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The vanilla trap.

I live tweeted the Golden Globes last weekend or last year depending on when you’re reading this. (If you’re reading from the future, I sure hope we have hover boards.)

If you missed it, I think the most popular, deep insight I had about the Golden Globes was this tweet:

“I’m going to carry a diamond studded cane but not use it.” – Prince.
“Why?” – Everyone at #GoldenGlobes
“Because I’m Prince.” – Prince

Changing lives people, I’m changing lives.

I definitely gained some new followers, who will be promptly disappointed the next day when I don’t continue wry commentary on who wore which gown best, but I also lost a lot.

The reason is that not every tweet is for everybody.

Not every book is for everybody. When you try to write for everyone, you end up writing for no one.

Not every blog is for everybody.

Not every dream is for everybody.

I was reminded of that last week when I shared a post about marriage. Someone on Facebook said, “This advice isn’t for everyone, of course.”

That person was right, I failed in that blog post to properly encapsulate an idea that was indeed for all 7 billion people on the planet. Intellectually speaking, no one would ever argue that you could create a blog post that impacted everyone exactly the same way. But, when someone makes a comment like that on your blog or your dream, you run the risk of falling into the Vanilla Trap.

The Vanilla Trap is that voice inside you that argues that unless everyone is for your dream, it’s the wrong dream. Unless you have 100% consensus from 100% of the people in your life, you haven’t found the right pursuit. In that moment, realizing that there are some people who don’t “get your dream” or worse, “don’t like your dream,” you decide that the only way to get everyone on board is to whittle away the edges.

Vanilla is the only ice cream that the majority of people can agree on. There will be a random renegade who says “I hate vanilla!” but for the most part vanilla ice cream doesn’t elicit a strong response. It’s just vanilla, a safe, simple choice to have at any party because most everybody will like it.

But the same attributes that make it acceptable to a lot of people, make it boring.

It’s safe.

It’s simple.

It’s not going to elicit a strong response.

Your dream will fall into this trap unless you’re careful. Everyone I’ve met, started their dream from the same place, a deep personal experience. They had bumped into something in their own life that they had to share with others! It was unique to their heart and they wanted to open that heart to the world.

Upon doing that though, you quickly realize that the deeper your personal connection to something, the harder it is to build a mass audience. It’s not that it can’t be done, it just takes tremendous patience and finesse. It would be far easier to just add some vanilla to the mix.

What started out as coffee ice cream, opinionated with a strong point of view, became vanilla over time.

Beware the vanilla trap.

We don’t need safe dreams. We need your dream. Danger and all.

Be coffee ice cream.

Not everyone is going to support your dream. That’s not failure. That’s reality.

Stop waiting for 100% of people to support your dream. Find a few who do and give them 100%.

p.s. My ideas definitely aren’t for everyone, but if they’re for you, sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss a single one.

About Author

Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff

45 Comments

  1. Rodney Eason

    Thanks, Jon! This very subject is top of mind for me right now.

    • I’ve been thinking about this too! I think if I was an ice cream flavor I’d be chocolate chip with rainbow sprinkles and glitter. That way we could all poop rainbows and sparkles! 🙂 (See, definitely not for everyone…hahaha.)

  2. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom. Your words are making a difference!

  3. So true. I had a similar thing with my new podcast. Got incredible download numbers and has been consistently in the top 200 in all of iTunes in 2015, up to #50 overall. Yet not ALL the reviews were 5-star. Got a 1-star. Got a 2-star. Got a 3-star, and a few 4 stars, too.

    Reminded me that my message, while passionately bumping around in all that empty space between my ears, insn’t for everyone. Also reminded me that something about my show motivated someone who my show obviously wasn’t “for” to take action and give it a 1-star rating. Motiving them to action, even if it’s action to give it a 1-star review is great, especially because I know that maybe they’re thinking about improving their relationship even if my show wasn’t for them.

    P.s. Count me in the group that appreciates your marriage posts.

  4. This post isn’t right for everyone, you know. 😉

  5. Jean Hoffman

    Timely reminder….thank you so much for posting!

  6. I agree with 100% of your posts to date. Don’t disappoint me! Also my favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla. This is of course because I am lactose intolerant and the only flavor Breyers has in lactose free is vanilla. Anyways, I have had a few comments about my blog that were less than favorable. It makes sense though because of the nature of my story. I can see how people would be turned off by it. Thanks for being coffee ice cream. The wake up desert!

  7. I personally loved the witty banter on Twitter during the Golden Globes. Just my flavor of ice cream! But this today was so right on time for me. There are some things that never have danger of falling into the vanilla trap in my life. But there are a couple of deep-from-my-heart things that mean so much to me that I want 100% approval of them. I logically know that will never happen. But my heart still feels the sting. I needed the reminder to keep my focus on those who support me 100% and trust that God is leading me, so it’s all ok!

