A labour of love: 2 years in the making

A labour of love: 2 years in the making

This year is the second anniversary of this personal blog, which feels a bit unreal to me – it doesn’t seem that long ago. Over those two years, this labour of love turned itself into a platform of more than 50,000 readers a year – featuring a bookshelf with more than 30 of my favorite books, and a small Weekly newsletter sent to more than 350 people every Sunday.

After the last months of building and creating, there is still something deeply exciting to me about connecting with others through books. I still remember the excitement I felt when for the first time a reader reached out to me around May 2021. A woman named Sara wrote me in a private message and shared a personal experience about her childhood, and how reading the book What Happened to You changed her perspective on trauma. It’s indeed an incredible book about what trauma is and how it shows up in our lives, and she wrote me that it opened the door for her to look at that experience in a more compassionate way.

One of the great things about building a platform and having ownership over it, is that it allows you to create an instant feedback loop. Because writing is in many ways a solo act – an expression of deep thinking, there isn’t much dialogue during the writing process. While a comedian receives direct feedback from the audience during his performance, a writer, however, receives that feedback after the piece has already been delivered. This blog however, enables me to engage in an ongoing dialogue, and helps me to experience a more interactive, and rewarding creative process.

On top of that, the platform has also given me the editorial freedom to come up with pieces of content whenever I want to. A “creative project” as I’ve called it many times, that started two years ago in my tiny apartment in Amsterdam – just me and my laptop and a clear vision of how I wanted this platform to look and feel like.

It’s that deep passion for telling stories, connecting with people, and business that kept me going at a consistent pace. I believe in the power of storytelling and that we, people, change through conversation. Good stories refer back to the universal elements of the human experience. They remind us that we have more in common than we might think sometimes.

Especially at the very beginning, it wasn’t quite easy to cut through the noise. Getting people to remember your work requires an incredible time investment and a willingness to deliver. It’s definitely easier to grow a platform like this if lots of people already know your name. During the last two years building the platform, I found myself encouraged by Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke the following words in 1983:

“Not everyone can be famous, but everyone can be great. Because greatness is determined by service.”

I have never forgotten these words because it reminds me that it’s worth using your voice, even if you don’t have a big audience. In fact, if we truly pay attention to those around us, many people across the world are doing incredible work in the service of others. We might not directly know their names, but they are delivering valuable service.

People like Blandine for example, who brings vaccines from village to village every day to make sure every person is protected. People that are located in war zones as well, to make sure everyone is safe, and artists who are on top of their craft and doing their performances on local stages.

Truthfully, most of these people might not have a camera around to document and follow them with every footstep they make. These local stages might not be the ones we see on television, and these people might not be on top of the newsfeed or search engines. But whether there is a camera around or not – work needs to be done on all levels of society.

So, at the time this platform wasn’t a platform yet – just a tiny, little space on the internet that attracted only my mom and some Internet bots, I knew back then that I could use that space to express myself, to bring stories alive that are meaningful and important – and in the best case, could serve and uplift others as well.

 

Two years and several thousand readers into its existence

This year in review begins as what I hope to become an annual tradition — a distillation of the most important things I have learned about living while reading and writing my way through life. Personal learnings that are offered online, in the hope that these reflections might be of succor or salve to another. Against this contextual backdrop, here is the central learning drawn from the year 2022:

 

Get started before you feel ready

For this Year in Review, I’d like to shine a light on the ability to recognize opportunities. In the past year specifically, I’ve seen how opportunities show up and pass by all the time. I came to notice that opportunities don’t force themselves on us and that it is actually a skill to recognize and tap into them.

Now, when I’m about to commit myself to something I haven’t done before, I like to remind myself to just get started before I feel ready. Because obviously, there is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, and the time to act is now.

For example, when I launched the newsletter last April, I knew that the challenge to stand out in people’s inboxes was going to be a tough one. With all of the emails entering my inbox daily, I knew that I had to find a way to become visible.

So in the first month, I reached out to 65 newsletter owners, directories, thought leaders, people I know, and people that I barely know or do not know at all. I wrote them asking if it would be possible for them to introduce my weekly newsletter to their audience if they saw any value in it. Note here that I had only published a few newsletters, and there were only a handful of subscribers at the time.

Eventually, I got listed in 32 of them, which was wonderful. Yet, it was only half of the people I reached out to. So then I decided to reach out to every single one of them that didn’t introduce the newsletter to their audience asking if they could provide me some feedback on what the newsletter needed so that they were willing to share it. Some of them took the time to reply, others didn’t. But those who did ended up providing me valuable feedback that actually helped me to create a better product.

In other words, whether the newsletter was according to their taste or not, I realized that I created a situation in which there was only something to gain. In both cases, the newsletter was either going to be introduced to a new audience of readers, or I would receive feedback that could help me improve the product.

It’s true that the product probably needed more thought, effort, and time. At the same time, the newsletter will simply never be finished. The downside of thinking that something needs to be finished before making people part of your project is that it puts you in a state of inaction. There were actually a lot of people I could learn from because they had already walked down my path.

So the feedback was free for me to access, but you also have to give yourself permission. It’s a liberating experience, I’ve found, to flip your own way of thinking into thoughts like what is it that I can do, and how can I use what I do know to get from A to B?

Being able to recognize opportunities puts you, most likely, in a more proactive state of mind.

I hope you have a happy and healthy start to 2023. This is the first year in review. If you want to read more personal insights, sign up for the Monthly or check out the archive of upcoming annual reviews, which will show you how this labour of love continues.

 

Top 3 recommended books:

  • Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover – A remarkable story about a woman that grows up in isolation due to her parents beliefs and makes her way to Harvard and Cambridge where she earns her PhD. Learn more
  • What Happened to You?,  by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Perry – Personal conversations about trauma, resilience, and healing. Learn more
  • Working, by Studs Terkel – Interviews with ordinary people about what they do all day and about how they feel about what they do. An insightful look into the lives of ordinary people with strong and extraordinary voices. Learn more

 

Full archive of all the readers’ questions I answered in 2022:

Ask me anything list of 2022

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