Your work and your friends

A few days ago, Paul Graham tweeted, “Ron Conway just discovered my essays and stayed up late reading them. We’ve been friends for 15 years but apparently he’d never read one. Made my month.” 

It reminds me of a passage I’d read or heard somewhere (and can’t find) that as a creator, you shouldn’t expect your friends to support—or even to understand—your work. Yes, a person can be your good friend, and still not read the blog and essays you’ve written for over a decade.

It was a fascinating point, and one that’s resonated with me. 

The job of a creator, and the business of creativity, is an incredibly challenging one emotionally. It can feel like you’re pouring yourself into your work, and that if your friends don’t support you—like, share, or even buy your stuff—they’re not on your team. Which simply isn’t true.

You’re free and welcome to ask for help, but it’ll feel best for your friends when they have a choice in helping you; that is to say, you’re not pressuring, guilt-tripping, or trying so hard to get them to commit. You can exchange favors, or you can ask for a clearer way to support, but they’re not obligated to help you. Silence is acceptable. 

People will want to be around you; or at least, they won’t want to avoid you.

Friendships are incredibly valuable (or in economic terms, “expensive!”) things, and they can’t purely be measured through a speed or volume of likes, shares, and purchases.

Don’t get me wrong—it means a lot when a friend buys my work, and I’m thrilled that many did when I posted about it!—but I also wasn’t entirely expecting it, and I’ve released other work where none of my friends have bought. The transaction doesn’t reflect our friendship.

Fans are fans, allies are allies, and friends are friends. True friendship can only be allowed to emerge, not controlled or cultivated, and when you try mingling or forcing it, it feels understandably strange.

If none of your friends support your work, that’s totally okay, and that doesn’t mean you only have bad friends or that your work sucks. Worse yet, if you expect your friends to spend time with, or buy, everything that you do, you’re the one that’s behaving like a bad friend. The world doesn’t need another multi-level marketing business.

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