I found this article by Ray Tirado on Medium, which has become one of my new favorite places to find great content. Titled “7 Reasons You Will Never Do Anything Amazing With Your Life“, Ray gives us (and himself) a kick in the butt to get going on learning, failing, succeeding, and repeating. The article has generated a lot of interest on the ‘net, equal parts encouraging, affirming, hating, and rejecting. Funny how that always seems to be the case when you pick a fight and stick to your guns. Thanks for writing Ray, and here’s your sketchnotes.
As people actively engaged in creative work, we are aware of the force which attempts to distract us at any cost. Steven Pressfield calls this force The Resistance, Seth Godin termed it The Lizard Brain, and Brene Brown pictures a little gremlin. In all of its forms, the Resistance is one of the most destructive forces in our world, and has robbed us of countless works of art, acts of kindness, and basic happiness.
In my own work, I’ve noticed five ways the Resistance attacks us in our work and personal life. Whether the day’s calling is to write, record, or engage, the Resistance is lying in wait to patiently offer up displacement activities. In order to know thine enemy, you must know how they work.
This type of distraction is the low-hanging fruit of the Resistance. Stupid distractions are the kind where nothing constructive is being done or learned. They include all types of social media, web browsing, video games, personal emails, pleasure reading, and more. The encouraging part of stupid distractions is how quickly you can realize what you’re doing is stupid, and get yourself back on track. When you’re creating art, browsing through Facebook’s news feed or diving in to the black hole of Reddit is stupid. Mentally pull yourself back and keep working.
This is where the Resistance begins to deploy better tactics. Busy work can include activities such as cleaning the house, doing the dishes, work-related emails and administrative tasks, giving the dog a bath, updating your calendar, and so on. The deception and brilliance used by the Resistance is that all of these tasks have an important place in your life. But that place is not when you should be working. I only ever volunteer to sweep or do the dishes when I should be working instead. Do the work, then the dishes. Not the other way around (click to tweet that).
As you continue to deflect the attacks of the Resistance, progress will remain difficult, because the attacks will continue to improve. The siren song of self-improvement is a powerful track for creatives, because it’s part of the reason we are able to do what we do. We know there is value in reading that book or blog post, listening to that podcast or signing up for that class. But when we delay or diminish our creative output in the name of self-improvement, it’s a lie and an excuse. I would argue that even exercise, for all of its benefits on energy, productivity, and brain function, is still the work of the Resistance when it detracts from your work.
One of the final stands of the Resistance is blatant and brutal self-doubt. Take heart, because the little gremlin is getting desperate. You begin to hear and feel like you’re not good enough, smart enough, creative enough, well connected enough, funny enough, generally not enough to do what you’ve been called to do. And none of it’s true. When I begin to hear the little gremlin spew self-doubt, I try to think of Marianne Williamson’s wonderful quote from A Return to Love:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.”
The shadow career is relatively quiet and content type of Resistance. This patient type of attack was also coined by Pressfield, who describes the shadow career as the addiction we nurture instead of the work we are passionate about. Perhaps you are passionate about writing, but too addicted to money or status to downgrade your car, apartment, and clothes and start writing in earnest. The change doesn’t need to be that drastic, but if you’re passionate about a type of work or art, then start doing something about it and stop talking about it.
The Resistance loves to have us talk incessantly about our hobbies and interests but never do anything about them, no matter the interest. We engage in displacement activities and shadow careers because they give us some type of fulfillment, but in the end they slowly and steadily rob us of our true calling.
The Next Step
There’s one last trick to understanding the temptation of these attacks. None of these activities are inherently bad. Social media receives a bad rap sometimes, but it’s an incredible way to connect and build a platform. Of course you should keep a clean home (and happy spouse) and exercise. But those activities shouldn’t displace your calling. When the time has come to work, you shouldn’t decide now is the time to mow the grass. It’s time to do the work. Mow the grass when it’s time to mow the grass. Exercise when it’s time to exercise, and here’s a mind-bender… don’t write when it’s time to exercise!
What lies at the center is discipline. The discipline to do what is important now. The Resistance wants you to be undisciplined, unhappy, and unfulfilled.
