Would you consider yourself a stay-behind-the-computer type of worker or more of the manual get-your-hands-dirty type? I certainly considered myself the latter. An unfortunate soul whose existence would have been far more profitable in 1520 than 2020. That is, until I discovered how to apply an ancient piece of wisdom- one that goes back much further than 1520 and is probably the virtue that’s least spoken for in digital marketing. Humility.
I Was A Miserable Twenty-Something With Paltry Tech Skills
When I say I was the ‘get-your-hands-dirty type’, it’s more to say I feared technology.
That’s largely because I grew up in a household that forbade video games. My parents were justifiably paranoid about their addicting nature. So hanging out at friends’ houses was always bittersweet. I’d get to play crack-laden games like Super Mario but then I’d always be the absolute worst player in the room.
My only skill was button mashing.
Eventually, I’d just let my turn pass and wait it out in the dark air-conditioned room until my friends were finally ready to go back out in the summer sun and play street hockey.
Flash forward to a man, 27 years old, facing this fear of tech.
I’d become pretty nifty at the more practical technologies–primarily Excel. I’d worked in manufacturing and project management for a big pharmaceutical company and then in finance for a healthcare tech startup.
My goal was to land at a mid to large-size company with an $80k starting salary.
The closest I came was getting to interview number three out of four rounds for a manager position at Uber. There were a few other jobs I came close to, but nothing landed.
$80k wasn’t going to happen. At least not any time soon.
The Network that Became My Fishing Hole
I still had a little fight left in me. I knew if I continued to network and meet the right people something good would happen.
I’d been training in Jiu-Jitsu for over 7 years at this point and teaching had become my obligatory millennial side hustle.
So I had an idea: What if I start an early morning Jiu-Jitsu program?
I knew there were insane Type-A personalities who’d work out at dawn before heading to work.
This was fairly easy to launch since I was already training and substitute teaching at Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu World Headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles.
It started with me getting paid thirty bucks to wake up at 5:30 am and teach a class of 1-3 people.
I wasn’t trying to be a businessman. I was trying to get myself a job.
I thought to myself, “Maybe if some downtown C-Suite executive shows up, he’ll see that I’m competent at teaching Jiu-Jitsu and think, ‘This young man must be competent at everything he does', and I’ll get a job offer”. It went something like that in my head.
But I landed on a different type of folk–funky digital marketers. Freelancers who got up early for their own sake and spent the rest of the day on their laptops at coffee shops or in their kitchen.
One of them, a 29-year-old blue belt, would brag about how he was outranking famous Jiu-Jitsu coaches in Youtube search results for BJJ-related topics (his brand, Refugee Hustle, mostly covers entrepreneurship and investing).
Then another, a 54-year-old Buddhist guy covered in tattoos told me how he made his living consulting in digital marketing for venture-backed start-ups.
There were many more of this ilk. Content creators, backend developers, graphic designers. All their work essentially served the same purpose–delivering customers to businesses.
At first, this depressed me. How would I ever find a job when all I’m around are these rogue digital nomads who don’t actually employ anyone?
On the plus side, my classes were growing and I started getting hit up for private Jiu-Jitsu lessons. These digital nomads had some money to spend. My client list grew to the point that Jiu-Jitsu became my main income.
My initial calculation paid off in a slightly different way than I’d originally planned. It wasn’t a network I’d found. It was a fishing hole.
And I wasn’t teaching a jiu-jitsu class. I was starting my first business.
Buying the Bootstrap Myth of Digital Marketing
I started listening to a lot of Tim Ferris. He’d spoken about training in Jiu-Jitsu and I was attracted to his ‘total optimization’ ethos.
He’d host various tech entrepreneurs telling stories about how they scaled their companies to eight and nine figures. The resounding message from all of these people seemed to be that anyone from anywhere could do it too.
I also started noticing that Jiu-Jitsu was in the middle of a revolution. The UFC had made it a super popular consumer sport and, because it was growing up on the internet, how-to information was readily available. There were no longer “secret moves” and all the BS mysticism of other martial arts past. Every technique was on Youtube and Instagram. The problem was, for all that information there was very little organization that would actually help a day-one beginner.
