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Last year, I saw Tom Petty in concert shortly before he passed away. All night I waited for him to play a song with a killer guitar riff- Running Down a Dream.

Running Down a Dream is also the title of my friend Tim Grahl’s latest book. A highly sought after book launch guru, Tim has had five books on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time. He has also helped thousands of authors through his Book Launch site and The Story Grid podcast that he co-hosts with Shawn Coyne.

In a blaze of glory twelve years ago, Tim Grahl quit his day job and went to work for himself full time. Having taught himself internet marketing and web development, he used the form emails from Charlie Hoen’s book Recession Proof Graduate to pitch authors on how to improve their websites and help them market themselves online.

His concept was simple: find a way to practically help people and do it for free, with the agreement that they will look at a proposal to hire you if the techniques worked. His first solo launch with Dan Pink’s book To Sell is Human debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestsellers list. In the face of this success, Tim felt no joy, only the pressure to repeat his success.

When his second book launch debuted at #2, the authors he helped were ecstatic, but Tim felt like a failure again. Though he had escaped the cubicle nation and was living the dream he thought he wanted, it was the wrong dream. Still, he continued to work, helping authors launch their books and even successfully releasing his own book- Your First 1,000 Copies.

Tim leveraged a successful online course launch into some free time where he didn’t need to work to pay the bills. He used that time to explore writing fiction and volunteered to help Shawn Coyne with his online platform for The Story Grid. That relationship blossomed into a podcast with over 120 episodes and into Tim’s own work of fiction due out in 2019.

None of the success he experienced in his shadow career as book marketer was enough to fix him. Today on The Portfolio Life, Tim talks about his new book, what he’s learned chasing down a dream and realizing it’s not the right dream, and discovering his inner truth.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

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In this episode, Tim Grahl shares his journey and the secrets to his early success:

  • If you want important people’s attention, you need to help them with something.
  • When he makes a plan, Tim is a ruthless marketer. But when he implements it, he does so with generosity and love.
  • When learning something new, you can make all the mistakes yourself, or you can learn from someone who knows what they’re doing and save years of life.
It’s not about running the dream down, but the joy of running down the dream.
Tim Grahl
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How Tim got Shawn Coyne to teach him fiction
  • Tim asked for 30 minutes of Shawn’s time and received a 45 minute answer to his first question.
  • They both agreed to walk away after ten podcast episodes if they both didn’t like the results of the show.
  • Tim offered to do all the work for the podcast in exchange for Shawn’s time.
The dream is not being successful, the dream is becoming who I am meant to be.
Tim Grahl
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Writing Running Down a Dream
  • Tim wanted to write the how-to guide to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.
  • The initial feedback to his first draft was not good from me or Shawn Coyne.
  • He ended up sharing a practical guide to overcoming Resistance inside a story of the devastating and hard things that happen when you chase your dream.

What dream are you running down? Let us know in the .

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Recently, a friend asked if I ever felt like a fake writing about writing instead of, you know, just writing. I’ve been asked this question lots of times before. No one has asked it more than me.

It’s a good question, one we all must ask ourselves at some point: Am I doing what I’m meant to do, or am I settling? At some point in your work, you will wonder if you are living up to your potential or merely doing the safe thing.

And believe it or not, this an excellent place to be. It tells you that something is wrong. And what you do next is very important. In addition to this blog post, I also recorded a podcast to expand on the idea of what to do when you feel like a fake.

Listen to the podcast You have a true self (listen to it)

To begin, if you feel like a fake, then that assumes there is a true version of you, some identity that sits deep at your core. I believe that.

One of my favorite writers and thinkers is an old Trappist monk named Thomas Merton, and one of Merton’s most well-known ideas is the concept of the false self. Here’s how he writes about it:

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false Self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves.

He argues that the greatest sin a person can commit is to not be true to themselves. Parker Palmer makes a similar distinction between your “soul” (who you really are) and your “role” (what society expects of you).  He says that it is better for a person to be whole than it is to be good.

I resonate with that. My greatest miseries in life were not caused by failure. They were caused by success. When I was successful at the wrong thing, when I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t—that’s when I was most miserable.

The same, it seems, can be said for some of history’s greatest authors and artists. Eventually, they realized the roles they were playing were not the ones they were meant to play. Or perhaps, they simply outgrew them.

At any rate, the point for you and me is that when we feel like a fake, we need to listen to that voice. It’s telling us something is out of alignment, and we must take action to correct it. Otherwise, we might just go through life, living out of our false self, thinking it’s the real thing. And it’s not.

There’s a lot more riding on this than you know. Hemingway moved on from journalism, though at various times in his life returned to it, to change the way we read stories in the English language. Gilbert did the same and inspired millions of people with her books and famous Ted Talk (which is one of my favorites). And Tim Grahl just completed his masterpiece (which I highly recommend).

So we cannot take these voices lightly, these voices that whisper to us in the dark of who we really are and what we’re meant to do. Who knows what’s really at stake.

Shadow careers are necessary

Steven Pressfield has a name for this phenomenon of finding yourself doing something that is close to your calling but not quite it it. He calls it a “shadow career.”