Overcoming the Resistance isn’t easy, or beaten once and rid of it for life. The Resistance is patient, and has eternity to come back when we are complacent, cocky, or desperate. However, once we understand the little gremlin’s tactics, we have an advantage. We can recognize the attacks, and respond accordingly. Spend this week recognizing the attacks, and make a conscious choice to do the work. Next week, I’ll share the five tactics I’ve used to fight back, and keep my best work at the forefront. Keep fighting everyone, the world needs it.
In the past few months, I’ve reached to many well known speakers, writers, entrepreneurs; for two reasons.
1. Ask to help and/or assist
Whether I believed I could help with a website, blog, conference, or social media, I presented a few options and in many cases my offer was accepted.
2. I wanted to be in their club
More than a guest post, volunteer position, or even a job, I basically wanted to be in their club. The cool kids, the world-changers, the minimalists, the adventurers, and so on. I spent too much creative time thinking when I would receive the email or phone call saying I was in.
Sadly, I was still waiting to be picked.
In October, I was at Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference, and he was speaking about struggle and transformation. Donald had just moved to Nashville, and honestly he was a person I hoped would invite me into his club of cool guys and world-changers. I had a feeling (which I wasn’t paying attention to) I wouldn’t join his club, and then the thought struck me.
What if I’m the person I’ve been waiting for?
The thought was simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. What if I’m the change, the leader, the one who helps people grow, develop, and make a difference? Instead of waiting to be picked, I plant my own stake in the ground and begin building, connecting, and helping others?
The decision to be the person you’ve been waiting for isn’t an egotistical choice, far from it! You are actually deciding to be who you really are, one action at a time. I’ve found it’s more egotistical to wait for someone to pick you! In the mindset of waiting to be picked, you’re in a constant fight of trying to measure up to someone else’s expectations, and consequently the qualifications of those you’re competing with. I can’t count how many times I looked at another person and thought “I’m better at what they’re doing than they are, why did they get picked?”
My experience since Storyline has also led me to try and figure out how to become that person, which has been wrought with frustration and shiny-object syndrome. Despite this, I believe I know how to change. The decision and resulting actions are possibly the most rewarding and challenging I’ve ever faced. Here’s the result of my findings.
Step 1: Decide what you’re going to do
Step 2: Start doing it
Step 3: Keep doing it
Instead of trying to find the perfect match and be the perfect person, just start doing one of the things you really care about. Whatever IT is, IT won’t be perfect. Neither are you, your marriage, your kids, or the weather.
Make a choice. Stop waiting for someone cool to call you up and invite you in to their secret club. It’s not going to happen. You are the person you’ve been waiting for.
So start acting like it.
P.S. – After writing this, I will email it to my list, post to social media, and promote it for several days. Each day, I will hope it goes viral, is retweeted by a cool person with lots of followers, and otherwise give me the satisfaction of being picked. This is natural, but I think the key is to not be consumed by the affirmation of others. You’re enough, and you’ll need to be reminded every day. You can be the person you’ve been waiting for.
P.P.S. – I’m launching a podcast on February 10th, called Story Signals. It’s dedicated to helping us live with purpose, clarity, and meaning. On the first day, we’ll have interviews with Jia Jiang (Fearbuster and 100 Days of Rejection) and Brendan Leonard (Semi-Rad and The New American Road Trip Mixtape). If you’d like to help, share StorySignals.com with your online (and in-person!) communities! I really appreciate it.
Photo credit: Cheryl VanStane
Earlier this month, I read Steve Jobs, the autobiography of the great innovator and tech giant. Throughout the book, a central message was evident in Jobs’ life, and seemed to be the overarching theme of his work at Apple.
The ability to focus on what truly matters to the product and the user is a difficult task. Adding on features, colors, and copy can distract from what truly makes a product or service unique and special.
In Jobs’ final weeks, he invited Google CEO Eric Schmidt to his home to give advice on how to be the type of CEO who built a lasting company. Here’s what Jobs stressed to Schmidt:
“Focus. Figure out what you want to be when you grow up. Right now you’re all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down.”
