Stake Out Your Lighthouse

New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken.

I don’t like breaking promises to myself, so I don’t make them.

However, the start of a new year is a unique opportunity, brimming with potential. The transition from December 31st to January 1st is a nothing more than a construct, but it would be foolish to let it pass by without harnessing the opportunity for positive change.

So rather than making a series of vague statements about how I’ll be a better person this year, I do something else.

Inspired by Caroline K Winegeart of Made Vibrant and Jason Zook of JasonDoesStuff, I choose a single word that will serve as my guiding light for the year ahead. No matter how choppy the waters of 2017 get, this word will be my lighthouse — a shining beacon, guiding my decisions and steering me to safety.

The word is a barometer. I can think of it before I pursue a new opportunity, start a project, or write a blog post. It also keeps me focused on a single goal. At the end of the year, I can evaluate success and failure on a single axis, ensuring I don’t get overwhelmed or distracted by the next shiny object.

Reflecting on 2016

In 2016, I built my lighthouse on top of the word “engage.”

After blogging for a year and a half (at the time), I had read hundreds of articles about getting more traffic, more readers, and more list subscribers. What I discovered was that many of those “strategies” technically worked, but they were shortcuts. They didn’t feel very good and their long-term benefit was questionable.

Running contests, giving away all of the freebies, and installing every email capture pop-up on your site will pad your numbers, but that’s about it. Those people end up being numbers, not loyal fans or readers. They’re there for free stuff — not to support you as a creator.

So in 2016, rather than using list growth as a metric of success, I decided to measure myself against engagement. I had built a modest following simply by writing high-quality articles and strategically sharing them in the right places — and I decided it was time to stop making one-way statements and start having two-way conversations with the people already invested in me and my work.

Two easy things I did to kick off the process:

  • I rewrote my automation email. Every time someone joins my newsletter, I ask them to email me about a project they’re working on and what’s challenging them. I read and respond to every email — and not just a two sentence response, either. I think about the problem and often write personalized, blog-length answer in an attempt to give them the best advice I can (or direct them towards another resource). It lets readers know I am here for them — not the other way around.
  • Invite replys. At the end of some of my weekly blogs, I ask my readers to respond with thoughts or feedback. Maybe it’s a challenging topic that requires additional perspective. Or maybe it was a different kind of articles and I’d like to know their feelings. Of course, only a small percentage responds, but there are now a handful of new friends I eagerly wait to hear back from each week (a quick shout out to Margot, GiGi, Laura, Mike, George, and Brie).

Grading against my lighthouse word, 2016 was quite successful!

Looking Ahead to 2017

Now that it’s officially 2017, it’s time to build a new lighthouse. This year, I’m choosing the word “significance.”

On November 9th, the day after the U.S. Presidential election, I logged on to Medium and saw the same articles I’d seen the week before — the same 10 writing tips, tech gossip, and thinly veiled attempts at marketing online courses. The world felt upside down, but Medium hadn’t changed a bit.
In the past, I’ve been guilty of writing those same breezy listacles with hacks you can find anywhere. But I know I can do better.

I started my blog in 2014 to write about improv in a clear and actionable way (something I didn’t feel existed). And while my focus has shifted, I still want to write the articles the kind no one else is writing.

Some of the most rewarding pieces to work on in 2016 were those that fell outside the “normal Medium article,” — the one where I published embarrassing first drafts, the one where I felt betrayed by creativity, and the one where I wrote about how automation can help creatives — and funny enough, a lot of other people liked those articles too. Not the hundreds that would click on another “social media strategy” article, but enough to make it worth the effort.

In this new world, my goal is to write more “significant” articles. Articles that feel unique. Articles that will help you take more action, be more informed, and/or think about your creativity or the world in a new way.

We need that kind of writing now more than ever. And hopefully, it’s started with this post.

Each week, I write a new article helping busy people find meaning and fulfillment through sustainable creative habits. If you enjoyed this week’s letter, you can sign up to get them delivered to your inbox each week by digital carrier pigeon.