Courage to Start

I’ve been thinking a lot more about something Seth Godin wrote about on his blog the other day, and that I’ve written about before too.

We often worry so much about whether our ideas are good enough, whether what we’re about to do is going to have an impact, that we never even bother to start.  We worry that whatever we do won’t be enough. 

But what if you forget about trying to get over all of your fears? What if you simply conjure up the courage to start? To take one step forward at building something, at creating art, at making the world better? 

That one step, it turns out, means something. In fact, it means a lot.

With that one step, it’s likely that you will inspire someone else to take a step forward themselves. You will give them the courage to start.

Your courage to take a small step creates a chain reaction of small steps. And those small steps add up to something big.  

Thoughts & Observations

How Seth Godin Plays Pictionary

Seth Godin is really good at Pictionary. In fact, from what he says, he rarely loses (a fact also just confirmed by his son Alex).

This is how he does it:

Before the person drawing can even get their pen down to the paper, Seth starts shouting out words. He continues to shout out whatever words come to mind even when the only thing that has made it onto the paper so far is a single straight line. As the drawing takes shape, he continues with the barrage of words until he inevitably guesses correctly and wins once again.

Most people don’t play Pictionary that way. Most people hesitate because they are afraid of saying something stupid. They think, and pause, and edit. They don’t want to be judged. They’re worried they will say something crazy and everyone will laugh at them.

We all hesitate for that reason more than we think.

Try writing the words “I am afraid people will laugh at me” down on a piece of paper.

It looks a little ridiculous. Because, really, as a thing preventing us from moving forward, it kind of is.



Thoughts & Observations

But I Put So Much Time In Already

The doctor who hated doing surgery but stuck with being a surgeon anyway, just because he had “put so much time in already.”

The writer who, three-quarters of the way through writing a novel, realized it wasn’t what she wanted to write, but finished it and turned it in anyway because she had “put so much time in already.”

The couple who has been together for 10 years and are both miserable, but decide to enlist in another 10 years of misery just because they “had put so much time in already.”

When we’re young, we’re taught the value of sticking with what we start until it’s done. And that’s a good thing because otherwise we would all be eating half-cooked meals in half-built houses that we drive to and from in half-built cars.

But I think focusing on the value of sticking with things concurrently diminishes the value of quitting. We eventually get to the point where our subconscious is constantly buzzing in our ear, telling us that quitting anything is bad.

We also tend to feel that the more time we’ve put into something, the more value there is to sticking with it. If you’ve trained for years to be surgeon, then you better damn well continue to be a surgeon. It’s as if sticking with it will somehow give it value that up until that point had been completely missing.

But zero multiplied by any number equals zero.

If I have put five hours or five days or even five years into something and it is making me miserable, not adding value to my life, not my best work, has little prospect of getting better, has little long-term benefit, or was just simply the wrong path to take in the first place, then putting in another five hours, days or years continuing down the same path is not likely to make it any better.

We avoid quitting because as much as sticking with something can make us miserable, quitting and having to start over can be downright painful. It can be gut-wrenching and vomit inducing. But I think I’d rather deal with the momentary unpleasantness of barfing then deal with feeling queasy and uneasy over the long haul, knowing I was still walking down the wrong path.

*Seth Godin has a few interesting things to say on this subject – check out The Dip

Thoughts & Observations

Will It Be Good Enough?

There is no shortage of ideas.

There is no shortage of dreams.

But there is a shortage of people actually willing to turn their ideas and dreams into something.

If you’re waiting to start something or launch something or create something because you aren’t sure it will be good enough, join the club. Almost everyone you know has been secretly (or very vocally) dreaming for years about writing a book or starting a company. The majority of the time, people stay in that state forever.

Everyone has ideas. So stop worrying about whether yours is good enough.

Just realize that if you actually do something with your idea, you’re already ahead of 99% of the people out there.

*Inspired by a little kick in the pants by Seth Godin

Thoughts & Observations

Do You Create Art?

The village store in the town where I grew up is what I think city folk envision when they plan an escape to the country. It is right in the center of town, up the street from the church and the little schoolhouse. There is no parking lot. You just pull your car to the side of the road and make your way up the two granite steps in front of the store. You push open the heavy red wood door and an old-fashioned bell hanging above the door announces your arrival. The old wooden floorboards have weathered the footsteps of the town for almost 200 years. If you stop in early on a weekday morning, you will likely catch the standard group of townspeople nursing cups of coffee as they discuss the business of the town: a situation at the dump, the volunteer fire department needing new equipment, or the politics of an upcoming election.

