I have published 266 posts on Medium to date. About half a million words. And while I like to think somewhere in that history is progress you can see, I can’t help but notice: the more I learn, the longer it takes to write better stuff.
I love writing articles like Why We Need Breaks From Tech To Use It Best. I love the research, the outlining, digging up stories, moving parts around, even pulling my hair out over how to resolve a certain conflict for two days. But that’s exactly why they take time; days, sometimes weeks.
That’s not a problem. But the fact that I often end up too close to the material for too long is. Three weeks ago, I realized it’s okay if all I want to do is write something that gets me out of my own head. There should be no difference between what makes our writing valuable to others and what makes our writing valuable to us. And even if there is, I bet there’s a big overlap.
So when my friend Maarten van Doorn shares 10 things about himself — just to tell his story — I feel both him and Tim Cigelske, who kicked off this little movement, when they say they miss getting to know the writers they read.
Hence, here are 10 things you should know about the dude behind the words.
1. I’m Not Special
As soon as someone gets any sort of public awareness, their image is somewhat mystified. It’s like we used to think our teachers were born with horn-rims and tweed jackets. My goal is to pop this bubble whenever I can.
I was born in a small, German city of 40,000. We moved three times before I was in 7th grade, but other than that I’ve had the most normal, if privileged, life you can imagine.
My dad has a PhD in chemistry and nowadays does product management and marketing for an adhesives company. My mom dropped out of law school to raise me and my sister full-time. One grandpa was an architect, the other had a small clothing store in their village. That’s it.
There’s no magic entrepreneurial gene here nor any overt talent or artistic genius. Ask my art teacher. All Ds. If anything, I was raised anti-entrepreneur. Go to school, get a degree, have a stable job. That kind of thing.
So whenever you’re lulled into thinking someone got to where they are because they’re better than you, remember that it’s probably bullshit.
2. I’m Special
In 2014, me and my best friend did an IQ test. Curiosity got the better of us. Mine’s 131. There, I said it. That’s the top of most intelligence classification ranges. So I guess I’m ‘special’ after all. Ugh, even writing it hurts a little.
But it’s true. Thinking has always been my number one asset. I can think fast, accurately, and in lots of different ways. School was too easy, college too boring, but with writing, I’ve finally found something my brain can really stretch into. Expand until it hurts, then withdraw, learn from it, and grow. I guess the brain’s a muscle after all.
But before you roll your eyes and give me the finger, consider this:
In 1950, researchers at an Ohio airbase measured 4,063 pilots on 140 different dimensions of their body. Then, they enlisted an expert to calculate the average ranges for the 10 most relevant metrics with the goal of designing a cockpit that would be able to fit the greatest physical variety of pilots. There was only one problem:
A cockpit designed for the average pilot fits zero pilots.
None of the over 4,000 pilots would’ve been able to sit in that 10-dimension-average cockpit. Even reducing the dimensions to three would’ve only enabled only 3.5% of all pilots to fly that aircraft. The lesson?
The average person doesn’t exist. So I might be special, but you’re special too. Just gotta find out how and go all-in on that.
3. I Pay The Same Price As You
Regardless of whatever talent you might find sooner or later in your life, it won’t absolve you from the hard truths of life. We all have limited time, limited energy, and a great deal of things we don’t control.
Me, I’ve put on a few pounds I don’t need since going to grad school and writing full-time, I don’t have a proper exercise routine, no girlfriend, and very few people I can hit up to grab dinner with. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Whether you prefer my struggles over yours or not, we all have our burdens to carry. But if you’re in a position to even choose your battles, you’re already winning. So pick some and fight them.
4. I’m Incredibly Lucky
Did I lose close friends and family members way too soon? Yes. Have I had to make some very hard decisions? Absolutely. Do I suck at a lot of things and deal with lots of setbacks? You bet.
But I still won the goddamn ovarian lottery. I was born in Germany to an upper class, healthy, loving family. My biggest asset is thinking fast in a world of competitive thinkers. And thanks to the status quo of civilization, I have at my disposal every tool and opportunity I could possibly need to thrive. At almost zero cost. That’s nuts. The odds of all of this happening at once…
…are NUTS! Again, if you’re reading this, you’re already winning. Let’s get our shit in the right order. I know that your situation might not be quite as fortunate as mine. It probably isn’t. I’m sorry if it’s not. But my hunch is that even you are luckier than you realize.
At the very least, I want you to know I don’t take my good luck for granted. I’m incredibly grateful and I’m trying hard to make the most of it. I want my life to be worthwhile not just for me, but for everyone who comes in touch with it.
5. I’ve Gone Through More Passions Than You Know
The other thing I’d like to dispel is that I rolled off the changing table with a pen in my hand. Here’s a small selection of the so-called passions I’ve gone through:
I’ve had paid lessons in swimming, tennis, basketball, fencing, piano, guitar, and hip-hop dance. I deliberately chose a degree with the maximum variety of subjects, including maths, economics, accounting, marketing, informatics, engineering, operations research, statistics, and a whole bunch more. I’ve been obsessed with Lego, cars, trading cards, video games, soccer, editing videos, table tennis, and a million other things.
This shit isn’t magic. You have to do stuff. I had to burn through a lot of fuel to find…
6. I’ve Always Loved Writing
I know! Ridiculous! All this exploration only to end up right where you were when you were 14. But that’s life. Of course it makes sense. Can’t find something you haven’t lost before.
But it’s still ironic that we’re most likely to find something we can stick with and thrive in by backtracking instead of moving forward. At least we know where to start.
In hindsight it’s easy for me to say I loved coming up with stories and topics for school essays. That I read my first Harry Potter book in English when I was 12. That I sometimes wrote poems and song lyrics and jokes for fun.
But believe me, when I first asked “what can I do for a living that’ll make me happy?” I thought of none of those things.
7. I’m A Living Contradiction
I understand if all these contradictions are driving you insane, so here’s a promise I know I can keep: I promise I’ll always change my mind.
When I first started publishing, I thought there was nothing worse than telling the reader one thing one Monday and another the next. Now I think there’s nothing worse than doing exactly that. Because who doesn’t change their mind? It’s a sign of growth. A more elevated point of view.
And if you find one without telling us that doesn’t make you consistent, it makes you dishonest. My dad gave me my favorite birthday wish ever a few years ago:
Stay as you are by changing every day.
8. I’m Long-Winded
In case you couldn’t tell. Whenever you see something from me that’s less than a 6-minute read, know it took a very concerted effort to get there. I cut not one, not two, but four entire subsections from this post.
9. I Like To Break The Rules
I’ve probably sabotaged myself more than anyone else ever could have, even if they were trying their hardest. I’m okay with that. Only that which ruins me can also help me grow.
I’m proud of the fact that I never dwell on any topic or pattern or even project for too long. I try to switch themes, length, style, voice, and everything else about my posts as often as I can. It keeps my mind on edge and readers leaning forward in their seats. I hope.
In any case, I’d rather take one step forward and two steps back than one step forward and then no steps at all. Sometimes, it’s better to fall down from a plateau and crash instead of staying put and hoping you’ll miraculously level up soon. It never happens. But once you’re on the ground, at least you can get up again.
Just like once you hit publish, you can hope that paper plane flies, but immediately write the next post. And that’s exactly what I’m about to do.