Well howdy friends! Been a hot minute since I've published here, but I've been cooking up an ambitious new project in the background, and am about to release it into the wild. It's called The Arena, and I am very fucking excited about it.
Put simply, The Arena is a process—paired with communal support—that helps you come alive creatively, and do the work no one else but you could. It's great for working through creative blocks like perfectionism and imposter syndrome, but the real purpose is deeper. If, like me, you want to break away from the formulaic, grinding nature of "creating content" and "feeding the algorithm," and you yearn make things that feel alive and genuine and joyful, that's what The Arena is for. It's meant to light your creative spark, then fan the flames.
One of my biggest beefs with online courses for creators is that they invariably turn you into a lookalike of the person teaching it. That's what happens when you diligently follow "best practices" and "step-by-step formulas" for anything. You end up with standardization. Which is great if you're building a factory to sell widgets, and terrible if you're talking about humans and their infinite potential for unique, diverse creative work. That's why The Arena isn't a course. I have no desire to tell you what to express or how to express it. I could make good money that way, because lots of people crave that level of certainty. But it would make the internet objectively more boring, and more importantly, it wouldn't help you come alive.
The Arena, at its core, is a process of unlearning and letting go. The biggest impediments to our creativity are the outdated stories of ourselves we carry around, and the rigid expectations we pick up from the cultures around us. The Arena is designed to strip those away, and allow you operate freely, maybe for the first time since you were a child. Speaking of which, lately I've been fascinated by developmental psychology, and in particular, by the concept of individuation, which is the developmental process of becoming psychologically whole and uniquely yourself. The Arena is ostensibly about creativity. But beneath the surface, I think it's really about individuation. That's what's happening every time you go through this process—you become less like everyone else, and more like yourself. You begin to trust yourself, and show up in the world from a place of knowing who you are, what you care about, and what brings you to life. Instead of externalizing your authority onto some expert, and following their canned instructions, you internalize the power that's been within you all along, and start carving your own path through the world.
And, of course, doing individuated creative work helps you become signal in a world of noise, find the others, and make the 1,000 True Fans paradigm work. In fact, I increasingly believe this is a more powerful way to create true, lifelong fans than anything I ever learned from my decade in traditional marketing. So yeah, The Arena is dope, and I'm beyond excited to see what kinds of ripples it might create across the internet in the years to come.
How The Arena Works
In a few weeks, I'll be running my first paid, guided version of The Arena in the Ungated community. But the process itself is super simple, and you don't need to wait or pay me anything to test it out for yourself.
Here's the quick and dirty version of how The Arena works:
- For one week, let go of everything you think you have to do to succeed as a creator (ie. "add value" or "go viral" or "define your niche" etc etc). Seriously, you have permission to put all of those expectations aside. They will still be there waiting for you once you've returned from The Arena. For now, though, allow yourself to be a blank slate. Inhabit the beginner's mind. For the next week, hand over the reigns to the playful inner child who'd been previously crushed by the weight of expectation.
- Create a pocket of stillness, and tune into yourself. Find your center. What most excites you, scares you, or piques your curiosity right now? Where are your creative impulses yearning to go in this moment? Where is the aliveness? Sit with these questions and notice, without judgement, what comes up. When you discover the potential creative pursuit that feels most resonant and alive, you'll know it. Your body and heart will tell you which thing you should bring into The Arena.
- Set an intention to play with that thing in the real world for the next 7 days. The goal is to make your creative idea manifest, even if it's small, even if it's imperfect or incomplete, and even if it's private. There is no chance of failure here, because this isn't some kind of rigid creative challenge that requires you to publish. It's entirely self-directed. So set an intention that fits into your life, and earnestly engage with it for a week. Treat it as a fun, low-stakes experiment. A playground. A chance to fuck around and find out. That's the core of what "stepping into The Arena" means—doing something a little bit scary in a safe, lighthearted way.
