The Truth About Going Viral
Everyone wants to be famous for something. We all want to do something epic, something worth remembering. But maybe fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, I have good reason to believe that it’s not.
An archived post on my blog recently caught some traction and went viral, sending over a million people to my website in a week. It’s causing me to rethink why I do my work and whether or not artists should chase audiences.
Here’s what happened:
- An article about traveling while you’re young was picked up randomly by a student leader in Singapore one year after I published it.
- That person shared it on Facebook with a travel group he led on campus.
- Each person in the group shared this with their respective networks, and it spread to similar student groups in the Philippines and Malaysia.
- In about 24 hours, the post had made it all the way around the world, finishing its tour in Brazil.
The first time this happened, 0ver 150,000 people visited the blog. The second time, it was about half that amount. And then the third time, it reached over 1 million visitors and was shared via Facebook over 250,000 times — all in about a week. Pretty crazy.
But here’s the craziest part: none of that matters.
The confusion of virality
After the article went viral, I was confused and anxious.
What did this mean? Should I change what I write about, focusing more on this topic of travel? Should I try to keep as many of those visitors as possible? And what would I do when Monday rolled around, and I had to start blogging again?
The next week, I hit the old grindstone again, and the Internet had already forgotten about me. My traffic spike had mellowed out, and I was back to zero, forced to earn people’s attention all over again.
I tried to drag out the success, of course, tried to prolong that temporary feeling of fulfillment that fame brings. But for some reason, it wasn’t enough. And through the process, I learned something:
Every week I go back to zero. And so do you.
No single creative success can be sustained. That’s why you can’t create solely for profit or praise. In the end, the thrill never lasts. If you want to be an artist, there has to be something more than fame that sustains you.
Just ask Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was an inexplicable, runaway success. After she wrote the book and it raced up the bestsellers lists, people asked her a cruel question:
“Aren’t you afraid you’re never going to be able to top that?”
The answer, not surprisingly, was: Yes. She worried she’d never be able to write another book that achieved such success. In an amazing TED Talk, she said, “It’s exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me.”
This worry held her back, caused her to hesitate and wait years before writing and publishing another book. But eventually she did. And how she did it was unique. Courageous, even.
She went to work, anyway. She treated her life’s work as just that — a job.She started believing in the idea of a Muse, a spirit that indwells artists. She resigned to a more mystical, creative process, and began to understand that “success” wasn’t up to her.
No, her job was to show up.
We must do the same
No matter how amazing you are today, you have to get up and put the hours in tomorrow. And the next day. And so on.
Because that thing inside of you that causes you to create already forgot yesterday’s successes, it’s hungry. And if you don’t feed it something new, it will eat you alive.
That, my friends, is why artists kill themselves, why they get depressed after a monumental success and never create anything again. After going big with some huge, mega success that plummets them into instant stardom, they seemingly have nowhere left to go.
But that isn’t why they got into the game in the first place. And it’s not why you and I are in it, either. At least, I hope not.
Fame is not enough
Doing creative work for mass consumption is not fulfilling. Sure, it’s a nice byproduct, but it can’t be the focus.
This is why I write (and often) every day. Not for the fans and followers. But for me. Because if I do not, I feel like something is missing. The accolades never seem to completely satisfy. Only creating can fulfill you after the fanfare fades.
So do something creative today. Scribble a note in your notebook. Snap a photo. Bang out a few chords on the guitar. Hit “publish” on that blog post you’ve been stalling to write.
Show up and do your work.
Whatever you do, please, don’t live in the past. And don’t wait for the future. Now is all you have. So, artist, create. It’s what you were made to do.