Illustrations by John P. Weiss
Every Monday and Wednesday, I pay a guy to push my heart rate into the stratosphere and turn my muscles into mush. His name is Tyler, and he’s my personal trainer.
For years, I worked out on my own. Haphazardly. I’d run a bit here, lift some weights there. I seldom warmed up and frequently forgot to stretch. Afterwards, I’d come home and reward myself with a beer.
When I was younger, this exercise approach basically worked. I built some muscle and stamina. However, as I aged, injuries started to mount. My shoulders became stiff. I gave myself tennis elbow from too many curls.
Last year, I finally bit the bullet and coughed up some dough for a twice-weekly trainer. That’s where Tyler comes in. He went over my entire health history, injuries and fitness goals. Then he measured my body fat, fashioned a training plan and we were off to the races.
Now, every Monday and Wednesday, whether I want to or not, I’m at the gym. We focus on core training, sort of like CrossFit. After the workouts, I’m exhausted, but it’s a good kind of exhaustion.
When I get home, I stretch, shower, and drink lots of water. No more beer. In fact, I eliminated alcohol and caffeine from my diet completely.
When you pay for a personal trainer, it’s harder to flake on workouts. Paying makes it more of a priority. While everyone else in the gym is snapping Instagram photos or getting lost on Facebook, Tyler is putting me through the paces. Now, even when I work out alone, I always leave my iPhone in the car.
What does any of this have to do with social media? Mostly, that there are no short cuts to any place worth going. Social media sucks a lot of time out of your day. It may be entertaining, and it can be helpful to market your business or art. But it distracts you from achieving greater, personal success.
Authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan wrote the book, “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.” The book drives home the importance of priorities. Some of the points they touch on include:
- Achievers use a success list, not a to do list. They have a strong sense of priority.
- If you want extraordinary results, you need to narrow your focus.
- Do your most important work, your “one thing” when your willpower is strongest. For many people, that’s early in the day.
- Ask the question: What’s the one thing I can do that will make everything else easier?
Essentially, the authors suggest that in every aspect of your life, prioritize the one thing that is most important. For most of us, social media is probably not what’s most important.
A seemingly invaluable tool
Apart from mindless entertainment, social media has become a seemingly invaluable tool to promote your business, entrepreneurial ambitions, and creative pursuits.
Everywhere you look these days, you’ll find online life coaches, aspiring writers and artists, as well as all manner of businesses leveraging social media to promote themselves. Yet, for many of them, the stuff they’re peddling is not that unique or valuable. It doesn’t stand out from all the other noise.
Technology has removed the gatekeepers of the past. Anyone can create an online platform for their art, music or business. They don’t have to convince agents, editors or investors anymore.
Unfortunately, there is no quality control. As a result, many aspiring writers, artists and entrepreneurs have their hearts broken. They spend a lot of money on fancy websites, logos, photos and newsletter services.
They launch their websites, post like crazy all over social media, and wonder why the response is crickets. It’s sort of like building a fancy sports car, with a spectacular paint job and accessories. Except the car doesn’t have an engine. Sexy on the outside, but don’t look under the hood.
Social media success is a side effect of quality, not the cause. You can pretty your Instagram account all you want, and upload all kinds of lovely pictures on your Facebook page. None of that stuff, by itself, will make your art or business take off.
If you want to be successful with your art or business, stop spinning your wheels on social media. Instead, focus on these two things:
Rare and valuable
Produce things that are rare and valuable. Instead of wasting all day grooming superficial stuff on social media, pour your energy into mastering a difficult skill. If it’s not difficult, it won’t be rare. You won’t stand out, and success will elude you.
A better writer and artist
Author Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love argues that following your passion is bad career advice. Rather, you should pursue work that interests you to develop skills and career capital along the way.
It’s helpful if the work aligns well with your aptitudes, too.
Not everyone agrees with Newport, but I think he’s on to something. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of becoming a rock star or cartoonist. My father urged me to get an education and pursue a reliable, stable career. “Enjoy your cartooning and music, but have something solid to fall back on,” Dad used to say.
So, I went to college and studied criminal justice administration. On the side, I performed in a rock band and drew cartoons for the campus newspaper. Later, I went to grad school, attained a Master’s degree, and enjoyed a 26 year career in law enforcement.
My police career taught me volumes about people, responsibility, leadership, and more. The last ten years of my career I served as Chief of Police. I learned tons about politics, community issues, budgets, recruitment, retention, media relations and the fact that it’s impossible to make everyone happy.
I don’t know where I’d be today had I tried to become a rock star or famous cartoonist. What I do know is that I developed invaluable skills in my law enforcement career. I honed a strong work ethic, personal discipline, good habits, solid writing and speaking skills, and the ability to delay gratification.
The many experiences, skills and abilities I developed over my career helped me become a better writer and artist.
Rare and valuable skills are what set you apart from everyone else. You have to create value to get value.
Be like the Mona Lisa
Author and marketing expert Seth Godin wrote a short but excellent blog post titled, “Social media is a symptom, not a tactic.”
Godin points out that if you’re doing remarkable work and your organization has “built a social ratchet that works,” you’ll have a significant social media presence.
“On the other hand, if you spend all your time beginning at the end, grooming your social network, tweezing your Insta posts, hyping your tweets–nothing much is going to happen.”
To drive home his point, Godin points to the Mona Lisa:
“The Mona Lisa has a huge social media presence. Her picture is everywhere. But she doesn’t tweet. She’s big on social media because she’s an icon, but she’s not an icon because she’s big on social media.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day
The time, travel and expense of studying with these artists is considerable, but as noted above, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
I could waste time surfing social media, and paint only when inspiration strikes. But when I upload my artwork on Instagram and Facebook, I shouldn’t wonder why no one pays attention.
The solution, rather than trying to endlessly spruce up my website and social media posts, is to put in the hard work. Get up early, or stay up late honing my skills.
Seek the best instruction you can afford. Relentlessly practice. Constantly compare your work to better artists, creators or entrepreneurs. Continue to focus on the ONE THING that you need to do to move forward.
Are you producing things that are rare and invaluable? If not, stop grooming superficial work online and start developing the skills to produce rare and beautiful things.
It may take time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Some of the skills you’ll learn might come from unlikely places. Keep focused on your ONE THING. Get the best instruction you can. Work hard.
In time, you’ll start producing rare and valuable work. People will start to notice. And then, maybe your stuff will be the talk of social media.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I paint, draw cartoons and write about life. Thanks for reading!
This article first appeared on Medium.