I’m at a cottage on a lake in the middle of the woods. (Don’t worry, I give an EXCELLENT titty twister, should anyone try to murder me.)
There’s knotty pine. Bunk beds. And corn on the cob holders. DO YOU KNOW HOW POSSESSED I AM BY THESE CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS? 🌽 I had forgotten they existed until I saw them in the drawer and they punched me right in the mouth. I’m convinced that everything good about life can be traced back to the first summer you fell in love at your Aunt Bonnie’s barbecue on the 4th of July. Your shorts were weird. Your T-shirt didn’t lay right. You were wearing grape-flavored Lip Smackers and still thought adults actually knew what they were doing (both while setting off fireworks and giving you advice on your future).
When’s the last time you felt so free???
I used to see a laptop as a symbol of freedom. Remember when that happened? It was all “escape the 9-5!” and I was a big part of that movement. I blogged my way through an entire decade of escaping. I was the poster child for it. One of the very first bloggers to lay down arms. Lead by example. Do life differently. Make creativity valuable.
But then the laptop got heavy. Turns out, physical freedom and financial freedom are very different from mental freedom.
For years, we’ve exclusively prioritized location independence and financial independence: don’t do anything that puts chains around your ankles!, we’d shout. Jobs that required you to be in an office every day were a modern-day death sentence for your soul. And, there was a snooty subtext throughout all of these conversations, too:
That doing so made you basic.
But, what we didn’t account for was the other type of freedom we were sacrificing in order to be “free”: the kind where you can collect sticks and walk through the woods and pick moss off a tree and pull out the corn on the cob holders without feeling like you are failing.
I think about “potential” a lot.
I think about the pressure to live up to your potential, fulfill your potential, realize your potential, eat your fucking potential for breakfast, lunch, and the snack plate at a funeral.
YOU MUST NOT WASTE YOUR TALENTS.
YOU MUST DO AS WELL AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN.
And, whenever you stop “living up to your potential” in order to skip a rock and build a fire and catch a firefly in a jar?
That can feel like failure, too.
Because sometimes, not doing your best at all hours of the day can feel like slacking.
That’s because “potential” has got a dollar sign tattooed on its face. This is how we measure our excellence. It is not whether we’ve done enough meaningful things in our life—it’s whether we’ve earned enough money in our life. And you can never earn enough money when you’re on the internet.
On the internet, opportunity is endless.
On the internet, you can be “free.”
Except, that’s a joke. You aren’t free on the internet; at least, not most people, anyway. Freedom doesn’t come from taking micro orders from thousands of different people every day.
Oooohhh, that hit you somewhere deep, didn’t it?
That’s what it feels like, being online. You don’t own your time anymore. Other people do. Because it’s almost impossible to resist responding, reacting, engaging, turning into a tiny little helpless bobble head.
Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?
It’s all a bunch of charades.
And none of it is good for us.
There’s a difference between building an online business and building an online prison.
Unfortunately the latter is usually what looks like success.
There are a lot of things I don’t believe in: black licorice, god, tattoos of clowns. Who the fuck wants a tattoo of a clown? Don’t you dare send me that shit.
I’ve also decided I don’t believe in online business the way it’s been done.
I don’t believe in TikTok.
I don’t believe in Instagram.
I don’t believe in Facebook groups.
I don’t believe in noise for the sake of noise.
Noise does not equal money.
You can make as much noise as you want—but most of the people doing that are broke. That’s because they’re spending all their time making distractions, rather than making a product.
But people who have been online for as long as I have know the truth: it’s better to have a quiet business that earns millions of dollars, than a loud one that earns millions of fans.
What’s the point?
I’m not interested in building my ego. I’m interested in building a life.
That’s what true potential should mean: how well did you live?
Maybe instead of money earned, we need other metrics of success. This is why my new program, Selfish School, teaches you how to start an online business without social media so you can actually enjoy your life—and in doing so, measures success not only in terms of $USD, but also something I call $T: uncommitted time.
How much leisure time do you have leftover in your day?
If you are earning good money, but have no time in your life to live, you don’t have a life.
That doesn’t interest me.
What interests me is how I can earn the financial resources I need in order to be able to:
- Go out on the canoe and splash my hand in the water
- Invite the kid I shared a locker with in the 9th grade over for beers
- Look through old black and white photos of my grandparents from Italy
- Sit down with an art pad and sketch a garden for the backyard
- Run my hand over a patch of dewey grass in the morning
- Meet up with the girls for a throwback game of pool (or seven!)
- Take a 4-wheeler out to see the sunset
- Snap pictures of birds and look them up on an app
- Write a thoughtful birthday card for someone I love
- Giggle over a glass of wine with my old Uncle Barry
- Be still. Be quiet. Be able to look around me and actually see.
- Help a neighbor move a stove
- Take the time to look at the trees
- Press buttercups into a vintage book
- Smile when an old friend calls
- Walk through the crick like I did when I was twelve
- Think about life
- Ponder the world
- Eat corn on the cob at twelve noon in the middle of summer
- Do the kinds of things that technology should be helping us have more time to do
Time is the new money.
I don’t care how much you’re earning; I want to know how well you’re living. Can you earn a quarter million dollars a year and still be free? Can you still be connected? Grounded? Who you want to be?
This is what I’ve set out to help us do in Selfish School.
Because turns out, it’s not a laptop that makes you feel free.
It’s knowing how to use it—and then walk away from it—that does.