Here’s what sucks, maybe the most, about being an independent creator on YouTube: When things aren’t going well, or you feel like shit, or you question your life decisions and everyone else seems to be killing it on social media, you’ve really got nowhere to turn for help.Yeah, there’s therapy and yeah there are friends who will listen, but when it comes down to it, you’re alone. If you can’t make yourself all right you’re not going to be all right. There are a lot of “How To’s” from YouTube educators out there for working the algorithm or improving your thumbnails, but precious little guidance on how to navigate the depths of suck each and every creator HAS to deal with. There’s a stigma to talking about mental health if you’re a creator. I routinely feel like shit just bringing up the fact that I struggle with this life.
There are some who will gaslight you into thinking you did it to yourself and you were never cut out for this creator life (I won’t name names). There are many who want to help but can’t (and you feel like shit for being an emotional vampire to your friends). There are some who will resent you for even implying that such a privileged life could be negative. And there’s a part of me that feels like an ingrate for even mentioning that I struggle from time to time. A big part.
I have often felt like nuclear waste since my channel started to struggle and I’ve lost contact with a lot of people who used to be part of my support network, even though they probably didn’t know they were, or consciously thought about why we lost contact.
When you start to struggle to get views or your channel just doesn’t perform like it did it feels like there’s a herd mentality that goes into effect: Isolate the sick one so whatever’s going on doesn’t infect the rest. Or in other words, everyone loves a winner; the losers drink alone.
Why don’t more YouTube educators or productivity gurus address this problem with regularity? There are some who are transparent about their struggles, but I don’t feel like its something we really address as much as we do other topics like ‘how to succeed on YouTube’. And if you peruse creators’ social media, it often seems like the creator life is a cornucopia of golden mana from heaven day in and day out. I know that some folks are inherently happy and positive people, but all the time? Maybe that’s the part of the gig and I can’t hack it. If you’re a social media creator you’re selling something most people can’t buy. And you’re trading on the fact that the people who watch you want the illusion, not the reality of creative life. They want the YouTube Success Story, not the ugly head space that is inherently a part of it. But you see, the two are not inversely related; YouTube success does not mean happiness. Sometimes quite the opposite. But mental health and “The Creator Life” are not topics that see much air time. I get it: who wants to listen about how much this can suck when everyone just wants the rush of a viral video or whatever? Sadness is toxic. No one wants to feel toxic if the don’t have to.
What it comes down to for me is this: I was very fortunate to have a lot of success very quickly. More success than I was ready for. I went from 20k or 30k subscribers to 120k in the span of six weeks. I didn’t have the time to grow into that level of success and scrutiny slowly so my channel soared for a while and then it crashed. And again, I know how this will seem to some who haven’t had the same good fortune as I had, even if it was for a short period of time. For whatever reason, I wasn’t able to maintain my success. In 2020, my channel has dropped by 50% across all metrics, and then by 50% again in 2021. And there’s this toxic blend of failure and shame mixed with pride and an unwillingness to admit defeat that keeps me going.
When the conversations were good and the energy was positive, I loved making videos. I loved the interaction and the intellectual challenges of making the content and then the game of putting them out and using what I’d learned to help them get to more and more people. But now, no matter what I do I can’t get a video to break through. I’ve spent way too much money asking other people to help me figure it out and they have all tried, but to no avail. I’m pretty sure at this point my channel is deep in the bowels of the YouTube no-fly zone. I know there are things I could have done to make it different. I could have continued making the kinds of videos that got views. I could have continued to play the “Painfully Honest” character, and maybe I would have if it was sustainable in terms of continued success or my own ability to play a character that wasn’t really me.
The funny thing is, going full time was what made me realize what I was doing to have success on YouTube wasn’t sustainable. Being “that guy” began to wear thin for me and the audience and the thought of being that guy as my job became more and more apparently unsustainable. Since the beginning of the year—or really even before that—I’ve been trying to pivot toward content that is sustainable, that I could build a career on, but I still find myself making the same videos half a year later. If I buckled down and made a video a day for a few months I could turn it around, but 6 years into making 2-3 videos a week plus live streaming on a regular basis I don’t know if I have the ability to do that anymore and come out in better shape than I was in when I started. It wouldn’t change the fact that my channel has been on an extended downturn that hasn’t trended upward even for a quarter in any year since 2019. I hit 125k subs in 2018 and 200k in October 2021. It’s May of 2022 and I haven’t made it to 202k subs. 6 months of NO growth.
What am I getting at here?
I’m not the only one who’s having this experience. Should this be more a part of the YouTube education conversation? “What happens when your channel starts to die?”