The Sh*t Content Self Referrential Magical Roundabout
Even this subtitle references the main title by pointing out 'self referrential' is spelled wrong. It's actually one r in the middle
Hello. My name is Craig, and I used to make shit content. It’s taken a separation away from it all to fully appreciate the level of shit I was espousing. I had to buy multiple Twitter Growth Courses, spend far too many hours on Twitter and Instagram, and write Atomic Essays before I realised what I was doing. I even spent time—God forgive me—on LinkedIn. I wrote my little LinkedIn stories, about how I’d overcome a minor inconvenience and come out of the other side, triumphant. I had to become the guru, interact with other gurus, and force myself to write things I didn’t believe in.
It’s okay now though. I’m better, if being better means creating a mad and maddening podcast about Wednesdays each week, and writing about my experiences of that frankly weird online hustle world is a definition of ‘better’. But, this isn’t a story about that. Not today. It’s a story about me being shit.
I didn’t mean to make shit content. I’m not sure anyone does. I don’t think anyone’s goal when they grow up is to become a LinkedIn influencer. Imagine yourself at a nice dinner, surrounded by nice dinner guests. People are introducing themselves to each other around the table. One is an astrophysicist. Another, they helped create the first piece of equipment that’s saving millions of litres of water in the Middle East every month. You? You introduce yourself as an influencer and ‘content creator’. Everyone stops talking and suddenly starts looking at you, intrigued to find out more. You continue to explain that what that really means is that you help brands and people discover their true inner worth, and what you’re doing is actually Really Important Work. Everyone has already turned back to their conversations about astrophysics and saving water in the Middle East.
I started off innocently enough though, just wanting to find a way to build a bit of extra cashand connect with people online. But, before I knew it, I was writing the tweets, making The TikToks, snapping The Snapchats. I was saying things because I needed to say things, because I needed to say many things every day to keep the algorithm happy. Not because I wanted to say something, or indeed, because I had something something say. I started to realise it was wrong, somehow. It was artistically bereft. It had no long-lasting effect, no legacy. It was asinine, leading to no creative fulfilment.
But—you argue with yourself—it’s making you money, or it’s making you feel like you’re progressing towards something. I was getting likes and followers every day. People were signing up to my newsletter. I was ‘building the audience’, the fabled state that all online creators desperately pursue.
I was progressing. Wasn’t I? I was objectively progressing, right?
I was lying
I was pretending to be objective. I was making work about other people’s work. I was teasing larger pieces of work, promoting other people’s work, sometimes even without their awareness. To some extent, and it hurts to say it, I was lying to people. I may have innocently started using ‘engagement’ templates. I was innocently Writing your 7 Steps To Nowhere type articles, writing threads on Twitter and making my interview podcast that nobody listened to, but more importantly than lying to others, I was lying to myself.
Every time you use somebody else’s tactic or style or template or persona to help you sell your shit, a little piece of you gets left behind. If your shit content becomes popular—and it probably will—a lot of you gets left behind. There’s no room for your personality when you only have 280 characters or 60 second videos. Then you realise that certain types of shit content gets eyeballs and ‘engagement’, so you make more of it. Then you make more of it. Then you become known as the guy that makes that particular type of shit content. Then you realise your personality has completely left the building, and you never even heard it close the door.
I experienced a separation of self that became even further separated the more and more I made shit content. As I tweaked the formula to become ever more highly engaging, I started to do and say things I would never normally say. I mean, you don’t talk like this with your mates down the pub do you? I wouldn’t go down the pub with my mates and tell them to ‘be more consistent’. I never ordered a round of beers and then declared, “the only thing you can control is how you feel about bad situations, so stop trying to control bad situations”. I would have been laughed at, and rightly so. Two versions of myself started to develop. There was a varnished, perfect, polished online version of myself, one that didn’t stain or change. And there was the ‘myself down the pub’ self, that rarely came out online.
I looked back on nearly two years of shit content and didn’t recognise myself in the things I’d written. It didn’t make me feel good. I didn’t feel consistent, accomplished, guru-esque. I didn’t feel like I’d built a brand, built a business, or made money. I didn’t feel like I wanted to continue. I felt like I needed to stop.
When the fun stops, stop
I spent 1.5 years writing 10 tweets per day, 10 replies per day, regular articles, creating interview podcasts and pretending to be happy in YouTube videos. It was work I was making because I thought I needed to: my intent was to promote myself and my skills, to prove that I could do it, more than anything else. My intent was skewed, and affected the quality of my work. There was rarely an effort at artistrybecause I didn’t feel like there was time. I was doing too much and making too much. Very little of that work made my feel good. It made me feel good in a way that I had become artificially productive purely because I was making so much work every week, but it didn’t make me feel better.
This is the wool that social media attempts to pull over your eyes. You’re hoodwinked into believing you need to make 64 pieces of content in a day, because Gary Vaynerchuk said so. You think you most ‘overload the algorithm’, a phrase so preposterous it should be printed in 300pt rainbow-coloured Comic Sans on a billboard in a Dr. Seuss book.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
― Actually Dr. Seuss, from Happy Birthday to You!
