My biggest mistake as a creator: thinking I had an audience.

Joan Westenberg
3 min readNov 22, 2023
Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

The biggest mistake I have made as a creator is letting my ego, my ambition, and the shallowness of social media convince me that I had an “Audience” instead of a network.

It’s easy to become obsessed with the shallow popularity contest, with notions of influence and attention. And over the past few years, my work has become divorced from reality and drifted long way away from authenticity.

Social media platforms, with their algorithms and echo chambers, made it easy to believe that the numbers represented people eagerly awaiting my next post, my next big idea. It’s a mirage, a superficial layer that didn’t capture the depth of real human connections. But I can’t blame the platforms alone. My self-importance is equally responsible.

The term ‘Audience’ implies a one-way street — it suggests a group of passive listeners, viewers, or readers who are there to consume what I create. This perspective is not just limiting; it’s fundamentally flawed. It overlooks what it means to be a creator in the digital age: being part of a vibrant, interactive network.

A network, unlike an audience, is dynamic. It’s not broadcasting to a group of faceless spectators. It’s about engagement, exchange, and mutual growth. It involves listening as much as speaking and learning as much as teaching. In a network, every node and individual is a potential collaborator, source of inspiration, or a critical voice that can offer valuable feedback.

There are people on the other side of the screen. They don’t exist just to fill out our quota of 1,000 true fans. They don’t exist as data points on an analytics dashboard. And they have so much more to give than their attention and the time spent viewing a video or reading an article. I cannot and will not keep treating the people who find my work and engage with it as NPCs in a roleplaying game.

Realizing this has been a game-changer. It’s shifted my focus from seeking applause to fostering conversations. Instead of obsessing over the number of followers, I’m more interested in the quality of interactions I have with them. This approach has opened up new avenues for creativity and growth that I had previously overlooked, blinded by the glitter of superficial metrics. I spend more time talking to people than ever before. I spend more time listening, too. And I spend a lot of time learning. My ideas shift, change and grow with every interaction. There’s a deep richness that can’t be found in delusions of grandeur.

The shift has brought with it a sense of humility. You can get caught up in the numbers and believe your hype when your follower count is rising. But recognizing that each follower is a person with their own thoughts, experiences, and contributions is a reminder that I am part of something larger than myself and that my success is not just measured in likes or shares but in the impact I have on others, and the effect they have on me in return.

I am not — and do not wish to be — some kind of bulls**t internet celebrity. The path of the influencer seems frightfully lonely. I’m a writer. I write. When I find people who want to read my work, it’s not something to take for granted. It’s a gift, and it’s an honour, and it’s something that I cherish every day.