I used to be famous on Medium: A cautionary tale

For the longest time, I didn’t erase them.

80,000 notifications meant something. Each one offered me credibility and social proof. It offered fulfillment.

Every time I logged in to Medium, I could look at that number and think

“Oh, good. I am still somebody.”

This is what today’s technology offers: emotional satiation through numbers. Consider a species which has built systems so perfect the system itself becomes addictive.

I doubt our ancestors ever imagined such a thing.

— — —

It began, as most tragedies do, with hubris:

“I have conquered Medium, and now I will spread my greatness elsewhere!”

Primarily, I wanted a claim over YouTube and an email list.

I read these two platforms were good ways to monetization. I wanted money.

(Already I should have seen the problem. The pursuit of success leads to money, not vice versa.)

“I have to learn to be a businessman.”

This was the lie I told myself.

Ironically, I ignored the very statistics which I’d used to buoy my ego:

  • 2 million people reached through my work.
  • Hundreds of thousands of shares.
  • Published articles on CNBC and Inc and the Huffington Post.
  • Connections to top writers of Medium.
  • Speaking opportunities I never saw coming.

Guess how many of those things happened through my “business” prowess?

Underlying flaw #1 — Confidence without competence

White males are more prone to this, I think. Thus, the plethora of white, 20-something self-help writers. But that’s another post for another time.

Success writing on Medium felt easy, but I hadn’t considered my previous experiences:

  • At 8 years old, I was following my dad around as he wrote stories for our local newspaper. I watched how he took notes. I kept track of the questions she asked in interviews. I sat beside him as he wrote.
  • At 13, I kept a steady journal, figuring out the rhythm of sentences and words. I began to feel the difference between a 3-word bullet versus a 176-word flowing paragraph versus a 10,000 word essay.
  • At 16, an English teacher read my piece to everyone in the class. Afterwards, he told me I had the makings of a great writer and encouraged me to pursue. I did.
  • At 19, I wrote another person’s school papers for money. Okay, not for money. For love. (She married me, so there).
  • At 21–22, I wrote two full-length fiction novels: 50,000+ words a piece. Nobody will ever read them, but I finally figured out what it took to write a book.
  • Finally, at 25 years of age, I started writing on Medium. I didn’t have a blog. I didn’t have a website. I didn’t have an email list. I wrote to the world. That is all I did for an entire year.

Success on YouTube felt impossible, but I hadn’t considered my previous experience:

  • I watched other people make videos and thought they were cool.
  • This was my only previous experience.

Underlying flaw #2 — Expecting output without input

Please don’t laugh when I tell you this.

I legitimately thought my results on Medium would continue to flourish even though I reduced my output to less than 10% of what I had been doing earlier.


“I am a staple of Medium’s ecosystem,” I thought. “The algorithm will feed people my stories, and I will remain a celebrity.”

Meanwhile, Dave Schools, Tom Kuegler, Tiffany Sun and Anthony Moore put their heads down and wrote to my readers. They produced new, good work. Their stats soared.

Mine plummeted.

Go figure.

Here’s what I learned:

You can apply effort and not get the success.

But success NEVER happens without effort.

Underlying flaw #3 — The illusion of infinite time

While we are talking laughable conclusions, it seems practical to point a second one of mine:

I legitimately thought consistent production of quality videos could occur simultaneous to the consistent production of quality writing with no help.

Most humans agree there are 24 hours in the day. Have you heard about this? In those 24 hours I wanted to:

  • Research
  • Write
  • Edit (words)
  • Proofread (words)
  • Tag
  • Publish
  • Share
  • Syndicate

and also…

  • Plan
  • Design Set
  • Prepare Gear
  • Film
  • Edit (footage)
  • Proof (footage)
  • Tag
  • Publish
  • Share

Did I mention I also had a full-time job? This included:

  • Meetings
  • Emails
  • Commute (1 hour each way)
  • Designs
  • Projects
  • Calls
  • Editing (words)
  • Editing (footage)
  • Editing (online courses)

Oh, and I am also a human, which meant I also am interested in:

  • Sex
  • Time with my wife
  • Cleaning house
  • Family
  • Sleep
  • Food

… Do you see the problem yet?

Underlying flaw #4 — Unable to express emotion

Despite my blind pursuit of success elsewhere, I had at least stuck with my commitment to send one post per week to my email list.

Yesterday, I got a response when I sent this post:

“You are quietly becoming the best writer I know.”


If I am a better writer than anyone, it is for one of these reasons:

  1. My emotions are more powerful than the average writer
  2. I have more practice expressing those emotions through language

When I think about my best friend’s crippling traumatic brain injury, I have the techniques to convey the details which accompany that event.

I remember the rocks poking my toes through my sandals when I got the text.

I remember days plowing ahead while my world stood still.

I remember wondering if he would die.

As of this moment, I have not embedded the principles required to make you feel emotions via film. To attempt such story through that medium would be a far cry of Jacob’s injury and hard-fought recovery.

My core is writing. All else is secondary.

Underlying flaw #5 — Unwilling to invest

Let’s be completely transparent for a moment: writing IS more accessible than other careers.

“How dare you sir! Writing is a holy path, wrought with emotional toil and —”

Yeah, yeah. I know. Writing is hard.

But if you have a computer, you’re in. Not only are you in, you can match the quality of your favorite writers with this single piece of equipment. The only missing ingredients are time and skill.

Video is different. I found this out the first time I tried to outsource the recording of my show.

“Ryan, why is everything so perfect when you do this?” I asked.

And then Ryan went on to explain the difference between crop sensors and full sensors. He told me how he set me up differently because it was a grey, cloudy day. He explained why we had two softbox lights on either side of me. He described why Camera 2 was over there. He pointed out the microphone quality coming from a tiny felt clip on my collar.

I don’t remember the details about the other stuff, but in case you were wondering, the difference between a crop sensor (on your iPhone) and a full sensor (DSLR) is about $1,000 dollars.

And you can’t make calls with a DSLR.

Underlying flaw #6 — No network

If I don’t like how a sentence is worded, I know who to call.

If I don’t like my content arc, I know who to call.

If I don’t have any good ideas, I know who to call.

This, in comparison to my learning video production all by myself.

A life hack. Stop trying to do anything alone. Have the humility to ask for help. Begin today.

Much love as always,

— Todd B

Infinite ideas

If I am elite in any area it is because of my ideas, both the quality and the quantity.

I finally got my idea-generating process down in an ebook: The Ultimate Guide to Infinite Ideas, which I’m giving away for the price of an email address.

Get your copy here.

This article first appeared on Medium.