  8. Awesome post Jon! I do agree 100% with this one. Except the hoverboard…I want a hoverbike! Way cooler.

  9. This was so freakin’ encouraging to me this morning. Thank you! Struggling to survive almost 3 years into a church plant – a church for people who don’t like or are not accustomed to church culture but who do want to know and follow Jesus. It is a very strong-flavored and ballsy endeavor, one which consensus-seeking vanilla Church World did not see through with their support when we refused to whittle away the edges of the dream to make it more palatable and safe to their tastes. Dealing with that rejection has been the single most difficult thing for me. But we have a very few who are 100% behind the dream, and we will continue to pour out 100% of ourselves into them until there is literally nothing left. Thanks again.

  10. This is an important point for us niche micro-bloggers, too- thanks for the encouragement!

  11. you had me at Prince.

    I’m dating myself here but there is a reason that Prince’s songs still raise the hairs on my arms … and that’s because he isn’t vanilla. Today’s pop stars are all the same, they’re talentless marketing gimmicks. Prince had true talent and he definitely is unique.

  12. Brandi

    Vanilla is BORING! I want to be anything but vanilla.

  13. Thanks for this awesome post and for the reminder that I am meant to be way more than plain ‘ol average vanilla! Have a great week!

  14. Jon,

    I enjoyed your Golden Globe tweets. I can only imagine how it is in your house between you and your wife. I’m sure there are a lot of eye rolls. 🙂 My wife asks me what it’s like to always be funny. I’m sure you can appreciate that. It’s tough work but someone has to do it.

    This is fantastic advice for any writer. One thing I keep in mind is Jeff Goins’ advice that if we are one in a million and there are 7 billion people on the planet, then there are 7000 people just like me.

    That is the audience I am trying to reach. My message is unashamedly about building the Kingdom of God by allowing your own life to be transformed. Admittedly this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

    I’m ok with that. I’m just praying that God leads the right people to my work and that I get out of the way enough for it to be of use to them.

    Thanks again for the timely wisdom.

    Jesse

  15. I recently started a blog. I would stay up at night freaking out about how I could please everyone. I need grandmas and small children to cackle at my every thought. Last night, I had my first “negative” comment. Of course, I deleted it and told myself the evil commenter was a weird cat lady who wouldn’t understand humor that didn’t involve knitting.
    Today, I’m thankful for her negativity. I don’t want to be vanilla. I want to be whatever God intends…which I’m sure is something closer to Moose Tracks or a snickers ice cream bar. Actually, no. I’m chips. I hate ice cream.

  16. My dream is to change the life of a foster kid who gave up everything for her younger siblings.

    You can help us help her here: http://GoFund.me/homeforfosterkid.

    Thanks! God bless!

  17. James Sommers

    And even people who are for your dream 100% may not like everything you create.

    I love U2! But I don’t love 100% of thier music. I love director Chris Nolan — but was dissapointed in Intersteller. And even speakers/authors like: Ramsey, Dan Miller, Tony Robbins and of course Jon I like MOST of what they write about but I don’t agree with 100% of it — so it’s impossible to write a movie, book, music etc that EVERYONE likes all the time. Because even your biggest fans aren’t going to like every joke, song, page, script, movie you make!

    And while we all LIKE approval (be honest we do!) we can’t live or die on it or like Jon said we create boring work!

    • Tai

      I agree 100%, James! Common misconception is if I’m a supporter of a person’s dream, I agree with every single idea they put out. I’ve struggled with trying to please the masses, probably stemming from fear of rejection. I’m learning to grow tougher skin!

      Sidenote: I can’t stand vanilla for all the same reasons most people like

  18. I’ve seen so many dreams die a slow death longing for approval. Honestly, mine almost did.

    The need for worldly validation is like a drug that has many addicts coming back for more. The shame is, people forfeit themselves on a whim at an attempt to gain recognition and find that it is less satisfactory with each hit.

    And the temptation is never stronger than when you’re approaching something truly great.

    I am proud of the brave few who grew tired of waiting.

  19. Great reminder to own who we are and our individual dreams! I get scared when considering that my target audience isn’t everyone and then I realize how stupid that sounds!

  20. This post came right on time Jon! Thank you so much for the reminder, I so needed to hear this today. “Stop waiting for 100% of people to support your dream. Find a few who do and give them 100%” ~ Jon Acuff aka “The Man”

  21. This was so crazy good. Thank you, bro. I’ve fallen for the vanilla trap too many times before. As a communicator, I often know what will get a reaction or an applause/laugh because my ego is large and frail. The communicators I most respect are the ones that write for purpose not applause. This was a purpose post. Thanks for encouraging me to stay on a point.

  22. rachel

    I just wrote this same thought down a few weeks ago: “not every book is for everybody.” great post.

    p.s. francie doesn’t like coffee ice cream.

  23. I think we all tend to be vanilla rather than rocky road. I have caught myself reading other blogs see what style or subject they are writing about and unintentionally copy. We tend to shy away from standing alone but when we do that is when we create our art.

