Today, there is an overwhelming amount of content to consume—most of it, mediocre. Of course, there are plenty of books, shows, movies and video games; and, beyond that, there are plenty of YouTubers, streamers, bloggers and influencers. In our modern world, there is no boredom; and there is no gatekeeping to creating and sharing.
In one sense, this is a gift: think of the artist who, before social media, had to schmooze their way into galleries, pay for stands at markets. Now, they can list their art on Redbubble or Etsy, then advertise on Instagram; bypassing the schmoozing and fees, while directly targeting their niche audience.
But, while this new world we find ourselves in seems like a creative’s utopia, in another sense, the lack of gate-keeping is a curse. Of course, when I say this, I am usually met with many arguments for the contrary. But after years of ‘hustling’ as an online creator, my opinion has changed dramatically. No, I don’t dislike the fact that I could self-publish a book for little-to-no cost. But what I do dislike is how I could do it on a whim tomorrow; and how I could put anything in that e-book, even terrible, unedited content.
Am I making the argument for gatekeeping? Yes and no. This is such a complicated question, and it deserves a nuanced answer. On principle, gatekeeping is bad. As an artist, I believe in the freedom to share art, no matter the quality. The problem is: because anyone can publish, there are now exponentially more books—many of which, I am sorry to say, are not up to the quality of traditionally published works.
Today, it is even more challenging for talented writers to stand out in the market. Much of the ‘slush pile’, as it’s called in traditional publishing, is now on Amazon, left for the readers to sift through, when, prior to the indie-publishing boom, this duty would have been solely that of the publishers’. Because of this, self-published books get a bad name, and many readers will not pick them up on principle. Similar trends can be found in other creative industries.
But the problem is not inherent to self-publishing one’s creative work, as there are high-quality self-published pieces. The problem lies in today’s zeitgeist. Our culture does not value Mastery. We do appreciate the work of Masters—the results. But we do not appreciate the drudgerous journey required to create said work.
For those unfamiliar, Mastery is the process of becoming exceptionally knowledgeable and skillful in one specific domain. I first learned about this concept in 2020. Once I had accepted it, once I had swallowed this bitter pill, I narrowed my focus in life to one thing: writing—and began working my ass off. The notion of ‘talent’ is a lie, you see. What separates a great creator from a mediocre one is their willingness to practise consistently and diligently. Studies have shown about 10,000 hours of practice are required to ‘Master’ something.
Do you realize how long this is? If you practise roughly twenty hours every week, for the next ten years, then you will have logged about 10,000 hours. Twenty hours a week. That’s a part-time job. A part-time job worked for ten years. Are you investing twenty hours each week into something you love, something you are passionate about, something meaningful to you? Probably not.
But we can’t blame ourselves solely for not valuing the Mastery process. The capitalist society we find ourselves in prioritizes money. The people at the top want profit, so everything is marked up in price—including essentials like food and shelter. Speaking for myself, I live in Victoria, British Columbia—a beautiful, but expensive city. Minimum wage does not afford the cost of living. Working two jobs is a sad reality for many people. But an alternative to working a second job, is a ‘side hustle’.
The ‘creative side hustle’ is marketed to us as a utopian dream: ‘If you work hard, eventually, you can quit your day job’. Social media throws gasoline on this fire: ‘If you work hard and make content, eventually, you can do YouTube full-time!’ So people start YouTube channels for the money—sad, because most YouTubers will warn you not to start making videos for this reason alone.
I know a conservative girl who told me she wanted to start selling pictures of her feet on OnlyFans. I asked her, “Are you interested in sex-work?” She told me how much she was not, and how she only wanted to do it ‘for the money’. I responded by asking, “So what’s going to separate your feet from the thousands upon thousands of other feet out there?” She had no answer. I concluded, warningly, “Unless you are willing to market and promote yourself, you won’t make much or any money. So, if you are not genuinely passionate about sex-work and foot fetishes, I would focus your attention elsewhere.”
Do not mistake me: I am pro-(consensual)-sex-work. If this girl had been passionate about sex-work and foot fetishes, I would have encouraged her. But the idea of content creation as ‘easy money’ is a trap. Sure, some people get lucky—they publish their e-book or become a webcam model at just the right time—but these stories of overnight success are rare.
Rare, yet they dominate the cultural ideal of today. We glamorize the influencer lifestyle. Upload content and make money. Get sponsorships and make even more money. Get paid to live a glamorous and luxurious life. In reality, for most people, this is just not achievable. We cannot all be at the top—this is precisely how the capitalist system works. If we were all rich and famous Instagram influencers, there would be no value in it; this is only valuable because so few people have it.
