In the first half of 2023, I tried to become a content creator and lost my authenticity in the process of it. This is the story, and what I have learned from it.
Hi! Welcome to my blog/newsletter! This is my first post after I migrated my site to a self-hosted Ghost blog around six months ago (previously, I was using Astro, and before that, Gatsby). I was too obsessed with writing the perfect post and kept procrastinating to write this post even though I really wanted to so that I could bring you up to speed on the context, what happened to me, and why I want to write more often going forward.
So, as some of you might probably know, being an Indonesian who doesn't have the privilege nor the ability to study in the US, I consider myself to be very lucky to have had the opportunity to work/being offered to work at a few of the best US tech companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Stripe. Obviously, all of those would never have happened if it had not been for the help of my mentors whom I met during college. I have always felt indebted to these mentors of mine, and I always want to pay these debts forward to future generations, especially Indonesian CS students, simply because going to the US to intern at Google literally changed my whole life and helped to set up my career trajectory.
Ever since I got the internship offer at Google, I have always wanted to publish a YouTube video or a few to share about my experience, particularly as an Indonesian student who doesn't study in the US. At first, that was the only motivation for me to publish a few YouTube videos, and that's it. But, I kept procrastinating on it and finding every reason that I could find as a reason, like the pandemic, relocating to another country, starting a new full-time job, etcetera, etcetera.
Until... I found out about this phrase.
"The creator economy"
In 2023, the word "creator economy" was all over the internet (at least for me). During this time, even though YouTube and TikTok have been here for a while, most people just started realizing that it's possible to get a lot of money being a content creator, including me. This was very attractive to me, as I just learned the concept of "trading your time for money" (what I have been and am currently doing), and the concept of passive income, or "the money that you earn while you sleep".
Learning this motivated the hell out of me, but, realizing that I had procrastinated on producing a YouTube video for a few years, I figured out that I probably needed something else to be able to start producing this. During this period, I ran into Ali Abdaal's Part-Time YouTube Academy and started listening to most of his videos on how to start a YouTube channel. Before that, I had already enjoyed his content and had looked up to him, so I took these resources pretty seriously. But soon I realized that I needed more to get started. I was not ready to commit to the PTYA since the price was very high (at least for me). Around the same time, I discovered an Indonesian YouTuber named Agus Leo Halim who enjoys talking about books, and the creator economy, and he also runs a similar class to teach inspiring content creators, called Ruang Kreatif.
Becoming content creator
I decided to enroll in Ruang Kreatif's class, and it worked! While the timeline of the program didn't exactly match perfectly for me and I had struggled to keep up with the program, it worked! It made me post my first few videos to TikTok and overcome my fear of embarrassment/cringe/failure of becoming a content creator.
During the program, I learned a ton about content creation, editing, and scripting, and I realized how hard it is to actually produce very good long-form YouTube content. I even attempted a few times to record myself to create a YouTube long-form video on the topic I want to share (which is about my experience with Google, etc.), but the result was just really bad because I didn't prepare any script or whatever at all. I realized that I'm nowhere close at all in terms of skill to produce good long-form content. Writing a script for the topics that I wanted to share was also a massive undertaking; there were a few weekends where I wanted to at least write the whole script and record a video for it, but it just didn't happen. So, I told myself that maybe I needed to upskill first.
Gaining more skills with shorts
During the Ruang Kreatif class, there were homework/assignments and almost all of them were about posting shorts to TikTok. TikTok, because, well, TikTok videos tend to be less effortful, and that's why it was working for me. During the class, I learned mostly about capturing people's attention and the importance of the first few seconds, and the caption/title of the shorts... So I started to implement it right away. I didn't feel good about it, but whatever, since I'm just treating this as an experiment to focus on just getting started and upskilling.
By the end of the class, I managed to post 3 short videos, but every video was averaging around 100-200 views; not too bad, but also not a great signal that I'm doing well. At least, it helped me to start the journey, that's what I told myself.