My biggest resolution in the coming new year is to get focused in 2014. Now for the past several months, focus has been my mantra, if not my everyday practice. Jobs’ insistence that simplicity is not easy has never been more obvious. Picking and honing your focus is a strenuous and difficult task. Focusing means you say no to many different opportunities, because they don’t fit. Focus means cutting away the clutter in your work and life so you can see the few things which really matter.
Focusing is difficult because of the fear of missing out, thinking I need to be ready for the next big thing to present itself. But what I’m missing out on is the opportunity to continually go deeper in the task I’m focusing on. This short story symbolizes the lesson well.
Two men, Jack and John, own adjoining fields during the gold rush. Jack picks a spot where he sees little gold flakes, and begins to dig. John does the same, and they spend the day digging. The next morning, Jack returns to the same hole and continues to dig. As John is walking to his hole, he sees a glint of gold a few yards away. He immediately runs over and spends the day digging this new hole. The same routine continues for several months.
One day, far below the earth, Jack’s shovel strikes something hard. He digs a little deeper to find a vein of gold running through his land. His persistence has paid off! John hears of his friend’s good fortune, and can’t help but look at his own field, marked with countless holes about as deep as he is tall. Which man are you?
A common argument against topical focus is that there are so many mediums in which to tell your story and put your stake in the ground. Think of the problem this way though: the main topic or mission of your company doesn’t change, but how you tell the story and share the mission can. Google spent a lot of time refining their search engine before branching off in to mail, docs, and more. Apple began with computers, spending the first 17 years as a company just building computers and software. Then of course came the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad.
Your missional focus doesn’t change, you simply pivot on how you’re telling the message, based on what the numbers and the market are telling you. Here’s another example: Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income is all about teaching people passive income strategies to help make money on the side (or full-time). Pat shares his message through a blog, podcast, and YouTube videos. You see? Why Pat does something doesn’t change, but how he shares it might be different.
Jiro Ono, the famed Sushi chef, has this to say about picking your craft , and not being led by fear:
“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”
As we all move in to 2014, my hope for all of us is to have the courage to say no to a few things, so we can say yes to what truly matters, and will allow us to make a long-term impact on our family, community, and work.
Happy New Year!
What are you focusing on in your life? Are you ruled by the fear of missing out, or choosing the “wrong” focus? If you’ve kept your focus for several months or years, what are some ways you hone your focus and block out distractions? We’d love to hear in the comments.
The Dirtbag lifestyle has become a part of the outdoorsman’s lore. The dirtbag is an individual who has forsaken most modern comforts for the opportunity to do some really kick-ass stuff. Whether the dirtbag is a climber, paddler, backpacker, or many different things, they’ve dedicated their life to a pursuit of the “cool impossible”.
Maybe you can’t throw everything to wind, live in a van, and go climb Yosemite Valley all season. That’s reasonable. But equally unreasonable is the same extreme of going all in, which is never taking any adventures.
Your reason may be time, it may be money. Let’s tackle money. Will you do some simple math with me? Thanks.
- How much money do you spend on clothes each year?
- How often do you go out to eat?
- Buy coffee from the shop instead of brewing at home?
Cut it all in half.
My guess is you’ll probably have a few hundred dollars in your pocket at this point, and likely a bit more. Do you have enough money to buy a plane ticket somewhere awesome? Maybe take an epic road trip?
If you care to go even deeper, what about your TV and cable? By cutting cable from our life two years ago, my wife and I saved $960 per year! We try and go on one trip per year that is under $1000, and a few times during that trip (San Diego this year) we’ll chuckle about how much better this is than TV.
Let’s go back to food. If you go out to eat once per week, and spend $25 each time (both pretty conservative estimates), cut away one meal per month. For ease of math, let’s say your net savings for the meal is $20, resulting in a $240 savings for the year. That’s a couple nights in a good hotel, maybe on your cable-free trip!
You can see the trend here. What do you really want to do? Unless you have unlimited funds, we need to have the courage to make some long-term decisions. Saying no to something now is hard because it’s now! Like a child staring at a marshmallow, we find it difficult to wait.
What do you want to remember when the year is over, when five years have passed? Eating Chipotle one more time and being able to dvr The Walking Dead, or traveling to a place you’ve always wanted to visit?
Here are two tricks we’ve found helpful to control spending and focus on long-term goals and trips.
