On 2021 (Year In Review & Lessons Learned)

I simultaneously love and hate this quote from Sir Winston Churchill: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

I’m nearing the 4th year of working on this site – I started in 2018.

And if I inspect my site from a rational angle, I should quit and do something else instead. Emotionally, though, I’m attached. Hooked to it like a teenager locked inside his room with nothing more than his favorite video game and a drawer full of junk food.

The force that keeps me going is that I simply see myself doing this for an extremely long period of time.

At the same time, however, I see how my efforts and not paying off (you will see below). Naturally, this leads to an internal battle where my rational self tries to convince the other part of the brain that I should just abandon it.

Conversely, I still think that I can break the cycle of slow growth and just grow a bit less slow.

I sound like a rant. I know.

Because it is.

Although it might feel like the saddest story. It’s not. I’m still super enthusiastic about working on durmonski.com.

I have a grand vision and I’m daily making steps, pushing the needle forward. Namely, focus on creating not just a website. But a library-like experience. Not just be a blogger. But an online librarian.

In this post – like in the previous years (2019, 2020) – I’m going to share how my site is performing and after that, share a couple of lessons learned from reading and blogging from the past 12 months.

Let me show you some numbers first:

Year in Review:

Articles Published

In 2021, I’ve published 39 articles, 20 book summaries, and 5 Think Workbooks.

It’s less compared to 2020, where I published 33 articles and 40 book summaries. But this is intentional. I invest more time when creating content and I think I’m way better at this thing called writing.

Obviously, I’m biased.

But there is a reason I so narcissistically praise myself.

The publications I’m currently posting are more polished. I’m spending more time creating them. And I’m not just fact-sharing the most important lessons from the books I’m reading, but making the text more joyful to read (or at least I hope I do).

Site Redesign

I’ve redesigned my site.

This is how the front page looked like at the beginning of the year:

old design

This is how it currently looks:

new design

I know. Not that different. But there are actually quite a few changes.

  • The fonts I use are different.
  • The pictures of the book summaries.

Here are the old covers:

the-tipping-point-book-summary

The new covers:

the-tipping-point-summary
  • The downloadable PDFs of the newest book summaries look better.
  • The speed. The site loads much faster than before.
  • Also, the site is cleaner and clutter-free.

Overall, I think that I turned out great considering the fact that I don’t know a lot about design and I barely know how to code.

Website Traffic

Apart from the readers, the traffic towards a site is the most precious thing for a website owner. And the most depressing thing for me.

Allow me to grab a napkin.

OK, let’s go…

Here are the numbers for this year:

website traffic this year 2021
In the middle of the year, I realized a mistake I made in 2020. After making a correction, my traffic is slowly going up.

It might seem like things are growing, but let me show you how things looked in 2020:

website traffic 2020
The stats show the period from 23.08.20 to 31.12.20 simply because the older data is no longer available.

When I started my website in 2018, I thought that I knew what I was doing. However, I was blind. My site was slowly gaining more visitors and this made me feel like I was untouchable.

This overconfidence led to a big drop in 2020. I did a huge mistake but realized it somewhere in the middle of 2021.

What I did wrong is that I deleted a plugin that was responsible for how search engines “read” your website.

Eventually, I figure it out. Since then, my site is slowly growing, but it’s slower than I imagined.

Newsletter Subscribers

In 2021, I rebranded my newsletter. Previously, it was called Unstuck. But it wasn’t fully representing the main idea of my site.

I wanted something that is more in line with my grand goal – to create an online library containing the most intellectually challenging ideas from the best books.

The new newsletter and the format is probably my most successful online invention yet.

The Study Newsletter grew from 600 subscribers at the beginning of 2021 to now more than 2500.

current subscriber count on my newsletter
I’m really proud of the open rate – 60%. The industry standard is ~20%.

The growth mainly came from a couple of my posts going viral but not only. Based on the feedback I regularly get from readers. It seems that people are also enjoying the content. That’s why they stay subscribed for longer.

Earnings

As you’re probably aware, I have a membership program where members get access to the full summaries on my site along with downloadable PDFs, access to Think Workbooks, and a feeling of joy for supporting someone who adores books and reading.

I’m very proud to have people who find my articles interesting enough to pay for the full experience. I’m beyond grateful. Thank you all!

This year, the numbers look like this:

earnings from my membership program
Above are statistics for the entire year (2021).

