I remembered recently that, when I was a little boy, I asked for a typewriter as my Christmas present.
I was very young. I don’t think I’d hit the age of ten yet.
Looking back, it seems an unusual gift request from a small child.
But I always enjoyed writing.
I’d write poems and stories. I’d write articles and pretend I was a journalist. I made little magazines.
I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed putting the paper in. How much fun it was to be clattering away, creating something from nothing.
And here I sit right now, clattering away just the same.
It’s funny how we know what we love so young. It’s incredible how wise and smart we are, even then.
There’s a guy named Seth Godin who I like to listen to. He’s a writer and a thinker. Often, he’ll pop up on the podcast circuit and do a few interviews.
I always tune in to hear what he has to say.
He has blogged every day for several years. Sometimes they’re a paragraph or two long.
But every day he shows up and leaves a footprint.
People ask him about it when he is interviewed. I always feel a tug in my belly when they do.
It’s part admiration, and part desire. I find myself wishing that I’d showed up in the same way.
The child in me knows that I’ve always liked to write and to share. So when I hear Seth, I beat myself up a little. Why aren’t I doing that? I clearly want to.
Seth’s explanation for blogging daily is this: “I’m a professional. So I show up every day.”
Showing up is the point, according to Seth.
It may sound a little cliché, but it’s profound when we unpack it.
Showing up is tough.
I don’t mean the discipline of it. After all, there’s plenty of things we do every day.
We brush our teeth. We go to the toilet. We go to bed. Every day.
Nobody ever gave me an accolade for showing up at the toilet bowl every day.
The tough part of showing up is the fear of showing up fully.
What if I do bad work?
What if people think that I’m showing up with rubbish?
What if people object to me showing up at all? “Sheesh, HIM again?!?”
What if people judge me?
What if, as I stop hiding myself, people turn away and reject me?
What if they only like the lesser, edited version of me – the one I present in the hope of fitting in?
Here’s the reality check. Yep, that happens.
There are people who only like the version of you that you custom made for their particular palate.
When you bring your fullest self, some will move on.
I’m now blogging every day.
I listened to a Seth interview last week.
When he spoke of his daily blogging, there was no longer an angst in my belly. There was no longer a yearning where I beat myself up.
Instead I was “yeah, me too!”
I was being my fullest self. And it felt good.
Yet every day when I send out this blog, people leave me. I see it in my newsletter list. People hit unsubscribe.
They take an action to ensure that they won’t hear from me again. They don’t want these articles. They’re through.
I’ve learned to feel happy whenever they do.
Why? Because we’re not a good match. What I’m doing is no longer for them.
I don’t want to keep sending them articles that they don’t want.
Had I have showed up just once a month, they likely would have tolerated me.
But who wants to be tolerated?
Who wants to hang around with people who only kind of put up with you?
It’s only by showing up every day that they got to the point where they needed to leave.
We kid ourselves into thinking that we are meant to be for everyone.
We tell ourselves that, as a mere individual human being, we should be mass market. We are somehow meant to appeal to all.
So we reduce our self to the point where nobody could object to anything.
We lose what differentiates us.
Have you ever heard someone speak in falsetto?
Listen to two people doing their best Micky Mouse voice. You can’t hear who is who.
When we impersonate Micky Mouse, we stop using those parts of our voice that help others recognise us.
When we don’t show up fully, we are living life in falsetto.
Yet the truth is that we are not supposed to be for everyone.
Look at Coca Cola. It’s the biggest brand in the world. Yet almost everyone avoids Coca Cola.
Even though a billion people a day drink the stuff, the other 6.5 billion on the planet don’t touch it. Me included.
Even “mass market” means that almost nobody is into you.
But that’s enough.
All you need is almost nobody.
Look at Lehman’s, a company based in Ohio. They sell non electrical tools and appliances.
We live in an age where everyone connects to the grid. Yet they make a fortune by focusing on those who don’t.
Their market is the Amish community. That’s just 0.00003% of the planet.
Literally, almost nobody wants them. And that’s enough. Because the ones who do? They LOVE them. They can’t live without them.
I remember watching the comedian Stewart Lee. During his set, someone got up and walked out, very obviously displeased.
There was awkward laughter from the audience.
Lee shrugged and said: “See I don’t mind that. That’s what I call refining my audience.”
Seth Godin (him again) has this concept of the “smallest viable audience.”
What is the smallest amount of people who we actually need to be into us?
It’s a business concept, but it’s a metaphor for life too.
When we stop aiming to be mass market, trying to please everyone, we allow our self to be who we really are.
We sack our editor and we show up for real, even when we fear that people will judge us or criticise us.
Because those who do? We’re not meant for them. And that’s okay.
Just like Lehman’s isn’t for the people who want a new gadget to plug into a socket.
When it comes to deep, close friendships our smallest viable audience is around 3 to 5. Maybe less.
Of all the people on the planet, we need to be Lehman’s for no more than a handful.
When it comes to a love relationship, our smallest viable audience is just one.
Each of us is a niche product seeking a super-niche market.
Yet we edit ourselves in the hope of attracting the whole world. The editing is so severe that we stop fully showing up.
We sing, but only in falsetto.
It is time we let our full voice out.
Everyone who walks away is part of the process, as Stewart Lee put it, of refining your audience.
The weird thing is, that as people walk away, others see you and join you.
I know this to be true. I’ve not had more people unsubscribe from these articles since I started writing every day.
But I’ve not had more people join either.
Whenever Seth shows up, I want to hear what he has to say. I seek him out. And that’s the point.
Life is not about being small in order to please the half hearted. That outsources every decision you make to people who don’t particularly care.
Life is about showing up in the way that you need to.
There is a tiny niche of people out there who are seeking who you are. They can only find you if you let yourself be seen.