One week, or sometime later, I woke up. I decided to just stop making all of this silly pseudo-content. What do you think happened next? The end of the world? 50% less tweets were suddenly being posted? CEOs across LinkedIn starting to cry into their Bulletproof Coffee?
No. Absolutely nothing happened.
The sky didn’t get darker. My name wasn’t suddenly wiped off the earth. James Clear didn’t smack me over the head with a hardback of Atomic Habits because I’d decided to stop being consistent. Nothing changed, but I certainly realised the futility of it all. I didn’t have an inbox full of “Craig, what’s happened?”. Nobody really cared about any of it, nobody ever commented on anything I made, and nobody noticed it’d gone. That’s the true sign of psuedo-content: if nobody misses you when you’re gone, you’ve been wasting your time. That was the hardest pill to swallow.
If nobody misses you…
It was a big ol’ pill as well. Bitter, oversized, tough to chew. When I sat having my creative sabbatical (I really should write about that actually, because that’s actually more interesting than this shit) and nobody seemed to miss anything I’d been creating, I knew I’d gone wrong some time ago. Yes, I talk frequently about doing it for yourself. Yes, I talk frequently about making what you want, despite what others think. But, when you’d been making something specifically for an audience to enjoy, putting aside your own personal tastes just for the metrics, even then, nobody cared that it’d gone and nobody even asked you, nobody even noticed, it tends to hit the ego a little harder.
Shit content isn’t missed. Twitter platitudes, LinkedIn stories, shitty email newsletters that collate everyone else’s email newsletters. TikToks sharing your opinion on something nobody cares about. Instagram reels showing you walking to work and buying a fruit smoothie. Facebook posts checking in to the hospital, but telling nobody why you’re there. It’s all shit content. It’s artificial polyfiller. It’s content designed to fill a hole in somebody’s life, usually boredom, as they wait for their kid to finish school, or they wait for the lift, or they wait to cross the road. But it’s worse than that. This polyfiller doesn’t fill a hole. It pretends to fill a hole, and when you wake up 2 years later and realise it never filled any hole but actually the hole is now 40-feet long and has bored its way through to the centre of the earth…well, nobody misses it.
Eventually you realise you’re stuck on some kind of really shit self referrential magical roundabout: you sit down and say the same things all day long, referencing other things you’ve previously already said, that you’d already been inspired to say because you read a LinkedIn post by somebody else, who’d also been inspired by a random book of aphorisms he found referenced in a Twitter thread about the greatest books to read of all time, and one of them wasn’t Atomic Habits, and then you end up writing an article about all this stuff, calling out the ridiculousness of it all, calling out how it references itself, how it’s all shit, how you can’t believe anyone even actually reads it, how you used to write it too, and it’s all over nowbecause you can't un-see what you've seen.
Hello. My name is Craig, and I used to write shit content. I try to do better these days.
Maybe this was my first downfall: having a overt intention to make money.
I actually didn’t make The TikToks. But it sounded nice in this sentence, so I ran with it.
Or The Snapchats, actually. I just liked the alliteration.
It is honestly fascinating how deep this particular rabbit hole can go. There’s ‘coaches’ out there who only work with other coaches, who teach other coaches how to teach other coaches to teach coaches to be coaches. Or podcasters who teach podcasters how to teach podcasters to be podcasters. Or plumbers who teach other plumbers how to teach plumbers to be plumbers. You get the idea.
You’ll never believe what I said next! You won’t believe footnote number 12! This kind of thing. Shut up. You’ve done it too. Everyone does it. Shut up.
I called it ‘Get Doing Things’. It makes me cringe to think about the title of it now. Some people still take the piss out of me because of it.
Yes, here comes the Disney ‘Craig realises that the world wasn’t the problem, Craig was the problem’ Craig. We’re building a story here. There has to be jeopardy and internal strife, unless you’re watching an Adam Sandler movie, where—as far as I can tell—no plot or story has ever been written or acted.
This happens more often than you probably even realise. Have a look at the guru-esque accounts on Twitter, such as @naval. Do you see how they used to post a lot, and now they post very little? You eventually get sick of hearing your own high and mighty voice.
OK, occasionally there was. It was most clearly seen in my YouTube videos when I sometimes made funny videos on boring marketing topics.
Another thing that can go multiple levels deeper. Imagine a day when a newsletter that curates other people’s newsletters that curate other people’s newsletters that curate other people’s newsletters exist. It will happen. Sidenote: isn’t it annoying getting emailed articles like this all of the time?
I know. It’s shocking isn’t it? This footnote works on two levels. I’ll leave you to try and work out what those two levels are, where the levels first met each other, and what they did when they met. Was it a casual glance across the corridor? Did footnote 12 look longingly up at footnote 6, wishing it could climb up to the dizzying heights of mid-place footnote?
P.S. You might want to re-read footnote 5. And footnote 11. Then return back to footnote 6.