Round Trip to Obscurity

For the first few years, yes, years, I didn’t even know I had followers on Medium. It was only after someone pointed them out to me that I began caring about this number on a screen. I had around 20,000 followers when that happened.

I kept writing all the same, but suddenly, I found myself checking my follower count. The next year, I doubled them. Then, I doubled them again. And then…everything stopped. Money had come and gone. The followers had mostly come but never added up. And so I went back to the beginning — back to this little blog, where I write for perhaps 500 people every day, a tiny but tight-knit group of friends I might never know.

What gets us to care about follower numbers is that, in theory, they’re not just a number. Every time that counter increases, a real human has voted to hear more from you, to be changed by you, to literally follow your journey through life. So much for the theory.

In practice, that connection often only exists on paper, and the number serves as little more than fuel for your ego to get anxious. On other social media, it’s somewhat expected, but on Medium, it’s a problem people have been complaining about for years: Your followers barely see your posts, and so that crowd of 50,000 curious onlookers quickly shrinks into a tiny huddle of 50 people who actually clap for your show. When the rewards are gone but the drawbacks remain, it’s time to question the status quo.

So here I am. No Facebook. No Instagram. No Twitter. And no more pseudo-fame on Medium.

The funny thing about taking a round trip from obscurity to popularity and back is that while the way down is undoubtedly less fun than the way up, how it feels once you’ve arrived at each station is often the opposite of what you had imagined. Fame wears us out. The same questions and the same demands, over and over again — until there’s little left of us that’s actually for us, let alone the people we love. Anonymity, meanwhile, is full of freedom. Fewer emails to answer. Less worry about opinions. And more time to make the things that made you famous in the first place.

I like where I am now. It’s quiet. Comfy. Money is a little harder to come by, but there’s more than one way to make a buck inside the great network.

Wherever your next round trip goes, make sure you enjoy the journey. It’s unlikely your next station will be your last, but even if you have to come back to Earth against your will, you’ll probably find it’s not a bad place — even if no one follows you around.