My new project was to organize the knowledge into courses that made Jiu-Jitsu accessible and enjoyable for hobbyists with jobs, families, and not much spare time.
I took a bunch of online business courses starting with Ramit Sethi’s Zero to Launch. Then Graham Cochrane’s Automatic Income Academy–he’d previously built an empire teaching song recording and mixing online.
I even took a course called WordPress for Non-Techies.
I created new accounts for every SAAS platform I could find–Mailchimp, Google Analytics, Facebook Business Manager, Adobe, WordPress, and every WordPress plug-in.
My Instagram bio read “Entrepreneur”. Then it read “CEO”. Then “Influencer”. Then “Personal Blog”. I finally cringed and became plain old Patrick again.
Remember that ol’ fear of tech?
It started to creep back up again.
One day I was sitting in front of my laptop, staring at the backend of a messy WordPress dashboard. It was a tangled web of themes, page builders, menus, embed codes, and plug-ins. It seemed like every software tutorial I watched was obsolete by the time I got to it.
I couldn’t build a damn drag-and-drop website.
I couldn’t edit videos to create content.
I’d get stuck formatting sales emails on Mailchimp.
I’d spend hours searching for misplaced media files.
My dream of a Jiu-Jitsu online business was dying.
Despite using legitimate online courses and proven business strategies, I didn’t have the talent, savvy, endurance, patience or whatever you want to call it. I didn’t have it.
I felt foolish for believing the ‘anybody from anywhere’ trope. I resented the tech wizzes on Tim Ferris’ podcast. They seemed hungover from the mythos of Jobs, Bezos and Zuck getting to billions out of converted garages.
So I scrapped the project.
I Needed a Digital Marketing Ninja
After leaving my website dormant for over a year, my Youtube-hacker blue belt (now a high-ticket sales coach) told me about his friend who was a “full-stack digital marketer”. I had no idea what that meant.
But I did know that I wanted a website. Something pretty. Something that would attract more morning students and clients.
So I met Rich Ux, the owner of Rich+Niche. Since you’re here, you can see the type of work he does. Enough said. I decided to reboot the online Jiu-Jitsu project.
He laid out an easy-to-understand plan. Way simpler than I thought it should be.
I didn’t really need a website. I just needed a landing page.
I didn’t need to scream from a mountain top on every social media platform. I just needed my own unique solution that addressed real problems.
I didn't need an 80-page e-book for a lead-magnet. I just needed a PDF.
I didn’t need an elaborate funnel. I just needed an offer.
In less than 3 months, I got a steady stream of leads and a seamless sales process for my coaching business. The headaches were gone.
Future-Proofing via Digital Marketing
Twelve months later Covid-19 hit. My life was especially affected. Jiu-Jitsu–with the first rule being ‘close the distance' was indefinitely on hold. My income went to zero. Nada.
Within the first week, I bottomed out on the binge lifestyle of food, alcohol, Netflix, sleeping in, and scrolling newsfeeds. But it was time to find my pivot.
It came down to two choices: Doordash or Digital Marketing.
No brainer. I chose Digital marketing. I'd help people turn their passions into a full-time business like Rich Ux did for me.
It's not lost on me that I'm very fortunate to be able to make this decision. I had 6 months worth of savings, a supportive family, no kids to support, and no mortgage payments.
It was the perfect opportunity to build a future-proof (and COVID-proof) career. Nothing stood in my way.
Well, there was still one thing. Yes, that’s right, fear of tech.
This time, being stuck by myself without the distraction of busy-ness, my eyes were forced open to my self-defeating pattern. It went something like this:
- Set a big goal.
- Fantasize about attaining it.
- Start the work.
- Trip over the first obstacle.
- Feel stupid for setting such a big goal.
- Set a smaller goal.
- (Repeat 2-6 a few more times)
- Shelf it for a few months
- Have a moment of inspiration and repeat Steps 1-6
- Officially quit
Ever been caught in this cycle? It’s so predictable and pathetic.
I was perpetually in stagnation and often moving backward.
A Ninja to the Rescue. Again.