Our friends Heath and Katie gave us this idea, and they got it from somebody else. Withdraw your budgeted amount of money at the beginning of the month, and only spend from that envelope. We found splurge spending went down when you’re looking at actual cash instead of just whippin’ out the card whenever you need it.
Take 10% of your budget and place it in a rations envelope, in case you burn through the money faster than you think. 10% should give you enough to eat rice and beans or PB&J your last week if needed.
Yeah, an oldie but a goodie, as people say. Here’s one little tweak though. Instead of setting aside your coins and petty cash, put in the cash from things you have given up each month or week. So if you ate in one night, put $25 in the jar. If you gave up cable, put $100 (or whatever) in the jar. If you ran the AC or heat less, put the difference in the jar!
Do what truly matters to you. Think about what you want to do with your time and money, and think big. Picture the big picture, and it makes little limitations seem possible. You’re not just saying no to cable, you’re saying yes to the next adventure.
“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.” – Jiro Ono
Have you decided on your occupation? The part of your life which will likely require more attention and thought than anything else? If you’re like me, at 30, you may believe you have decided, or possess a strong leaning towards an occupation.
However, what do you do when you feel you have too many ideas or possible career paths? Business ideas and products seem to come spilling out of you, and it’s difficult to decide which to devote your life to! Further, should you settle on simply one thing, or become the modern renaissance man, able to dabble in many different pursuits?
Creative professionals lean towards thinking they have too many ideas, and of course they’re all good! Troubles is, ideas are often too divergent. Work at an established company, open a coffee shop, a fitness gym, write and teach, design websites, be a consultant, and on and on. Maybe you feel the same way, or have faced this earlier in life. Which ideas do you focus on? And what if you pick the wrong set?
1. Pick Your Occupation
I recently watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and I felt I was watching my questions played out in front of me, answered by an 85 year old sushi chef. I realized I had been thinking about my ideas all wrong. There is no shortage of good ideas in the world, and certainly no shortage in the minds of creative people. What sabotages us is the struggle to focus our creative energy and ideas to one occupation or calling.
2. Focus on the Ideas
“I would see ideas in dreams. In dreams, I would see grand visions of Sushi. ” – Jiro
Do you think Jiro only dreams of sushi? He probably does, but his life is dedicated to mastering the art of sushi. His ideas are so numerous they spill over in to his dreams. To Jiro, there is no shortage of great ideas about sushi. He may dream and have ideas about other things, but likely he gives them nary a moment of his time or thoughts. There are too many ideas just about sushi!
This is a revelation to creative professionals. Our monkey-mind fascination with new ideas and side projects is an obstacle to be overcome. But by the same token, realize that when you devote your life to the pursuit of a craft, when you fall in love, that same fountain of ideas will be channeled in to a firehose of inspiration for your craft. The same random nature of your ideas will become focused on one thing, the very occupation you have dedicated your life to.
3. Commit to the Craft
To make such a choice is intimidating, we always want to be sure we’re choosing the right one. But if you take the long view of your choices, isn’t it enough to realize you can become truly great at one thing? Something you can be remembered by?
“I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is!” – Jiro
Jiro has realized that a lifetime is enough to dedicate to a single pursuit of excellence. He is the undisputed master of his domain, the first sushi chef to be awarded three stars by Michelin. But despite his success, and the ideas which daily inspire new ways of working and crafting the finest sushi in the world, Jiro continues to aspire to greatness. He is not satisfied with the awards and honor of his peers. Jiro seeks to better himself and his craft on a daily basis.
4. Work with Like-minded People
I told the Hyatt hotel I wouldn’t sell Jiro’s favorite rice to them… because they don’t know how to cook it! – Rice vendor
In the creative field, how often do we see people rest on the laurels of their success, content to coast? Their work is not about pushing the envelope, it’s about accumulating wealth and status. Several times in the film, Jiro, his apprentices, and vendors insist “our work is not about the money, it’s about being the best”. What is the driving force behind your work?
Finally, for all of his success, Jiro has made a habit of surrounding himself with like-minded people. His son, apprentices, and vendors all share the same passion for mastering their craft, whether in sushi, tuna, rice, or shrimp. Surround yourself with people who are on your side, who support your work, and hold you accountable in your focus.
