Monthly Archives: October 2011

Why I’m Quitting Social Media

Well, not really.

What I’m actually quitting is social marketing.  (There’s a difference.)

But there’s also a reason.

See, three months ago, I explained why I’m ruthlessly downsizing my life.  Although it was partly tongue-in-cheek, that post struck a nerve with a lot of people, and it made me realize that a lot of you seem to feel just as stuck in your own lives as I did then.

So now, two months later, you might be wondering if my little experiment actually helped.

Boy, did it ever…  Here’s how.

The Pebble That Formed a Mountain

First, let’s address the irony in that blog title: when I said I was “ruthlessly downsizing my life,” all I really did was remove two links from my Firefox toolbar.  Granted, they happened to be the two links I turned to most often for distraction — Sports Illustrated and Grantland — but still, they were just two links.  How much impact could the tiny act of removing them from my toolbar possible have?

As it turns out, a lot.

Because every time I had a lull in my day, my instinct to click on one of those links kicked in.  And then I’d see they weren’t there anymore, and I should probably get back to work.

Since then, I’ve actually returned to Grantland only once, and I don’t recall having visited Sports Illustrated at all.

Let me repeat that: I went from hyperactively checking sports websites multiple times a day to not checking them at all.

Ever.

This became easier due to a second choice I made: for the first time in 10 years, I’m not playing fantasy football.

That’s because this past summer, while the NFL and their players’ union were debating whether or not they’d bother having a season this year, I made up my mind that I’d love to experience a winter without the NFL, just to see what that would feel like.  So when the NFL decided they were going to stop the lockout and get back to work, I decided I would lock myself out for a year instead.  (The current NBA implosion is an ironic side dish.)

The end result?

I have no idea what’s going on in sports anymore.

And I don’t care.

I don’t even miss it.

The NFL can continue, or the NBA can fold, or there can (or can not) be a World Series or a Stanley Cup.  If I’m near a TV, I may accidentally see some of it.  But I no longer feel any compulsion to check scores online, or to read sports articles, or debate the relative merits of athletes I don’t even know.

I can’t tell you how liberating it is now to not give a damn about who wins a game, or how many yards a guy I’ve never met has earned from the line of scrimmage.  (You’d have to try that kind of reduction for yourself to see what it feels like.  But it feels great.)

Side note: I once passed former NBA center and now openly gay ex-athlete Jon Amaechi in a hotel convention center.  He was being interviewed by a reporter, presumably for a story on his book about coming out.  Oddly, there was no one else around — just him, her, and me as I walked through the room.  One of the few regrets I have is not interrupting their interview to say “thank you.”  I’m not gay and I’m not an athlete, but doing what he did took a lot of balls (no pun intended), and that’s the kind of social interaction I’d rather be having these days: conversations with people who are changing the world in their own way.  (Jon, if you ever read this, I’m the guy who gave you a head nod for no reason.)

So, maybe that wasn’t such a side note after all…

Too Much “Me Time”?

The second phase of this experiment was to replace my old distractions with something new.  I can’t focus on work forever, and we all need a break.

So I also started binging on Facebook.

And, as a result, I realized something:

I really derive no pleasure from social media anymore.

I don’t just mean social marketing; I mean social media itself.

If it’s not an echo chamber of redundancy, or a divisive line that separates “us” from “them,” it’s an endless stream of [hyperbole redacted on the advice of Scott Paley, who reminded me that if I don't have anything nice to say, I should just skip to the next paragraph].

Suffice it to say: If I see one more Facebook ad for a webinar, I’m going to vomit blood.

I’ve been at this point several times in my career, but I’ve never quit — mostly because I’ve been doing it for years, and I always find one more reason to stick it out in the hopes of finding fulfillment in a sea of feedback, metrics and “conversations.”

But not this time.

This time, I’ve finally decided to quit working in the social marketing field and find a new career.  This way I can stop hating the media itself and separate my feelings about the media from my feelings about the way it’s (mis)used.

Because I don’t care about the best time of day to tweet.

I don’t care about helping brands turn their loyalists into evangelists.

And I really, really don’t care about the lucrative speaking deal you just landed based on your ability to repackage common sense into a lifestyle choice.

So, fuck it.  Starting January 1st, I’m doing something else for a living.

TO BE CLEAR: This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m quitting Twitter or Facebook or blogging altogether.  I still have personal and creative reasons for using those tools, and just because my professional goals are changing, that doesn’t mean I’m dropping completely off the grid.  But I’ve already reduced my Twitter usage, and I barely blog anymore, so this really shouldn’t be a surprise.  Plus, I tend to digitally disappear every December anyway, so maybe this year’s absence will just stretch a bit longer than usual.

So… What Now?