The allure, however, is strong. We are sold this fantasy—one of a ‘creative-capitalist-utopia’—as a cheap, but false antidote for the problems we have, many of which are a result of this late-stage capitalism we find ourselves in. If becoming an Instagram model seems more likely to pay the bills than honest labour—if honest labour cannot pay the bills, because the cost of living is too high and minimum wage is too low—something has gone terribly wrong.
On the other hand, some of these problems are created by us. We, as homo sapiens, have egos—and we live in a narcissistic culture. Most likely, you have fantasized about being famous, or, at the very least, popular on social media (and if you honestly have not, then mate, I commend you).
Sure, if you waved a magic wand and became an Instagram model overnight, with millions of followers and millions of dollars, you would probably feel really good for a little while. But can I make the radical suggestion that, after a month or two of ‘living it up’, you would probably feel the same as you do now? If you are depressed and anxious now, after the novelty of wealth and fame wears off, depression and anxiety will greet you again, as this is your baseline.
As much as, in our current capitalist structure, we need money to survive, studies have shown that once one does have their basic needs taken care of, more money and more material possessions do nothing for one’s sense of happiness—shocking, I know! If anything, the opposite is true: once your ego grows accustomed to a certain way of life, it grows attached to said life, and will anxiously cling to it. Without the right psychology, no amount of money will ever be enough—not for the ego, that devil on your shoulder in need of constant narcissistic supply.
This is a challenging concept for those living in poverty or debt. Once again, this rule does not apply to those struggling to meet their basic needs—that is a very different story.
Essentially what I’m saying is this: most of us could benefit from more money (or a lower cost of living); but we must we wary of addiction to chasing money, fame and ‘success’. That is a trap; very little fulfillment can be found when one is extrinsically motivated.
Instead, make it your goal to do work you are intrinsically motivated to do; to do work you are passionate about and find meaning in. Psychologically, this is your ticket out of the rat race. To quote Alan Watts…
Forget the money. Because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life wasting your time. You will be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is, in order to do things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of things you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”
Some people try to escape this wage slavery by retiring early; but, unless you find a way to ‘milk the system’, it is unlikely you would ever be able to save enough to achieve this. The wage of a worker bee will never be that of a master, simply because the worker bee does not provide enough unique value. Yes, worker bees work hard; but they are replaceable, rather than of linchpin-status. And the wage of a worker bee is what it is for a reason: to give you enough money to scrape by, but not enough to save for an early retirement; because the people at the top need you to come back tomorrow and keep working for them, so they can continue to profit.
Do you want to keep slaving away at a job you hate? Probably not. But are you likely to escape wage slavery by saving ten percent of your pay-cheque, investing in stocks and buying lottery tickets? No. Now, I do save ten percent of my income for a rainy day. And while I, personally, don’t have experience with the stock market, it does yield profit for some people. And hey, if buying the occasional lottery ticket brings you joy, why not? But can I suggest that there is a better way to escape the meaninglessness so many experience in the monotony of life?
This is Mastery: becoming remarkably good at one specific thing. Forget these get-rich-quick-schemes and start working on a get-rich-slow-plan. Ask yourself: ‘If it takes me ten years to start making money from my YouTube channel, will the pursuit still be worthwhile?’ For a film-maker—someone fascinated by the craft of making videos—the answer might be yes. But for many people starting YouTube channels, the answer will likely be no.
How much do you value the medium, itself? For myself, I am obsessed with books, with words, with writing. I read one or two books each week! If I, somehow, spoke to the Creator and They told me it would be ten years before I profited from my writing—or that I would never profit—I would still be writing. I have to do it. A force greater than myself drove me to write this essay. Writing is my passion and what I find meaningful in life; therefore, it is what I am spending my very limited time here on Earth Mastering.
Essentially, I am suggesting you create a sense of purpose in your life—one very specific purpose totally customized to you. The pillars of a Life Purpose are: authentic passion, meaningful contribution, Mastery mindset and a fuck-ton of patience.
As already mentioned, typically, about ten years work is required for Mastery. Ten years. So, if you are not authentically passionate about what it is you are mastering, it will be a painful road. Do not mistake me: the road will be challenging regardless of how passionate you are, as passion waxes and wanes. But if you do not love what you are working on—if you are not intrinsically motivated—then you are in for a lifetime of suffering. Or, more likely, you will quit within the first year or two, when the novelty wears off and you reach the first plateau.
Furthermore, if you do not feel your work contributes to society in a meaningful way—well, firstly, it will be challenging to market and monetize it, if you do not believe in it, yourself—but, more importantly, you will feel empty inside; a large sense of our fulfillment stems from what we can do for the world, rather than what the world can do for us.