After the class ended, I realized that to be able to upskill, I needed to make a commitment to post more consistently, so I ended up making a target to post at least 1 short every 2-3 days. During the class, I also realized that hiring an editor is gonna be worth it rather than editing it yourself, so I also started hiring an editor on a freelance contract under a per-video pricing scheme.
TikTok, YouTube Shorts, Reels: ❌ Twitter, 🚀!
A week passed by, and I managed to create 3 shorts during that week, and posted it on TikTok. The topic was mostly random, it's not connected to each other, but still relevant to topics that I want to care and want to share about (software engineering interviewing tips). My videos were averaging 200-300 views on TikTok. I also tried uploading it to YouTube Shorts, and the view numbers are more or less the same. On Reels, it's slightly better, but not enough to motivate me even further.
During this period, I suddenly remembered my teacher's advice to try out posting on Twitter and LinkedIn instead of TikTok/Reels. Around this time, Twitter (or X now) has also started rolling out better support for Short videos because of Elon Musk. On a random day, I decided to just apply that advice and upload one of the videos that I previously uploaded on TikTok, to the Twitter platform.
In just less than a day, suddenly I'm gaining 10k views on the same video that only earned 200-300 views on TikTok. Wow! Amazing, I thought. But maybe, it's just a fluke?
The next day, I posted one of my older videos as well on Twitter to test it out again to see if that previous video was just a fluke or not. A day passed by, and boom, also 10k views and a lot of engagements! Comments, quotes, retweets. I felt really great!
This was a really great signal and source of motivation for me. I felt like I might be close to ready to start doing long-form videos. At the same time, I have already been paying my video editor to edit 3-4 of my shorts on a per-video pricing model. Before that, I received advice that if I wanted to be serious about this content creator thing, I should consider just hiring the editor full-time so that it could force me to produce more consistently since not producing would mean wasting money and not giving any work to the editor. I decided to take this advice after looking at the metrics from Twitter and feeling bullish about it and signing my freelancer editor under a monthly contract instead.
This worked really well for me, and I started producing a short video almost every day for around 2-3 weeks, and also one or two long-form videos (5-6 minutes) with lightweight technical topic. I did it by batching the work on the weekend, making the content plan for the week, doing the recording at the same time, and asking the editor to follow the content plan and prioritize the editing according to the timeline.
Gaming? Software engineering? Well, just have fun!
Around this time, I also just started playing an online video game called Seal M, based on Seal Online, my very first MMO that I played when I was a 4th grader. The game meant a lot to me during my childhood because it introduced me to the internet. The thing is, I never had really good self-control when I was overly invested in a game, so I noticed my motivation for sustaining my content creator journey to be drowning during this period... Except, I realized that since I also have this editor under a monthly contract, what if, I ask him to just edit footage of me playing the games on the week I didn't manage to record/produce any content? That way I can feel less guilty when I'm not producing anything even though I have signed the monthly contract. Well, not great, another reason not to be accountable for my original plan 😅
But somehow, this plan ended up exceeding my expectations! Since I only needed to record myself when I was playing the game and enjoying the hobby, I didn't need to prepare at all to adhere to my perfectionist self and present the best version of myself. I simply just had fun and also recorded myself while doing it.
After asking my editor to trim the unnecessary parts and make the best edits he could, I uploaded my gaming video to another YouTube channel that I created: Gaming with Albertus. And somehow, my very first video was gaining much better traction than my previous technical two long-form videos.
Questioning my authenticity
This fact was baffling to me. My gaming video, which was just very effortless, was gaining ~10k views with very minimum effort, while my other 2 technical long-form videos, which needed a lot of preparation and a lot more effort, are only gaining 50-60 views. The subsequent gaming videos I posted also didn't do too badly with consistent 2-3k views per video, considering I was a new YouTuber.
This made me feel bad, and realized that my incentives weren't right to begin with.
Not long after that, I also started feeling overwhelmed as my engagement party with my partner (future fiancée, at that time, and future wife at the time of writing this post!) was drawing closer, and there were just an insane amount of chores I needed to do like arranging my family travel between islands (since I'm from East Java and my partner is from Timor), and etcetera.