Luckily this time, I had Rich's help with tech troubleshooting. But even more, he told me about The 4 Disciplines of Execution (Disclosure: I have not yet read the book at the time of writing this piece. I'd normally exhaustively research something before presenting it, but Rich's breakdown was powerful enough to have altered the path that I'm sharing with you now). The book breaks down something like this:
After you've set your Wildly Important Goal (WIG), you must differentiate your measures for success and failure.
For this, there are Lag Measures and there are Lead Measures.
Lag Measures tell you when you've achieved the WIG- number of $s in revenue, customers, subscribers etc.
You cannot directly control these.
Lead Measures, however, foretell whether or not you're moving closer to the WIG. They are the actions that predict if you're going to be successful -number of guest posts, number of YouTube video uploads, number of content repurposed.
A lead measure is the lever that moves the big boulder, the lag measure.
Using a lag measure by itself is attractive because it delivers a two-fold dopamine reward:
- You can immediately fantasize about your escape and arrival into a paradisal state of being, and
- You fulfill your unconscious desire for an authority figure to impose strict rules and deadlines. You might not believe me, but a small part of all our psyches still wish our mom was yelling at us, “do your homework or you’re grounded!”
Lead Measures, on the other hand, offer us grace. They are what make big goals possible.
The best example is how we learn to speak. There’s nothing more complicated than language patterns. Imagine how difficult it would have been if an adult told you at five years old, “You must learn 5,000 words and how to use them in 450,000 different combinations in the next two years. You’d probably become a mute.
But if you spent just 20 minutes speaking to your sibling or parent every day (which you probably did), the 450,000 lag measure would be hit within a year most likely.
When pursuing a Lead Measure, you only make promises you can keep—to simply check in every day and perform a minimum task within the area where your bigger dreams lay.
The results compound quickly.
It’s simple, forgiving, and most importantly, effective.
So what’s the barrier to entry you ask?
To be willing to learn new things absent of any reward or external validation.
You've got to sit your butt down in the remedial math class and keep repeating it until there are absolutely zero holes in your arithmetic.
This isn’t so easy for us pain-avoiding, pleasure-seeking humans. Learning new things is painstaking. Therefore, our default M.O. is to minimize new learning in the present and maximize our expectation of gains in the future.
Digital marketing culture makes humility especially difficult because of the possibility to make exponential amounts of money very quickly. While this is a reality for some, it’s untrue for most. And it’s unhelpful for all of us.
And if that’s not enough, some of us unconsciously set lofty goals in order to fail on purpose, which confirms previously held self-beliefs and minimizes the necessity for new learning—about oneself.
Lead Measures In Action
There's much more to be said about the 4 Disciplines of Execution and its benefits, but here I will show the impact it's had on me and my relationship with tech.
For the past month, I’ve been putting myself through 1-3 week boot camps to build skills with different digital marketing tools.
I put in 5 hours, or 45 minutes a day on Adobe Photoshop. I’m now an Adobe-ist.
Then 9 hours learning the backend of Kartra. I’m now a Kartra-ist.
30 hours of recording myself on my iPhone throughout for 3 weeks. I’m now an -ist at speaking on camera.
Now I’m back working on formatting the blogging aspect of WordPress.
I came away with no projects or published results. Just 15-30 minutes per day noodling around unfamiliar places.
And I’m by no means an expert now at any of these technological domains. But I’m confident in my identity as a skill-acquiring machine.
As the stack of -ists pile up, my identity will one day become an -er. A Full Stack Digital Marketer.
But here’s one better.
My new way to maximizing learning in the present and minimize expectations of gain in the future.
My ambition no longer lays in gains. I’m now in pursuit of character transformation—the very essence of free will.
A Humble and Hopeful Way Forward
Here’s something of a sum-up to take with you:
I got up before sunrise to stick my neck out.
I found a mentor and gave up control.
I differentiated my goals with lead and lag measures.
I humbled myself to take action on one tiny task at a time.
I strung together multiple days.
I built confidence through skill (not accomplishment).
And I’ve found my new identity in continual transformation.
See what I’m up to with my BJJ project at patrickdonabedian.com
If you'd like to take your first step toward a digital marketing career, check out Rich Ux's free course: The Digital Marketing Consultant's Blueprint.