Right now, we’re living in one of the strangest moments in human history.
A time when you can ask the question of practically anyone:
— and chances are pretty high that the person you’re speaking with will answer, “Yes,”.
Years from now, the time will come when the average person will be absolutely dumbfounded at how things used to be without the Internet…
“Tell us again how things were when YOU were a kid, Grandpa…”
“Ya know, lil’ Timmy, back in my day, we didn’t have the entirety of human knowledge accessible to us with few clicks… And I’ll tell ya another thing… We had to walk to school… Uphill… Both ways!”
With the arrival of the Internet, new risks and opportunities appeared for those brave enough to dive in.
And no other area highlighted those risks and opportunities more than talking to anonymous strangers on the web.
A Whole New World-Wide-Web of Fear
You see, just about the time that world-wide fear of pedophilia was ramping up in the 1990s, so too was the ability to meet and talk to strangers online.
Naturally, parents EVERYWHERE started to freak out about what their kids were getting up to when they were on the big giant Interwebs.
Or, rather, what kind of weirdos they might be talking to, without even realizing it.
I never did meet “Susan”
The Internet, while a glorious revolution in many ways, started to reveal it’s hidden dark side.
Nowhere could your children be so at risk in the safety of your own home, than on your computer, interacting with the lurking, anonymous dangers that lay in wait, hiding behind the soft glow of your monitor’s pixels.
(Except the bathroom, where, statistically, you’re most likely to get injured. Anyways…)
Just like that, with a wag of the finger and a firm, concerned, parental tone, children everywhere were told…
“DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS ON THE INTERNET!”
“Because strangers could be weirdos. And we don’t want you talking to weirdos!”
It’s funny, because I don’t think there’s been a piece of parental advice that I’ve ignored more than “Don’t talk to strangers on the Internet”.
And not only did I ignore it, but I actively went looking for the weirdos.
In fact, meeting weirdos on the Internet has been one of the most worthwhile activities I’ve ever engaged in.
So much so, that striking out to visit — in-person — all of the weirdos I’ve met so far has been the theme of the first leg of my nomadic trip.
So, today, we’re going to take a look at exactly why talking to Internet weirdos is good for you.
And why YOU should probably start finding more weirdos to talk to.
To begin, let’s take a trip back in the WayBack Machine and step into the weird world of 1990s video gaming…
The First Wave of Internet Weirdism
Back in the day, if you were into something that other people found weird, it was wise to keep it to yourself.
Largely because the chances of finding another weirdo like you were pretty slim.
(Especially when you lived in a small Irish town of only 7,000 people.)
But with the arrival of the Internet, everything changed.
Suddenly, instead of being limited to your immediate network, you now had access to tens of millions of people, who were all just a few clicks away.
And hidden within those tens of millions of people lay a hopeful promise:
Finding other weirdos like you.
Sebastian Maniscalco sums up society’s view of this phenomenon perfectly:
“This Internet… there’s something for everybody…”
My first quest to find other weirdos like me came as a 13 year old, in 1998, when I went looking for people to play a game called Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II.
A cult classic. The first video game where you got to play as a Jedi Knight in 3D *mind blown*
Back then, most of my “real world friends” didn’t play video games, let alone on PC.
They were more interested in chasing girls at the local teenage discos.
All I wanted to do was play video games on a PC with complete strangers.
This personal preference meant I had no shortage of people in my life (young and old) tell me how much of a weirdo this made me.
So, in an attempt to find the other weirdos like me, I looked to the web.
That’s when I stumbled on the MSN Gaming Zone.
The MSN Gaming Zone – the peak of hi-tech web interfaces, circa 1998
Back in 1998, MSN was THE place to be if you wanted to play certain games because of their proprietary “matchmaking” service.
This wonderfully primitive invention smashed random people together, whose only commonality was a single shared interest:
Playing the same game and shooting each other senseless.
It was here, in the pre-game chat room lobbies, that I had my first interactions with other weirdos from all around the globe.
I was hooked, instantly.
And as a 13-year-old, online gaming newbie, I was also made painfully aware of how terrible I was at the game.
I’d breezed through the story based single player mode, which had essentially been designed for me to succeed.
But online play was a different beast. It was brutal wake up call.
Rather than leading me to success, this was an environment that was designed so the best players won.
