Things I Learned Watching A Year Of Someone Else’s Life On YouTube

Steve Mullis
Apr 30, 2016 · 9 min read
(Casey Neistat/YouTube)

If you’ve been anywhere near YouTube in the last two years or so, chances are you’ve run into filmmaker and YouTuber Casey Neistat. He’s the Ray-Ban clad fellow up top, in case that wasn’t obvious. He’s the guy who infamously rode a snowboard through the streets of New York City during a blizzard (twice); purposely crashed his bike into things to prove a point about city bike lanes; and introduced many of us to those godawful hoverboards. If you live in New York City, you might have even seen him whipping about town on his Boosted Board (he has a preternatural ability to ride any sort of wheeled conveyance that isn’t a car).

I don’t remember precisely when I first stumbled upon Neistat’s videos, but it was before he began his daily uploads (I’ll get to that in a second). Yes, I’m a Neistat hipster; I was watching his stuff before he got super popular (*rolls eyes, drags on cigarette*). I think his Make It Count video for Nike is one of the first that hit my radar, and I was captivated. I devoured all of the work he’d uploaded so far and was constantly hungry for more. So when he announced that he was going to start doing a daily vlog last year, this former Real World junkie was on board.

The guy became a vlogging machine, and for more than a year now, like clockwork, he’s filmed, edited and posted a highly-stylized and distilled version of his day on YouTube to his audience of 2.8 million followers (and growing). And also like clockwork, I and so many others have made it a point to take 8–12 minutes out of every day to watch this little mini-reality show.

During that year plus, Neistat has traveled all around world, been raising a baby with his wife Candice, launched a video-sharing app called Beme (along with Matt Hackett, of Tumblr fame and writer of great stuff here on Medium), walked the red carpet at the Oscars, taught Justin Beiber how to take a proper selfie, rode a zero-gravity vomit comet, ran the New York City Marathon and had a slew of other adventures and misadventures. And he’s taken his viewers along for all of it (albeit an edited down version). His vlogs have also taken on a comfortable rhythm: Intro, time lapse, the “what’s happening” for the day, high point of the day, some great drone footage (a recent addition), random adventures, time lapse and closer. All of that is usually interspersed with excellent music choices and peppered with little nuggets of wisdom from someone who’s lived (and is living) a fascinating life.

(Casey Neistat/YouTube)

For me, his vlogs have become as regular as breakfast or checking email. “Oh, it’s 9:30 a.m., did you get your daily dose of Casey Neistat, yet? You betcha!” The appeal is that Neistat trims the fat and creates a distinct little story every day, unlike many other vloggers who go on and on for 30 minutes or more; there is hardly a boring moment or what amounts to “dead air.” He knows how to edit tightly and keep his story moving at a wonderfully kinetic pace. Pacing is the one of the cardinal rules in all great storytelling, and he has a gift for it. Rare is the vlog more than 12 minutes long. You are never committed for longer than that. Time is precious, and clearly Neistat understands that. It’s that rhythm, energy and consistency that keeps me coming back day after day.

OK, the point of all of this isn’t just a bunch of fanboy fawning. But after watching Neistat’s life online, day after day, for more than a year, I wanted to share some things I’ve learned and some observations I’ve had along the way.

1. Building A Rich And Satisfying Life Is Hard Work

To someone watching one of Casey Neistat’s vlogs in a vacuum and not part of a whole, the enterprise could come off as narcissistic or very ego driven. And it is, at least a little I’m sure. What entertainer or creator isn’t driven a little by ego? It’s the fuel for a lot of great art and entertainment. You might also be mistaken in thinking that the vlogs are only interesting because he has a wild and amazing life, and that makes it easy to do what he does. Well yes, and no. Anyone that has watched for a good stretch knows that Neistat works his ass off for where he is and the life he has built for himself and his family. If you’re curious, his Draw My Life video details a lot of that hard work and struggle. But watching on a daily basis, you see the kind of tenacity and daily grind it takes to sustain a media personality, run a business, take care of a family and share it with the world in an interesting and human way.

(Casey Neistat/YouTube)

The hard work Neistat puts on display and the ethos behind it he promotes is authentic, and it shows. Throughout his vlog and in his weekly Q&A sessions, people often ask how he does all of things he does? And the answer is generally simple: hard work, time management and productivity. Work harder. Do more. For many, those just sound like motivational catch phrases, but Neistat lives it and puts it on full display. It’s a takeaway I try to apply to my everyday. And he doesn’t pretend like it is an easy commitment either. No surprise, he made a movie about it.

