I’m not one for end of the year posts, the kinds that summarize all of the things I might have succeeded or failed at. But I do use the end of a year as a chance to glance backward. Sometimes it’s just to take a moment to breath. Sometimes it’s all about saying goodbye to a year that kicked my ass. Many times it’s just to help me plan for the new year ahead.

Then there are times like this, where the year I’m wrapping up actually looks good from where I’m standing. I’ve said it before on Twitter, but 2015 began as a very dark year. My design business was shriveling faster than George Costanza in a swimming pool. I was on the verge of giving up on writing, on running my own business, and any hope of a successful side project. Like I said, it was a dark time.

And then Lore happened. I always tell people Lore was an accident. I didn’t mean to make it, I swear. But I was convinced I had to do something to salvage my hobby writing, something that could possibly help the books generate enough revenue to justify the time I spent crafting them. So I made an audio give-away. Thankfully, my buddy Seth told me it was better suited as a podcast.

NB: Let’s all buy Seth some expensive bourbon, okay?

Lore is a smashing success, and that’s no posturing or hopeful bragging. I watch people who do a lot of “marketing bragging”, where they Talk Big and hope Big shows up as a result. I’m not doing that. Lore is a quantifiable hit, and I’m both humbled and elate as a result.

But I went in with zero expectations. How could I have imagined I would be doing the podcast full-time within six months? How could I have expected so many people to discover and fall in love with this thing I made? 2015 has been a whirlwind of milestones, interviews, accomplishments, and recognition (and I’m not even sharing the coolest stuff yet). Which is why I get a lot of email from people asking me the same question: how did you do it?

So I want to try and answer that question here.

The answer is both simple and complex: there are Controllables, and then there are Uncontrollables. Contrary to all the inspirational posters with cats and babies and eagles flying high over the mountains, you and I simply can’t do it all on our own. You can try your absolute, honest-to-God best, but it’s not going to be enough. I know a lot of smart people say otherwise, but they’re wrong. Because they discount the Uncontrollable.

First, Controllables: these are the things you can…um…control. For Lore, I can control the research and writing, the production, the thought and care that I pour into decisions about what to say and what to leave out. I can control my efforts to share the show with other people. I can control the branding and technical side of things. I can control who I reach out to for help. I can control a lot of what makes Lore, Lore. But I can’t control everything.

The Uncontrollables include things like the iTunes New & Noteworthy section. I didn’t make that happen. That was out of my control, as was the inclusion in the main iTunes header a couple of months later. I didn’t control the listeners who spread the word about the show. And I certainly didn’t have any control over the tastes and “market needs” that seemed to have gobbled up my little podcast like hot pizza on a Friday night.

  • You can control how hard you work, but you can’t control whether it’s enough.
  • You can control who you tell, but you can’t control whether they’ll like it.
  • You can control your topic, but you can’t control whether people will be interested in it.
  • You can control who you know, but you can’t control whether they’ll help you or not.
  • You can control your personal standards for quality and polish, but you can’t control whether those actually line up with reality.
  • You can control some things, but you can’t control everything. And that’s the lesson here: you can’t control it all.

You can ask me how I launched a successful podcast, but you aren’t going to get a straight answer from me. I’m following my unique, personal instincts. I’m trusting my gut to guide me toward the right decisions. And I’ve had a heaping portion of Uncontrollables dumped on my plate that have gone my way.

There’s a lot someone else can replicate, but you can’t replicate luck.