I want to tell you a story. In fact, I need to tell you a story.
It’s March of 2016. My daughter is nearly two. I’ve been reading tarot and practicing witchcraft for a little over a year now. My part-time position tutoring Chinese exchange students has fizzled out (no doubt a result of the company’s unethical practices, in my opinion). My husband is in the throes of addiction. I am frightened, hopeless, and desperate.
I publish my very first blog post entitled “The Court Cards: Exploring Meaning Through Process.” It is both a first step and an act of self-reclamation. It is the seed from which my entire business has grown.
When I began, I knew nothing of algorithms, SEO, hashtags, marketing funnels. I’d barely used social media, truth be told. What I did know, however, was that I wasn’t alone–I understood that there were many like me who, despite the crippling weight of their struggles and challenges, refused to succumb. Many who were desperate for change, but didn’t have the tools they needed to facilitate that change so they could feel good about who they were and the life they were living.
I wanted to help them be happier. Healthier. Well-loving and well-loved. And if I’m being truly honest, I think I wanted to make it possible for them so I could believe it was possible for me, too.
After two years of tirelessly working to build its foundations, the biz finally began to gain traction. This success was not because my message or person is so exceptional that it spread like wildfire. This success is the direct result of consistency, strategy, and the development of business acumen. In short, I learned how to play the game.
Over the course of this past year, however, it’s become clear that the game has begun to play me. The following excerpt is from a poem I wrote not three hours ago:
I cannot pretend that numbers are meaningless–
I follow them and they take me where I want to go
But my heart is crushed by their weight
It leaps into my throat when they fluctuate
They tell me what to think and what to create
And I thank them for this service.
Just as I knew it in 2016, I know now that I am not alone. I recently made an instagram/blog post entitled “The Month of No Makeup” where I shared my commitment to going bare-faced this January. A glorious cardslinger I’ve known for years now shared the following sentiment:
“I never wear makeup and sometimes think that people don’t want to watch videos of me (though I have much to share) because my bare face is “inappropriate” or “unprofessional”… or maybe just unpleasant to look at. That’s some fuckity shit if you ask me.”
Yes, my dear. It is some fuckity shit. I’ve spent an insane amount of time tweaking things here and there in order to generate a larger response. I’ve compromised myself more than a few times to get the likes, to retain the audience, to avoid being cancelled or to encourage being propelled forward. And I don’t really think it’s the individual who’s driving these choices.
It’s the algorithm.
It tells us what we’re supposed to like. It shows us what it wants us to see. It benefits from us thinking that who we are–without contortion or adornment–is “inappropriate” or “unprofessional.” It teaches us to be impatient, to have a shorter attention span, to expect a certain language or level of polish. And we bow to it because it tells us we aren’t enough and we believe it.
Even as I’m writing this I’m considering what I should title it so that you’ll click. I’m looking at the clock, counting the time that’s passed between now and when I started writing–definitely over the thirty minutes that the top folks claim you should spend writing a single newsletter. I’m wondering if I’m being to honest and sharing too much (it tends to scare people away). And I’m wondering if I’m doing what I fear most of all: torpedoing my business.
Tarot is a daily practice for me, and lately I’ve been repetitively asking myself variations of this question: “How can I resist the impulse to make my work marketable and instead trust in the value of my thoughts and talents so I can create work that serves my personal genius and integrity?” I pull different cards each time, but the message is the same:
Simply choose integrity over marketability.
There are certain pieces of art that linger with me long after I’ve drunken them in. The 1996 film Jerry Maguire is one of them (I know Tom Cruise is cancelled, but bare with me). After a kid makes the titular character feel like a heartless piece of shit, he stays up all night writing a mission statement called “The Things We Think, But Do Not Say.” Back in 2016, Cameron Crowe published the entire 25-page manifesto that he’d written for the movie, and it’s actually worth a read. Among the various pearls contained therein is the following:
Let us be honest with ourselves.
Let us be honest with them.
Forget the dance.
This is me being honest with myself. This is me being honest with you. This is me forgetting the dance. This is me focusing.
I want you to know that between 80 and 90 percent of what I do in my business is done from a place of integrity. In other words, I haven’t been bullshitting you this whole time. I do actually practice what I preach and believe what I say. It’s not what I’ve done up until this point that’s the problem.
It’s what I haven’t said. It’s what I haven’t done. It’s what I’ve shelved because experience has taught me that it wouldn’t be well-received. If what you put out there isn’t well-received for long enough, your venture collapses. This is the climate that the algorithm has created, and I don’t know that it’s changing anytime soon.
What I do know is that if we want quality, we have to invest in quality. If we want to save the world from this collapse, we have to make more mindful choices. If we want a better online experience, we have to resist being spoon-fed by the algorithm and go searching for goodness. If we want to feel vital and alive, we must veer off the path of least resistance.
I’ve decided to title this newsletter “The Things We Think, But Do Not Say.” I don’t believe that this is the wisest choice. I do believe it’s the right one.