Well, that’s the funny part.

I currently have no recurring freelance clients.  I’ve written my last few posts for the Abstract Edge blog, which should run before the end of the year.  I’ve stopped doing the Freelance 4 Real podcast I started with Mike Sorg.  And my web sitcom, The Baristas, just concluded its first season and is now on indefinite hiatus.

This means that, apart from paying down debt and walking Rufus, I have no particular reason to wake up in the morning.  I have zero commitments, other than the ones I choose to pursue.  And, at the moment, I’m pursuing none.

It’s a little terrifying, but it’s also exhilarating.

So if I don’t update for awhile, don’t panic.  I’m still around, somewhere, figuring out my next move.  If you really need me, you can always email me at jkownacki@gmail.com or call me at 412-628-4231.

I also allegedly have a newsletter, although I’ve never sent one.  If you’d like to join the mailing list for something that may never exist, feel free.  You never know what might happen.  (Hell, I sure don’t.)

Lastly, I’d like to thank Grantland and Sports Illustrated.  Had I never become addicted to you, I’d never have had to quit you, and then I’d never have needed to find other pursuits to gorge upon and then quit in the aftermath.

Funny what removing a link from your browser’s toolbar can do, isn’t it?

Cheers.

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Let’s Redefine the Idea of “Done”

One of my clients is currently wrestling with the idea of rebranding.  As part of the problem-solving process, I asked, “If you woke up tomorrow and you didn’t own this business, what business would you want to build from scratch?”

To me, motivation is key.  I think we often get paralyzed by trying to solve the problem in front of us, rather than focusing on the big picture.

But, by that, I don’t necessarily mean that you need to “keep your eyes on the prize.”

I mean you may need to redefine the prize entirely.

Baby Steps Toward Babylon?

Yesterday, I mused on Facebook that I may be setting my sights too low.

I wonder if we’re all paralyzed by the relative insignificance of our own to-do lists. “Back off client blog posts” is far less sexy than, say, “Conquer Spain.”

The resulting comments on that post basically added up to, “Aim high, but learn how to see your smaller victories as stepping stones toward a bigger success.”

But while that looks great on paper, I think it may actually be wrong.  (For me, anyway.)

Seeing Stepping Stones as Roadblocks

Let’s say my desk is a mess, which it is.  (Yours probably is too.)

I know I should clean my desk, because I know that having a clear, uncluttered workspace improves my mental health and makes me more productive.

But then I realize the rest of my house is also a mess.  In truth, I should clean all of it.

The problem is, changing my goal from “cleaning my desk” to “cleaning the house” shifts my perspective.  Now, I’m no longer staring at a simple twenty minute task; I’m staring at a complicated all-day task that requires a different organizational structure and allocation of resources (time, effort, space).

And that more complicated task is more likely to slide down my to-do list, to be tackled when I have “more time.”  (Which I never do.)

And, thus, my desk will never get clean because I don’t see cleaning my desk as doing “enough” when I compare it to the big picture of cleaning everything.

Obviously, you see the problem with this line of thinking.  And, objectively, you realize that coming to this conclusion doesn’t even make any sense.  Cleaning my desk is part of the big picture, and doing so would help me complete part of the larger goal.

But it wouldn’t feel as good as being done.

Bored by Baby Steps?

My real problem isn’t that I’m lazy (although never cleaning my desk might make me feel like I am).  My problem is that I’m making plans based on the wrong finish line.

Some people may be perfectly happy cleaning off their desks and seeing that as a benchmark on the path toward cleaning their entire house.  For them, reaching that milestone may be a cause for celebration all by itself.

Others (like me) might see anything short of a completely clean house as a failure.  Even if 9 of 10 rooms are spotless, they won’t be able to celebrate until that 10th room is also immaculate.  Anything else isn’t worth discussing.

Either approach can work.  You just need to know which camp you fall into.  And if you’re a big-picture person who’s trying to get excited about accomplishing small goals, you’re going to feel perpetually unfulfilled even if you are getting (smaller) things done, so you need to think bigger, aim higher and move faster.

You need to conquer Spain.

When Going Big IS Going Home

If you can’t get around to cleaning your desk, maybe you should buy a new house.

Because buying a new house means you’d need to sell your old house.  Selling your old house means you’d need to clean it.  And cleaning your old house would mean cleaning off your desk.

Thus, if the goal of “cleaning the house” isn’t exciting enough for you, aim bigger.

If you’re having trouble rebranding your business, maybe it’s because you really want to be in a different business.

If you can’t write a new blog post, maybe it’s because you really want to make movies.

If you haven’t fixed your bicycle, maybe it’s because you really want to conquer Spain.

Don’t just look at the big picture.

Take apart the frame.

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