The Best Advice I Know for Creative Success: Put in the Work


Lately, I’ve been bombarded with ads on YouTube featuring people who want to sell me the secret to wealth and success.

A great example is Tai Lopez, who puts on a facade of a modest, yet uber-successful entrepreneur who possesses the secret to becoming wealthy. (His latest sales tactic: humblebragging about his supposed million-dollar home as he gives you a tour.)

Tai Lopez in front of a mansion

His successful marketing tactics have inspired both satire and copy-cat marketers (like the guy below):


Who are these marketers targeting? People who want to be more successful, live a better lifestyle, go viral online, and/or build a business around their passions. People who want to be in the middle of this diagram:


Image credit: Eskimon

Finding this intersection between a lucrative career and doing what you love is difficult and unpredictable, so these marketers do their best to convince you that a) success is completely formulaic and reproducible, and b) they are the ones who know the formula better than anyone else. In other words, these people are getting rich by selling you the secret to getting rich.

Thankfully, the internet is also packed with artists, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals who publish their work without trying to sell you a magic formula. They focus on perfecting their craft and adding value to the world through their hard work. If you pay attention to the advice they give out, you hear a different story about success.

One such artist is Darius Kazemi. Having published over one hundred creative projects on the web since 2013, Kazemi has seen many of his most ambitious projects stay in obscurity and many of his silly projects go viral quickly. From this experience, Kazemi believes that internet success is a lot like winning the lottery.

“I believe that beyond a certain level of work you put into your project, success is entirely out of your hands,” he says on stage during his 2014 talk at XOXO Festival in Portland, Oregon. “Conceiving of a creative project and building it, that’s buying a lottery ticket.”

In other words, hard work, perseverance, and the right kind of promotion all improve your chances (i.e. earn you more lottery tickets), but there’s no guaranteed formula for success.


Some people may find this advice fatalist and demotivating, but I disagree. Ignoring fame and financial success in favor of execution and skill in the short run may actually improve your chance of success in the long run.

For example, Rick Rubin, the former co-president of Columbia Records, has said that when an artist is first starting out, “any commercial considerations usually get in the way.” In other words, a premature focus on money and fame can distract and misguide.

Kazemi concludes his talk by advising us to ignore those who claim to have the secret to winning the lottery, i.e. the magic formula to go viral or make more money online:

“There are two kinds of creative advice that I think you can get from creative people. The first is how to buy more lottery tickets and the second is how to win the lottery. I think the former can be extremely useful and I think the latter is nonsense.”

Since snake oil salesmen aren’t going anywhere any time soon, it’s up to us to choose who we pay attention to. My personal rule of thumb: the more confident someone is that they have an ironclad formula for success, the less likely they’re worth paying attention to.

“If there was a secret formula for becoming known, I would give it to you,” writes Austin Kleon, artist and author of Steal Like an Artist, “But there’s only one not-so-secret formula that I know: Do good work and share it with people.”


Recommended reading:

How to Negotiate Anything (Especially Your Salary)


It was on a calm, sunny Wednesday afternoon in San Francisco. The birds were chirping, people were bantering on the streets, and here I was, sitting in my room, literally shaking in my chair.

I had just received a job offer for an engineering position in San Francisco, and in about fifteen minutes, I’d have to negotiate a job offer with the CEO of the company — a prospect that made me sick to my stomach. As much as I despised it, my friends told me I’d be leaving money on the table if I didn’t get on the phone and negotiate. I just had to suck it up and do it.

There was one small hitch in that plan, though. I’m a terrible negotiator.

Thankfully, I knew better than to try and enter into a job negotiation unprepared. After receiving the initial offer, I quickly read Getting To Yes, based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project. I then devoured as many blog posts as I could on negotiating salaries for an engineering position.