The basic idea is that all of us have a true calling in life, but most of us at some point settle for something less—a “shadow” of the true thing, as it were.

Almost every great writer and artist, at some point, had a shadow career, something they were good at that paid the bills but wasn’t their true calling.

For example:

  • Ernest Hemingway was a war correspondent.
  • Elizabeth Gilbert was a travel writer for magazines.
  • Tim Grahl was a marketer of other people’s books.

This is how the work begins. You get a sense that something is missing. So you leave the familiar in search of something else. You chase your calling and find something that looks a lot like it. It’s not exactly what you thought but close enough.

This is how the work begins, but it is not how it ends. These are all good things, but they are also shadows or a truer thing.

So here’s the thing that no one ever seems to say about shadow careers: they’re necessary. Shadow careers are not a distraction from the work you’re meant to do. They are the first iteration of that work.

Shadow careers are not a distraction from the work you’re meant to do.
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Most of us, at some point, had a moment when what we were doing felt like posing, and we were tempted to believe we were a fraud. And that’s an important step in process. It goes beyond faking it till you make it and comes down to you recognizing the truth about yourself.

The way you get to your best work is by pushing through those feelings of inadequacy, while listening to the inner voice that calls you out when you are being fake. And as you go, you discard what is false and keep what is true.

Before you can see the light, you first have to see the shadow.

Don’t stay stuck in the shadows

So, you find something that looks like the light that you were chasing. You set up shop, camp out on this thing you call your calling. You experience some success and maybe even earn yourself a nice little status. And if you’re not careful, you can assume that this shadow career is the destination.

Every artist has to pay the bills. That’s called being a grown-up. But there comes the point when you are no longer trying just to survive. You’re doing the work and making a living. It’s not exactly your dream, but it’s close enough.

And now, you find yourself hesitant to try something new. The stakes are higher, and you have more to risk losing. So, you hide behind success, behind a role, and your soul begins to scream.

This is how you know you are hiding: you’re afraid to risk losing the shadow. That’s a dangerous place to be because at this point you don’t need the shadow. It needs you more than you need it. Your true self is calling out, and your false self is trying to keep it quiet.

Now, you need to take the next step into the light, and that can difficult. After all, we are not very good at recognizing the illusions we have about ourselves. It takes guts to step out of the shadows when the shadows are safe. That is why you must do it.

If you feel like a fake, then there’s a good chance you’re not one.
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We all feel like impostors at some point. But the cliche advice that you should “join the crowd” (which I admit I’ve said before) will not satisfy your inner longing to be your true self. You’re going to have to do that work of becoming who you’re really meant to be on your own. Because only you can decide when you’re living true to yourself and merely posing.

The good news is this: If you feel like a fake, then there’s a good chance you’re not one. Because the poseurs don’t ask such deep and dark questions. They’re too busy taking selfies.

Most professionals I know, conversely, are wracked with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. They’re obsessed with making the work what it’s supposed to be and often feel like broken vessels for delivering something so pure.

Many of history’s most celebrated artists had day jobs, at least for a while. They used the commercial work to pay for the important work. But there also came a time when they realized that the day job or the shadow career was no longer serving their vision of what they wanted to create. What once was an onramp was now a roadblock. And they had to keep moving.

If you’re doing the dance, you’re doing it right

So when my friend asked if I ever struggled with writing about writing instead of just writing, I admitted I did. This is also something I am working on. Most days, I feel riddled with self-doubt, fearing my best work will never get made. And because I have this voice, I can’t quiet inside of me, saying, “There’s more,” I try to listen to it.

I suppose that’s all we can do. I mean, we can ignore that voice. We can live inside a shadow and tell ourselves that we’re okay. But in the late hours of the night or early morning when the applause and accolades have faded, we will know the truth.

We are always chasing an idea of what should be while dealing with what is. And that’s life. The trick, I think, is to remember the end and not stay stuck in the means. “We don’t make movies to make money,” Walt Disney once told a critic. “We make money to make more movies.”

“One for them, one for me,” I heard one actor say to another. Do a blockbuster to feed your family, then an art film to feed your soul. Both are important. Both necessary. Even Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks to pay off his debts. It was a commercial project that became something more in the process. So you just never know.

This is the dance. Art and commerce. Shadow career and calling. It’s always a struggle, still a tension. We move towards the light, realizing every movement brings with it new shadows. My advice to any writer struggling with feeling like a fake is to keep going. Keep making things. Keep paying bills. And every time you feel yourself posing, stop and ask yourself if this is really you. Then listen to that voice.

My advice to any writer struggling with feeling like a fake is to keep going.
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Say no to that project you never felt right about accepting. Use your shadow career to fund the next move in your calling. Do not settle for a shadow when the light is calling. And when the bills start to pile up, you can worry about the money again.

That’s fine. That’s healthy. We all have to do this dance between the different worlds we inhabit—what Lewis Hyde calls the “market economy” and the “gift economy.” We are members of them both, and each abides by very different rules.

