Stop Trying to Be Famous and Build a Body of Work Instead

These days, it’s easy to be famous. There are more influencers on Instagram than there have ever been famous people in the history of humanity. And our culture just keeps intoxicating us with the allure of more attention, and that it’s an easy thing to chase.

Stop Trying to Be Famous and Build a Body of Work Instead

So, yeah. Fame is the easy part. The hard part is to consistently show up every day and do your work. To stay in your lane despite what your peers are doing. To remember that they aren’t your audience.

It’s hard to do this day after day, week after week, year after year. It’s especially hard to do decade after decade.

Note: you can listen to the audio version of this lesson via the player below.

Seth Godin recently shared that he’s never had a viral hit.

Can you believe that?!

One of the Internet’s most influential marketers and longest-running bloggers has never had a huge viral sensation. Is that because he was just unlucky?

I don’t think so. Seth hasn’t gone viral, because going viral is not what Seth is trying to do. He’s trying to connect with you and help you change things. And going viral can sometimes stand in the way of real impact.

Going viral can stand in the way of real impact.

Jeff Goins

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If you’re wanting more help with goal-setting, I highly recommend Michael Hyatt’s 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever. It’s a process I’ve been going thru these past few years and think it’s simply the best goal-setting program out there.

One-hit wonders fade away

How many one-hit wonders are still making music today?

The answer: very few.

In fact, I know some of these people. Living in Nashville, you start to bump into songwriters and musicians fairly regularly, some of which have experienced astronomical levels of fame at some point.

One friend I have fits this really well. His band used to perform for stadiums of people. Now, they play small dive bars.

And you know what? He’s happier than ever.

For the past two decades, he’s made his living writing songs for other people. He’s written dozens of award-winning songs that have helped other people sell millions of copies. And he’s made a good living doing it.

More than that, he loves what he does.

The big lesson for him was realizing the real reason he was doing his work was not for the fame, but for the thrill of making things.

So when his famous band fell out of the spotlight, as is nearly inevitable for all of us, he got depressed. Really depressed.

Then one day, another musician called him up and asked for his help in writing a song. He went to the studio and saved the day, and he felt alive.

So he did it again. And again. Dozens of times. Decades later, he’s still doing it. I love that!

Lesson 9: Build a body of work

This is what makes a person an artist.

Not a single hit. Not going viral. Not people recognizing you at a conference or a coffee shop. It is the act of making things. Every single day.

It’s no surprise that I think you should build a body of work. That’s why I named my podcast The Portfolio Life. The creative life is one of multiple projects and gigs and crafts that all fit together.

The fun part about a portfolio is that no two portfolios look the same. That is, if it is made up of more than one thing, if it is diverse.

The chances of you becoming famous from a viral hit are slim. But even if it does happen, that’s not enough. Not enough to keep earning a living. Not enough to get you out of bed in the morning. Not enough to keep you fulfilled and alive.

Constantly creating new work, however, is. Some of the work will fail. Some of it will succeed. But if you keep making things, you win.

That’s the goal.

Don’t look at your work as a series of individual pieces that either “go big” or flop. Instead, look at it as a body of work.

Your magnum opus doesn’t have to be a single creation.

Your magnum opus doesn’t have to be a single creation.

Jeff Goins

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It can be many creations that when all pieced together say something unique that the world has never before heard.

Stop chasing fame. Start building a body of work.

Need help figuring out what kind of portfolio you should be creating? Check out Michael Hyatt’s 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever, which will help you set specific goals for each area of your life. It’s great. I highly recommend it.

How are you building a body of work? What has “going viral” done for you long-term? Share in the comments.

16 thoughts on “Stop Trying to Be Famous and Build a Body of Work Instead

  1. This is gold. I love that you brought up Seth and “never going viral” because each of us have him in our head as we build our tribe. Consistency counts and truly that is what we all want—to stick around for the long haul.

    Thanks Jeff! Bookmarking this and sharing!

    And Merry Christmas!

  2. This is great. Never forget what we ought to be doing. Fame and virality are some possible by-products of a job well done, but they are never metrics we should be actively chasing.

  3. love this post! I think about this ALL The time with my own personal blog ( So many “influencers” (myself included) get caught up in being famous and it can be so distracting!

  4. This post really speaks to me and what I recently began doing with my writing. A side comment from a reader set me on a journey of creating not just solitary books, but a plethora of side stories within the same universe to fully engage the reader. I want a body of work to take the bit characters and stories within the stories and create a full universe. This post reminded me that I am on the right track to doing just that!

  5. Jeff,
    “… our culture just keeps intoxicating us with the allure of more attention …”
    And what a powerful elixir it isn’t!
    Instead, show up and do the work.
    Just what I needed to hear—receive affirmation of. Don’t seek fame: show up, do the work, reach out, be genuine (or authentic), be helpful—and build your portfolio. Diversifying is a bonus, although don’t lose your focus.
    Thanks for the reminder, Jeff!

  6. Jeff,
    This lesson was very timely for me. I knew I had gotten off track when I started to get frustrated with the lack of “results” for my efforts. You helped me get back on track by reminding me to focus on what gives me joy (creating). When I did, I was able to let go (yet again) of the expectations I had placed on those around me.
    Thank you and bravo!
    ~ Salina

  7. This was just what I needed to read today, thanks for sharing. I agree that it’s important to remember that creating is the joy and focusing on the end result can zap that joy.

  8. This is wonderful. Thank you for this great perspective. Sometimes I lament that all I ever seem to do is create pieces of writing and then start on the next piece. I wonder if any of it makes a difference. This post reminds me that this is what creatives do – create! And the enjoyment of creating each piece of writing is worth the effort. It does keep me going. Thanks for this great reminder. On to the next piece.

  9. Such a useful perspective. One day at a time, 1000 new words, one more drawing… That’s how it’s done. Thanks Jeff.

  10. “Going viral” is terrible advice. Viral is a byproduct of creating awesome content. Your audience decides if something is viral, not you. The only thing you can control is what you are producing. The best way to produce better content is through repeated practice and output.

  11. Wonderful post. I know so many writers that are obsessed with getting likes and re-shares and SEO and argh. It makes me tired. Fact is, not everything you write is going to be incredible. Most of it, even the good stuff, I am sorry to report, will be mediocre. But like Amos Oz says, you still gotta open up the store. Writing is a muscle that you have to flex every day if you want to get stronger. Also, a person shouldn’t write if they’re looking for quick popularity and viral posts. Writing is slow and excruciating and painful and difficult. It’s not for the faint of heart. I agree with all that you write here. It is elegant in its simplicity. Write as best you can. Write every day. Do it because it is vital, it is imperative, and because you are unemployable in any other capacity. E.B. White said that we all have to do what sustains us. No truer words spoken.

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