I felt ready as I’d ever be, yet I was still nauseous and jittery. The phone rang and my heart dropped right into the pit of my stomach. I took a deep breath, picked up the phone and got started. Continue Reading…

Learning to Code: Fun, Frustrating, Fruitful



I’ve attempted the plunge into the coding world for years now. I’d get my feet wet in something like Javascript, Python, or Ruby, but then throw it to the wayside in favor of higher priority projects. In retrospect, learning to code was a lower priority for me because I didn’t have anything I actually wanted to build to give coding a sense of purpose. Well, no longer is that the case. With a project in mind, and a seemingly limitless amount of free resources on the Internet, I felt it was time to get serious with learning to code. Thus far, my overall experience seems to be progressing from fun to frustrating to fruitful.



In my opinion, learning a new language is incredibly fun. Codecademy is a blast. It feels good to write your first function that can process logic and spit out the answer you were looking for. Telling all of your tech-savvy friends that you’re learning to code to make [insert cool idea here] is very gratifying as well. My first few weeks learning code was a blast, and I really enjoyed it.
Continue Reading…

How to find your breaking point (and grow stronger from it)

I don’t think I’ve ever been busier than I’ve been these past few months. And if I have, it definitely wasn’t for this long without rest or periods of down time. I shouldn’t complain though; this busyness is a direct result of a lot of fortunate events in my life. My career, passion projects, and relationships have been doing very well. Alas, my challenge lies in maintaining them all without burning out. For those who have experienced it, burning out is not pretty. And even if you’re young and can physically handle it, it’s a quick and easy way to ruin many valuable relationships in your life through neglect. So it goes without saying that I’d love to avoid burning out from stress and being overworked.

So although I can’t complain about my circumstances, the question remains: is it recommended (or even mentally and physically safe) to work 70 hour weeks, moonlight as a member of a tech start-up team, and sustain a blog – all while making sure to dedicate enough time to the people who matter most in my life?

I won’t know for sure until more time elapses (it’s only been a few months). But for now, the answer for now is a resounding yes. And here’s why: I believe it’s important to have moments in your life when you’re close to burning out. These types of moments will help you realize that one of two things are happening in your life:

1) There is something in your life that is taking a disproportionate amount of time from your day without a worthwhile reason/purpose for doing so – this should either be removed fully or in part from your life.

2) The success that you’ve been fortunate enough to find is requiring increasingly more work and commitment from you. As Sun Tzu said, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” Therefore, your new challenge is better prioritization (and possibly even automation) to bring your life back into balance.

Regardless of which situation above most accurately describes your situation (assuming you’re also close to burning out), I guarantee that having this kind of realization is valuable. You see, reaching your breaking point is bad  – generally speaking, mental breakdowns and panic attacks aren’t fun nor healthy for you – but occasionally getting near your breaking point is a good thing (key word: occasionally). It reminds you of how much you’re made of, and these periodic extreme circumstances keep your mind resilient and disciplined. A person who goes for a long time without testing his/her limits will find that they have less and less tolerance for difficult, trying circumstances.

So as your fight to change the world and make your vision for an ideal life a reality, consider that you should embrace the moments when you feel yourself reaching your breaking point. Figure out which type of situation you’re in (is your life truly out of balance without good reason, or are you in greater need of prioritizing your goals?), and react accordingly. Here’s how I approached my situation of overwork:

The first thing I analyzed was my career, given how many hours I work. Although my career takes up a lot of my time, the learning opportunities are so valuable (and the culture so enjoyable) that it’s a very worthwhile investment of my time. My passion projects and relationships are just as important to me, so I’m not out of balance for no good reason. So clearly I need to improve my ability to prioritize and automate. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Exploring faster routes to get to work (express bus vs. subway vs. bus + subway, for example), large-batch cooking methods that produce more healthy food in less time, and ways to cut down on my weekly errands. I even had to resist the urge to blog this past month as I reprioritized my projects and experimented with new methods for accomplishing necessary, but non-value-adding tasks (i.e. laundry).

So next time you’re faced with a workload that threatens to tip you over the edge, embrace it. Use it to force yourself to think and act smarter; to prioritize and cut waste from your life; to get creative with how you approach your day; to see how resilient you can be in the face of a challenge. You’ll become a much stronger person for it. (Trust me. :))