Pardon Yourself

The latest trend in the newsletter industry is to serve a popup right after people subscribe, suggesting other email lists to them they might also enjoy. The idea is that more newsletters can grow faster together, and that readers will discover more interesting publications.

When I first set up the system on Four Minute Books, I strategically chose a bunch of big-name creators to promote. My goal was to send them a certain number of subscribers, show my work, so to speak, then reach out and ask if they wanted to consistently cross-promote one another.

One person I picked was a productivity guru who’s all over the internet these days. His newsletter was similar enough to mine, so I figured I’d send him 1,000 new readers, then message him. I tried sending an email to his team right at the start to get a conversation going, but no response. Later, I learned that even his account manager at the email company never heard from him directly.

It took a few months, but eventually, I did it. 1,051 new readers for Mr. X, yay! Except the more I looked at what he did and how he did it, from his Youtube channel to his newsletter, the less confident I felt about promoting him at all, let alone setting up some kind of ongoing relationship.

Instead of offering a clear, focused system for helping you get things done, this guy just reviews tool after tool, sending you into a meaningless spiral of “buy more stuff to fix nonexistent problems.” He started talking about money, making websites, even writing — all topics he has no real expertise in but that he can monetize well and easily. Plus, some of his advice is just outright bullshit. Spoiler alert: Watching anime on 3x speed until you catch an interesting moment will neither save you time nor make you any happier.

When I looked at the completed subscriber counter, my heart sank. “Okay, time to find the right person’s email address, I guess…” Thankfully, my good sense came back to me, and I realized: “You know what? I can just let this go.” I removed him from my recommendation popup, and that was it. No more new readers. No cold outreach email. And for all I know, he’ll never even realize I sent him so many subscribers, if only because to him, 1,000 people must look like a rounding error.

It’s easy to think you’re locked into a certain path once you’ve made a decision. To believe that sunk costs are dragging you down — and sometimes, they are. Most choices, however, are quickly and easily reversible, with few to no consequences. Once you wrap your head around the idea that letting go is okay and, in fact, the best thing to do, dropping a set of bad directions is easy. It’s giving yourself permission that feels hard but needn’t be.

Pardon yourself often and generously. Correct course gently whenever it is needed, and don’t let false idols distract you from what you know is right and true. It’s always kind to give credit, but if you can’t point people to friends and products you really believe in, newsletter or not, it’s okay to not recommend anything at all.