Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. — Carl Sandberg
It started innocuously enough.
I was looking for ideas about how to outline a novel, and I came across an outlining method that looked promising. It was in the days before this particular writer morphed into the marketing machine she was destined to become, so I actually paid for the product, gave her my email address, and in no time, the information I had paid for was sent to me.
It was transactional, and it was great. I had what I wanted — a system for outlining — and she had what she wanted — $15.
The honeymoon phase
Initially, my obligations as a reader of her emails were easy to meet. I got an email here or there on the topic of writing. The emails were like the occasional drop of rain on a windshield while driving. You didn’t even need to bother to turn on the wipers.
Little did I know that a change was afoot, and in due time, I would get a blizzard of emails, that would be more like driving in a late winter Michigan snowstorm.
But at this point, it was still a drop of information here, a drop of information there. Nothing that took up a lot of my time or caused me undue stress, so I didn’t unsubscribe.
But then something happened.
I know the writer didn’t see it this way, but I’m not talking about how it looked from her perch creating email campaigns; I am talking about the view from my inbox.
After a couple of years of the occasional, on-point email, with some breaks in-between, something changed, and I started getting numerous emails, and the campaigns were neverending.
The one or two emails a week morphed into anywhere between one to seven a day, but there wasn’t a particular schedule. The emails themselves were slapdash and messy. Sometimes the links she meant to send were done incorrectly, necessitating — you guessed it — another email.
In addition to the friendly missives, there were now “you’ve been selected” surveys to complete so she could develop new “courses,” and in those surveys there were always at least two questions to determine the target price for whatever “service” she would be offering.
It was more than a little overwhelming, and no doubt in one of the surveys she sent out, I probably mentioned that she might want to look at cutting back on the number of emails she sent. Eventually she did offer an option to receive a reduced number, but like the marketing addict/whiz that she is, she couldn’t quit, and even the “reduced calorie” email list offerings soon came as fast and furious as the previous option I had been on.
There were “webinars” and “chats” and “subscriptions” and “discounts” and “deadlines for discounts” and seemingly endless emails about the value of an email list.
But the thing about marketing is that in order to sell someone on your “solution,” you first have to sell them on their “problem.”
My problem, it seemed, was that I didn’t have a vibrant enough email list. If I really wanted to “make it,” I needed to get one — stat! Once a person got onto my email list, I could legally bombard them with emails selling my products. Why, I could even use the people on my email list to develop my products!
Like the author of the email in my inbox, I would learn how to “create a solution” to my reader’s “problem.” My reader would be so grateful, he or she would happily buy the proffered “solution.”
But it turned out for me that my real “problem” was that I was getting anywhere from 2–7 emails a day. I was on constant blast. If I read every come-on sent my way, I wouldn’t have time to do that which I set out to do: write.
Then, one day as she was getting ready to close out one of her sales pitches that would net her approximately $120,000 in revenue for 2020, I received an onslaught of emails unlike any I had received before.
Stop the insanity
Her life has become a theater, and according to all I have read in the assorted emails, a very lucrative theater, but it was at this point in the show that I decided I had to leave.
In economics it’s called “the sunk cost fallacy,” and it is provides a framework for understanding why we keep doing something when we know we should walk away.
Because we have invested so much time, money, or effort, we keep thinking that one day it will pay off, so we keep investing despite having gotten no return on our investment.
But like the email list marketing maven I have followed for years, I too have a life to live and creating “freebies,” doing A/B testing, and sending out thousands of emails to virtual strangers is not how I want to spend it.
And while I have certainly encountered this kind of marketing before, this was the first time I experienced the transformation in my inbox, and it was a little disheartening.
At its core, the whole “you need an email list” is a kind of Ponzi scheme that robs you of your time, and I am old enough now, that time is my most valuable and valued asset, and so in a convoluted way, being on her email list did help me identify my problem.
So what is my problem?
My “problem” is that I don’t feel like I have enough time to do the things I want to do; my “solution” will be to unsubscribe to all but the most important email lists so that I make the best use of the time I have left.
If I have learned nothing this year, it’s that our time on this planet is a limited run, and so to every reader who has made it to this sentence, thank you for your time and consideration.