2. Positivity And Optimism Pays Off

Throughout his vlogs, one ongoing theme nearly always present is Neistat’s unwavering positive attitude and optimism about life, work and family. You see it in his business dealings, in his relationship with store clerks and his UPS delivery guy Marlan (who has become his own brand of minor celebrity), and in his family life. Granted, Neistat is able to boil down his day and show you only what he wants to show you, just like reality shows on TV that edit down a week into 30 minutes. But showcasing your life day in and day out, through business meetings, vacations, family outings, more business meetings and a ton of flying, if that positive attitude and general goodwill toward the people that come in and out of the frame were an act, after 365+ daily vlogs, the mask would start to slip. That’s why I have no doubt that Neistat is being genuine in his approach and you often see the dividends of that pay off. Getting the day started with that sort of attitude reminds me to head into the day the same way, much like watching a Gary Vaynerchuk talk makes you want to also tackle the world with the fury of the sun. But positivity and a good attitude about life is infectious, and watching Neistat has been a reminder of that every day. It’s an infection worth spreading.

3. No Matter What You Do, Someone Will Criticize You For It

Putting yourself out there online in any format is always a risky. You’re opening yourself up to a world full of negative and angry people who will take no pause in trying to tear you down for various reasons, both personal and professional. Sadly, it’s the way of the world, especially online. Now, just to address the elephant in the room before someone else does, I know that it is remarkably easier to put yourself and your opinions out there to the public when you are a hip, white guy. The risk is remarkably lower than if you are a minority or a woman. It’s no secret that women get the brunt of online vitriol, I get that. But that’s a whole different conversation that I cannot hope to address in this post. I do want to acknowledge it because it is a reality for a great many people who share their thoughts online.

That said, even the hip white guy with a super positive message who makes fun videos get his share of negative assholes. One spin through the comments of any video and you’ll see people shitting on this part of the video or that part of the video, or telling Casey he was better when he did or didn’t do X or Y or Z. There are people asking why his wife doesn’t “smile more” (yes, really) or telling her that she should. People seem to believe that once you’ve put even a sliver of your life or being on display, they now know you and have the right to judge you and criticize you. And I am sure there are a lot of messages and stuff we don’t see, because why share that garbage? Why share the opinions of judgmental bullies? Naturally, he’s talked about this directly.

And if you’re putting something out there in the creative space, especially a piece of entertainment, many people also believe that they somehow own you and you now owe them. This is not a new revelation, just ask George R.R. Martin. Or more relevant to the medium, ask YouTube megastar PewDiePie, who has been dealing with this from his own fans as he grows into a more thoughtful adult.

Like I said, I’ve watched Neistat’s videos every day, but I don’t think I “know” him any better than I know an actor or other media personality. I know as much about him as he has allowed, and that is his choice. What right do I have to judge what I don’t see? None. But you can’t stop shitty people from being shitty, if that’s the path that they have chosen, so people do judge and criticize. What you can do is not let them bring you down, and that’s the attitude Neistat appears to have and promotes. Those people are not worth your time and they simply do not matter. As Neistat puts it:

“It’s a lot easier to be mean than to be nice … Being nice takes work, that’s why I really like people that are really nice.”

4. There Will Always Be Bumps In The Road; Ride It Out

Over the course of a year of vlogging, Neistat has done all of the following: broken countless amounts of gear; missed important flights; broken more gear; crashed expensive drones; crashed on his bike and, more recently, his Boosted Board; accidentally deleted most of his footage for a day; forgot to record audio or had broken audio; and a number of other mishaps both major and minor. But despite any of that, he always moves forward and uploads a video. He could easily throw in the towel for a day and say no to the vlog when he feels his footage is crap or most of it was ruined, but he doesn’t. He makes the best of it, owns the mistakes if they were his, and continues to create. And that’s a life lesson I think we all should try to embrace, no matter what field you are in and what your career goals are.

Throughout life there will always be something or someone standing in your way. There will always be obstacles and unforeseen problems that you have to jump over to accomplish your goals — whether it be committing to a daily vlog, getting that promotion, building a business or even finishing that Medium post you told yourself you would write. You can’t control the forces around you that might be acting against you, but you can control yourself and your reactions to them. That is the one constant that no one can ever take away from you: control over yourself. Own it. Love it. Embrace it. Do you.

I’ll end this with one of my favorite Neistat videos. I try to watch it at least once a week (it’s short). Cheers!

Super thanks to Casey Neistat, who chose to share. Check out his YouTube channel for more of his videos. All GIFs and images on this post are created and owned by Casey Neistat, and I make no claim or credit for the work.

And if you like this story, click the little green heart below and share. Thanks for reading!

Steve Mullis

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