This is all a lot to think about, to chew on. Do not expect to have answers to these questions overnight. It can take years to discover and create passion—to build passion. It can take years to establish the proper habits and get on the path to Mastery. It can take years to know exactly what impact you want to have on the world. And all these things shift and evolve over time.
One thing, however, is certain: if you do want to be a powerful creator, then you must rise above mediocrity. Yes, the marketplace is full—but full of mediocrity. Therefore, to become a powerful creator, it is your job to fight mediocrity—to become remarkable. If you become a Master, the crowd in the marketplace will not matter, because your work will have transcended that of the crowd.
What this will, specifically, mean for you will likely differ from what it means for me. Regardless, there is one thing our journeys have in common: in this world overflowing with content, we must prioritize quality over quantity—despite the algorithm!
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t practise your craft daily—quite the opposite, actually. Let’s say you are a film-maker. Do you really need to make regular content for YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and your blog? If you cut out writing blog posts and ‘networking’ on Twitter, and simply focused on making videos for YouTube and Instagram, you would be much more focused on your craft, and you would be more likely to make the progress you are craving.
For myself, I have dabbled with many social media platforms. But because I am a writer, and my domain of Mastery is writing, I am now choosing to focus on, well, my writing. My main priority is writing my books—my product. Following this, I am writing shorter pieces for my website (like this essay), to give potential readers a taste of my work.
Of course, many people preach to me the ‘value’ of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and the like. As I said, I have tried most social media platforms, but I found them to be a distraction from my real work. Now, I’m not saying I won’t ever use these platforms again—especially the ones that are focused on sharing words, rather than photos and videos. But becoming popular on social media is just not a priority of mine. Becoming a great writer, however, is.
This pursuit is meaningful because it aligns with my highest and most noble values: creativity, art and spirituality. I never have and never will write for the pursuit of fame or money. I write because, as I said, something beyond myself forces me to write. And, if I do, one day, receive considerable sums of money for my work, this will be nice—not because I can buy a fancy home or travel the world—but because I will quit my day job and narrowly focus on the Mastery of my craft. More books written and more books read.
With so much content to create and so little time, I have learned my efforts are best placed in what I value most: becoming a great writer. One does have to ask the question: what are these social media platforms getting in exchange for allowing us to share our work for free? Well, money, of course. More content on the app means more users on the app; and more users on the app means more advertisements on the app. And more content on the app means more difficulty being seen by users, allowing social media platforms to charge you money to ‘boost’ your post in the algorithm.
If I was mastering photography, I would focus on Instagram. If I was mastering film-making, I would focus on YouTube. If I was mastering painting, I would open a Redbubble shop. But I am not. I am mastering writing; therefore, the vast majority of my focus and my effort must go into creating and sharing my writing. I cannot afford to get distracted; my time on Earth is too limited.
The same goes for consuming content. There are so many books, shows, movies, video games, YouTube channels, live-streams, podcasts, blogs—and the list goes on! One could easily drown in all the content; drown and never actualize the self. I am working on only consuming content that makes me a better writer, story-teller and philosopher; or that genuinely helps and inspires me. And I am working on cutting out the distractions. (And, yes, that means, if you recommend me a show, and I don’t think it applies to my unique path, I will not watch it!)
As challenging as it is, I suggest you cut out distractions, too. Think of it this way: do you want to live vicariously through a YouTuber, or do you want to realize your full potential? Now, I am not making the argument for asceticism. In small doses, you can have some distractions in your life—some junk food for the soul, if you will. Just not at the cost of your self-actualization.
Of course, this is all my opinion, a philosophy I have found Truth in. But I do know people who have made peace in the monotony of working nine-to-five, reserving their sense of meaning in life for the evenings and weekends, when they get to socialize with their loved ones and engage in hobbies they enjoy. I have large amounts of respect and admiration for these folks, because they carry with them a sense of contentment I do not have—and likely will not have until I manifest my vision. This essay is not for them.
This essay is for people who are not content with a life only noticed by family and friends; who have a sense of ambition, a sense they were put on this Earth to achieve something noteworthy. If this is you, then what I am suggesting is: commit yourself to one specific pursuit, and everyday chip away at the Mastery of this thing. Stop measuring your success in terms of how many ‘likes’ you get on Instagram or how many videos you upload to TikTok; and start measuring it in how many hours you log towards Mastery. Stop longing to be rich and famous; and start working towards becoming great. Exceptional. Remarkable.
Stop creating content and start creating art.