As you can calculate by yourself. The earnings are not really sufficient for one to pay his bills.

Yet, I’m optimistic about the future.

There is a direct correlation between the traffic towards my site and the people who decide to join. When more people visit, I get new members.

This means that when eventually Google decides to reward my publications by showing them to more people, I’ll directly increase my profits.

Still, the books I read have taught me to not rely on blind hope. You should also execute. I have a plan that I’m following to increase my traffic, improve the quality of the content I produce, and the overall experience for members.

All of these factors combined will eventually lead to higher returns.


Now, after all the cards on the table. Let me share a couple of short lessons I’ve learned from reading and blogging for the past 12 months:

Lessons From 2021:

Don’t Convince Yourself That You Know It All

In certain doses and in particular moments. Confidence and pride can serve you well.

When you’re about to make an important decision?

Take a step back.

As mentioned above, thinking you know stuff can lead to overconfidence. When your ego is guiding, you’re not guided by reason. You’re guided by emotions. And emotions are the worst advisor when deciding what’s good for you in the long term.

I thought I knew a lot about SEO and writing. I thought that I shouldn’t invest more time and effort in learning more about the just mentioned. I was wrong.

That’s why my traffic dropped like a stone in 2020.

But as we are constantly told. You learn from your failings. And I did learn, a lot.

That’s why I no longer think I know everything on a topic. I approach things, even the subjects I’m pretty familiar with, as a newbie.

Instead of saying, “I know how this works”. I take this approach: “What extra I can learn on this topic?

Stay Curious

The most valuable skill we can have, I think, is curiosity.

Being smart is overrated. To continuously improve yourself, you must stay curious. If you think you know everything, you won’t think that learning more is needed.

Think about it. You have access to everything in the world. Theoretically, you can learn how to become a lawyer by simply reading articles online.

If that’s the case, what’s stopping you then?

A desire to learn.

If you’re curious to learn something, you’ll find a way.

Otherwise, you’ll find an excuse.

Going Viral Is Not Going To Make You Rich

My marketing strategy is the following: Publish great stuff and share them on Hackernews.

That’s it.

If you don’t know. Hackernews is something like an old-school social media platform where people – mainly programmers – share interesting pieces of content. The community there can vote for the things they enjoyed and if a piece gets enough likes, it’s featured on the first page where it gets a ton of traffic.

This year, 6 of my articles went viral.

Three of them in one month.

stats after my posts went viral

How much money do you think I’ve earned from these 70,000 pageviews for 1 month? No more than 1,000 USD.

What pays off is consistency. Not going viral.

The viral effect is the side effect of consistent work. If you continuously invest in your skills – writing, singing, programming, etc. – eventually, a crowd of people will see your talent. But a huge crowd checking your stuff once, won’t be enough to cover your expenses. You need to keep going.

Reading More Books Won’t Change Your Life

I read 40 books in 2019. I read 40 books in 2020. But 20 for 2021.

Why settle for only 20 books for 2021?

There are plenty of factors. The main blocker is, of course, time. I’m a father, I have a job, I’m working on this website.

As with all people, my time for reading is limited. That’s one of the reasons I’m so picky with the titles I decide to read.

But there is something else I realized this year. You don’t have to read so many books to achieve your goals. It’s best to give yourself more space to actively think and implement the ideas from the books you’re reading.

This year I embraced slow reading.

If you want to start a business, for instance. Reading 100 business books won’t guarantee that you’ll become insanely rich. Hell, it won’t even mean that you’ll start one. It basically means that you’re interested in the subject. Or, you’re simply procrastinating and convincing yourself that everything should be “perfect” before you start your project.

Business books – or books in general – won’t solve all of your problems. They give you insights and a way of thinking. But the reality is quite different from what happens in literature.

It’s more practical to read fewer books and think more about the content mentioned inside. Plus, of course, implement more of the strategies shared in the titles.

This leads to the following: Be really picky with the books you decide to read, study the subject in-depth, actually do what’s mentioned in the text, re-read the greatest books.

That’s how my Think Workbooks were born. I wanted to spend more time with great books. Furthermore, to inspire more people to sit down, think, and better engage with the best concepts from the best books.

Be Transparent

The most uplifting articles I’ve read this year were from individuals sharing their feelings. How working on a project is toying with their emotional state and what happens behind the scenes.

I’m purposefully avoiding articles with catchy titles like “How To Become Successful in 7 Easy Steps” or “How to Increase Your Productivity by 300%”. These are gimmicks.

