017: Why You Should Solve Your Own Problems: The Story of Designing My Own Blog Theme [Podcast]
The most important life lesson I’ve learned from the Internet is this: solve your own problems and share the solution.
Listen to the audio version of this post
I’m trying something new today, including an audio version of today’s post. Let me know what you think in the comments. If you like it, I might do more of this sort of thing. You can click the player below to listen.
Now, back to the story…
If you want to get the kind of attention your work deserves and build an audience around your words, the best strategy is to share your struggles and talk about what you did to overcome them.
I first learned this lesson with my blog when I began writing about my own writing process and what I was routinely teaching other writers as a marketing director at a nonprofit.
For seven years, I helped creatives get unstuck and clarify their messages, all the while feeling confused about my own message. But the secret was hiding in my past, which I think is often the case.
The thing that you’re supposed to do with your life, your calling, isn’t some brand new thing waiting “out there” for you to discover it. It’s something you’ve already done, something old and neglected that you’re probably taking for granted.
Simply put, our greatest assets are the things we tend to overlook and ignore. So in the mundane, lies the extraordinary.
It starts with a problem
Recently, I faced a problem.
I wanted to redesign my website but couldn’t find any blog themes that I liked. There were some great resources out there that contained components of what I needed, but none had it all.
Regardless of whatever solution I chose, I was going to have to hire someone to customize it. Why not, I wondered, just hire someone to build me something completely customized?
And that’s just what I did.
You will need help
I wanted to solve this problem but knew I couldn’t do it on my own. I know virtually nothing about web development and can’t code my way out of a cardboard box.
My friend Martyn Chamberlin, however, is one of the most creative web developers I know. He’s smart both on the technical side, in terms of making the code work, as well as artistically savvy. He can make beautiful things that are functional, which is a rare skill.
Together, we worked on a custom WordPress theme that is just that: beautiful and functional. Leveraging Martyn’s experience as a fine artist and my experience in marketing, we focused on a minimalistic design that drove conversions.
Perhaps most importantly, we created the kind of product we wanted to use ourselves. And then we took it one step further…
Share it with the world
It wasn’t enough for us to simply create something cool. We wanted others to experience what we made.
I believe firmly in this principle of sharing what you know and what you’ve learned with others. If you’ve solved your own problem, you have a responsibility to share the solution.
The idea is this: for those who struggled to find a web design that worked for them, as I did, maybe this is the answer. It’s not for everyone, of course, and that’s the point.
We built something that worked for us, which is what I’ve tried to do with everything I do online: offer solutions to my own problems and struggles, trusting there must be others out there like me.
Now, it’s your turn
The point in sharing all of this is to encourage you to go do likewise. If you know something that seems obvious to you, don’t assume it’s obvious to others. As Derek Sivers says in his book Anything You Want, maybe what’s obvious to you is amazing to others.
- If you’ve been through a tragedy, be the comfort you wished someone would have given you.
- If you failed in business before making it big, share the secrets that would’ve kept you from struggling.
- If all you see around you is ugliness, create the art you wish someone else would make.
Be the change you want to see in the world. Pay it forward. Give so others may receive. It’s not only the right thing to do — it’s a great way to make a living. I know, because this is what I’ve done.
And in the process, I’ve learned something: if you help enough people get what they want, you will never have to worry about what you want. You won’t need much because you’ve made it your mission to solve other people’s needs. The world has a way of rewarding such generosity.
Here’s how it works
The process looks something like this:
- Begin with a problem. Take a look at your normal, everyday struggles for clues of problems others may be facing. How could you turn that into something generous?
- Get help. See who resonates with your vision, who has the ability to help you realize the solution, and ask them to join your cause.
- Share it. Once you have your solution — whether it’s a book or a business or a piece of technology — then let people have it. You may need to charge for it or not; the model depends on what it is. The point is to not hoard your solution, to share it.
When you take your problems and turn them into something that gives back, something other people need, you create value. Which is attractive. It’s interesting and remarkable, the kind of thing that people talk about. When you do this, you just might be surprised by what happens next.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This all starts with identifying a problem, something that’s obvious to you that might be amazing to others. So start there, iterating as you go, until you find something that connects with people’s deep needs and your own passion.
That is the intersection we’re looking for — the place, as Frederick Buechner writes, “where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” It’s where you find your vocation, your unique contribution to the world.
Good luck finding it, and don’t forget to share what you learned.
Resources you should check out
Here are some books and resources worth checking out:
- Anything You Want by Derek Sivers (a great book on starting things)
- Now and Then by Frederick Buechner (a great book on finding your calling)
- The Complete Guide to Launching a Blog in 8 Minutes or Less (a video tutorial on how get started with WordPress)
What’s a problem you’ve solved that others would benefit from hearing about? Share in the comments.