My TikTok status as of April 1, 2022

In praise of modest goals

I had several achievements last month. I finally passed the $100 threshold to get paid from Google AdSense. I made over a dollar for the first time in the Medium Partner Program. I have over 300 followers on TikTok and 3,500 on Twitter. As big of a deal as these are to me, others would say, “Ooooh, Matthew. You earned enough on Medium to afford a large Diet Coke at McDonald’s! And $100 in ad revenue? You’re a regular media mogul, aren’t you? Good thing it makes up for your lack of book sales, doesn’t it? What are your Amazon rankings now? Oh, so sad. Ha, ha, ha.”

Before anyone goes Regina George on someone’s small achievements, remember that modest goals are the first steps towards achieving greater ones.

I’ve accomplished major goals in my life, including Eagle Scout, high school valedictorian, a university degree, and recently, dropping 82 pounds (36.3 kilograms) in weight. I didn’t set out to get any of those things at first. Each major goal was achieved by accomplishing smaller goals. I earned one merit badge at a time, passed one test at a time, and ate right one meal at a time. Each small goal added up to bigger goals until my ultimate goal was in sight. The closer I got, the harder I pushed. When I realized I could earn my Eagle Scout, I became more focused on finishing my requirements.

I’ve seen plenty of people set large and unrealistic goals. The other day, I overheard a woman declare, “My friend’s wedding is in two weeks. I’ve got to lose 10 pounds! Maybe if I starve myself, I can fit into my favorite dress.” She probably won’t lose those 10 pounds. If she did, she’d gain back 15. I know this from experience.

The most I ever dropped in a week on WW is 6.4 pounds. (Apologies to kilogram users, but it’s easier to talk about pounds at this point.) The following week, my weight didn’t change. The week after, it was a 1 pound drop. After six weeks of small decreases, my weight went up. If I expected 6 pound drops every week and didn’t get them, I would get discouraged and tempted to give up. “I was supposed to lose 5 pounds, but I lost only 2. I’ll never get in shape at this rate. Might as well eat that piece of cake.” Instead of focusing on the scale, I focused on my daily activities. I scheduled exercise and planned healthy meals. The weight took care of itself.

That’s the way I look at writing. Building an audience takes time, the same way earning Eagle Scout and dropping 82 pounds does. You write a post. You gain a follower. Get a like. Finish a manuscript. Get on an author panel. Sell a book. Get a review. Soon, you’re showing progress. Readers recommend you to others. Royalty checks get larger. It happens by taking small steps. If some steps don’t show the results you want, you try other ones. You look for small victories wherever you can. And you build upon them to further your progress.

By focusing on small and steady steps towards progress, it will steer you away from the fraudsters and peddlers of bad advice ready to take advantage of your impatience. One of the worst suggestions I’ve heard about TikTok is, “If you don’t get 1,000 followers in your first three weeks, delete your account and start over.” What about those who connected with you when you were at 200 followers? Besides, who knows how many of those followers are bots or those who confuse TikTok with Tinder? I look at building an audience organically. Connecting with new followers, following back, and promoting their work. By focusing on the quality of connections over the quantity of followers, my audience has grown steadily.

So don’t crap on other’s small achievements, and more importantly, don’t crap on your own. Every step, no matter how small, eventually leads you to where you want to go. And if you only make enough to buy a Diet Coke, go to McDonald’s and enjoy it. But bring your laptop so you can start working on your next writing project.