Very quickly, it became clear that there was a right way (and wrong way) to play. And if you wanted to win, you were wise to hang around with people who knew what they were doing.
(This is one life lesson that has stood the test of time.)
Back then, ICQ and AIM instant messenger handles were the flavor of the day when it came to connecting and staying in touch with other players.
Pretty much all communication was through the typed word. Either instant messaging, in-game chat, or online forum posts.
And while I met a lot of players through the MSN Gaming Zone, I don’t remember any of them because relationships never had a chance to form.
That only started to happen with the release of the Xbox, and the introduction of one, simple question…
“Can you hear me?”
Xbox changed the world of mainstream gaming by doing 3 simple things:
- Including a microphone headset with every console
- Providing a dedicated gaming service – Xbox Live – that allowed you to find games right from your sitting room console
- Providing a dedicated voice chat channel in every multiplayer game
This simple combination meant that you could be at home, alone, sitting in your bedroom, and speak the faithful words:
— and, as if by magic, the voices of the other weirdos you’d been smashed together with would reply:
It was like first contact all over again.
Who were these people?
Where did they live?
How old were they?
Was this THEIR first time talking to another gamer too?
These were the questions that raced through my mind in 2004, aged 18, as I starting playing one of the greatest multiplayer games of all time: Splinter Cell – Spies vs Mercs.
Sneaky, sneaky. Grabby, grabby. Snappy, snappy. I spent more time playing this game than I’d care to admit
It’s in the Splinter Cell gaming community that I met 4 very special weirdos named, Bully02, NotCoolZeuss, VS RAGEJON, and Xdsk 2k5.
Special because, these were the first Internet weirdos I started building actual relationships with before ever meeting them in person.
Today, I know them as Sam, Jay, Jon and Stu (respectively). And 13 years after our first meeting, we still regularly meet and play on Xbox Live, like a big bunch of weirdos.
Anytime I describe these relationships to non-gamers, it always raises an eyebrow.
As polite as their words may be, their faces all say, “Yeeeahh… that’s a bit weird…”
And I suppose it is a bit weird.
But it’s also a bit wonderful.
Meeting Jon (aka VS RAGEJON) for the first time IRL (“in real life”) at his NYC home – October 2016. 11 years after our first online meeting.
I guess folks don’t understand how you can build relationships with people that you’ve never met in person.
The way I explain it, when you regularly play games with a core group of people, you spend a lot of time talking between games. And over the years, you end up sharing a lot of your lives together.
Exciting new careers, shocking job loses, new girlfriends that turned into life partners, the arrival of the next generation (and their eventual arrival on Xbox, uttering “Can you hear me?” into the mic for the first time), brutal heartbreak, and pretty much everything in between.
But, truth be told, 80% of the communication is someone screaming…
“Look out behind you!!”
Like most aspects of life, communication is key to success in online gaming.
And after 20 years communicating with other online gamers, I can now see that it’s helped me develop two qualities that have been fundamental to improving my own life.
The first is the growth mindset.
There’s no room in gaming for the Fixed Mindset, unless you’re a rage quitter.
Multiplayer gaming puts a huge emphasis on actively improving your performance.
At the end of each round, your performance is scored and put on display for everyone who participated.
Leaderboards are everywhere. It’s easy to find (and see) your global ranking for every in-game metric inside a game’s community.
A lot like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there’s no hiding from your actual ability level. It’s right there, laid out for you, plain as day.
Each round, is an opportunity to learn, grow, and improve by correcting the mistakes of the previous round.
And while a lot of people turn their nose up at someone wanting to improve their video gaming performance levels (“LOL – get a life and go outside, nerd!”), there are a lot of valuable lessons to take away from HOW gamers improve.
That’s because, unlike most other people, gamers are highly aware of their ability level, and they also ACTIVELY look to improve their performance.
Individually, and as an entire team.
The same can’t be said for most other people in life.
Between rounds, and between games, players are eager to share any new strategies, tactics, and tips that can make the slightest difference in your performance. These little advantages can often make the difference on whether you come out on top, or bottom.
Everyone is always looking to continuously improve together.
And while the growth mindset isn’t unique to online gaming, what is unique is the frequency that gamers go through the cycle of learning entirely new skills from scratch.
