I'm using Substack "wrong" to hack . . . myself
And I love it
Today marks three weeks into this Substack. The more I learn about it as a tool, the more I love it. However, I want to provide an alternative view on why it's been so effective to help me "hack" well, myself.
Substack suggests that new users start a free newsletter only, grow the membership, then add a paid portion later. I started this email newsletter the day after being laid off from my job. What a cliché. I started a free and paid newsletter simultaneously. It was precisely the opposite of what they recommend.
I am using the platform differently than recommended, and it's working for my personality. It's a feature, not a bug.
As a fan of the free market, free expression, and someone who has watched the slow death of nuance at the hands of ever-truncated messaging, I have watched Substack's rise with glee. It's the perfect vehicle to crowdsource different voices.
Substack suggests that you can make it your job once your list is large enough, then add a paid portion. My friend Elisha sent me this article from Platformer about what he has learned one year in on Substack.
Honestly, I started this email newsletter more in a panic than anything else. When I got laid off three weeks ago, it was the first time I didn't already have "the next thing" lined up in my adult life.
To me, a newsletter on Substack seemed like a tool I could use to help me bridge the gap and figure out my professional next steps. It's doing that and so much more.
Before starting the RealBestLife Substack, I already had a personal newsletter that I was not particularly good at updating. I would say to myself, "I'm going to send one every Thursday," and then I wouldn't. In addition, I have a blog that I am not particularly good at updating, too.
It was always the intent for these projects to grow to a place where they could be “monetized.” Isn’t that always the goal? Grow to a place where what you love can become a full-time gig? But even though blogs, newsletters, YouTube channels, and even social media followings can get there someday, there’s a high barrier to entry. You have to have a lot of followers or subscribers to make even your first dollar. So hobbies were relegated to just hobbies and were therefore first on the chopping block regarding time allocation.
Substack is different. You make your first dollar with your first subscriber.
It's not that they weren't moving forward due to a lack of enthusiasm or passion. It's because there are a limited number of hours in the day and only so many things that can happen. The hierarchy for me goes something like this:
Keep the children alive.
Make sure the husband knows I love him.
Keep the animals alive.
Keep the plants alive.
Clean(ish) the house - enough to keep us on this side of an episode of hoarders.
Tell my friends how much they mean to me.
Somewhere near the bottom (or the top if you're looking at a Maslow's hierarchy pyramid) is "do the fun things that set your soul on fire." That's what the RealBestLife newsletter and blog were to me. It's my way to express to those interested in farming, sustainability, self-sufficiency, and most importantly, cheese, how beautiful our short lives are.
It never quite hit the stride before Substack. Once I dropped my kids off at school, preferably in clean-ish clothes, milked goats, fed everyone, watered, picked up, and then did the job that paid my portion of the mortgage, there was little left. I never felt like I had time to be consistent about things I loved but weren't part of the "survival" portion of the hierarchy.
Since there was no accountability, it didn't matter.
I don't know about you, but I grew up with the message "work before play." There's nothing wrong with that. It's an important life lesson to impart to children. However, it can also keep us from doing what we love.
Work was always framed like "eat your broccoli before you can have ice cream." I was having trouble getting any ice cream consistently, and my entire brand is that of a dairy fiend.
By starting a premium and free Substack simultaneously, I have moved the "fun" project into a different place on the hierarchy of things that need to get done. There are people to whom I have promised to do this thing publicly. Amazingly, some people have pledged to give me money every month to write as committed.
This has changed this “fun” writing for me. It’s now moved from the “optional” to the “not optional” place in my brain. What a great tool to make myself do a thing that I wanted to do anyway. Because of Substack this no longer feels like a frivolous indulgence, it’s a piece of broccoli that happens to taste like ice cream.
As a person who is unapologetically highly motivated by the following things: guilt, my commitments, and money - starting a premium newsletter with the free one means both are happening when they might not otherwise. If I began this with just a free version, no one would be unhappy if it didn't happen. I wouldn't be doing something "wrong" by not writing.
So, do I get to quit everything else and be a RealBestLife Substack writer? No. I didn't follow the prescription for that.
But, even if I had only one subscriber (and I am overwhelmingly grateful so many more have decided to sign up), I would do this thing as promised because someone else was counting on me. Other people threw in for me to follow my dream, and it's crazy and humbling to consider.
Here I am. I am writing the "fun" thing. It's now a part of moving what I love to the "survival" part of the hierarchy. I can only do this because of Substack and you. And I'm grateful.