#031 Two Things This Newsletter Has Taught Me

Happy Wednesday! This newsletter is coming a day late, I know.

I've started a few long-term projects over the last several years and every one of them go through the following stages:

  1. Will anybody actually like this?

  2. Haha well here it goes! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  3. Okay my friends and family are putting me on. I'm glad I have support.

  4. Woah, strangers are sharing this

And out of all the projects (MOUTHWASH, MOUTHWASH Studio, PDA, & Common Discourse) this newsletter has been the biggest challenge. As the only project I've taken on solo, it has made me really thankful for my friends and business partners.

I've gone through so many phases of writing, then not writing, then writing again. Promoting on social, then being embarrassed and taking it off, and then putting it back up again. It's a constant inner-dialogue that goes something like this...

Me:

*Writes something bold*

*Backspaces*

Me Again:

"Hahaha maybe next week"


I've learned two main things through this practice. It also relates to most other practices.

  1. You have to try hard

  2. If you don't expose yourself, nobody is going to care

On Trying Hard

Trying hard means you care.

Social platforms are all sorts of fucked up but mostly because the people who are putting in the most effort in appear to be trying the least. I have to be constantly reminded that trying means you care. And that pretending you don't try doesn't help anybody.

Almost all of the time, people who are better than you at something are trying much harder than you are. We always underestimate the amount of effort the successful person is putting in. They're making more space, paying attention to more details, and have an objective in mind.

And while talent is an obvious factor, effort is almost always forgotten about.

Naturally we want the final product without the effort. We want to look fit without working out, to start a successful business without spending the time figuring out the boring stuff, or want people to read our writing without promoting ourselves.

Because effort is ugly and results are glamorous.

On Exposing Yourself

The second learning is that writing in public is scary.

I think internet virality paints this picture well. You publish something that you and your friends would laugh at and brush off lightly, a lot of people also think it's funny, then all of a sudden a bunch of angry people start attacking you and giving you opinions you never asked for.

If vulnerability and judgement aren't scary, you probably have a ton of followers on TikTok. But for the rest of us, we'll continue to be humans with real fears and real desires.

I've always written through story because that's how we get closer to one another. I write about my friends, failures, embarrassments, and the way I'm navigating through life because that's what makes you and I seem a lot more alike than different. It’s also the most effective way to learn and make better choices.

Seth Godin perfectly paints the effectiveness of this reading and writing style:

"We like to think we make complicated decisions based on rational analysis, but most of the time, we actually make an emotional decision and then invent a rational analysis to justify it.

That’s why so many kids pick a school based on how it felt to go to a football game there in October. Or why it matters if it’s raining on the day you visit. Feelings first, then they create a story. Facts come in third.

If our goal is to help people make better choices, it helps to first create better feelings"

Because I choose to write this way, I'm constantly faced with the choice to either feel safe or feel known. When you put stuff out in the world, people form opinions about you that you never asked for.

I read this recently which explains it all perfectly:

"Instead of relying on someone else to narrativize my life or offer an observation about me, I use writing as a way to assert my own narrative. It’s how I remain more subject than object, how I maintain conviction in my own agency."

This practice isn't about me controlling the narrative, it's about believing that the small things can compound and make large effects over time. Like photographs, the snapshot immediately brings humans back to a specific time and place that we'd otherwise forget since humans are very forgetful.

I've decided that life is long and I can't afford to lose the lessons hidden inside all these little moments. So I'll keep writing.

In Other News

Substack invited me to a writer's workshop designed for writers with publications that meet their requirements for "Committed writers who have been publishing consistently on Substack and seeing promisingly signals of growth"

The list of writers isn’t very big, so I feel honored to be included. The screenshot below shows all 884 of you who have continued to give support, feedback, and praise to this newsletter. The big spike is when I committed to trying. The gradual growth is when I committed to exposing myself.

To my first note about the phases of every project, Common Discourse feels like it's entering the "Woah, strangers are sharing this" phase.

So, this is my thanks. Appreciate you all.

— Alex


Ideas from me

I. BETTER THAN FREE

One of the laziest complaints of our time is blaming the guy with a cheaper price tag.

"They're taking all the business because they're willing to work for a lower rate than what the job is worth"

"Our sales are suffering because this new brand is doing it for half the cost"

So what if we just started making stuff or providing services that were better than free?

What if the photographs you make become more valuable than the person who said they'll shoot it for $0? Or maybe 6-8 weeks delivery for a custom designed product could be more desirable than 2-day shipping from Amazon Prime for a product that is poorly made.

Lowering price all the way to the bottom might take you to the top quickly, but somebody will always find a way to do it for cheaper and faster than you. You're fighting for scraps.

Price is more than an exchange of coin. It's an emotional commitment. Make something they'll write home about. 

II. CONNECTIONS

"Alex, I just came across your profile and was interested in learning more about what you do! I’d also like to introduce you to my network and add value any way I can. Let me know when would be a good time to have a quick chat!"

I can't think of a more inauthentic way to speak to people than the messages people attach to their invites to connect with them on LinkedIn.

If you want to "make connections" just be the most honest version of yourself to the people you naturally encounter. You could also just call this what it is. Making relationships.

III. SURRENDER

Worry and anxiety says "I know the best way for events to unfold"

You don't. And I don't either.

There is serenity on the other side of letting go.


Quote from somebody else

“The next phase of human evolution is about collaboration not competition, but the belief that our survival still depends on being the fittest is fundamentally entrenched in our language and culture. Instead of being the fittest, we should think about how each of us fits into a complex and collective human endeavor to make the world more beautiful for more people.”

— Sharon Chang


Links worth sharing

✍️ Frank Lloyd Wright’s Apprentice Manifesto

🐎 The Green Knight is finally in theaters. Go re-listen to the S3 of the MOUTHWASH Podcast with the film’s Director of Photography, Andrew Palermo

🎙 E3S4 MOUTHWASH Podcast on Creating Opportunities is out now. You can listen on our site or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

🕺 PDA is throwing a party in Los Angeles on Tuesday August 10th with our friends at Pinkies Up. We’ll be dancing and drinking wine at Woon. Wines curated by Pinkies Up. Music spinning by DJ Jo La Tengo and Puffiie. Exclusive apparel items but us at PDA. 👉 RSVP here. Bring all your friends!!

♻️ Art cycles

🤣 I laughed so hard at this

📚 What the Creator Economy Promises and What It Actually Does by Kyle Chayka


Thanks for another week!

Common Discourse is a weekly briefing designed to help others (and myself) think through creativity, focus, and intentional work. It hits your inbox every Tuesday at 9:17am.

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