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Creativity

Start Somewhere, Start Soon

I started writing about 4 years ago.

My first year was child’s play; a year filled with honest, stupid mistakes. I was in the worst condition of my life, physically and mentally, broke, failing community college, and not a single clue of what I wanted to do with my life. I’ll be honest: I went into blogging thinking I could make money online. I remember spending my days checking my Google Adwords, traffic, metrics, and spamming my links on Twitter with ridiculous hashtags.

My first blog was about video gaming—writing reviews, guides, opinions on upcoming games, etc. It was good practice because no one was reading. My first big article was for a PC game called Rift, and it was published on a site called Rift IGN. IGN is a major gaming website, and Rift IGN was an extension of it.

I think the article had 3 comments. Whatever, I was happy. I was published after a few months of practicing writing and getting familiar with punctuation. My only experience in writing were 5-page essays for high school.

Gaming for 8+ hours a day and trying to write about it and sitting idle ended quickly. I stopped that Summer and really thought about what I was getting myself into. Why was I doing this? How do I see this unfolding in the long haul, say, 5 years from now? What are my goals? Do I like writing? And when I say I got into writing, I mean learning it like a new language.

Then there was a spark, a change in my mind. I became interested not in just writing, but learning—a realization that, after 12 years of schooling, I knew nothing to help me create a future that was meaningful. I was so dependent on sitting in a classroom to learn that I didn’t even know how to start on my own. That year I started reading books. I looked around my room, and to my surprise, I owned books probably because of my middle/high school Summer Reading list. I remember the first two books that I read were The Great Gatsby and The Rum Diary. Still, to this day, they are my favorite books because they inspired me to be a writer. (It’s also funny to mention, Hunter S. Thompson would rewrite The Great Gatsby on his typewriter while he was at work because he wanted to feel the flow of other writers; I did this myself numerous times.)

My second year, second blog, was about writing, blogging, and social media because I was learning about it, so writing helped me develop a deeper understanding (hint hint). I found blogs with readerships in the tens of thousands, hell, some of them in the 100k—I had no idea people could have such audiences. Then I started to search for patterns—why are these blogs so popular, what value are they creating for others, what habits or patterns can I find and how can I apply it to my own endeavors?

Then I took my first online course ever, Guest Blogging by Jon Morrow. I remember scraping whatever money I had because I believed in the course that much. I was even late on a payment. That course was a huge turning point in my life because it taught me very important and fundamental skills as a writer.

The same sites that I was learning from, I was now contributing to them. I think within the first two months I had three guest posts. My habit of reading was picking up; I was averaging a book a week.

I ditched my blog, again, and now focused on personal development. There’s a pattern: Every subject that interested me, I wrote about it. It helped me become aware of my understanding or lack thereof, but more importantly, it brought me back to one of the greatest methods of learning: curiously exploring.

My third year was the year I called myself a writer without shame or fear.

I self-published a short eBook on the power of words that sold 6,000 total copies over the course of four months. I was genuinely shocked.

Then, I was accepted to Seth Godin’s Summer Seminar for college students (wrote about my experience here). That seminar changed me entirely.

After that seminar, I self-published another short eBook called Reignite and released it for free on my blog. I didn’t get the response I was expecting, but nevertheless, the feedback from the readers who needed it were overwhelming. It was a tremendous failure but a fantastic learning experience.

I began to identify the topics that I truly enjoyed writing about and sharing with others: mastery, philosophy, culture, overcoming adversity, psychology, self-awareness, etc.

I changed the focus of my blog, got it redesigned, and wrote an awesome manifesto.

This blog is now two years old (created it in Feb 2012). Just recently, I shipped my third book on self-education called Connect The Dots. I even have a book trailer.

Just recently I had a debut article for the website 99u—a site that I’ve relentlessly used to support my self-education. My post has over 9000 shares and kicked off their monthly newsletter. A huge honor indeed. There’s a second post on the way.

I also taught myself how to draw (wrote about it here).

Please don’t mistake this for showing off. I’m not a NYT-bestseller or someone who created an amazing company. Believe me, I’m not close to where I want to be career-wise. I’m not raking in huge amounts of money. To be very honest, I still live with my parents and live very, very frugally. But looking back at all these years of failing, constantly reinventing myself, trying new things and learning, it’s hard to look back at that failing college student and realize that it was me. I’ve lost a lot of weight, quit smoking, and built very fruitful habits. If you were to ask me, “What is the one single thing that has helped you?” I would say philosophy, in particular, Stoicism. I needed guidance, and because I couldn’t get it externally (coaches, mentors), I had to develop it internally (principles to follow, learning different ways of thinking).

I write and share this in hope that you, or maybe someone you know, can read this and benefit from it, to realize that it’s important to start somewhere and to start soon. To start enriching your mind through self-education, to foster self-discipline and self-awareness, to start looking for patterns in your life and the meaning behind them, and to start training yourself to learn how to change your mind.

Now, embracing my fifth year, I feel a deep sense of gratitude and humility to be where I am—3 books, making money from my writing (?!), almost done with college, and an entire future ahead of me. I’ve had a lot of help along the way, both from friends and people I speak to through email. I doubt myself daily, but I know I have to trust the process. I know that these 5 years could serve as the very foundation for where I want to go. I’m going to keep writing, shipping, and learning. Maybe I’ll join a team or a company. Maybe I’ll start my own.

If you’re stuck, lost, trying to find a way, the only panacea I can think of is this:

Start something today, and make a promise to show up again tomorrow. The rest will unfold along the way.

How did I get here? is a question that I ask myself from time to time.

I can clearly remember being a fat, miserable, worthless 21-year-old in community college, failing all my classes, shoulda graduated years ago, running out of financial aid, punching holes in my walls and burning all the wrong bridges. Reflecting on these last few years helps me put my life into perspective, and to also provide motivation to not settle or get too comfortable. I used to care about the dumbest things, like celebrity news and Facebook statuses and what this person did. Gossip and jealously and hatred gave my life meaning because I couldn’t find it elsewhere.

The change was slow and gradual. There were months where I felt utterly hopeless—like, really, who do I think I am pursuing an artistic endeavor? I was a damn offensive linemen my whole life; a brute. There were moments where I wanted to fall back on the industrial mindset of checking off boxes and maybe put this writing thing on hold. Thank goodness I didn’t. I know what it feels like to work in a factory, and although the pay was good, the things that I bought to fulfill an empty void were meaningless and ephemeral.

But hindsight is 20/20. As I look to the future, I see nothing but fog. Today looks just as uncertain as yesterday, but this time, I’m okay with that. And I can’t promise you that this path will be easy—it won’t. As Steven Pressfield is known for saying, you gotta turn pro. And turning pro requires reinventing yourself from ground up—a profound shift in your perception and beliefs. It’s far easier to defend the status quo, to compare your life to how everyone else lives it. Waiting is not a solution. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it as a writer. But I’m glad I’m not where I was four years ago. 

(This post originally ran on Medium, but with a few changes.)

— PAUL JUN