Which brings us to the second quality I picked up from online gaming: adaptability.
You see, when a new game is released, you and everyone else in your squad is completely clueless about how the works.
In fact, the entire world has no idea how to play (except maybe for the game developers and testers).
Essentially, everyone has acquire a new skill set from scratch.
And while some skills are transferable from game to game, gamers are particularly adept at picking up the skills they need to succeed in each new gaming environment.
They do it by starting out with a series of key questions:
- What’s the game we’re playing?
- What are the buttons? Can I change the settings?
- How do we score and/or win?
- What are the levels we’re playing on, and how do I learn about them?
- Who am I playing with?
- Why did I just lose?
- Who are the most skillful players? And what are they doing that separates them from average players?
- What happens if I do this…?
If you’re not a gamer, at the surface level, these questions might seem useless to you.
But, when you take these OUT of the gaming context, they’re extremely useful in setting you on the path to success with ANY new skill you’re trying to acquire:
- What are the rules I must play by? Step #1 in any situation
- What do I have under my control in this situation? Because you’ll always go further when you focus on what YOU can control
- What am I trying to achieve? Starting with the end in mind means you know what you’re working towards
- What environment am I in, and how do I learn about it? If you aren’t familiar with the landscape you have to traverse, chances of reaching your destination are slim
- Who can I succeed with? Because no-one who ever accomplished anything worth doing did it alone.
- What did I do that resulted in me not getting the outcome I desired? There’s no point complaining that the world isn’t fair, because the playing field is the way it is. If you’re not winning, you’re best to look at how you can change what you’re doing.
- Who is already successful, and what are they doing? Study the best, overtake the rest.
- What happens if I do this…? The willingness to experiment and get creative will lead to a lot of breakthroughs.
As I’ll explain in a minute, it took me a while to learn how to ask these questions outside of a gaming setting, but as soon as I did, it would lead to a number of big wins down the line.
The Real World Starts Calling
So, let’s fast forward to 2008.
I’ve graduated university, with a degree I have absolutely no interest in pursuing.
Fresh faced and proud in 2008. This piece of paper is now stored in a closet somewhere.
As a 22 year old, I’ve spent more time playing video games than my parents are comfortable with.
I then proceed to spend a year unemployed, living at home, doing the bare minimum to find a job in the only field I’m qualified in, which, we’ve established, I had no interest in.
While I’m firing job applications out the door, I continued to play video games to fight off the boredom.
You can imagine me as the ultimate poster boy for success.
My parents obviously weren’t thrilled.
Come 2009, with some prompting from my parents and my Canadian based Aunt, I decide to immigrate to Canada, in an attempt to switch gears and try my hand at earning a Master’s in Environmental Engineering.
A year in, I get a job as an environmental researcher for an environmental software company.
It’s also around that time I discover a book called the Four-Hour-Work-Week (4HWW), which violently snatches my attention, and refuses to let it go for the next 12 months.
The book that started it all…
After devouring the book within a few days, I immediately turn back to page 1 and re-read it cover-to-cover.
If you haven’t heard of it before, the 4HWW is THE book that’s responsible for launching an entire generation of digital nomads.
Ask any nomad how they got started on their path to global exploration, and the 4HWW is probably going to get a mention.
It’s also the book that’s responsible for painting the clichéd picture of the nomad lifestyle everyone’s chasing.
Sitting on a beach. Check.
Working from a laptop. Check.
Spending more time enjoying life than working. Check!
What the 4-Hour-Work-Week promises in a nutshell. Personally, I’d rather not get sand in my laptop.
And because it’s responsible for projecting this image, the book comes in for a lot of criticism from those that like to point out the hypocrisy they see from those trying to pursue it.
These comments are nearly always tongue in cheek, but they still tend to overlook the real value of the book.
For me, the book was instrumental in shifting my perspective in 3 key areas of life that I’d never considered under my control:
- Finding ways to improve my personal productivity levels – I’d always been told I was lazy, and didn’t consider myself a “productive person”. I thought productivity was a quality you either had or you didn’t. And in nearly every aspect of life up to this point, I’d only done just enough to get by.
- Learning about sales, marketing & business – I’d always been told that I “wasn’t a business person”. I’d taken business in school and found it incredibly boring. And sales and marketing had been framed as the shady, manipulative practice of getting people to buy stuff they didn’t want or need.
