Kieran Tie on burnout, helping others and imposter syndrome
A year ago Kieran Tie quit his job. Now he’s helping others build an online business without sacrificing their life.
It’s been about a year since you left your job and pursued a solo career. How did you know it was time to leave and move on to being an independent creator?
Working for myself is something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. There’s always been some excuse holding me back, though: too busy, not enough experience, fear of failure, all the usual suspects. It was always easier to just continue dreaming, without actually taking action.
Amy Hoy has a fantastic post on how your “fuck this” moment changes everything for your business and your life. As it turned out, I just needed a particularly big “fuck this” moment — burning out at work — to actually start making real changes.
When I quit, I had almost no idea what I wanted to do, or how it would turn out — I just knew that something else, anything else, was preferable to how I felt at the time. We were also lucky to have enough savings to keep us going while we sorted everything out, so we knew there would never be a better time to give it a go. So I guess I never made the decision to leave to become an independent creator — I just made the decision to make a change.
You recently took a step back to redesign your website and refocus your business. It’s tough for a lot of us to know when it’s time to take the step back. Is this something you just knew you had to do?
I’ve struggled a lot over the past year with learning to separate what I want to do from what I think I should be doing. When I started out, I mirrored what I saw other successful people doing — like Paul Jarvis and Justin Jackson — but I couldn’t explain the why behind my work. I was doing what I thought was right — but it turns out it wasn’t right for me.
Gradually, I started to give myself permission to do things my way. I decided to take a step back to refocus my work and make sure I was on the right path for me.
I decided to build an audience and focus on creating digital products instead of freelancing, since products get me excited and self-motivated. I focused my writing and my site copy on my core mission of helping motivated folks build businesses that are right for them — businesses that they’re proud of. I’m still learning and experimenting as I go, but I feel like taking a step back helped me focus on creating a business my way.
As a designer, writer and teacher, do you ever deal with lack of confidence?
Absolutely. I’m a pretty big introvert, so promoting myself and sharing my work feels completely unnatural. Every time I hit publish, I’m convinced everyone will think I’m just a hack without any idea what I’m talking about, and they’ll all unsubscribe en masse.
I have learned one thing, though, and that’s that I’m a terrible judge of the value of my own work.
I’ve written articles that I thought were great, but only a handful of people have read them — likewise, I’ve written articles that seemed awful to me, but got thousands of readers.
It’s hard to see yourself the way other people do. Feeling like you’re not good enough, and doubting whether your work is valuable, doesn’t automatically make it true. Putting yourself out there is the only real way to learn the value of what you have to offer — even when it feels scary.
Over time you’ve made this shift from a designer to teacher. What’s been the biggest challenge for you during this transition?
Honestly? Feeling like I have anything valuable to teach.
I’ve found it’s less about imposter syndrome or confidence, and more around the curse of knowledge. I know there are plenty of things I could teach — but often I have no clue what’s worth teaching. Everything I learn about business and marketing comes from people that seem more knowledgeable and experienced than me, so I forget that a lot of people aren’t also at the same level.
The best solution I’ve found is to think about what you wish you’d known about your work a year or two ago, and teach those things. Even if they seem obvious to you now, there’re many people out there that are struggling to learn the exact same things you did.
You’ve spoken a bit about experiencing burnout. What advice would you have for someone currently experiencing burnout?
Burnout’s like riding a bicycle — when your work and life are balanced, you’re coasting along just fine. Once you’ve lost your balance and fallen off, though, it can be a huge effort to get back up again.
Everyone’s situation is different, but the biggest thing that helped me get rolling again was to talk with friends, colleagues, and loved ones about what I was struggling with. It’s one of the hardest things in the world to admit to someone else that something isn’t right — but trying to hide it or power through on your own only does you more harm than good.
Don’t be ashamed of feeling weak or incapable. You’ll likely find that others have dealt with the same problems in the past, and can help you find what’s wrong, take some work off your plate, or even just go for a walk with you outside. Lean on others as best you can, and you’ll start feeling back to normal much more quickly.
You have a wife and daughter — how do you juggle work/life balance?
With great difficulty! My wife also runs her own business — a private counseling practice here in Denver. The flexibility of working for ourselves is great, but it can also backfire pretty easily if we’re not careful.
To keep organized, we sit down once a week with our shared calendar and block out enough time for each of us to get the most important things done that week — if it doesn’t go on the calendar, it usually doesn’t happen. Blocking out time for each of us to work has also helped a lot with not feeling guilty for taking time away from family or from each other, which has been a bigger struggle than we anticipated.
On the flipside, it’s also easy to lose track of time and find ourselves working around the clock — so we make sure we have time blocked out to not work. We cook and eat together every night, we try to keep one day a week dedicated to family time, and we also go out for date nights and family movie nights a couple times a month.
It looks like you have big things planned for the future including your course Build, Measure, Earn. What are you hoping to achieve with these new products and learning materials?
I think there’s a real need for more practical, technical online business training, both for experienced entrepreneurs and new business owners. I’m a fast learner when it comes to tools, and my background as a product manager has helped me learn how to break down ideas and concepts into bite-sized, actionable chunks, so creating online courses and live workshops for other entrepreneurs and product people is a great fit.
Build, Measure, Earn is my first course and it’s still an early concept — I’m aiming to launch this summer. It teaches freelancers and entrepreneurs how to use the data and tools they already have to make smarter business decisions, avoid marketing mistakes, and grow their audience and income in less time. You can sign up here to be the first to know when it launches (and get a sweet early-bird discount). I’m also starting a series of free online workshops to help folks learn the nuts and bolts of building an online business they’re proud of.
I truly believe that everyone can learn the skills they need to create an independent living doing work they’re proud of, without sacrificing their life in the process. If I can help make that a little easier for people, then I’ll have done my job 😊
What is The Creative Series?
The Creative Series is a publication run by Femke that highlights the under-deserved creatives of our industry. If you’re interested in being featured or want to submit someone, please reach out to Femke on Twitter.
Enjoyed this interview? Please consider recommending it below or following the publication for more interviews — thanks!
About the interviewer
Hi I’m Femke — a designer, writer and podcaster who overlaps between a day job, freelancing and side projects. I love to help other creatives be the best version of themselves. I’d love to get to know you more, say hi on Twitter 👋