I also caught myself often during this month doing things at the last minute: planning and recording content exactly on Sunday evening because I needed to get it out before Monday morning to my editor. While some can say this was necessary to force me to produce something, this was unhealthy and made me unable to enjoy my weekend fully. This was also not working well for me since it kinda just forced me to produce content just for the sake of producing content so that I don't lose money since I have hired an editor, and it really kills the joy of the process. (I've been a big fan of Dr. Andrew Huberman for a while now, and I learned from him that the work and the process are the rewards themselves, and it's important to enjoy these process if you want to be successful and stick at something)
A lot of things during the journey here also contributed to me feeling "a rush" chasing overnight success, hoping that I can be as cool as the other content creators who are consistently producing high-quality videos and also getting income for it. This also became toxic to the point that I realized if I scroll in my Instagram and see good content from great content creators in the tech/programming space, I start feeling bad because I'm not producing similar and equally good content as them. All of these just contributed to making me a person who's easily more irritable when I'm not as productive as I want to be and makes me less present for my partner and family.
Taking a break
Since I was also not sure if continuing to create technical content in that direction was a good idea, and all of these downsides I mentioned above, I decided to take a break from the content creation journey and announced it on my Twitter here. At that point, I gained 1,000 followers in just a month while trying to upskill my content creation journey, and I wanted to pivot and focus more on being authentic and higher quality content exhausting my content bank to pay forward and share what I learned from my mentors, like mentioned in the beginning of this blog.
Surprisingly, that tweet announcement also went viral and gained a lot of views and positive reactions from my followers 😅 While that's really lovely, I didn't want to think about content creation again and just focus on being present for my partner and my family, so I just dropped content creation and social media, at least until my engagement is over and think about it later, that's what I told myself.
As for my full-time editor at that time, when I converted the model from pay-per-video to a monthly contract, I was fully aware that he also had a full-time editor gig at a video editor agency company. He also started struggling with this double-job gig, so this worked in favor of my situation and we both agreed to terminate the contract. As a lesson, maybe just hire a proper full-time video editor next time ;)
Twitter Suspension - the final wake-up call for me that I needed
A few days before my engagement, I woke up to an email from Twitter Support saying that my Twitter account had been suspended for violating the Twitter Rules specifically, for violating Twitter's rules against platform manipulation and spam. I'm pretty confident that I did nothing that violated this. At the point of writing this, I have successfully recovered my account, but it took Twitter exactly 217 days and 10 attempts of unresponded appeal before Twitter magically unsuspended my account (side note: this was a bit unexpected as I had already given up on recovering my account)
While this unfortunate event deterred me even further from my original plans to create high-quality content to share my experience and what I learned from my mentors, it taught me one very important thing:
It's probably not a good idea to tie your living and income at the mercy of these big platforms. Imagine how stressed you would be if social media platforms were contributing significantly to your income. While I know that if you reach this point, you are already big enough and probably will have an internal contact that can expedite the case, at the end of the day, you will still be at the mercy of the platforms. These big platforms most likely can change their policy on any day and fuck you up. I think these would be too much for me to handle if I rely on these platforms as a means to a living.
I'm super glad that this happened to me before I started relying on these platforms for a living as I was approaching this content creation journey with the hope that it could become a significant source of addition to my income.
That being said, this unfortunate event was still a huge blow to me. It definitely demotivates me a lot since I know I put a lot of effort into creating all that content, and I was having some trouble even accessing those previous contents myself (lesson learned: always take backup and take full ownership of all your content somewhere and do not rely on just single platform to host your data).
This event was also the primary catalyst for me why I'm self-hosting my Ghost blog, as I start to truly appreciate more the value of decentralized platform like Ghost, just to reduce how much power do these big tech platforms have generally.
