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I recently stumbled upon a video about all the YouTubers who are either quitting the platform entirely, taking an extended hiatus, or pivoting to different types of content. This includes creators like Tom Scott, Matthew Patrick (aka MatPat) of The Game Theorists, and Jordan Maron of Captain Sparklez. While they straddle many different niches, they’ve all been wildly successful–many of them have subscriber counts in the millions. But they’ve ultimately decided that it’s time to move on. But what caught my attention was the fact that many of them said they simply didn’t enjoy the act of creating content like they used to. Or in the words of MatPat, “I miss the days where I could just sit down on the couch with her and play video games and it's not for content, or I'm playing a game and I'm not thinking about what theories are gonna come out of that. I miss it.” This hints at an unpalatable truth of life as a creator: no matter how much you enjoy making your content, that doesn’t mean you’ll live happily ever after. 

A job you love is still a job

It can be easy to romanticize life as a content creator. Many people are drawn to it because it seems like an alluring alternative to a typical 9-to-5 job. You can be your own boss, forever liberated from the stultifying annoyances of corporate life. And as the old saying goes, “if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” 

It’s a lovely sentiment that looks great on a motivational poster, but alas it’s utterly unrealistic. It’s one thing to live out a bohemian idyll when you’re just starting out, but it’s going to be harder to maintain once you’ve achieved any measure of success. When people start relying on your content, you’ll find that their expectations can bind you tighter than any middle manager. 

This has certainly been true for me. Since 2014, I’ve written a blog about the British constitution called A Venerable Puzzle. Now I never saw it as a money-making venture. It was just a side project that would let me stretch creative muscles that had atrophied since my grad school days. 

Content creation can grow like kudzu

Ten years and hundreds of posts later, I’ve built a solid following among the denizens of the Westminster village. My blog is still a one-man band. I still pore over every source and write every word. But at the same time, the number of ancillary tasks has grown dramatically. When I first started out, I only had to worry about finding time to research and write my posts. Now, I’m called upon to answer questions from colleagues or provide feedback on other people’s projects. 

Looking at it from a big-picture perspective, I’m happy to help my colleagues in the field. Humanities scholarship may not be a team effort in the same way as physics or chemistry, but that doesn’t mean we get to be autonomous islands. This kind of interaction is vitally important because it exposes one to new perspectives. But at the same time, it does take time, and it’s probably the most ‘work-like’ aspect of my life as a creator.     

Even the act of creating won’t always be easy going. My content isn’t as labor-intensive as a YouTube video, but it still has its moments of frustration. Ideas don’t always pan out. It can be difficult to pluck the right words from the ether. But I have more…unique dilemmas to contend with as well. Sometimes, I need information that can only be found in a hastily scribbled state paper that’s hidden away in the archives. Or perhaps I need something that’s held by the British government and I end up having to sue them when they won’t hand it over. But in the end, I can overlook these annoyances because they help me produce something I can be proud of for years to come. 

Balance is the key to long-term success

Another thing that stood out to me in the video about the departing YouTubers was how many of them lamented the loss of work-life balance. Freedom from the 9-to-5 is often a double-edged sword. Sure, you don’t have to adhere to a fixed schedule, but this also means you don’t have the luxury of being ‘off the clock.’ We live in the age of hustle culture where we’re told that we should always be striving to accomplish more. But there’s a fine line between ambition and self-destruction, and reckless embrace of hustle culture can have a calamitous effect on one’s mental health.

Every creator will have to face this dilemma at some point. When I started my blog, I felt compelled to post as often as possible. I was determined to share my two cents on every relevant news story. Admittedly, it was a very eventful time between the Scottish independence referendum and the referendum on Britain’s EU membership. But while this was a great opportunity for me to hone my craft and develop as a creator, the cadence I set was both impractical and unsustainable. 

For starters, time is not on my side. I’m six hours behind the UK. By the time I wake up, it’s already mid-afternoon there, and the day’s hot news stories have often cooled considerably. It’s also difficult to produce a deep, thoughtful take when you’re keeping one eye on the clock. But I came to realize that, if all I was doing was covering the basics, I wasn’t really adding much value. Any reputable media outlet can provide my readers with the basics, but decent syntheses of that information that can be harder to find. That is where I come in–my job is to provide depth and context, and that kind of content takes time to create. In the long run, I’d rather produce 10 deep dives than 100 superficial ones.  

Giving myself permission to slow down was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If I hadn’t, I’m not sure I’d still be doing it 10 years later. It’s not just a question of time management, either. Freeing myself from the news cycle allows me to pursue topics that I genuinely find interesting. This helps keep me motivated when the job of content creation starts to feel like a drag. I don’t feel like I’m simply writing to please an algorithm or a faceless audience. It also helps me maintain a wider balance in my life. Despite what some people may think, I do not, in fact, eat, sleep, and breathe the British constitution. I have other interests, too, from cRPGs to ancient Egypt. I also have commitments to friends and family. Setting boundaries helps keep my life in alignment, which ultimately makes me happier in the long run. I don’t need to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of myself.   

(Of course, I realize that I’ve made this decision from a place of privilege. If I were hoping to use my blog to put dinner on the table, the calculus would’ve been much different.)

Above all else, be realistic

Life as a content creator can be incredibly rewarding. Having an impact on your field is a phenomenal feeling, no matter the size. The level of agency it provides can also be a source of great personal satisfaction since you often have more autonomy than in a traditional career. But like any endeavor, you need to be realistic about it.

  • If you expect every day to be filled with excitement and thrills and devoid of any burdens or frustrations, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening.
  • The more successful you become, the more annoyances you’ll have to deal with. 
  • It’s okay to set boundaries. You don’t need to give into hustle culture. Slow and steady can still win races.