I remember the first brand deal I ever got. I ran downstairs and said to my husband, “They’re going to pay me thousands of dollars to make a three minute video!”
And he asked, “Is this legit? Are you gonna be naked?”
I didn’t set out to be a content creator. Content creators didn’t really exist before 2005. So getting paid actual money to do it sounded insane.
What I really wanted to be was a TV personality. I was just doing a public access TV program, and my cousin just posted some clips to some website called YouTube, and then all these people showed up! And they seemed to really like it. So I kept posting.
I created my channel for my celebrity news commentary show What the Buck!? in 2005. This was like prehistoric YouTube, and I remember how confusing it was and how exciting it was.
It was never my intention to spill any tea. I was a comedian, and I just used celebrity gossip as my medium to write jokes. I didn’t want to out people or break news. My intention was to have fun and be good-spirited. And most of the time I succeeded, and occasionally I did not.
But that’s what was so cool about YouTube at the time, that there was no roadmap to success. There was no blueprint. I just remember thinking, “I don’t know if anything is going to come of this, but I’m just going to enjoy it.”
So imagine my surprise when, after two years of doing it for fun and experience, there was suddenly $9,000 wired to me.
It was 2007, and YouTube became a platform where you could monetize.
By the middle of 2008, I was making more money as a YouTuber than I was in my day job. So I quit that thing and started YouTubing full-time!
At the time, and maybe even now, the format of my show was something that very few people were doing. Back then it was mostly vlogs and sketches, but I had a fully scripted program. And having a different format meant creating new ways for viewers to engage with it.
You know the new-old phrase “Don’t forget to like and subscribe?” That was me!
Back then, YouTube video popularity was ranked based on a 5-star rating, so I came up with a call-to-action for viewers at the end of my videos. “Rate It or Hate It!”
I remember sitting in front of the video saying “I would love for you to subscribe. I would love you to rate this video, even if you hated it, and please leave a comment below.”
And that day, all of my videos were the top-rated, most-discussed videos on the platform. My tactic was really the first version of the call-to-action statements creators use today. (You’re welcome!)
I enjoyed so much of the process of building my show from the ground up. But when it started to falter, I sort of did too.
Around 2012, I definitely had some creator fatigue. I had gone from working normal-people jobs, making normal-people money to being a YouTuber and making lots of money and, in a way, not knowing what to do with it.
I felt really bogged down by what I thought I “should” be doing. “I better develop a TV show.” “I better diversify my content.” I should have taken a vacation. I should have taken a month off. I should have taken six months off. Because aside from all the money and views, nobody told me that this was going to be a lot.
By 2016, I wasn’t getting as many views. But that wasn’t even it. Something else had been missing for a long time. I couldn’t really enjoy the process anymore.
I was also really struggling personally. I was drinking heavily. My marriage was falling apart. And those were things that made my slump on YouTube feel like a spiral.
It’s different now. Back in 2012, I wouldn’t have uploaded a video saying, “I'm going through it guys.” Fortunately the Internet has become a much safer space to admit this career path is more challenging than it looks. But back then, I wouldn’t have wanted the world to know that.
That’s why I love telling my story now. I love the successes. I love the failures. And I love all of it because of who I became at the end of it.
What the Buck!? ended in 2016. I knew I was ready to move on, so I did.
Now I live with my twin sister and family in Colorado - I feel like it’s a sitcom where I’m the gay uncle living in the basement. I’m a personal and professional development coach for a senior living management company. In my free time, I'm an active member of the most beautiful affirming church. I am a captain of a LGBTQ flag football team. I have a season ticket membership at the theater. My life has never been more fulfilling or satisfying and I love every second of it.
If I could give one piece of advice to content creators now, I would say make your content just one part of your identity.
In those early days of YouTube, it felt like our whole life was YouTube. I didn't have friends outside of YouTube. Now I have real life friends who could care less about that stuff. And I have so many other parts of my life, like my family life, spiritual life, my health, my hobbies.
So if your whole life is content creation, what's left for you?
Your life as a content creator can be sustainable if you have the right mindset and know what you want to share with the world, and what you want to keep for you.
Content creation is part of growing up at this point. Kids today are either actively engaging with content or making their own. They do it as effortlessly as I colored pictures or went out in the backyard.
The Internet is beautiful. The Internet creates a beautiful, safe space for gay and trans kids. The Internet creates a beautiful space for people to talk about their emotional health. The Internet creates a beautiful space for people to share ideas and creations.
So, I hope the Internet that you are spending time on is strengthening and empowering and beautiful for you.