5. Insist on Excellence
As we saw with Jiro’s rice vendor, he demands excellence in all aspects of his work. His tuna vendor buys the best tuna, not the most, only purchasing 10% of the tuna he inspects. The man insists, “Out of ten tuna, only one can be the best.” Jiro only accepts apprentices who are willing to commit to ten years of work (minimum), before Jiro will name them Shokunin (master craftsman). He accepts them and teaches the same techniques he uses each day, coaching and refining the apprentices through many years and many failures. If they are willing to show up and commit, so is Jiro. One apprentice describes making Tamagoyaki over 200 times before Jiro deemed it acceptable to serve. The apprentice wept tears of happiness. He was Shokunin.
Do not fear your choice, it doesn’t mean you will always be at the same company or even the same job title. The gift of choice is that it offers clarity, and focuses your ideas. The transformation will not happen overnight, and there will be failures. But to become Shokunin in your work is to always be in demand. In a world of monkey-minded generalists, you will stand out.
So dream, and see grand visions of your art.
Last year, I had the honor of guest posting with one of my favorite sites, Tentblogger (now john.do). The topic was personal satisfaction outside of your work, and I thought I had a message people needed to hear.
Your work cannot define you
Hold the arguments please, and let me give some additional perspective.
In today’s world, people will likely change jobs and even entire shifts in careers during their working life. Attaching your personal identity to a type of work, and especially a specific company, is a recipe for frustration. In an era where job switching is so prevalant, please don’t make the mistake I did and tie up your sense of personal worth in a job.
In the immortal words of Tyler Durden:
You’re not your job, you’re not your car, you’re not the contents of your wallet.
Fight Club offers more perspective on materialism:
Let’s pull the lens out further. I had too much of myself wrapped up in my last job. The work was very meaningful and fulfilling, but I placed too much of my identity on being influential, important, and respected there. I was proud of the work, but also egotistical about it. I told myself I had made the choice to serve, and not sold out to the man. The root evidence of pride was still there. All the while, I said I was not defined by my work.
Fast forward, and I realize how much I was lying to myself. Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being influential, relied upon, and doing meaningful work. The point is that it was still a source of unhealthy pride for me. I’m no longer at the same job, and living the in-between of part-time work, starting a business, and figuring out the next chapter of life.
This in-between stage is teaching me how to stay humble, do the task you’ve been given, and hustle. I’m learning again how to place my true identity outside of my work. I can wear many hats in how I make money because they’re just a temporary role for who I really am.
One particular line from the article has resonated with me, because I realized I didn’t believe it.
I would find other ways to contribute, help others, and support my family.
When I wrote these words, I was thinking about doing something equally important, fun, or cool to talk about. Brewmaster, for example. Sure I’m in-between jobs, but I get to be around beer all day! Of course while I’m doing working the taps I would be making lots of internet money, leaving me free of the tension of bills. Of course I’m enough, because I’m not being challenged to be anything else.
But where I find myself is at a job where I don’t feel particularly fulfilled, bleeding our savings, not making money online, and feeling stuck on my personal path. Am I enough? I’m reflecting on the question.
So what does this mean for all of us? I’ve realized this is a lesson I’m going to have to learn and revisit throughout life. I’ll probably get tied up in my work again, it’s a significant temptation for men especially. We measure ourselves based on output, both financially and the influence we have. Regardless of gender, extracting ourselves from outward metrics and being at peace with who we are regardless of the work we’re doing is a lifelong journey.
Ask yourself a few questions today, and reflect on the answers.
1. What personal identity am I placing in my work?
2. How would I feel if I wasn’t working here? What else would I do? And what if Plan B (C, D, etc) didn’t work out? Am I still enough then?
3. What personal traits am I proud of and are valued regardless of the work I’m doing?
I’m asking myself these questions on a regular basis, and realizing the answers help stave off feelings of shame, a lack of productivity, and personal meaning. When we know that our identity isn’t residing at the office or the amount of money we bring in, we’re opened up to doing more meaningful work, and having better relationships outside of the office.
If you have a story of living in-between jobs and chapters in life, please share it! I personally would love to hear your words. The comments are yours, or you can email me directly; matt @ mattragland.com