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You Have to Know That You Suck To Improve

My three year old daughter sucks at jumping. This is no problem except for the fact that she thinks she’s doing it right. She jerks her little body forward and calls it a jump without really lifting her feet off the ground. It’s not jumping, but she doesn’t know it and she doesn’t improve. It’s [...]

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My three year old daughter sucks at jumping. This is no problem except for the fact that she thinks she’s doing it right. She jerks her little body forward and calls it a jump without really lifting her feet off the ground. It’s not jumping, but she doesn’t know it and she doesn’t improve.

It’s difficult to improve if you don’t know that you suck.

Generally speaking, digital nomads of various types tend to be self-employed with few people around to guide their path. If you do sub-par work for an employer at a standard job, rest assured, someone is probably going to tell you and point out where you’re going wrong. For us independent online toilers, there is often no such luxury: there’s nobody around to tell us when we suck.

Sure our peers may send snarky emails around to each other criticizing our ebooks, websites, web-design firms etc . . . but they rarely get forwarded to us, which is truly a shame as this is the most valuable information to have.

I’ve seem many prospective travel bloggers never get off the ground simply because they didn’t seem to know where they were going wrong. They usually run around in circles for a while trying to do what all the “how to blog” websites, ebooks, and newsletters tell them to do for a while before calling it quits. What they need is someone to say, “Man, your site is hard to navigate,” or, “You know, you’re never going to be successful on Blogger,” or, “Why are you trying to do the same thing as everybody else?” or especially, “Nobody gives a shit about your trip to XYZ beach or you for that matter, tell us something interesting!”

When I first began Vagabond Journey I had no idea what I was doing. It would be an understatement to say that the site was atrocious. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse looking site than the first inceptions of VagabondJourney.com. But the funny thing was that most of my traveling webmaster friends congratulated me on the good work I was doing and tried to build up my confidence with compliments. They did what was polite, not what was needed.


Original version of VagabondJourney.com. Totally sucks.

What I needed was someone to sit down with me and tell me all the ways that I sucked. I needed someone to take the time to harshly tell me what I was doing wrong and put me on the path of improvement. I was lucky that I had a friend like this. We met up in Guatemala and he gave me directives as I tore the guts out of my website and then put it back together. If it wasn’t for this I’m pretty sure that I would not be doing this today. I probably would have ran around in circles for a while and then quit like 99% of other bloggers.

A few years later I continued growing my knowledge and skills as a webmaster and blogger, but I still had a lot of kinks to be worked out. I formed a group with other travel bloggers, and we did a little project that was probably one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done in webmastering. Essentially, each member of this group went through each other’s sites and bluntly told them how they sucked. Partly as a result of this, VagabondJourney.com was again revolutionized.

In both of the above instances I was able to drastically improve my product precisely because: 1) I had knowledgeable critics willing to tell me what I was doing wrong, and 2) I was open to being told this information and willing to pounce on it to improve.

The fact of the matter is that it’s quick and easy to just tell someone that they’re doing a good job — even when they’re not. It’s far easier to give a compliment than it is to give good criticism and advice. A knowledgeable critic is probably the most sought after resource in this digital nomad business, and it’s also among the most rare.

Who has time to tell everyone they cross paths with what they’re doing wrong and ways in which they can improve? I don’t. Who has the balls to tell someone who thinks they have a great idea that it’s not very good? Who has the brashness to tell someone who thinks they are doing something original that it’s been done hundreds of times before? People who have these qualities are treasures for those of us working on independent projects.

It is far too easy to become entrapped in a world of your own creation when deep inside of a big project. We all need to come up for air every once in a while and look at what we are creating from the outside. Advisers, mentors, critics, and assholes are the best people a digital nomad can have investing time into their projects.

But even more valuable than this is having a perspective where you know that you’re not the king of the mountain, and are always primed for improvement. Very often people become stuck because they’re not prepared to accept how they suck.

It is impossible to master being a digital nomad, as the equipment we use and the field we play on is always changing. We are all at least one step behind the curve, and we all suck in myriad ways at all times. There is always going to be somebody who knows more than us, there is always going to be someone doing something better than me. Lowering your self-image so that you’re able to listen, watch, and learn is essential for progress.

Compliments feel good, but in the end they’re pretty useless things. Someone saying “Hey, good job, you’re doing great” makes me smile but it doesn’t make me any better. Being told how I suck and how I can improve is far more helpful.

The modesty to be criticized, the intelligence to self-criticize, and the effort and determination to capitalize on this criticism are essential skills for progressing in this, or any other, profession.

The person who feels fulfilled is no longer hungry, the king of the mountain is no longer climbing, the person that thinks they know all about something has stopped learning. Keep your beginner’s mind and climb high, but, like my daughter trying to jump, realize that you’re always just an inch off the ground.

Realize that you suck.


Filed under: Blogging, Digital Nomad, Philosophy, Travel Philosophy, Traveling Webmaster

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

2 comments… add one

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  • mike crosby December 19, 2012, 5:07 pm

    Wade, I get all your articles via my RSS.

    I see at the top of your webpage the icons for RSS, FB, Twitter, etc. Anyway, that appears to be one of the most important parts of the page. Am I right?

    Here is a suggestion that I did not see on your posts: No invite to share to FB after your posts. I see Google +, Twitter et al, but no FB. I’m pretty sure FB is the Big Daddy of all social networking sites. So if there’s an article that you wrote that I really like, I can then post it on my FB page like I’ve done with this article by another blogger today: https://www.facebook.com/michael.crosby

    For me, the opportunity to share on FB is where the magic happens.

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    • Wade Shepard December 20, 2012, 12:37 am

      Thanks Mike,

      The FB button was removed intentionally a while back. It was REALLY slowing down page load time, collecting information on users, and some other irritating things. The worst part though is that, as FB is banned in China, if a user here without a VPN tries to access a page the FB like button “breaks” in an incredibly awful way that first of all looks terrible and secondly obstructs the other social media buttons — some of which are allowed here. I have a way to make the button load faster, but can’t do anything about the way it breaks. I’ll consider adding it again 🙂

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