Jul 24, 2020 | Mum, Dad, I'm a YouTuber!

THE DARKEST TIMES

In the darkest times during graduate school, when I was out of energy and I saw no light in the tunnel, I used to think to myself, “Hey, don’t worry. It’s not that bad of a job. It could have been much worse — you could have been a YouTuber.” But, the irony will prevail.

As we all know, the depression rates among young academics are dreadful. However, it’s not the professional group that is the most burdened with mental health problems among young people. There are professions with even worse statistics, including the aforementioned YouTubers. Namely, most YouTubers are under the constant pressure associated with creating new content, outperforming themselves, and fighting for attention. According to some research studies, those who treat their online activity as play perform better than those who perceive it as work. But, how can you perceive what you do as play if your future depends on it?… Even the most successful people on YouTube often report burnouts to public and disconnect. While in fact, the majority of content creators who are not wealthy and popular, suffer even more than the YouTube elite. They just suffer in silence.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

I consume quite a lot of YouTube content daily. This occupies my mind to such an extent that I even wrote two blog posts dedicated to YouTube on this blog in 2017 (“YouTube“ and “YouTube culture“). However, for all the aforementioned reasons, it never crossed my mind to start a YouTube channel myself. Why would I ever pack myself into this?

I currently live a peaceful life in a relatively small town somewhere in the East of the Netherlands. I developed a career orientation course for PhDs that I use to cast in Amsterdam once a month (or at least, I do it whenever the corona is not around…), I teach courses online, I write books, and I occasionally jump on the train to meet with friends and with potential collaborators or subcontractors. Or, I jump on the train to attend some interesting meetups and conferences around the country. I have an huge garden (well, huge according to Dutch standards to be real…), the supermarket is just behind the corner, and a huge, beautiful park is situated just a few minutes of walk from my house. And, I use to spend Sunday middays chilling in the nearby spa. I have a habitat that I enjoy — my safe harbor, my circle(s) of friends, my peace of mind. And, personally, I don’t need any extra attention. There is nothing that could ever let me change this lifestyle unless some global catastrophe or a pandemic happens. Oh, wait…

So, since the corona and the associated lockdown have happened, I’ve got into trouble. The sales quickly went down towards zero. I couldn’t do the on-site courses anymore. Moreover, after less than 2 months after lockdown had started, people were too tired from working at home to go for the online courses. Also, all my efforts to do a good job as a content creator and a teacher were not enough; there is such a wild amount of online courses and webinars that — even if you offer a really good quality — you won’t get noticed. Today, to reach out to a wider audience, it’s also necessary to produce some free and openly available content on a regular basis.

Thus, I first thought of organizing some open webinars that anyone could join — webinars in which I could talk with PhD graduates who have developed interesting careers in industry. I thought that this might be a good idea for a few reasons. Firstly, there are so many people out there with interesting stories behind! Every new person is like a new book to read. Plus, I have a natural interest in talking to people so it’s just a great pleasure to me rather than just a mere duty. Now, after three months, I can say that indeed, it’s much more of an energizing and inspiring activity than stress.

Secondly, mentioned in the recent blog post, “The Nosedive,” the knowledge about the job market is a street knowledge. You just can’t learn about the job market in any better way than by talking to a large number of people. Thirdly, from what I see, such content is really necessary. I mean, there are lots of online webinars and free events. But I know from experience that many of them are quite empty and boil down to sharing slogans such as, “Transferrable skills are important. Work on your transferrable skills.” I felt that there is a lot of room for improvement and that the standards for the quality of online career events of all kinds, including open webinars, could be much higher than they are now.

I was initially thinking of posting the videos from these open webinars on the company’s website. I meant to share the content and at the same time, attract some traffic to this website. But then, I realized that my hosting provider puts a limit of 128mb on the media files. Unfortunately, this is not enough to post a 1-hour long video in good quality. Thus, I would either need to compromise on the quality, start cutting movies into pieces, or upgrade my hosting plan. It was an off-putting and stressful vision to increase the steady costs of the company at this stage though. At that moment, I didn’t know yet for how much longer the corona crisis would last…

Thus, I decided to create a private channel on YouTube instead, post movies there, and link them to the company’s website. “What’s the difference?” — I thought. “Hosting is hosting.” But then, a few weeks after I started doing this, I discovered that other people in the space (who have similar businesses to mine) started doing exactly the same thing, namely organize online webinars where they speak with PhD graduates in industry. Thus, I quickly rethought the situation. I came to the conclusion that if I don’t change the status of the channel to an open channel, no one would ever notice this material. I spoke with my guests and asked them for permission to post in public. Surprisingly, they were all very supportive of the idea.

Thus, I eventually reposted almost all the episodes in the open mode. To small companies, YouTube is a great way to promote content as it recommends your movies to YouTube users from outside your circle of family and friends. These people would probably never have heard about what you do otherwise. And, sometimes, it’s just better to have little time to make a decision. You just have no time left for creating black scenarios in your head then.

