Editor’s Letter: Five Thoughts on Five Years

Representing 5 years of TGD!

Yesterday we celebrated five years of The Great Discontent! When Ryan & I launched it as an online magazine in 2011, we didn’t know where it would take us — we only knew that we needed to do it.

TGD was a passion project and creative outlet for years before it became our full-time gig. Milestones like yesterday remind us how incredibly privileged we are to do this work. TGD has grown beyond the web to include a print magazine, event series, and podcast. And we couldn’t have done it without the support of our community, our colleagues, and companies that have partnered with us over the years. A heartfelt thank you to all who’ve embraced The Great Discontent.

As we cheers to many more years, here are five reflections on the last five:

1. Five years is a long time, but it feels like we’re just beginning. In a recent conversation with Krista Tippett, host and creator of On Being, I mentioned our forthcoming five-year anniversary and how, on some days, it feels like we’ve been working on TGD forever, but on others, it feels like we’ve just begun. She replied, “These things take longer than we think. We have a very condensed and skewed sense of time in America. We think things should happen immediately and they don’t. Every overnight success took twenty years to get going.” Her words encouraged me to think about the longevity of TGD and the importance of continuing to build something we’re proud of, something that has staying power in a culture of new and now.

2. Nothing is sacred. Change it up. After four years of consistently publishing online and three years of making the print mag, we decided to change it up and explore two new mediums this year: a live event series and a podcast. It would have been easy for us to continue what we were already doing, to consider it sacred or simply say, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” But we knew we needed to get out of our own creative rut. The events and podcast have helped us develop new skills and learn what our team is truly capable of. It’s also reinvigorated our vision for the future of TGD and how it might evolve as we remain open to change.

3. Community is everything. Ryan and I lived in a small town in Michigan when we started TGD, and we felt isolated there. We were desperate for community. Not only did TGD become a vehicle for us to connect with people around the world, both subjects and readers, but it has brought people into our lives who we’ve built lasting friendships with — people who are in our corner, who fight for us and encourage us when we get knocked down. I will forever come back to this line from our interview with artist Elle Luna, “When you’ve made the leap and you’re far from shore, nothing is guaranteed, but we do it together and that’s what makes it worth it.” The people make it worth it.

4. TGD is a job, but it’s one we’re privileged to wake up and do every day. When I say every day, I mean it. Turning your passion into your day job irrevocably changes the nature of it from a low-stakes, no-pressure project into a full-fledged business with expectations and financial pressures. It’s hard to be fully prepared for what that means. One thing that’s certain is that I work more now than when I was employed elsewhere. The moments of conversing with interesting subjects or hosting live shows are overshadowed by not-so-glamorous daily work — planning, emailing, meetings, phone calls, admin tasks, and so on. Still, what a privilege this is. Grotesk sums it up for me in this week’s interview on TGD, “…I feel fulfilled because I probably have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to wake up every day and do what I love — whether you’re a chef or a designer or a plumber, that is a blessing.”

5. Embracing your great discontent looks different for everyone. This is our story, but it’s only one path along the creative journey. After talking to 215+ people about their trajectories, it’s become clear that we must all make our own way. Are you creatively satisfied? That’s one of my favorite questions to ask subjects, and I’m asking you right now. Are you? If you’re not, how might you be? The great discontent tells us that there’s something more to do, learn, explore, or discover. It pushes us forward, never allowing us to settle when we’re capable of more. May we all embrace our great discontent, and use it as a driving force to create, whether it’s via a passion project or a full-time gig. May our great discontent cause us to dream about what the future holds — and then get to work building it.

Content in my discontent,
Tina Essmaker, Editor in Chief
The Great Discontent

Note: This Editor’s Letter originally appeared in TGD’s weekly newsletter on August 30, 2016.