The world bursts at the seams with people ready to tell you you’re not good enough. On occasion some may be correct. But do not do their work for them. Seek any job; ask anyone out; pursue any goal. Don’t take it personally when they say “no” – they may not be smart enough to say “yes”.
– Keith Olbermann
Personal development books are full of recipes for goal achievement. You’ve got to get clear about what you want, become a “vibrational match” for the financial success you desire, make the decision that you will attain your goal at any cost, and by the way, here’s an anecdote about some guy you’ve never heard of, who followed every step of my Unlock Your Inner Genius Master Course (TM), and is now, like, super happy to have traded his $300,000/year job on Wall Street for the simple, hunter-gatherer life of a fisherman on a remote island in the South Pacific.
Okay, okay, I am being a bit harsh. The goal of this post is not to rant against personal development books. Rather, I intend to talk about the actual process of achieving personal goals, using a recent example from my own life. And the first point I want to make is this: There is no secret and no system. There is no frequency that needs tuning into, and no visualization clear enough to guarantee that things will happen.
There is only hard work and hustle, uncertainty and despair, pressing forward when you have no clue where to start, and the inevitable criticism put forth by a seething, vocal minority of non-doers.
Of course, there are also all the upsides that come from giving everything you’ve got to hopefully, maybe, at least give yourself the chance to get exactly what you want. But I’ll talk about those more later.
The recipe for achieving personal goals that I am about to offer you is, in fact, not a recipe at all. It is just a story about one fairly major attempt I made at doing things on my own terms. In some ways it was amazingly successfully. In other ways, things didn’t go as expected. But either way, I’d do it all over again.
In fact, I am doing it all over again. More on that later too.
Moving to Vancouver
In the spring and summer of 2009 I was shopping around for a new place to live. Not just a new house, but a new city — maybe even a new country. I’d been living in Montreal for the last five years, and absolutely loved it, but I didn’t want to let that blind me to exploring other parts of the country and/or the world. In the worst case, if things really didn’t work out, I could always just move back.
After spending a few months in Europe, I ultimately decided — for reasons that would be too off-topic to get into just now — to return to Canada. I was itching to start a new project, wanted a place that would present as few obstacles as possible to building new things, and eventually selling said things, and ultimately decided to move to the West Coast. I ended up in Vancouver.
I touched down in Vancouver on August 15, 2009. Before I’d even moved into my own place (I was still crashing on my buddy’s couch), I immediately set to work on coming up with a new project. Carpe diem, etc.
For me, there is a fine line between business and self-actualization. I see the former as a vehicle for the latter. I don’t tend to think of business ideas in terms of what’s hot and what’s trendy. Instead, I tend to think in terms of what’s missing. In the summer of last year, after a few months of being single, the biggest thing that was missing for me was a quality relationship.
Of course, I had no idea at first that the goal of finding a quality long-term relationship would result in an idea for a business. That’s where Twitter came in.
You Are What You Tweet
By last summer, I’d been using Twitter for a couple years. Indeed, I have a link to my Twitter account in the sidebar of this blog, since I think it offers a great way to interact with readers. I also use it to follow people who interest and inspire me.
As I used Twitter more and more, I started to see its potential in helping me achieve the goal of finding a mate. I say this even as someone who swore off dating sites, and for that matter, still does.
As a potential platform for online dating, I saw that Twitter provided a unique window into someone’s life. Unlike typical online dating profiles which are easy to fake, a user’s Twitter stream tells you a lot about who they really are: what kind of work they do, what their social life is like, whether they actually are into all kinds of sports, how influential they are, etc. Sure, you could make up everything about yourself in your tweets, but I personally have yet to see that happen with anyone I come into even vague contact with on Twitter.
As I thought more about the things Twitter is good at, I saw an opportunity to combine a personal goal with the itch I had to build something shiny and new. Since Twitter itself is really bad at being a dating service (and so it should be), why not build something for people who are interested in connecting with Twitter peeps beyond their 140 character limits?
People like, erm, me.
After running the idea by a few friends, there was no doubt that I had to get started on it as soon as possible. My personal goal of finding a great relationship had merged with my interest in the world of followers, at-messages, and tweets. I was going to build a platform on which Twitter users could take their interactions beyond single sentence exchanges and into feature-length conversations. I was going to build a Twitter dating website.
From Thought to Action
The distance between when I started thinking about this idea and when I started implementing it could be measured in hours. I knew that inspiration is perishable, and that if I didn’t act immediately, it just wouldn’t happen.
Because of the sale of my house earlier in the year, I had the bankroll to allow me to focus on building the site full-time, at least for a little while. From the moment I started working on it, I devoted every second of every day to it, seven days a week. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, no grand vision of the business model or the marketing strategy, so I just barfed out my ideas in code and gradually massaged them into something that sort of worked.