- Pursuing a location independent work situation – I’d always been told that an office job was where I was going to end up. Or at least, it was assumed. I knew manual labor wasn’t for me as a career. And if you were an office worker, you worked in an office, where you were expected to be for 8 hours a day. Dems da rulez.
With the 4HWW, Tim Ferris laid out a very simple vision for how these 3 areas of your life were, in fact, well within your control.
And he explained that by bringing them under your control, your had a much larger degree of freedom over your own life.
After wasting away in a handful of cubicle jobs, which clearly weren’t providing me with any go-go juice, this was a revelation that lit a fire in my belly.
Learning to play the game of life
On a deeper level, by challenging my perceptions about what parts of my life were under my control — parts I’d previously seen as off limits — it opened my eyes to having the growth mindset in all aspects of my life.
Sure, I’d had a growth mindest when it came to my academic, athletic, and online gaming performance, but this was largely because I was an active member in communities that encouraged growth and development.
In my mind, there were areas where you could grow, and there were areas where you were fixed because that’s just the way you are.
The 4HWW changed that.
So, I threw myself head first into this new world of self-development.
I devoured anything I could find about getting better at marketing, being a productive professional, and removing myself from being dependent on a single location for work.
For a while, improving in these areas was all I thought about.
Naturally, the more I read, the keener I was to shoot the breeze with anyone who was willing to listen.
I burned the ear off more than a few people, hoping to engage (or convert) someone to come with me on my journey.
And while a lot of people liked the idea of the “dream lifestyle” the book sold, the concept was dismissed as being “unrealistic”.
So there I was, invigorated, after finding something else new and exciting, only to realize that others around me weren’t all that interested.
Welcome back to the Weirdo Zone, you big weirdo
This time though, things were different.
This time, I had reference experience.
So, to help alleviate the pain and frustration of not finding anyone to share my plans with, I did the exact same thing I’d done in the past.
I went to the Internet looking for other weirdos like me.
My research adventures led me to a gentleman named, Ramit Sethi.
Ramit would eventually open an online membership community called, “Ramit’s Brain Trust”, which would become one of the most transformative communities I’ve ever been a part of.
The now closed, Ramit’s Brain Trust – one of the most personally transformative communities I’ve ever been a part of
The community was essentially a diverse collection of young weirdos, all smashed together with one shared interest: finding it cool to be ambitious.
Within a few clicks you had instant access to an entire community who wanted to learn about being more productive, becoming better professionals, negotiating a salary, starting an online business, learning how to become a better freelancer, or even improving their social skills.
All of them unashamedly nerdy about their self-development and growth.
Every day someone would share their tactics, strategies and tips with other members, who were eager to run off and implement them. And then DELIGHTED to come back and report their results.
It was just like the gaming communities I’d been a part of, but with a focus on personal and professional development.
And it put me into over-drive.
The Cool Thing About Finding Your Thing
At this point in my professional career, I’d begun to realize that marketing and copywriting were far more interesting to me than engineering.
Through the endless reading binge that the 4HWW had inspired, I’d noticed that I was enjoying every second of it. Far more than I’d ever enjoyed engineering.
“Maybe copywriting is ‘my thing’?”, I started to wonder to myself.
But, there was a problem.
I noticed that nagging little voice in my head, constantly saying, “Who the hell is going to pay YOU to do marketing? You haven’t studied it. You don’t even have a degree!”
But, through Ramit’s Brain Trust, I met a bunch of people who, collectively, allowed me to blow past those limiting beliefs.
It even went beyond that. They pushed me to become un-apologetically obsessed with pursuing marketing and copywriting as “my thing”.
And it’s because of the relationships that I started to build with other members, that a series of events unfolded, leading me to meet some of the most influential people in my life.
Like my first copywriting coach, Felicia, who expertly taught me the skillset that would allow me to pursue an entirely new career.
After Felicia’s coaching, my desire to keep growing as a copywriter just got stronger.
I wanted to become the best.
They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
In my case, not only did the world’s most bad-ass teacher appear, but he showed up with an entire community, specifically designed for me to reach new heights.
It couldn’t have been more perfect.
The teacher was Kevin Rogers, a master copywriter.
