The Art of Selling Out (or Why Seeking Validation Is Stupid But Making Money Is Not)


Note: This is part 3 of a 3-part series about creating. I’m using the topic of writing/blogging since that’s what I know, but the lessons can be extrapolated to any form of art. Part 1 covered How To Never Run Out Of Ideas, Part 2 covered How To Extinguish the Fiery Flames of Burnout, and Part 3 is on Validation (today!).

As a blogger (or artist of any sort) you may not get much validation … especially when you’re starting. The little validation you do get will be from people you know … family, friends, maybe co-workers. This kind of validation is empty because you’re not sure if it’s real. (Let’s be honest, it’s probably not.)

The validation most of us want is from random strangers. People we don’t know and who don’t know us. It makes us feel “famous” in a way.

“Somebody from Siberia said they liked my article! I have arrived!”

The Honest Truth About Validation

If you need validation then you’re not creating art.

That’s not to say that what you’re doing isn’t valuable. But the thing about art is this: your art should be valuable to you, first and foremost. Everything else is a bonus.

If your art isn’t valuable to you then you’re not an artist, you’re a factory. And probably unhappy.

What if nobody sees or appreciates what you do? Is it a waste of time putting your heart into something that gets no outside validation? No. Maybe you’re too progressive. Maybe people don’t understand you. Maybe you’re not good enough right now. It happens. If you’re doing it for yourself, none of that matters. You’ll press on.

Ask Steven Pressfield how long it took before he could make a living from his writing. Actually, you don’t need to ask him, just read his blog.

Why did he continue on for 17 years before getting his first paycheck from his writing? Because he’s an artist.

An artist may want the world to see his art, but he does it because he needs to do it and not to seek validation.

When I started writing this blog I didn’t get much traffic, many comments, or many e-mails. I didn’t do a whole lot to change that either. I just wrote. Every day. And then posted articles on my scheduled post days.

It took 3 months to break 100 RSS subscribers. And that’s only because I did a guest post on ZenHabits.netwhich brought a flood of traffic and ~1,000 subscribers all at once.

I was going to write anyway, whether I had 0 readers or 5,000+ readers (you rock!).

I committed myself to this blog. I never had plans to turn it into a business.

Amazingly, these days the income from this blog fully supports my lifestyle and then some. Wow, for something I started without any particularly concrete plans (and definitely no plans to make money) I almost don’t know what to think. I feel like thank you isn’t enough, but thank you.

Is Making Money From Your Art Selling Out?

No. Under one condition: if you support things you don’t believe in to make money then you’ve sold out.

For example, I would never accept money from the dairy or beef industries. They could say “Hey Karol, $1 million to advertise on your blog” and I would say “Hey, eat shit.” ;) (I guess they do eat shit if they eat their own products.)

If, on the other hand, a company that made vegan goods contacted me and wanted me to write about their products I may accept and write about them. I wouldn’t accept cash (that’s not my game), but I have no problem reviewing a product that you and I may find useful (especially if it’s travel related!). If that were to ever happen I would be up-front about it with you, of course. And obviously this isn’t a review site, I’m simply making a point.

So, again, is making money selling out? No. Anybody who thinks you shouldn’t make money with your art if you want to is an idiot. If artists don’t get paid we don’t have art.

Well, let me rephrase that slightly: there will always be art and artists. But I want my favorite artists to be exposed to more people and to create more art.

How and Why I Support My Favorite Artists

I want all my favorite artists to be millionaires (or, you know, whatever they want) so they can keep producing their art.

This is why I supported one of my favorite musicians, Jenny Owen Youngs, when she did her KickStarter. Not only does the $38,543 she raised help with her new record, but since she’s not on a label anymore she’ll have 100% creative control. Awesome! (I even drove from Austin, TX to Fort Worth, TX and bought 2 tickets (myself and a friend) to see her last year. That is supporting her art! hehe)

This is also why you see me promote other blogger’s blog posts every Saturday and, every once in a while, their premium products as an affiliate. Yes, it may produce income for me, but that’s secondary. Yes, it was awesome being Corbett’s #1 affiliate for the Affiliate Marketing For Beginners launch last month. And yes, that is validation. But even if none of that was the case, I want to support people who do good work.

The more people who are able to do good work, the better the world becomes.

Artists need this kind of support. Yes, they need you to spread the word and give non-monetary support. But you know what many of them need more than anything? Cash, so they can continue producing art.

Don’t let anybody make you feel bad if you want to make a living from your art.

I Don’t Understand, You Say Artists Don’t Need Validation and You Say They’re Not Sellouts If They Make Money. But If They’re Making Money, That IS Validation. What’s Going On Karol?!

Good question, Karol. (Yes, I did just refer to myself referring to myself. Or something.)

The difference is actually very simple: A true artist will continue with their art whether they receive validation or not.

Whether I make money from my writing or not, I will continue writing.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope that you’ll continue doing it whether you receive validation or not as well. We need more artists. We need more ass-kickers.

I can’t guarantee you will make a living with your art, but I can guarantee we need you anyway.


If you enjoyed this series, would you mind doing me a big favor and supporting my art? Just click the Facebook Like button or Twitter Retweet button below:


  1. Hi Karol – I want to thank you for two things. One, for this statement: “I guess they do eat shit if they eat their own products.” That made me laugh.

    And second for the reminder of why I what I do … many people around me do not understand why I blog. They always ask, “What is the purpose? Are you making money from it?” For a while I gave them the long answer … how someday down the road, it’s a tool for my products, books, etc. Now I have a new answer.

