It’s not you. It’s them.
Imagine for a minute you’ve found something you really love doing. You pour your heart and soul (and paychecks) into it. And it actually takes off! You’re doing what you love, and everybody seems to love it.
But one day you notice everybody appears more interested in your stuff than they are in you—or the reasons you’re doing all this. Even worse, when you run a couple tests to make sure you’re not crazy—it turns out you’re not crazy.
Everybody loves your vehicle—nobody gives a shit about you.
What do you do?
The Gearhead Project – TGP S01E23 | Ruston’s Travels: Over-It USA
Recorded live in a Phoenix garage after the kid went to bed, this is The Gearhead Project—the podcast for people who got really excited about something, went nuts doing it for a few years, then woke up one day and thought—AUGH. I am SO DONE WITH THIS.
I guess I should probably clarify a couple things.
This used to be “the podcast from Gearbox Magazine.” Well, Gearbox Magazine is officially over. I parked it out back under a tree. Ran when parked. Not for sale. I know what I’ve got.
After nine years, I just lost interest. Magazine is a label, which means it brings expectations. I was always worrying about content, publishing schedules, subscribers, site traffic, blah, blah, blah. I was busy as hell—but busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive.
So I decided to throw all the labels away start over, just calling this thing we’re doing what it truly is—a gearhead project—where the gearhead IS the project. And I’m really interested in talking to others who’ve been through or are dealing with this sort of thing.
Meet Ruston Smith
I first crossed paths with Ruston back in the early Adventurist Life days. I was doing this little column where I asked people with growing adventure brands why they started, how they viewed the industry, and what they were trying to accomplish.
Ruston had a pretty sweet new 4Runner. He was installing and reviewing mods at a pretty good rate and his audience was growing rapidly.
You can already see where this is going. The North American overlanding community revolves around an increasingly crowded, product pimping lifestyle for social media fame and fortune.
Gone are the days of car camping or cooking up beanie-weenies on Dad’s old Coleman stove. Today you need custom slide-out drawers for your onboard propane stove and refrigerator, a $1,000 retractable shade awning, a $2,500 rooftop tent (RTT), and all the LEDs you can get your hands on.
Don’t forget the massive vinyl graphics package!
How long’s it been since you did an EDC pocket dump on Instagram to show off the 4lbs of shit you carry around with you everywhere so you won’t be mildly inconvenienced by opening a box or using your cell phone as a flashlight?
Hey. I get it.
As gearheads, we are gear-minded.
As gearheads, our vehicles are extensions of our identities.
This is my truck. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My truck is my best friend. It is my life.
We all look back at our vehicles when we walk away from them. Why wouldn’t we? We’ve put so much time and energy into them! We love these things.
So when the internet seems to love them as much as we do, it’s very easy to slip into that echo chamber and feed the beast. But the saying goes on—My truck, without me, is useless. Without my truck, I am useless.
Ruston began to notice a lot of the people who loved pictures of his truck didn’t seem to give two shits about anything he did that wasn’t truck-related. A front 3/4 view of the 4Runner splashing through a water crossing would get hundreds of likes and shares—but a picture of the meadow he crossed that river to reach got only a dozen or so.
He began running experiments. Remove a mod and post another picture of the truck.
A noticeable reduction in likes/shares and increase in shit-talk from the peanut gallery.
He began reverting the truck back to stock.
Make it lighter, simpler, more economical. This cost him a significant portion of his audience.
Audience is very important for any brand—I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about building an audience for The Gearhead Project—but if the audience doesn’t share your fundamental beliefs and interests, it’s a major point of frustration.
On the one hand, you can reach hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people with just about any message you want. On the other, they make it clear they don’t care about the same things you do.
I ran into this personally with GBXM. Sure, it started out as a car magazine all about cars and what people do with their cars and look at all these cool pictures of cars—but it soon became about more than that. My audience was nowhere near as big as Ruston’s, but a clear disconnect was brewing.
The whole world gets out of the way
I heard it said once that the whole world gets out of the way for the man who knows where he’s going. I lost track of where I was going with GBXM. I had some ideas, but it took a few years to get them out of the ether and into the front of my mind.
I hit pause on GBXM for an entire month. I didn’t say anything about it. I just stopped doing it.
Not one person said a thing about it.
Nobody noticed. Nobody cared.
And I realized something. I realized I’ve been spending all this money, stressing about all this website shit—content plans, publishing schedules, building an audience, developing monetization strategies, and so on—and nobody really cared.
So I decided to just walk away. I bit the bullet and went with a clean slate approach.
ZOMG. Incredibly freeing.
I reached out to a very small group of long time supporters and close friends to help find my way. We began discussing what I want to do, what I could best help others do, and how I could more easily go about making the impact I’ve been after for the better part of a decade.
A week before Gearbox Magazine’s 9th anniversary—the day I’d selected to be the official launch of TGP—I had just finished hashing out the last of the fundamentals, when I randomly happened upon Ruston announcing he was shutting down his Overlanding USA brand for what appeared to be the exact same reasons I was getting ready to walk away from GBXM.
“Some of you may care and some may not. For a long time now I have been thinking about getting out of the overland world in the capacity I have functioned in it for the past few years as the owner of an “overland” brand. The hobby of overlanding has taken a much different turn in the past years than when I started participating. While I still enjoy it, overland travel no longer has a significant part in my life. Effective today the company known as Overlanding USA is dissolved. Anyone that had a professional relationship with me, that is still strong, it will just be under my name. The accounts will all be changed to Ruston Travels and will feature only personal pictures I have taken. (Instagram has enough repost accounts) For everyone that wants to stay on and follow, thank you to those that wish to unfollow thank you as well. -Ruston Smith”
We hadn’t spoken in at least two years. I emailed him on the spot—at his OverlandingUSA email address, of course. (That’s all I had.)
He replied almost immediately.
This podcast was recorded the day after I put GBXM out to pasture.
It’s hard to shake the doubts; the feelings you’re a quitter or have wasted your time if you walk away from something big you’ve made—but if your heart isn’t in it, THAT is the REAL waste of time.
THAT’S quitting. Sticking with something you no longer enjoy simply for convenience is LAME.
But it’s important we learned the lessons we needed to from these experiences and take steps to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes twice. I wanted to catch up with Ruston to compare notes.
In this episode of The Gearhead Project podcast, Ruston and I talk about:
- How he got started building OUSA—the excitement of it all.
- The warning signs that his heart wasn’t really into it anymore.
- How he ended up reflecting on things and explored his options
- What he discovered that made things clear
- How that clarity has impacted his life
- The lessons learned that stand out & how he’s making sure they stick moving forward
- Where he’s headed next
You can find Ruston and connect on Instagram @Rustons_Travels