If you are reading something and the words “success” and “easy” both appear in a single sentence, run. Go read something else.

Instead of these clickbait titles, I’m far more interested in reading about someone’s failure. How and why someone is unproductivity. What kind of difficulties people are experiencing and how they are working on making corrections.

These personal stories are far more interesting. They are human. They are real. That’s why people love them – not just me.

Once I discovered this. I said that I’ll do it myself.

And I did.

I must say that the most shared articles this year were pieces in which I talked more about myself and my personal struggles than anything else.

When I’m writing about social media, about reading, or about creating a business, I’m sharing my thoughts. What works for me. And more importantly, what doesn’t work.

The more I did it, the more people reached to me via email saying how they felt more connected with my writings.

This actually inspired the above – sharing all the details related to my project (earnings, subscribers, and traffic).

Help More People, Not Big Brands

If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you know that besides sharing my latest articles. I also share content that’s written by other people. Content that I found interesting online.

And if you love newsletters in general, you know that sharing links from other websites is a common practice.

What really surprises me when I check other newsletters is that the majority of them mainly include publications from big brands like The Atlantic, The New York Times, etc.

Not me. I strategically avoid sharing articles from big brands. Not that they are not good. Most of them are quite well-written, actually. But because I’ll rather share an article from a fellow blogger and help him. Not help big brands become bigger.

That’s why, when I mention a book in my newsletter, I won’t link to the page on Amazon. I create a link that actually excludes Amazon.

We book nerds, enjoy small libraries. Why not purchase the book from a local library then? Not from a giant conglomerate solely interested in increasing their profits.

It kind of bugs me that we default to the big players instead of helping the people who are genuinely interested in the topic.

Invest in Yourself

There are great books that most people have never heard of. There are opportunities of having a conversation with someone brighter than you. There are online courses that you’re not aware of.

This year, the more I’ve heard about famous TV shows. The more I resented TV altogether.

Sure, taking a break. Watching a show. Just lying down doing nothing are all things we should do if we want to preserve our sanity.

But how much time do we waste scrolling through a plethora of pictures shared by complete strangers because we are bored?

How much time do we spend watching TV shows that will be forgotten a month from now?

The best thing we can do when we have nothing to do is to use the information circling in the online world. Not let it use us – consume us.

The best thing you can do is start investing in yourself. Whether this will be through reading books, participating in online courses, or attending events – or everything together.

“But I’m exhausted after I get home from my day job. I don’t have the energy to learn!”, you might add.

Personally, I think that this is just a mental state. A self-conviction that learning is a chore. Not a joyful experience.

The twist is persuading yourself that learning is pleasant – because it is. Not something on your never-ending to-do list.

Keep Going

To quit or to stay.

I’ve written enough articles about how not getting feedback about what you’re doing feels depressing. 

It’s a basic characteristic of human nature. If something you have done pays off. You consider it successful. On the flip side. If we are not getting the returns we’ve hoped for, we think that the project was a failure. That we’re a failure.

This year, I debated a lot with myself on whether I should quit working on this site.

As you saw, I’m not really making a living from working on this project. And while money is not my main goal, I’m sure you’ve experienced this feeling. You work hard on something. Probably months. Years even. Eventually, your investment is not paying off. You don’t see any returns. Thus, you start to hate yourself.

In the case with my site, I asked myself this question: “What else can I do?”

The more I thought about it. The more I saw the answer directly looking back at me. I want to keep writing about what I’m writing right now.

Sure, I can probably learn how to code and try to create a SaaS product hoping to later sell it. But what’s the point?

If I already know what I want, why abandon it?

So, the lesson (probably) is: If you know what you want, keep working on it.

Some Closing Thoughts

Hopefully, this post inspired you to take a few minutes and write down what you have accomplished this year. What you’re proud of. What is the thing that didn’t work out the way you have hoped, and how do you plan to correct it.

Personally, I have high hopes for the upcoming year.

I know what I want to do. But I also know what I don’t want to do.

Both things are worth considering to gain clarity on how one should spend his days.

If you want to join my journey of building a small but mighty online library. Consider subscribing to my newsletter.

Wishing you a successful 2022.

Dare To Act:

Join The Study Newsletter. A biweekly bookish newsletter inspiring you to commit to continuous growth. Great for lifelong learners, creators, and wanderers alike.

Share this with others