- Watch what happens when your aliveness is allowed to run the show. My bet is you come to rediscover how joyful and light and meaningful creativity can feel when it's driven by those deeper parts of yourself, and not the expectations the world places on you. Be sure to pay attention to the embodied quality of your experience. How does it feel different from your past approaches to creative work? How might life look if you carried this newfound feeling forward?
That's it. You can step into The Arena yourself starting today. And I hope you do. Because after five trips through this process myself, I am utterly delighted by it. And I suspect you will be, too.
My Experience in The Arena (So Far)
If you couldn't tell, the reason I'm so excited about The Arena is I created it for myself. I designed it because I'm tired of being burned out and uninspired by the constant need to "create content." I designed it to work through my own creative roadblocks, my own insecurities, my own perfectionism and rigidity. I designed it because I want to get out of my comfort zone more often, and be more playful and curious and experimental with my creativity. And lo and behold, The Arena does all of those things. After five rounds, I'm feeling more aliveness and possibility and momentum with my creative work than I have in years, or maybe ever.
On my first trip through The Arena, I completed a series of articles I'd been procrastinating on for nearly a year, and finally laid out all the pieces of the Ungated philosophy of business. There's still work to be done here, but I shipped the minimum viable version of it.
On my second trip through, I rekindled my relationship with podcasting, and found a way to make it feel joyful and easy, after years of believing it had to be a tedious, time-consuming process. This was also the first week I did The Arena with a group of beta testers, and it was freaking awesome. Doing it communally adds so much additional energy and enthusiasm into the process.
On my third trip to The Arena, I combined three things that scare me—shipping imperfect work, playing guitar for other people, and posting videos of myself on twitter. I spent a week playing imperfect tunes, recording them on my phone, then uploading them to the place where I spend the most time, and make most of my friends. Turns out, it just helped me connect more deeply with old friends, and make some new ones. Who knew!
On my fourth foray into The Arena, I decided to create my first ever paid workshop on a whim! I slapped together the material in about a week, and presented it live over two days. That workshop is one of the better things I've made this year, and you can check it out here if you want.
On my fifth trip, last week, I started launching a new project called Ungated Life. I shipped a new website, three pieces of writing, and made progress on a larger essay about the deeper philosophical, psychological, and spiritual meaning behind the word "Ungated." That one's gonna be a banger.
And this week, as I'm writing these very words, I'm using my sixth tango in The Arena to write about The Arena so that I can start inviting other creative homies to join me in The Arena. It's annoyingly meta, and very practical for my business, but fun nonetheless!
In the years to come, I plan on stepping into The Arena as frequently as possible. I plan to use it for all things related to Ungated, so that my creative business is truly alive and evolving. I plan to use it to write a book, and start talking about ideas and topics that scare the shit out of me. I plan to use it to start writing poetry, dancing, drawing, singing, making videos, writing songs, and generally expressing myself in ways I never otherwise would. I plan to become fully expressed and embodied as a human, and keep surprising myself and growing in new directions.
I've only been through this process five times, and I already feel like it's changed me and helped me drop some old baggage. Now I'm imagining what'll happen once I've stepped into The Arena 100 times or more. Who will I become? What will I be capable of? What will I have created? For someone like me, who's increasingly fascinated by the process of self-renewal, the possibilities here are dazzling.
I also happen to believe, in addition to all of this creative and psychological development stuff, that continuously going through The Arena will result in a flourishing business fueled by true fans.
The Business and Marketing Case for Aliveness
Ungated Media, at its core, is a business and marketing resource. My aim is to help creative people like me make the 1,000 True Fans paradigm a reality. At the end of the day, this creative aliveness stuff might sound nice, but if it doesn't translate to effective long-term businesses for my homies, then it's all kind of self-defeating. Luckily, I happen to believe this process is one of the best things you can do to build an online business that brings joy and connection into your life.
