content.
The number one problem I see with online publishers is that many want magic to happen. There’s a mythos that if you just create enough articles, you’ll be fine. When the magic doesn’t come, the publisher comes running back for advice from advice blogs. And a vicious circle starts where more time is spent reading tips then doing work. Very few publishers are willing to follow the 10x rule that I recommend.
I’ve consulted with many clients, and the rule that most often gets ignored is: build less content, but build it great. Building great content takes hard work and lots of effort. It can take weeks instead of hours. But for goodness sake: if you really want to be successful as an online publisher, start by setting yourself apart with great content. Spend the time you’d normally spend chatting or strategizing or reading or scheming and instead just … work.
Do. Act. Make.
3. You should strive to locate happiness in things you can control.
This is for all the social media and stat junkies. You know who I’m talking about. Me and you, that’s who. We can’t avoid checking our site statistics every 30 minutes or reloading Digg and Reddit to see how the latest social media campaign is going. We get peaks of joy from surprise links that send thousands of new visitors. We get ultra-depressed when someone comes by and ridicules us with a comment on our blog or when the people at Digg decide they don’t like our content.
We are the people who are inclined to measure our personal value in terms of external factors like traffic growth or recognition by a major blog. And when we get depressed, we tend to be less productive. We become observers rather than doers.
It’s time to stop being such fools. Time to grow up and get over it. Time to locate happiness in the things we can control: like our work ethic, our committment to quality, and our push to do our very best. Instead of mulling over failure, let’s get back to work.
So that’s what I think the Stoics have to say about web publishing. Moral of the story: the successful web publisher will value her hard work, the completed, polished product, and the ability to adapt and make things a little better next time. In doing so, she will spend much less time looking at statistics, reading other people’s work, and worrying about things that are out of her control.