My first exposure to Casey Neistat was in my freshman orientation class. I remember our mentor showing us the filmmaker’s short Bike Lanes, where Casey filmed himself intentionally crashing his bike into trucks, construction signs and police cars obstructing New York bike lanes to prove a point about unfair citations by the NYPD. Four years and a college degree later, I rediscovered Casey, now a burgeoning aesthetic icon in a growing world of YouTube vloggers using the platform as a legit source of creation, distribution and income.
It became my morning ritual at my first job out of college to immerse myself in his daily, borderline-life-threatening longboarding commutes, irreverent mail-opening technique and raw rumination on creativity, doubt, entrepreneurship and family. Vlogging had always seemed lame and cheesy to me before then, probably because of my own insecurities and doubts about my ability to be creatively vulnerable at the time. Casey’s vlog changed all that; whatever he was doing, I was addicted to it.
“I regret my failures. But I would regret more a failure to try.”
— Casey Neistat
Around the same time, it came to my attention that John Mayer (yes, that John Mayer) was a Bonafide Hilarious Person. His witty social media style and zeitgeist-y humor — which I first discovered on Snapchat and have later appreciated on Twitter and Instagram — came in hot, seemingly out of left field and borderline worthy of a late night talk show. The cerebral, meta, observational sense of humor Mayer slings and his knack for dissecting frivolity while simultaneously reveling in it hit me (and still hits me) when and where I needed it most. “Do you follow John Mayer on Instagram? You need to” has left my lips at least a dozen times in the last several years.
“The days of consensus are over…Find your audience, love them, play to them, but protect yourself from the certain injury of trying to bring the larger world to agreement. That pie is sliced so many slivers now. Enjoy your slice of the pie.”
— John Mayer
These two make sense, because at the time I really start binge-consuming their stuff, I was already somewhat familiar with Casey and John. On the other hand, my relationship with the Instagram page of Mason’s Creamery, a gourmet ice cream shop in Cleveland, makes zero sense.
I started following the shop and the young couple who own and run it, Jesse and Helen, a few years back. I don’t remember how I was led to start following them, or when — I think I just have Instagram’s discover page algorithm to thank, but I’m not sure.
That almost makes it all the more “magical” — and quite random — that I still follow them now, even though I never have been and probably never will visit Ohio. But I was drawn in by the unique, unorthodox flavors they produced and the familial feel of their page, and I grew jealous every time they would post about collaborations with other local shops, ramen pop-ups and community movie nights. It’s been like watching a blueprint be produced in real time on how to run the quaint, successful family business of my dreams.
A few years ago, Mason’s posted openly and apologetically about a few preparation mistakes and equipment malfunctions that forced them to close their doors for a few days; like a viewer of the Truman Show, my emotions ran the gamut of “Nooooo!” to “Why do bad things happen to good people?” to “How much are tickets to Cleveland so I can fly there and give them a hug?” But it’s their vulnerability that drew me in in the first place, and exactly why I knew they’d be just fine. Their earnestness in treating their customers like business partners and friends on their journey is clearly paying off and is impossible to not smile at — I mean, just watch this video.
Why am I sharing all this?
Because I’ve found there’s a lot to be gained professionally by following musical luminaries, smaller sports columnists, local restaurateurs, artists, avid vloggers and many others on social media instead of just peers in your same industry. Their unique perspective on what’s required to succeed often provides better creative inspiration than any self-designated “coach” or bland “influencer” or “thought leader” on LinkedIn ever could.
Unfortunately, the bar to clear is — to put it nicely — low. A lot of the quote-unquote inspirational, motivational content I see on LinkedIn (and sometimes Medium, and really on the surface of any platform) is naive at best and misguided at worst. Stop me if any of these sound familiar:
- The “Quit your job!” calls-to-arms filled to the brim with survivorship bias.
- Ra-ra rants about following your dreams by people who will never admit how big a role luck plays for a lot of people, nor acknowledge how dreams just don’t put food on the table for an unfortunate majority of Americans.
- Overwrought posts persuading you to make that Big Risky Move by people who have had fairly large safety nets for every “risky” move they’ve ever made (not “a small loan of $1,000,000”-large, but still).
- Just plain old, not-even trying-to-hide-it, bragging.
I’m sure these types of post were well-intentioned at some point — but they usually just leave me feeling dumb, panicky and annoyed. So, why do I prefer to get my inspiration from the hyperactive guy making videos on YouTube, or the writer of “Your Body is a Wonderland,” or the young couple hustling their way to a successful, contagiously optimistic Cleveland ice cream shop I’ll likely never set foot in in my life? I’m not a musician, filmmaker or business owner.
I’m inspired because when when I watch them “do their thing,” the inspiration starts coming without them (or me) even trying. The creative drive of a Casey or John or Mason’s Creamery is their livelihood, not just a talking point to sell me a webinar or ebook. They know what it takes to succeed, not because they are able to orate and articulate with precision, but because their Success is next door neighbors with the Impending Risk of Potentially Life-Altering Failure at Any Moment. And that’s relatable to me. For me, it makes the highs and joys of their successes just more, I don’t know, tangible? Raw? Honest? And isn’t that what we’re all looking for? To feel creatively young again?
I don’t think LinkedIn is broken creatively (and to be fair, I’ve seen more content here lately that is creatively inspiring, from companies giving back to the community to quality design work being celebrated). But 80% of the content I find on LinkedIn just doesn’t invigorate me in the way the vloggers of YouTube and small business owners of Instagram do just by being themselves.
I think that’s because these treasured springs of creativity in my life haven’t just entertained me: They’ve helped me actually learn, develop and hone my professional craft in a way that goes beyond soundbites and catchy platitudes. For example:
- Mason’s Creamery has taught me to notice patterns in how the most addictive local businesses build their brands through compelling storytelling, genuine excitement for their craft and a modern approach to engaging with a passionate community of customers. (The same goes for a host of other independent shops, illustrators and even woodworkers I follow on Instagram.)
- John Mayer has proven to me that a unique brand of cohesive randomness is the intuitive secret formula in a Millennial- and Gen Z-led digital climate, and getting people to laugh with niche content is an something you could build an entire social media strategy around.
- And Casey Neistat has shown me what the word hustle actually means when you strip it away from the “influencers” of the world and give it back to the people who quite literally can’t do anything but follow their dreams.
So I’ll leave you with this: Where do you go to feel the most challenged and invigorated in your career and life — and what lessons are you taking away from them to make you a more passionate person? I think the best, most human sources of inspiration might be more organic than you think.
This is the first article I’m writing as part of a 5-week Spar challenge I created (with friends and coworkers) to write 750 words a week or more outside of work. I think it’s valuable to explore your voice and articulate your ideas in ways you aren’t getting paid for, and there’s something to the idea of just hitting “publish” even if you aren’t particularly proud of what you wrote.
I hope to do more challenges like this later this year. If you’d like to join in on the next one, let me know:)