The Arena is based on a simple idea—when you rediscover your aliveness and follow it, you're far more likely to get what you want out of your creative work and business, than if you followed all the traditional advice you hear about from online marketing gurus. Especially if, like me, you're not trying to scale relentlessly, but instead create work that deeply matters to you and monetize through a handful of diehard fans.
For starters, true fandom as a business model is a long game. It disproportionately works for people who genuinely love what they do, and keep playing the online game for 5-10 years. Yes, you can be a mercenary with your business and marketing. You can "discover a profitable niche" and "create offers that convert" and all that jazz, and probably make some money. But if you're like most creatives I've met, that type of approach will leave you feeling deflated in a year or two. Your heart won't be in it, and your business will eventually feel like a prison from which you yearn to escape. That kind of burnout is extremely common in the creator economy, and it's why more people aren't reaping the rewards of compounding that come from simply staying in the game.
However, when your creative work is rooted aliveness and joy and following your curiosity, staying in the game is easy. The intrinsic motivation takes over, and regardless of whether you're making a living with it yet, you keep creating, the years start flying by, and you increasingly find yourself having just as much fun, if not more, than the day you started. And like a snowball rolling down a mountain, you'll start pulling in those compounding benefits of deeper relationships and organic audience growth, which enable you to make a living. Such are the downstream effects of the radical decision to prioritize aliveness and joy in the present moment.
There's a concept I've been waiting to coin for awhile called The Law of Emotional Transfer. It states that the emotional state you're in when you create a piece of content or art, directly transfers to the people who consume it. If you're in a state of joy and play when you create, the person on the other end will be able to sense it. Conversely, if you're following a bunch of "best practices" and treating your creative work like a formula you're obligated to follow, people will feel the weight of your displeasure as well. If your goal is to delight people, build relationships, and create fans, this law has some startling implications, because it invalidates a whoooooole lot of marketing advice. And to be honest, I don't know how the law works, or why, but it absolutely does. There's some mysterious metaphysical shit at play here, because the vibes you infuse into your creative work are indeed contagious.
You may have noticed, but work that feels genuinely alive and joyful is relatively scarce in the online world. Hell, I wrote a blistering manifesto about this a few months ago. There's more "content" than ever, yet so much of it is empty, dead, existing solely to placate the hunger of the almighty algorithm. It can feel so hard to stand out amidst this noise, and like you have to play the same games as everyone else in order to win. But for the creator brave enough to lean into aliveness, this barren landscape becomes a competitive advantage.
Because of The Law of Emotional Transference, and because humans are wired to notice novelty, once your work is consistently alive and authentic, you begin to stand out amidst the sea of soulless, generic content overwhelming the internet. And more than that, it begins to attract your people. It helps you "find the others" and connect with them. It helps you create and nurture genuine friendships and creative partnerships, all of which compound and help you find even more of the right people. In short, tuning into your aliveness, and channeling it into your creative work, is how you begin toppling the dominoes that lead to 1,000 True Fans.
Look, I can't promise that going through The Arena a bunch will make you some six figure online business owner in the next year or three. That's not how any of this works. But what I can promise is that embracing this approach can reinvigorate your creative life on the internet. It can bring joy and ease and serendipity into a domain that's increasingly dominated by soulless, algorithm-chasing best practices that nobody enjoys. And if you enjoy your work, put effort into connecting with others and making friends, and stay in the game, there's exactly zero reason you can't build a vibrant business from that foundation.
In my journey, I've been inspired by folks like Craig Mod, Michael Ashcroft, Sasha Chapin, Visa, and more. They've proven to me that aliveness and joy and curiosity can indeed be the primary fuel source for an online business. And sure enough, the more I focus on aliveness in my day to day work, the more money I seem to make from my Ungated endeavors. But even if that trend doesn't continue, I plan to keep chasing joy and aliveness, because frankly, now that I've tasted what it's like to create this way, the thought of going back to the old way is unbearable.
Anyhow, thanks for reading, and hoping to see you in The Arena soon. It's gonna be rad.