It would be easy for this village store to be just like any other convenience store. It would be easy to stock the shelves full of Bud Light and potato chips, beef jerky and quarts of milk. It would also be easy to write the store off: the population it is serving has lingered between 1,000 and 1,500 since it was first established in the early 1800s. If you run out of milk or need an extra cup of sugar, it is the only place in town you can go. They have built in demand and that could make it inviting to just kick back and take the path of least resistance in running the store.

That, however, is not the path that the owners of the village store chose. They have turned owning the village store in a little town into an art. They have one of the best selections of beer in the state. They stock eggs laid by chickens right up the road and maple syrup made from the town’s maple trees. Their honey is from local beehives, and they stock local ice cream, coffee, and wine. They partnered with a local chef to create an amazing selection of healthy pre-made meals for busy townspeople rushing home from a long day of work.

They chose the difficult path, a path that requires creative thinking and the emotional work of finding just the right products to take up the precious space on their few shelves. They did not have a guarantee that running a store the way they chose would produce more revenue. I have a feeling that was not necessarily the basis for their decision. Nor do I think they did it because they wanted to get written up in the paper or featured in some foodie magazine. I think they did it because they could not imagine running a store in any other way.

The work that they undertook is not easy. Once they started down their path, they could not turn back. If they did, everyone would notice that they have given up.

This is why so few people turn their business into art. There is tremendous fear associated with giving up on the old formula and creating a brand new one. There is no guarantee that it will work and we tend to like to walk down paths that have a predetermined destination.

Even more fear inducing though, is thinking about what will happen when you do succeed. Once you succeed, you have to keep it up. Once you are known for having an amazing beer selection, you can never go back to just carrying Bud Light. Once you have established that you are great (or your store is great or your product is great), you have to keep being great. People find it much easier to be consistently mediocre and surprise people with slight movements into the territory of great every once and a while, then to be great all the time.

Each time I cross over the threshold to the store and hear the bell clinging over my head, it feels like everything in the world is as it should be. Work should always be transformed into that type of art.

Thoughts & Observations

What It Means to Fail

Some people get confused about what it means to fail.

The business gurus of the world talk about failure being a good thing. Seth Godin even tells a story about how he once told one of his employees that they weren’t failing enough, and that they needed to start failing significantly more within the next few weeks or else they would be out of a job.

But the failing that Seth and others are talking about isn’t the casting all judgment aside and making mindless decisions type of failing. It’s the failing associated with trying something new and taking risks.

Failing isn’t a synonym for being an idiot.

In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. Failing is what happens when you muster all the knowledge, information, wisdom and ideas you’ve got into creating or trying something new and it doesn’t happen to work.

Being an idiot on the other hand? That’s when you leave bits and pieces of those things out. Maybe you’ve got a big idea, but you don’t apply any wisdom or you forget your values or you stop being humble.

All of us do idiotic things once in a while. We just have to be careful not to turn it into a practice, letting ourselves off the hook by evoking the names of the business Gods who told us it was ok to fail. That’s not, in fact, what they meant.


Thoughts & Observations

The Creativity Myth

I used to think there was something inherent about being creative: you either were or you weren’t.

But creativity isn’t about having some special gene.

People who are creative just show up more.

They sit down at their desk and write day after day. Or they show up at the studio and choreograph and dance. Or they sit down at the piano and play. Over and over again. Even when they don’t feel like it.

Sooner or later, all of that showing up starts to translate into something. Their mind gets working differently and they see the world a little differently, and things seems to start aligning themselves.

It’s a nice excuse to say that you don’t have that special, magic creative gene.

But you know what the real answer is.

Thoughts & Observations

The One Guy Theory…and Squirrels

What started as an icky feeling towards the generally coveted “best practice” is now a full on theory of distrust towards anything that includes the words “best practice”.

I’ve always referred to it as the “I know this one guy theory” (I know this one guy who started a business on Tuesday and by Friday he had made, like, 2 million dollars!).

Seth Godin calls likens this same issue to “A Million Blind Squirrels”

Further evidence that I’m not crazy to think that best practices are, well…crazy.

Thoughts & Observations

Stop Being Slow

This is my new motto (thanks Seth Godin):

“First rule of decision making: More time does not create better decisions.

In fact, it usually decreases the quality of the decision.

More information may help. More time without more information just creates anxiety, not insight.

Deciding now frees up your most valuable asset, time, so you can go work on something else. What happens if, starting today, you make every decision as soon as you have a reasonable amount of data?”