  24. Maurice

    That s why every time someone unsubscribe from blog, I become very happy. At least I know my email is not going to waste…and I am not talking to the wrong people.

  25. Jon, I completely agree. There must have been something in the air last week because on Friday I wrote a piece on the beauty and joy of imperfection, and how reliability and consistency can be really boring. I did not use the word vanilla, but I may as well have.

    You can read the piece here: http://www.stevenazarian.com/fixingstuff/imperfect-memories/

    Now, I’m off to get some white chocolate moose tracks on a sprinkle-coated waffle cone.

  26. To help reach the maximum number of people. If you fear coffee ice cream, be vanilla.

    Be safe. Be reasonable. Risk responsibly.

    But then again, who doesn’t like coffee ice cream?

  27. This is such an important concept to understand. Thanks!

  28. Very important to a vibrant community, these flavors you speak of. Let’s spend more time scraping the edges than wading to the middle.

  29. Chantal

    Good article. And you are correct. It reminds me of my mom who only likes French’s mustard, which my dad and I call “vanilla mustard” for exactly the reason that all of us can agree on this one mustard. Thanks for prompting us to be unique.

  30. Jen

    I’m a big fan of the show Mystery Science Theater, and the creator Joel Hodgson once said that before they launched the show there was a concern about whether or not people would get it. Joel’s response was, “The right people will get it.” I love that. Not everyone will like everything you do or say, but for the people who do, it can be life changing.

  31. Thanks Jon – A timely reminder!

  32. Dorothy

    Jon, My dream doesn’t seem very “unvanilla” but it is amazing how many people want to tell me I’m making a mistake! Thank you for reminding me that it is MY dream to become a school teacher and if it turns out to be a mistake, it will be MY mistake. I appreciate their concern thank you very much, but I’m all in and ready to face the outcome whatever it looks like. I really appreciate your humor!

  33. I have really enjoyed your posts since signing up for your e-mail subscription. This particular post hits home with me at the moment. In the midst of shifting my career to one that allows me a greater amount of freedom, its hard to not want to go for the masses right away. Messages are built over time. Many people find themselves as they travel down a certain path. There will always be a group that resonates with your ideas and direction. It’s important to be passionate about the application and direction that is most fulfilling to me. The rest will come naturally.

    Fantastic post Jon.

  34. Hey Jon

    I think about falling into the ‘vanilla trap’ every day because it’s exhausting to try convincing people you love that my dream is REAL. Sure, kicking off a new career is scary and it will take time to become reputable, but my passion IS REAL; it IS EMOTIONAL, it is VISCERAL.

    But sometimes fighting alone can get tiresome.

    Just this morning, I saw one of my close friends achieving yet another milestone as a writer. And as someone who loves to compare, I instantly felt horrible about my life and wondered – yet again – if my loved ones were right: maybe writing IS a pipe dream and I can’t succeed.

    But then I – thankfully – thought about several friends who seem to like me, admire me and trust me. Their support emboldens me to claw my way out of this trap every time I fall.

    I have lived a Vanilla existence for three decades; I believe it’s time to add some caramel swirls to it 🙂 (and I say this is a HUGE proponent of vanilla ice cream, which – along with Strawberry – are the only two flavors I like – lol)

    Thanks for another gut-wrenching message, Jon

    Kitto

  35. It’s like you knew I woke up this morning needing to hear this. I am right smack dab in the middle of creating my online presence and the identity thing is looming over my head. I do like vanilla, but I at least want a fudge swirl in there somewhere.

  36. Thanks. I have been working on a project and some people ive shared it with seemed extremely disinterested and it got me really down that they didnt like it. I considered quiting. This was a nice reminder that its ok if not everyone likes it. I need to focus on those that it will reach.

  37. so true. thank you for the reminder :)!!

  38. KC

    One of our family’s favorite local restaurants is Fat Burger. They’ve got great tasting food, delicious shakes, and an old diner atmosphere.

    My favorite part about Fat Burger is they know who their customer is and who their customer is not. There is a large poster hanging one corner that straight up says, “We’re not for everyone.” It makes me smile every time.

    So many restaurants, companies, and people try to please everyone and be everything to everybody. Not Fat Burger. Just shameless, great tasting food with no nutrition facts on the menu.

    Order up!

  39. Dona

    GREAT thoughts WELL said!!! 🙂 Thank you!

  40. Thanks for the reminder, Jon, and perfect timing too. I have a blog where I write short stories inspired by images I find on the Internet. The last story was very dear to my heart but it only got three likes. Discouragement set in and the temptation to tone myself down a bit did enter my mind, but then it wouldn’t my voice in my writing anymore. Thanks for your courage, Jon 🙂

  41. This is the excat advice I needed to hear.

    I’ve been having doubts if I need to continue writing. If this is really my calling, my purpose.

    After reading this, the voice inside my head is the vanilla trap trying to advise me, lure me to the path of mediocrity.

    Thank you so much Jon for writing this!

  42. Ashley

    I can so relate to this. I think it’s wonderful!! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂 XO!