    It’s my art.

    Have a lovely day!

  2. Thank you for helping me realize it’s ok to create for yourself first. I often tried to create with others in mind. This produced nothing but a poor end result. Please keep it up, your stuff really helps motivate and inspire.

    Just keep making it happen.

    • Thank you Nick. Don’t worry, we’ve all been in the create for others trap at some point. Create for yourself and you’ll create a masterpiece.

  3. Hey Karol, Amazing post very inspiring, I guess the problem is that everybody wants everything now, they want to write few posts and be famous. It doesn’t work like that, one of my favorite examples is when Gary Vaynerchuk said that it took him 18 months before anyone was listening to his videos. It takes time and passion,
    “I was going to write anyway, whether I had 0 readers or 5,000+ readers (you rock!)” I love this


  4. One of the greatest feelings a person can get is from making something wonderful, simply to turn the “joy level” in life up a notch. The second you start expecting something in return, the magic of your art is gone – for you and the people you’re trying to please.

  5. As I read this post, I saw an image of you juggling the “balls” of art (as internal motivation) and money/recognition (as external validation). Just as a juggler entertains his/her audience, you gave me an understanding of art and validation that I didn’t have in this particular way. You kept the balls in the air. I can relate to what Casey said above of how “something” changes when the thought of monetization or return comes into the equation. Questions like, “Should I save this content or this particular way of saying or presenting something for the ebook or course?” crop up. It makes me tentative or question what I share with readers.

    • Hey Greg, that’s a great question. Kelly at actually asked me that during our interview:

      I never think “what can I sell and what can I give away.” My brain doesn’t work like that. What I mean is, I’m currently working on Mind Control Method. So I’m focused on writing/creating content for it. Everything I create goes into the product. When I’m writing for this blog, whatever I create goes to the blog. Sometimes there is overlap, but that’s OK.

      I say, don’t hold back with your free information. If people know you as a giver then you’ll be rewarded. :)


      • Karol, thanks for your response and the link to the interview. Great points on how to work with your readers to help them with their needs. I now realize that my focus had shifted to “external” products and not on what I have to offer and the relationship I’m trying to build with the readers. I’m starting to see things differently and I feel better about this other direction.

        • That’s good Greg. :) Definitely give everything you’ve got to your readers. You’ll figure out (with their help) what kind of products to create while doing that and you’ll be rewarded handsomely. :)

  6. Hey again Karol,

    Very nice series, to bad there are only 3 parts..;)

    You caught me here, Heh. Even though i try to create things i am fully behind i am also definetly looking to the money side to much, and to often. i should really think about what kind of writing makes me really happy, and proceed with that.

    passion is more important then profit,otherwise your never really free.

    thanks for the important lesson.


    • Thanks Henk. I enjoyed writing the series as well even though it wasn’t typical of what I write here.

      As for your comments: Profit is important, depending on goals. Passion is important no matter what.


  7. Karol,

    I remember the days when I used to take pictures. I did them for myself, and I got a lot of compliments along with comments like, you’re weird, man. Why would you take a picture like that. No one would pay you for that. use your talent to make money.

    The fact is that people did buy my pictures and I did get work shooting weddings and parties, but I didn’t understand the difference that you clarify here. I eventually sold out and gave up my art. I think I’ll get back in photography and revive my art.


    • That’s an interesting and also somewhat sad story. Sad because it happens so often. We let outside “validation” or criticism, as the case may be, keep us from doing what we truly love. I’ve done this many times in the past as well so I’m not immune.

  8. I like the story of your early writing. You said you wrote everyday and posted only at your scheduled times. The writing everyday (art) was what got you your guest post on Zen Habits. I still remember that one.

    It was your art without a need for validation that indeed created all the confetti and parades that you now enjoy!! Well, there should be a Karol parade anyway…

    I still remember the first post I ever read of yours. Hmm…something about washing clothes? I thought this guy is either weird or a genious! The jury is still out on that one, just kidding.

    You are never boring. Thanks for that!

  9. What you are descibing has bothered me for a long time. I like to build things with my hands. Benches, tables, chairs, etc. When I’m done, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction and think to myself “that’s pretty cool’. But, if I try to sell anything, nobody wants to pay anything for it. They compare what I work on for days to something they would buy at wal mart. It sucks. Even though, I enjoy working on these things, it’s hard to justify spending the time and money on them if nobody else cares.

    • Hey Larry,

      Yeah, I understand if you’re doing it for others it’ll leave you empty if nobody buys it. Like I mentioned in the article, maybe that’s just not *your* art. Maybe your art is something else. Something you truly do for yourself. :)


  10. The simple act of saying that as a blogger you’re an artist can make a big difference. If you’re writing to get readers or please a particular market, then that sounds like a job, not art. But if you’re writing for yourself, to express what matters to you, that sounds a lot more like an artist. So some bloggers are artists, some aren’t. And it’s clear which you are, Karol. Thanks.

    • Thanks so much David. Yes, while there’s nothing wrong with blogging just to make money, for it to be sustainable I feel like it has to be thought of as art.

  11. I am realizing more and more that blogging is just as much for my own fulfillment as it is for my audience. And I think we write more thoughtful posts when we view our writing as art. Thanks for your insight!

  12. […] didn’t announce anything for sale while on stage. I understand it’s not cool to “sell out,” but you know what else isn’t cool? Not having enough money to do what you […]

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