How I Got Here IV - Giving Up
When I go to Disney it’s usually one of two “types” of trips. The first type is the longer and more leisurely vacation. Usually a week at a nicer moderate resort. We plan a lot of table service meals over the week and manage to get to each park a couple of times. It’s fun and relaxing, but on the more expensive side, which is why it usually happens every two years or so.
The other type of trip are the quick and intense extended weekends. It’s usually taken while capitalizing on a promotion going on to save money. We’ll go over a four day weekend, usually during a holiday. That way we only have to take one day off from work. It’s just enough time to do a day at each park. We’ll stay at the cheaper value resorts and stick to quick service meals to maximize our time and save money.
This was one of those trips, and it was my girlfriend Kat, my best friend Christine, and myself at the All-Star Music. The trip itself was nothing unusual. We had a lot of fun and I did a lot of recording and vlogging. Externally everything was fine and we were all having a grand time. Internally however I found myself getting lost in thought pretty frequently. The channel had been a project of mine for four and half years now, and while I had grown in size, this idea of getting to do it for living was just not looking possible anymore. At that point that channel and podcast was generating around $100-$150 in revenue every month, and at the same time it was costing about $80 to keep running. That came out to $20-$70 a month before taxes. A nice amount of extra spending money for sure, but a long way from making a living.
I was kind of sad that weekend. I wasn’t sad over failing. It didn’t feel like I failed. I had a channel that was larger than the majority of channels out there, and I was able to entertain a lot of people in the process. I knew going into the hobby that the odds of “making it” were extremely slim. Really, I was sad because that weekend I just slowly began to accept that this dream I carried for a number of years wasn’t in the books for me. I had just turned 30. How long was I going to keep running this moderately successful small-time channel as a second job? When was I going to give it up to have a social life or to get married or have kids? That weekend reminded me a lot of that disappointment you feel when you have a particularly good dream and you wake up. The eventual realization that it wasn’t reality, and it was time to move on. It didn’t hit me hard. It just slowly creeped into my mind over 72 hours.
Christine had left a day sooner than us and so Kat and I had the final day to ourselves. We had an early evening flight so that we could squeeze in a few hours at the parks before heading to MCO. There was some bad weather rolling through the New York area, but nothing to worry about. We left the Magic Kingdom in the early afternoon and made our way back to the hotel before grabbing a Lyft and headed to Orlando International Airport.
Now when I say literally here, I mean literally. This isn’t exaggerated for your reading pleasure. Literally, as our car was pulling up to the terminal at MCO to let us out I received a message on my phone informing us that our flight was delayed. Apparently that weather in New York was something to worry about. We were facing over a five hour wait at the airport that would have had us getting back home in the middle of the night.
Normally I’m pretty reasonable. Any other time I’d suggest we rent a movie or two for a few bucks and watch it at the terminal to kill time. We’d get home late. A crappy time, but not the end of the world. Yet, after this weekend I just wasn’t ready to go back to the real world. So I pitched my crazy plan to Kat: With all of the flight issues, we could probably get the airline to put us on a flight the next day for free. Hell, with everyone getting angry at the delay, they’d probably be glad to. We had annual passes at Disney World for the year, so park entry was no issue. So why not book one more night at a hotel, go back to Disney and spend one extra nice day at Disney World?
Kat was down. The airline was more than happy, as expected, to put us on a flight for the next night. Kat headed off to the bathroom while I called up Disney to book a hotel room. Now this so far, on it's own, would be fairly impulsive of me. However I was really in a funk from the weekend and my normal sense of logic just wasn’t there. When the cast member on the phone asked me which resort we wanted to look for a room for, I told her Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Tower room, park view. My dream resort. My dream building. My dream view. I had stayed there once when I was 10 years old, and I loved it ever since. I hadn’t stayed there in the two decades since because it also happened to be one of the most expensive resorts in Disney World.
I wasn’t putting myself into debt or anything. The world of digital advertising is a pretty lucrative one, and I did well for myself considering I was only in the industry for four years at that point. However it still felt pretty irresponsible considering the one night at the resort was going to cost me as much as the entire weekend had cost so far. I just doubled the cost of my vacation to push back reality by a day.
We headed right back for Disney’s Magical Express and less than an hour later we were back at Disney and checking in. We decided on the bus that we would skip going to a park that night. We would get dinner at the hotel, bring a couple of drinks up to the room and watch fireworks from our balcony. We would get plenty of rest and then head to the Magic Kingdom for an extra day at Disney in the morning.
You can catch all of that stuff on the bonus vlog I made of the experience. The part I didn’t record was the following morning. Kat was in the bathroom getting ready for the day, and I decided to just sit out on the balcony and watch Disney World from up high. The monorails were already doing their loops around the lagoon as people funneled into the Magic Kingdom. From up there you could see the ferries carting people across the water at the same time you could see Astro Orbiter spinning around.
It was beautiful and peaceful, and it was at that moment that I felt content with the idea of the channel not turning into a career. It started as a hobby, and I suppose it would end as a hobby. Was it really that bad? I had a great life. I was with Kat, who made be endlessly happy. I lived in New York City. I had a steady job that I didn’t hate and that paid well enough that I could come down here three times a year. Did I really need the channel to take off? Would it be so bad for me to start treating it like a hobby so that I’d have more free time to enjoy my life?
It was out there on the balcony that morning that I decided that Rob Plays was going to get bumped down from three videos a week to one. I’d work on it when I felt like it, I’d stick to the history videos I enjoyed, and that would be that. I wouldn’t grow that way, but that’s fine. The money didn’t matter. As long as I made enough to break even it’d be a fun little hobby. We set off for the Magic Kingdom and for the first time that weekend I was as happy on the inside as I was on the outside.
We had a fun day at the Magic Kingdom and I almost instantly noticed a change. Normally I would record enough at the parks that I’d have about two hours of footage for each day. It was a consistent number that whittled down to two vlogs per park day. That day though, I barely recorded anything. In fact it would end up being a struggle to get one video out of the whole day. I didn’t care. I wasn’t thinking about schedules and content strategies anymore. I was just enjoying the day with my girlfriend.
That evening we would start walking back to the Contemporary to get our bags and go home, and along the way I would check my YouTube stats. It was more muscle memory at that point than anything else. I was so used to checking them throughout the day that it was my default way of killing time in the way others might go to Facebook or check Instagram.
While checking my numbers I noticed something. One of my videos started to do really well. More than usual. It was a history video of the stretching room of the Haunted Mansion I had made a few weeks prior. At the time of release it did about as well as any other of my videos. Now two weeks later it suddenly started to do really well.
I wasn’t sure why the views were picking up. With YouTube there are a hundred variables you know about that effect a video’s performance, and about a thousand more you don’t know about. However seeing that view count start to spike I was sure of one thing: that feeling, the one of me being OK with the YouTube dream dying? It was already gone.
Maybe I didn’t wake up from the dream after all.