What Selling Toilet Paper Taught Me About Success
Several months ago I was asked by David Gillespie and the Collector’s Edition crew to build a site to sell toilet paper. I thought the idea was brilliant and funny. I went to work during my free evenings and weekends to building the web application.
Shortly after, Shitter goes live and as far as we could tell, took hold of a small corner of the interwebs. We got coverage in Forbes (twice), Mashable, Business Week, Huffington Post, Perez Hilton (!) and reached #3 on Hacker News. We received coverage as far as China, Germany and Spain. Exciting stuff.
But something unexpected (and depressing) happened. The feeling of success and accomplishement I thought would be prolonged lasted all of one hour and was soon replaced by anxiety about our servers going down under the weight of coverage.
I spent the following days backing up data, fixing bugs, monitoring server logs and being more or less in a state of apprehension, hoping to avoid a crash. Thankfully, things held together.
As things died down I gathered my thoughts. What was I really in this for? It put into sharp focus something I know but don’t always articulate: “success” (whatever that means) is short lived. Realy, really short lived. That is, if you think of “success” as a form of public triumph; if you think of it as a moment instead of it as an opportunity to create. And in a certain way I thought that. We all do things hoping in the end it makes people feel a certain way about us. I’m no different.
So I had to go back and reflect where the good moments were to, in a way, affirm my effort. Yes, putting product out into the world is great fun, one of the most ecstatic feelings you can have. But for me, the joy was building something. The knowledge that you are involved in creating something instead of consuming something.
In the last half-decade of the Ruby community (Ruby is a computer programming language), there was an influential programmer who called himself “Why The Lucky Stiff” or just _why. He was irreverant, funny and put a mirror to ourselves and questioned the value of our work. Then, suddenly, he left.
_why left behind several nuggets of wisdom, but the following quote speaks most deeply. It reminds me to be proactive, to improve by producing and to see things out. It reminded me again what I strive to do everyday in my work.
when you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. your tastes only narrow & exclude people. so create.