Within a couple weeks of starting, I convinced a buddy of mine to quit his job and join me on the project full-time. He’d previously founded and sold a network of Canadian classified ad sites, and I thought his experience would be a great asset moving forward.
In the mad rush of August and September 2009, we ate slept and breathed this project. We were maniacs on a mission and were fairly confident that world domination was imminent. Even though it wasn’t quite ready — hell, we weren’t quite ready — we launched the site on October 1st. We called it Plenty of Tweeps.
The Magic of Just Friggin’ Doing Stuff
Our initial version was pretty crappy. It was fairly stable and bug-free, but it was also somewhat feature-free too. And the user interface, while easy to use, was a little too Twittery in its look and feel.
But here’s the really cool thing about actually doing stuff, even when you have no clue what you’re doing or if it’ll work: people notice. People start talking about you. And people started talking about Plenty of Tweeps. I got interviewed by a popular local newspaper, Mark caught the eye of some of his investor friends, and even one of the founders of Twitter tweeted about us!
More recently, Plenty of Tweeps got mentioned on CNN and on one of the most popular social media blogs in the world, Mashable.
Even as I reflect on this now, I have no idea how this happened. I’m a decent programmer, but I’m no rock star. And while I have a keen interest in user interface design, I learned probably half of what I know from the building of Plenty of Tweeps itself.
And I haven’t even gotten to the really cool part yet.
Single? Use Twitter? Awesome.
There is another highly useful side effect of scratching your own itch: You get to actually use the thing when it’s done. And use it I did.
The product worked exactly like I hoped it would. Reading a person’s tweets gave me about as good a sense of them as you can get without actually meeting them in person. So I just went ahead and liked some profiles to see what would happen.
Surprisingly, people started joining. I exchanged messages with various girls on the site, and went on a couple dates. Going on a date with a girl you met from a dating site you built is a pretty trippy experience, to say the least.
A couple months after we launched, I met someone off the site that I really clicked with, @alicia_CHt. That’s her on the Plenty of Tweeps homepage. ;)
If You Build It…
When I say Alicia and I really hit it off, I mean it. She’s Australian and also lives in Vancouver. Just weeks after we met, she flew back to Australia for a month to spend the Christmas holidays with her family.
A few days after she left, we were chatting on Skype, and she was joking about how I should come over, “you’d have free accommodation!”, etc. I knew she was teasing, but I also knew that a month apart was a long time for two people that had just met. Not one to waste time, the next morning I booked a ticket, and a couple days later, I met her at the airport in Sydney.
Fast forward to today: We recently celebrated our nine month anniversary, six of which we’ve been living together. Building a dating site that I personally wanted to use turned out to be a pretty good idea after all.
Plenty of Tweeps continues to move forward, and while it hasn’t yet been a runaway commercial success, it continues to attract new signups every day. It’s obviously been a huge personal success, and a great addition to my consulting portfolio.
In the past several weeks, I’ve started doing the whole thing all over again with a new project called Quitfest, dedicated to the thousands of people who have commented on my post on quitting drinking. For the past few years, that community has been using a blog post to communicate with each other, and I think I can build something much easier and more fun to use for that purpose.
I spent all of this past weekend working on it, I’ll be on it all day today the second after I hit Publish on this post, and I’ve shifted back to an early riser schedule to help me finish my billable consulting hours early enough to allocate a few hours each day to Quitfest.
In the same way that I had no idea what I was doing with Plenty of Tweeps, I’m fumbling my way forward with Quitfest too. I can’t tell you if I’ve picked the right feature set, the right pricing model, or the right marketing strategy, or even the right idea for that matter, but I’ll find out soon enough.
But here’s what matters most, and here’s the entire reason why I wanted to share this story with you: I haven’t succeeded yet. I haven’t yet reached that glorious point where I can claim to support myself entirely from my own projects. Every fucking time I do anything, I get criticized for it. If you read the CNN link, you’ll see what I mean. Hell, I’ve gotten severely flamed on this blog for some of the things I’ve written. I’ve even gotten severely flamed for not writing for a while.
And that bit about meeting Alicia? Here’s one thing I left out: I liked 199 girls on Plenty of Tweeps. That is not a typo. One. Hundred. Ninety. Nine. While I exchanged messages with quite a few after that, I only actually went on two dates, the second of which was Alicia.
(I left that detail out because Alicia wanted me to. Sorry, baby! I love you. ;)
But one thing I can say for sure is this: I am trying my friggin’ heart out. I can’t think or do any harder. I can’t fall back on that whole well-I-know-if-I-really-put-my-mind-to-it crap. I have no excuses and no rationalizations. This is me running at full power.
And that, to me, is the most important part of achieving personal goals: Not wondering where to start — just starting. Not fearing the damage of rejection — going out and getting rejected. Not needing the advice of some “guru” to tell you what to do — giving yourself permission to live.
When in doubt, go for it. Good luck.
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