Called Out of the Quiet
The tension of writing and promoting makes sense, but that doesn't make it easier.
Sometimes the attributes that are required to fulfill a role or achieve a goal are not compatible with the responsibilities of executing that role or stewarding the goal you have achieved. It’s a bit like the old dog-and-the-mail-truck trope. You work super hard to do something and, once you accomplish the goal, you aren’t quite prepared for what your accomplishment has wrought.
YouTubers Are Bad Bosses
Mr. Beast (Jimmy Donaldson) is one of the most successful YouTubers in the history of YouTube, but if you talk regularly with anyone under the age of 18, I likely don’t have to convince you of that.
In May 2021, Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times, who does some of the best internet culture reporting anywhere, wrote a long piece about Mr. Beast, profiling his YouTube success and related matters. Part of the piece was a laundry list of accusations that Mr. Beast maintained a hostile, or even toxic (depending on who you ask), work environment. Here is some of what was alleged:
In Greenville, many went to work for Mr. Donaldson because of the philanthropic nature of his videos, said 11 people who worked for or with him, four of whom asked to remain anonymous because they had signed confidentiality agreements. While he was sometimes generous, they said, his demeanor changed when the cameras weren’t around. They described a difficult work environment.
Matt Turner, 20, an editor for Mr. Donaldson from February 2018 to September 2019, said Mr. Donaldson had berated him almost every day. Mr. Donaldson often called him by a phrase used to insult people with mental disabilities, Mr. Turner said, leaving him in tears.
Mr. Turner, who did not grow up with Mr. Donaldson, said that while his boss regularly featured his hometown friends in videos, he had struggled to get acknowledgment.
“I was not to be credited for anything I did,” Mr. Turner said. “I’d ask for credit, he’d credit someone else.”
Nate Anderson, 22, who moved to Greenville to work for Mr. Donaldson in March 2018, quit after a week over what he said were unreasonable demands. He said Mr. Donaldson was a perfectionist.
“Nothing ever worked for him,” Mr. Anderson said. “He always wanted it a certain way.”
While none of that sounds great, it honestly doesn’t sound like it is much different from what many people experience with bosses—irrational anger and perfectionism.
Whether or not the accusations are true or worthy of a Times exposé, Mr. Beast is far from the only professional online content creator to have faced accusations of poor management and leadership from former employees (often video editors who maybe see themselves as more of a part of the production than the YouTuber does).
Whenever I see professional YouTubers and other such influencers are accused of being bad bosses with poor leadership and interpersonal skills, I always think, “It’s almost like the personal qualities it takes to be a professional YouTuber run contrary to what it takes to be a good boss.”
To be a professional YouTuber or other kind of influencer requires a lot of attributes: mental and emotional toughness or even callousness, incredibly strong work ethic, a commitment to some level of perfectionism, and at least a small belief that you’re a fascinating person worth watching or following.
A lot of what it takes to be a professional content creator can easily warp into narcissism. It seems that the kind of person it takes to be an incredibly successful YouTuber is exactly the opposite of the kind of person it takes to be a good boss. This isn’t to say that successful YouTubers are doomed to be bad bosses, it just means that they likely need to rely on attributes, skills, and other personal qualities outside of the ones that made them successful in order to be good bosses. And when your entire, very successful YouTuber career has been built on those personal attributes, it can be hard to think you need to switch gears when it comes to, say, people management.
I feel this tension as an author. Let me explain.
The Study and the Spotlight
As you no-doubt know by now because of my relentless promotion of it in this newsletter, I am in the midst of marketing my upcoming book Terms of Service, which will be available on February 1.
In the same way that the kind of person it takes to be a world famous YouTuber runs contrary to the kind of person it takes to be a good boss, I sometimes feel like the kind of person it takes to be a good author is contrary to the kind of person it takes to be good at promoting one’s work. Most writers are more comfortable in the dim light of a study than they are in the heat of the spotlight.
This isn’t always the case, of course, but sometimes it feels like the best authors never promote their work because they loathe doing so, and the authors who relentlessly promote their work are overcompensating for work that is not quite as good. It is uncommon, I think, to come across an author who is at the same time a tremendous writer, a dogged promoter of his or her work, and a person of integrity. I know some of these folks, and I know them, I think, because they are the exception to the rule. Few people are good writers, good promoters, and people of integrity all at the same time.
I try to be a person of integrity in all things. I try to be honest with myself and others. I try really hard to write well and clearly communicate difficult truths in a way that is easy for people to understand.1 But I am not comfortable promoting my work, and it’s something I’m trying to grow in—quite publicly—over the next few months as I relentlessly promote this book. I appreciate your patience with me as I experience some serious vulnerability on this front.2
Being a writer is pretty quiet work, and it often attracts quiet people. The kind of person who wants to be a writer is unlikely to also want to be a professional YouTuber, I guess is what I mean to say. Few people love being the center of attention and being alone with their computer for hours on a Saturday, and even fewer are good handling both.
I do not like being the center of attention. Ideally I would write in anonymity while also still helping people (rather than just journaling in anonymity for my own pleasure), but few people want anonymous help. And understandably so.
To write a book is to be called out of the quiet. I am definitely an author who is more comfortable being alone with my laptop than being among the throngs in the spotlight. But the difficult tension for the author is that, in today’s landscape, if you hope to keep writing, you need to learn to embrace the spotlight of promotion even as it makes you uncomfortable. Making the most of the spotlight is what affords you the opportunity to retreat to the serenity of the study and begin your next book.
This is the author’s dilemma. Well, at least this author’s dilemma. So don’t mind me as I sweat under the spotlight for a couple of months. I’m just hoping to get back to the study.
I have to try really hard because I’m not as naturally talented as some of my friends. :-)
While it’s super uncomfortable for me to tell anyone what to do with their money, let alone invest it in something I did, I ultimately have to be okay with asking people to spend a few dollars and a few hours to read something into which I invested hundreds of hours and months of effort.