THE STARTING POINT

And, that’s how I ended up on YouTube — the platform where I had never planned to find myself. In normal circumstances, I would probably never do it. But now, in the crisis, I decided to take a shot as I felt responsible for my company. A company is like an infant; you need to constantly get out of your comfort zone to let it survive. And it’s weirdly funny; most people think that you write books because you want to be famous and stand on the stage — but in fact, it’s exactly the opposite: you need to stand on stage sometimes so that you can afford to go home and write your books.

Starting on YouTube is not easy if you are a researcher who has never exposed themselves to a broad audience before. At research conferences, we use to talk to some audience, yes. But it’s always the same audience — between a few hundred and a few thousands of people worldwide who recognize and comprehend your work. And typically, it’s people who do the same type of research as you. Thus, this relation is symmetrical and mutual: they learn about your research and you learn about theirs. On the contrary, YouTube gives scalability. This implies that your relations with many people will no longer be mutual: they will find out about you while you never really learn who they are. This notion was scaring me to death.

When I realized what had just happened, I started laughing really hard at myself. I thought, “You’ve just made huge personal progress; from the second most stressful job for young people right to the most stressful job. One step closer to the very bottom.”

Was I afraid? Oh, yes. YouTube has an opinion of a jungle packed with haters. Meaning all those people who do nothing else than disliking other people’s work just because they can. I was very afraid of this, not only regarding my own well-being but also because I mind the well-being of the guests. I just felt unsafe. But, my friend, Jana, once said, “You know, there are always 10% of haters — so what’s the difference if you are speaking to 100 people or to 100,000 people?” And I had to admit that… she was right. What’s the difference?

SAFETY

Mom, dad: I am a youtuber

Actually, I need to touch the subject of safety, or perceived safety in here. What does safety even mean these days? In ancient times, the person in the spotlight was in trouble by definition. If you were standing on the stage, I probably meant that you were just being sacrificed or publicly punished by the tribe. There was no other reason to get exposed to others (unless you happened to be the chief of the tribe). That’s also why people still have a natural fear of being exposed to the public. In fact, according to some studies, more people fear from giving public talks than from death!

But now, the situation has changed — now, the person in the spotlight is often privileged. We no longer fear from predators and no longer punish the tribe members in public. In this setting, public figures often get an advantage over everyone else because of the connections and the attention they get. This is a simple arithmetic; the more people recognize what you do, the more potential friends, clients, advice, and opportunities you get.

Funny enough, instead of adversity, I experienced something exactly opposite — a lot of kindness and selfless advice. A lot of friends started selflessly sharing their own contacts with me and helping me with the outreach. Furthermore, I noticed that some people who used to be quite nasty to me before, now turned into an overly kind mode. Quite likely, it’s because they noticed how many new connections I have acquired in the recent past and how well I’m perceived by others. So, I would say that despite my worries, I only had positive experience so far. “What were you actually scared of?” — I ask myself at times.

LITTLE SURPRISES

By this occasion, I also had to question many of my beliefs; I was always looking at YouTubers as some sort of cartoon characters or personas who don’t really exist. And now, this belief was challenged as I feel that I’m exactly the same online as in real life. “Are you a cartoon character now?” — I’m sometimes asking myself. “Do cartoon characters even know that they are cartoon characters?”

Furthermore, I’m amazed by how plastic the human brain is and how fast your boundaries can shift. If someone told me just a year ago that I would write a book, I would have laughed at them. But then, I came up with the idea in September 2019, and the book was out on Amazon just three months later. Similarly, if someone told me three months ago that I would have a YouTube channel, I would have laughed at them. But hey, this is what just happened. I don’t dare to think about what comes next.

And, the plasticity in your brain is really quick. In the first week or two of doing the recordings, you fully focus on yourself: Am I perhaps just making an idiot of myself? Are my voice and my face good enough for the screen? After a few weeks, you accept the reality. You forget about thinking how you look and sound, and you concentrate on improving the quality of the recordings: getting a better camera, microphone, and the overall infrastructure. After two months, you stop worrying about all the above. Then, you only worry about whether the recordings reach out to enough people who might find it useful. 

I’m also constantly getting surprised by people. Some of the people I interviewed so far, I had already known before — and sometimes, for many years. Yet, I was still amazed by how much these people have accomplished in their lives so far. I left like I was rediscovering my own friends all anew. “Wow! I didn’t even know that I know sooo interesting people” — I thought. And I’m curious about the incoming interviews. I think that even if my company is safe and sound one day, this new habit is probably there to stay. At some point, I realized that online activity is not only a way to improve on the public recognition of my company. It’s also a great channel for meeting more people who think alike. After all, even though I live in proximity of a large university and technically, there are lots of smart people around, it’s not easy for me to find people with a similar mentality. And, my gut feeling was correct — as soon as I started paying more attention to my online presence, the right people started appearing on the horizon.

LAST WORDS

Lastly, I had to go through this “Mum, Dad, I’m a YouTuber!” talk with my parents recently. I was quite afraid of this one. This is probably not the type of news that most Polish parents would like to hear from their 34-year-old daughter. But, my Mum was exactly the same supportive as always. She just said, “Cool!” And my father (who is a chess player by the way), said, “Very good move!” So far so good.

By the way, if you know PhD graduates with interesting career paths who would be willing to share their story, please don’t hesitate to drop me a message. This would be highly appreciated. Have a great weekend!

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