More broadly than what the suspension has taught me, this whole content creation journey has taught me that:
- Writing is the fundamental block for content creation: and in fact, probably almost every skill is a derivation of writing. While I was listening to Ali Abdaal's content, I found out about this long interview with a very successful writer who runs a huge profitable newsletter (I forgot who), and they were recommending people who are interested in starting a YouTube channel start by focusing on writing first, that in turn will make it easier to start YouTube down the line. I ignored this advice and thought I could skip it and just focus on YouTube right away without any trouble at all. This was a hard pill to swallow, but it was definitely a humbling experience. Heck, I thought I didn't even need to do scripting at all and improvise along the way, but turns out I'm not as a clear thinker as I thought I hoped to be :)
- I don't want to be a content creator or intentionally aspire to become one, at least for now. Don't get me wrong, these series of events just made me respect content creators even hell more. It's definitely not an easy job. I just simply can't enjoy the many processes involved in becoming one. During my content creator course/class, I was given the assignment to create an endorsement video for a particular brand that had a partnership with the program as part of a small competition between the students in the same batch as me, with a small reward in the end. I managed to finish the task, but I didn't enjoy every second of it. Maybe it's because I'm reviewing a product from a brand that I had never heard about before, plus it's a product that I don't care and I'm not qualified to give a review/endorsement for. The thought of getting money and free stuff, especially from a brand you really like, might sound good at first, but I didn't know how hard it was to create a high-quality paid promotion video. Major kudos and respect to every content creator out there.
- Being authentic is about building trust, and trust triumphs over everything: In fact, the most successful content creators out there are the ones who are authentic. I recently learned from Dr. K (HealthyGamerGG) on his video about "Why Charisma Isn't What You Think It Is". In this video, he explained that one thing we could do to boost our charisma is to be more authentic cause we are naturally attracted to people who we can trust, and we can only trust people who are authentic and true to ourselves. During this content creation journey and upskilling, I was trying to deploy these marketing and attention-capturing tricks that I didn't feel good about; I was risking my authenticity just for an additional tiny of views by not staying true to myself and the content that I was delivering. Not worth it, at all.
- The most successful content creators are actually entrepreneurs: they are simply using content creation as an organic marketing funnel toward some products or services they are selling. They know the full risk of making a living simply from the platform's ads/revenue sharing. It's much healthier and much less risky this way.
- I'm spending too much time on social media that it's inflating my expectations significantly in every aspect of life (including this content creation dream selling of an overnight/rushed success), making me much more unhappy in life, constantly feeling that I'm not enough. It's been a few months since I uninstalled all social media from my smartphone; if I needed to open them, then I needed to access them via my browser, and it's been good for my mental health. I also spend very little time on Instagram, which I used to spend around 30m-45 minutes daily, just scrolling through Instagram stories every time I'm bored. I can say that I'm much happier and calmer than ever. I'm still learning about this, especially from Dr. Cal Newport's YouTube channel,, and I'm looking forward to learning more deeply about his idea of Digital Minimalism.
Based on all these learnings, here are my plans related to this content creation journey:
- Write more, in an authentic way: I want to start writing more because I now believe that to learn to write properly is = to learn to become a better and clearer thinker. Writing is such an important and essential skill for everything. Also, from time to time, I have this urge where I want to post something on my Instagram, and I firmly believe that Instagram doesn't tell the whole story; it only tells the good parts of your life, honestly, I have been a long victim of that side effect. When I get the urge to post something on my Instagram, instead of posting it directly on Instagram, I will write and post it here and screenshot it instead of just writing a story since the Instagram story has a limit and doesn't tell the full story. And in fact, related to the first point, I also want to start being more authentic by not only writing about the good stuff in my life, but also about my struggles and how my life in general is.
- On YouTube: I think I still want to do something down the line, but if I do it, I want to do it like how Dan Koe does YouTube: just repackaging his writing/newsletter into a well-edited YouTube video. For now, writing is going to be the focus.
To summarize, essentially my plan is just to write more here since I now have a platform that I fully own and host. This time, I'm approaching this writing journey only for myself without any external motivation like what I did with YouTube/Twitter content creation, but, in case you are still reading up to this line, I just want to say thank you and I hope you can learn a thing or two from this post :)
That being said, let me know if you have any thoughts, questions, or feedback about my writing down below, as I'm actively trying to become a better writer 💪🏻