“I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” – Charles H. Cooley, American Sociologist
I first began publishing online sometime around 2008. Like most people in that era of blogging, I wrote about whatever came to mind: books, school, faith, and of course, women. The faith piece was one of the most important voices in my life at the time, so I chose to go all-in on it.
For the next 7 years, I wrote primarily about the Christian faith. I completed my undergraduate degree in Classics with a concentration on the relationship between Greco-Roman religions and Hebrew texts. Not exactly “trending topic” material, but I loved it. I learned how to research, how to ask good questions, and how to set aside my own assumptions.
My writing evolved once I attended seminary. For the first time, I learned how to craft for an audience. I massaged the ideas in my head until they became the concepts people wanted to read on paper. In 2014, I began self-publishing. For 5 years, I dissected, deconstructed, and diffused my thoughts on faith for an audience hungry to learn. Hundreds of thousands of people read my books. Nearly a million have read my work on additional free platforms, such as YouVersion.
But I changed along the way. Writing changed me.
I became a humanist. I got married. I saw friends die.
Suddenly, I didn’t want to write about faith anymore. I had said everything I needed/wanted to say. Now, I had different questions: about money and the internet and creativity.
I started believing that in order to create other types of things, I would need to become another type of person. The me I was currently couldn’t create what the me I was becoming needed. I’ve struggled a lot with the connection between identity and creation. Here I was, a seminary-trained (ex-?)Christian writer wanting to do something else entirely but feeling guilty about it every step of the way. It didn’t feel like I was allowed. My original faith-specific audience didn’t like it.
I felt stuck.
So, I did what I do best: I went back to school. I got a Masters's of Education and loved (almost) every minute of it. It reminded me of my passion for education. Maybe this is what I could write about for the next decade? I wrote a few higher education-related pieces, and they went well. People responded, which gave me hope.
I started Profit & Scholar (now defunct) with the intention of making it an education-focused project. But I’m learning, slowly, projects that begin with a what, rather than a who, are significantly more likely to fail. Audiences are the heartbeat of the digital economy.
During the past 2 months, I’ve read a ton and discovered dozens of powerful voices in the academic innovation sector. They are doing extraordinary work, and most importantly, they helped me understand both the audience and the funding pieces of academic innovation.
First, funding for similar projects is almost always grant-focused. Writers locate themselves either in academic departments, independent think tanks, or niche-specific nonprofit publishing organizations. They’re funded by generous donors to the tune of tens of millions of dollars each year, with the expectation that they will deliver the most cutting-edge research to…
Which brings us to our second point: audience. The audience for academic research is two-fold: policy administrators (federal and state legislators) and higher education executives (presidents, provosts, etc.).
Play the game you know you can win. – Peter Bregman, Harvard Business Review
As for the above 2 points, I’m playing a game where I’m severely disadvantaged. As a solo writer, grants are nigh impossible to secure. Without a Ph.D., I’d be unable to land the positions where my writing would be taken seriously by the necessary audience. And as an independent writer, it’s difficult to place me “politically” within the higher education network.
None of this is a surprise. All of these could be strategically overcome with a lot of effort and time. But I think another pivot is in order.
We’re taught that changing our minds is a bad thing, that it represents a lack of will or resolve to follow through. In school, we’re given marks for attendance. The proverbial gold star for a butt in the chair. But real life requires a contradictory set of skills: speed, flexibility, leverage.
If I continue to write exclusively about higher education, I will be at a disadvantage. Yes, I’d be sticking to a commitment, but not because the numbers were encouraging me to do so. I’d be holding onto hope, a poor metric to run a business by.
Over the next few weeks, I plan to change the subject my focus to the “creator economy.” Because of my background in religion and education, I expect ideas from these domains will carry over and influence what’s to come.
I’ve made a commitment to transparency for this project, and I intend to keep it. That means sharing the ups as well as the downs, the pivots, redirects, and discoveries as they occur. My hope is that I can help new creators uncover potential opportunities in a realistic way.
Making a living online is messy. It requires one to follow a different set of rules than what is taught by the “traditional career path.”
I don’t know if this will work, and that’s okay. Because I’m not just chasing a what, I’m attempting to help a who: new creators, beginner online makers, people like me who want a guide to show them what their options are (and help them avoid the most expensive mistakes).
Inaction is not failure. It’s worse. Pivots are better than pauses. If you’re not sure what to do, it’s better to do something else than it is not to do anything at all.
Even doing the “wrong thing” can move you forward when done in the right way.