Recently, my friend Justin Jackson asked if I was working on products full time. When he learned I was, he said "Living the life, eh?"
That question completely caught me off guard, though Justin was just being friendly. It’s stuck in my mind. I’ve never even considered that I could be “living the good life”—it’s not like I sit at the beach all day while heaps of passive income just roll in as if on the waves.
But now that I’m getting back to consulting for a change of pace, I wonder whether I don’t fully appreciate that I’ve gotten to work on my own products for more than 2 years now.
As product makers, we tend to focus on the next milestone, but take little time to appreciate what we’ve earned. It’s always about the next launch, article, or feature.
Even when I have a success—which as I’m sure you know can feel rare sometimes—I don’t stop to enjoy it. I sit and obsessively refresh my analytics. I worry that I could have done more, that some simple mistake I overlooked could have boosted those numbers. I hover over my inbox and feverishly reply to every email hoping it will somehow give my launch a boost.
After the launch dies down, a feeling of panic hits me—even if the launch went well. What should I do now? I’ve been working up to this for weeks or months. I feel like I have to maintain my momentum: keep writing and find something else to release into the world.
If you think about that rationally, it’s kind of neurotic. After all, I just launched something big. Do I really need to start planning the next one right away? Why not take a break after working 80 hours last week? From talking to other founders, I know I’m not the only one who feels this pressure.
You’ve probably read articles about failure: how we should embrace failure and whether our community, generally speaking, is accepting of it.
However, our reaction to success is less considered.
When I have my own successes, I barely celebrate. I might go out for dinner with my wife, or sleep late the next day because I didn’t sleep much leading up to the launch. But after that, it’s back to the grind. I don’t allow myself a break from the pressure to ship.
Sometimes, we founders get caught in a cycle where success and failure are an afterthought: instead, all we care about is progress. JFDI. Ship it. Write more words every day. Be Lean, Agile, focus on the pain, iterate, pivot, and so on.
Did it drive more sales? Did more people read the article? What was the conversion rate?
Amidst all this, it’s so easy to lose sight of what I’ve accomplished. I focus so much on the numbers and measurements that I forget about the reason I started making products in the first place: because it’s fulfilling to make things that actually help people.
I spent so many years building things that were largely noise. Building my own products was supposed to be different.
But if you asked me whether building my own products really is any different, I’d have to stop and think for far too long. I haven’t paid enough attention along the way.
Don’t make that mistake. Instead of a relentless cycle of launch after launch, stop for a moment. Forget about the numbers and remember:
Recently, after watching the free video I sent out over my newsletter, someone recorded a personal thank you video with his two team members and posted it to Youtube.
That is the kind of success worth celebrating.
Design's Iron Fist is a collection of essays with advice for both design learners and professional designers. It's been featured as one of the best free design books by the Creative Bloq and the AIGA.
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