Today I learned the value of putting yourself out there. I had multiple opportunities that came to me recently that I thought were entirely impossible. I wouldn’t have been able to dream them up, they were so beneficial for my current situation. There are many ways that you can put yourself “out there”, however the way in which I did so was through networking. Plain old people talking to people.
I naturally am someone who enjoys conversations, but not someone who likes to start them. I won’t go into the whole introvert/extrovert thing, but I do want to speak to those who think that putting yourself out in public or exposing yourself to the community online is scary. It is. No ifs ands or buts about it. It is scary, and at times difficult and draining, but always worth it, and not for the reasons you think it is. I’ll first talk about the benefits, and then a few ways you can wade into the ocean that is the public internet.
For the remainder of this post I will group all public-facing interaction whether it be posting blogs, creating videos, making twitter posts, cold emailing people, talking to folks on twitter, joining a discord community, etc., into “Put[ting] Yourself out There”. PYT for short.
If you are someone who finds the idea of PYT daunting or scary, there is usually a doubt of whether or not the reward of doing the thing is actually greater than whatever the perceived risk is. I want to talk to you for a moment because we need to fundamentally shift what you think the reward here is.
Many of the articles you will read, the videos you watch, and the feeds you scroll will tell you: “because of PYT I got a job offer from my dream FAANG company, they just sent me a job offer straight into my inbox! If you do just like me it’ll happen to you as well!”. I don’t want to say that DOESN’T happen, but it is not what you should be looking for. The process doesn’t yield a reward. The reward is the process.
Now you may wonder how in the hell that is supposed to make any sense what-so-ever, and I’ll tell you. When you PYT it is much like a date. You look in the mirror before you leave for dinner if you aren’t a complete savage. The same goes for the work you plan to show others and the interactions you have with strangers on the internet.
You put your best foot forward. That doesn’t mean you don’t ever put your foot in your mouth, or make an ass of yourself. It just means you’re trying your best. There is intrinsic value in that. The more you do it the more you are putting your best foot forward and what becomes a good first step, becomes a good walk, becomes a good marathon.
Make no mistake, It is a marathon. You don’t just get off the couch and run a marathon after you’ve been watching coding tutorials without actually coding anything, telling yourself you’re being productive. If you did that you would fall flat on your face and you would expect to do so. Treat PYT the same way you would treat training for a marathon.
How would you train to run a marathon? You would run. How do you get those results from PYT? You do it. You suck it up and you do it. Even when you don’t want to. ESPECIALLY when you don't want to. you do the damn thing. Marathon runners do not run with different legs when they train compared to when they actually run one. It’s all running. So why do you see the difference between PYT, and being an active community-member/blogger/youtuber/author/networking-guru?
It is all PYT.
The benefits to just putting yourself out there are that you get practice getting your shit together, and putting your best foot forward. When you do that on a regular basis it stops becoming your “best foot” and just becomes putting your foot forward. That’s just walking. Pretty easy! Well, no one starts out that way so here is a place to start.
Everyone has different comfort levels, so I trust that you know yourself well enough to know what's pushing boundaries compared to breaking them. You can choose whatever you find challenging but doable. However, the more discomfort you can endure, the greater the benefits will be to yourself and the greater the opportunities will be that eventually come your way. Do something to PYT but don’t make it so uncomfortable you can’t do it again. You will build tolerance to PYT and things you once found terrifying won’t seem as daunting after doing it for a bit.
I will try to speak from a place of familiarity, so I will go over what I did to PYT. However, you can really apply this to anything; whether it's blogging, creating videos, streaming, or teaching. I found myself learning to code and wanting to find more info because reddit, my only social media at the time, was not cutting it for finding software development and data science content. I was hungry and that’s important; hunger drives you.
This led me to Twitter where I followed people that I thought were educational, and posted good content that I found enriched myself. If I were in a neighborhood they were the pillars of the local community. I did not do anything at first, I only consumed. This is fine, if you’re reading this to take away action-items, this is step one. Find an area that interests you, and simply learn about it.
Eventually I started liking the posts. Yes this is actually what my step two was, because I literally wouldn’t even like the posts at first because that was too much for me at the time. This is why I say it’s okay to start slow. You never know where it will lead you. I can’t judge someone for not PYT as I was the quintessential lurker. I’ve been on reddit for over 8 years and have less than 50 karma.
Here is the big step three. I started commenting. You can comment as little as you’re comfortable with, but the more you start talking to people the less scary it is. A bad interaction with someone becomes trivial instead of traumatizing, but only with experience and the scope that comes with it. I started breaking out of my shell a bit here as I really liked logging into Twitter and seeing that I had notifications. That was a new experience for me. I made it a game. I wanted to always have a notification when I checked Twitter the next time. So I made a rule, even if I thought I didn't’ have something worth saying, I couldn’t scroll past 10 posts without commenting on one of the posts.
I am going to speed up a bit here, as once you’re out of your shell and talking to people, you will start to form natural relationships with the people you interact with more. After this I started making posts, and while I’m still not great about this I try to post something every day. Twitter is a pretty low bar at only 140 characters and knowing that people aren’t going to really see it for a long time if you post something silly or insignificant, makes it a bit easier to PYT for me personally.
Here is where opportunities started coming for me. I was following this person on Twitter that has a book called The Coding Career Handbook that is right up my alley and I would gain quite a bit of value from. What’s the problem then? As I write this I am a bit strapped for cash. Not something I am proud of, but something I am actively working to overcome by learning to code. I knew the author swyx believed very much in putting yourself out there. I thought he would appreciate someone doing the same, so I did.
I just told another human being that I had no relationship with the honest truth. I wanted his book, but didn’t have money to buy it. He sent me a review copy 5 minutes later. In full transparency of the moment and what it meant to me, I cried when I read the email. Not a huge reward, and certainly not a FAANG job offer, but it was a tangible thing that would have otherwise been out of reach. What pushed this whole PYT thing over the edge for me and led me to write this up is the following story that happened within 24-hours of this one.
I had an acquaintance that I had met on LinkedIn (doing similar things on LinkedIn as twitter since I am currently looking for a Software Development role) reach out to me saying that he knew someone who was looking to have a website done for him. Let me reiterate. Me. someone who is currently looking for a developer job. Have a client quite literally LAND in my lap? I was ecstatic.
I really want to emphasize that while these wonderful things happened, they are not the best thing that has come of this. I have had multiple calls with this LinkedIn acquaintance. I gained so much from this person just talking to them, and listening to their insights, and how they think about the world. That was the reward. The process of building up this relationship is the reward. It just happens to have other benefits such as client work.
If there’s one thing that you take away from this, I hope it is that the reward is the process. PYT creates so much value not only for yourself but for everyone around you. I hope you have the courage to start doing it yourself and prove not only to yourself, but everyone that is too shy or scared to PYT currently that we need their voice to be heard as well.