I’d been following Kevin for about a year and a bit at that point, after discovering his book, The 60-Second Sales Hook.
I initially reached out, wondering if he would consider coaching me as a copywriter. He replied with a short message, “Hold tight, I’m launching something in about a week that will rock your world.”
In September of 2014, he launched his community Copy Chief.
At this point, I’d spent close to two decades being a member of various online communities.
Clubbing, electronic music production, gaming, writing, personal development, comics, science, religion, atheism, evolution, politics.
But this one felt different. More than anywhere else, I noticed I was pouring my heart and soul into contribution, as I tried to clearly make copywriting my thing.
And the more I put in, the more I personally got out.
My eager beaver-ness didn’t go unnoticed.
Kevin eventually invited me to work with him, behind the scenes at Copy Chief. I dove on the chance with both hands and a gleeful giggle.
What unfolded has been a phenomenal mentoring relationship, with more laughs that should be allowed professionally.
All without ever actually meeting in person.
And it’s through this relationship that I developed my skills as a copywriter and my experience as a freelancer. To the point where, finally, under Kevin’s guidance, I made the jump to leave the standard 9-5 behind and become a full time freelancer.
Kevin and I stopping for a snap, outside Copy Chief HQ, during our first meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida – March 2016
What’s interesting is that when you hear Kevin talk about WHY he started Copy Chief, he talks about his early days as a copywriter, in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
He tells the story of a copywriting community (the name escapes me) where HE was able to connect with the other weirdos who shared an interest in the expertise he was hoping to develop.
And it was there, amongst the weirdos, that he found his voice and his legs in his new career, after leaving his days as a road comic behind him.
Sadly, he explains, that community closed it’s doors. And he felt that an adequate replacement hadn’t grown to replace it.
The way he saw it, there was no place for the new generation of weirdos to come together and go through the growth cycle he’d experienced.
I’m happy to say that he was right, because through Kevin and Copy Chief, I’ve managed to meet (and grow with) a whole bunch of new and exciting marketing weirdos.
Life really hasn’t been the same since.
A “braindead simple” strategy for success
As I wrap this up, what I’ll point out is the crazy part that baffles most normal people.
Over the past 5-6 years, nearly all of the most productive and high impact relationships I’ve developed took root from some connection I made online. Without ever actually meeting the other party in-person.
And while meeting in person has strengthened those relationships more than anything, they wouldn’t have been possible without that first digital contact.
For all of the progress I’ve seen in my copywriting career in the past few years, none of it would have been possible without meeting weirdos on the Internet. Same goes with for the situation I find myself in now, where I’m able to nomadically take my work with me.
So, if there’s been a secret strategy to getting where I am today, it’s been this:
- Figure out what I need to learn to make my ambitions happen
- Find where the best people are hanging out online to learn about the topic
- Get involved in the community and contribute
- Use the following words liberally, “I’d love to connect and chat. What’s your Skype name?”
So, if you’re interested in improving any part of your life, I suggest you do yourself a favor.
Figure out what kind of weirdo you are.
Then go searching. Find where the other weirdos like you are hanging out.
Dive in. Be enthusiastic, friendly, and generous.
Then reach out to a stranger for a chat.
Because it’s the connections that you start making today that could change your life tomorrow.
PS – Here’s a quick shout out to the other weirdos I’ve met so far on this trip…
Meeting Carolynn at Washington Square Park, in NYC – November 2016
Meeting a bunch of Irish Weirdos. Timmy (right) and Eric in NYC – November 2016
Meeting Ian and Poseidon, the pint sized puppy, in Austin, Texas – October 2016
Meeting Ben, a friend and client in Atlanta. Bunny ears courtesy of Nic – December, 2016
Meeting the Copy Chief All-star Team, Abbey (left), KC (center), and Tim (right) – January 2017
Meeting Ramit’s Brain Trust weirdos, Chris and Heidi in NYC – October 2016
Meeting Consulting Weirdos, Chris (left) and David (center) in NYC – October 2016
Meeting IWT Fitness Weirdos, Michael and his wife, Pam in NYC – October 2016
Meeting another Ginger Weirdo, my friend and colleague Jim in NYC – October 2016
Looking for more weirdos by the Colorado River in Austin, Texas – November 2016