Who knows. Maybe something beautiful will emerge from such tension. Indeed, perhaps that’s the only way great art ever gets made. The light is always casting shadows. Your job is to keep moving in the direction of the real thing, even if you aren’t quite sure what it is.


What’s your shadow career? Is it helping you move forward or are you stuck? I’d love to hear about it in the .

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How do you make a living as a musician? Is it true that there’s no money in music anymore? Can I make money off my art today? Join me as I sit down with one of my favorite musicians and explore these questions.

Jon McLaughlin is arguably the best piano player I have ever seen perform live. In fact, my wife and I had one of his songs played at our wedding. So I when I had the chance to sit down with him and talk music, it was a no-brainer.

Growing up in a musical family, Jon grew up playing classical piano. One day after church, the four year-old boy sat down at the piano and started playing around. To his parents’ surprise, they soon realized he was playing the melody to Amazing Grace!

After that, he began taking piano lessons. Jon was great at playing by ear but terrible at reading music, which led to a love/hate relationship with the piano that led to him eventually putting down the instrument for a few years. By the end of high school, however, he was back into music and heading to college to continue his education.

After college, he signed a record deal with Island DefJam Records, started touring, and launched a career that eventually led to pop star Sara Bareilles singing one of his songs. Today, Jon makes a living as a full-time musician.

On this episode of The Portfolio Life, we talk with Jon about why he doesn’t listen to his music once it’s recorded, how he got so good at playing piano when he doesn’t love practicing, and what it takes to succeed as a musician.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

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In this episode, Jon tells us:

  • What role his parents played in his decision to make it as a musician.
  • Why talent is a double-edged sword.
  • How he reached out to Sara Bareilles.
  • Why he and his family moved to Nashville.
You’ve got to shake things up every now and again.
Jon McLaughlin
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On being a parent and a musician
  • Who is his hero and why?
  • How does he want to parent his own kids?
  • Were the arts a big part of his home life as a kid?
  • Is there such a thing as a natural-born talent?
  • How does his own parents’ recognition of his talent influence his own parenting now?
Good creative things come out of tough times.
Jon McLaughlin
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Making music his career
  • What would’ve happened if his parents hadn’t supported his musical interest?
  • How being surrounded by music and musicians influenced his career trajectory.
  • Was there ever a point when he thought he would have to get a real job?
  • What was the conversation like when his label dropped him?
  • What choices have helped him sustain his career as a musician?

How have your early influences impacted your artistic career? Let us know in the .

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Every artist should aspire to a long career. So what does it really take to sustain a creative career for over 25 years?

Joining us to share his story and wisdom is Mike Herrera, the lead singer of punk band MxPx. Mike is also a podcaster, bass player, and songwriter who has completed multiple solo music projects and collaborations.

Mike was recently on tour in Nashville with MxPx for their 25th anniversary. He met up with me to talk about how the band began, why they tour the way they do, and how he’s sustained a career in music for over two decades.

MxPx started in 1992 and played their first show in Mike’s parents’ backyard to as many people as they could invite. The conventional business practice for bands at the time was to hitch their smaller act to a bigger act in hopes of getting more fans.

It’s the route that countless bands have historically used, but it’s not the way the world works anymore, and it wasn’t the best strategy for MxPx. Instead of going on long tours that cover many cities, now they book a few shows in a city one weekend and hop to another town for a few shows on another weekend.

After 25 years, they’ve concluded they need business strategies and band strategies that work for their personal lives, too. Mike has also stopped looking at the market and started paying attention to the fans who buy their music and attend their shows. Focusing on serving their audience had made all the difference in their success.

Mike tells us how all this happened, why he chose punk music, shares a tip he has for any musician or artist trying to create a long-term career for themselves today on The Portfolio Life.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

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In this episode, Mike explains:

  • How MxPx turned their weaknesses into strengths
  • Why they started selling and communicating directly to their fans
  • What their turning point was as a band
It has to be the right people seeing you.
Mike Herrera
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The importance of authenticity
  • Why did MxPx record their first album twice?
  • How did authenticity play a part in their growth and achievements?
  • Did fame and ego ever become a problem?
Focus on the people you see in front of you, and everything else takes care of itself.
Mike Herrera
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Reflections from 25 years in music
  • Why everything MxPx does now is about ownership
  • What the worst decision of his musical career was
  • What, if anything, he would change from his past

What did you learn from Mike about career longevity as an artist? Let us know in the .

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Most of us are waiting for our Big Break. And that’s the worst way to succeed. We’ll examine two artists to see why — and what we should do instead.

Lesson from the present

On this episode of The Portfolio Life, I introduce you to the artist who created my last two book trailers: Caleb Rexius. The trailers for The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve receive so much praise that I had to bring him on the show.

I quickly realized the interview was going to be something more than a talk about trailers. It turned into a conversation about not waiting for your big break. Caleb made his own break in 2010 when he asked his boss to buy him a camera and let him produce a commercial.

He made his own break when his brother Saul won a contest to be on the cover of the Baxter Family book series. Caleb saw the book trailers, a new concept for him, and made one with his brother that they sent to author Karen Kingsbury.

She loved it and passed it on to her publisher. The publishers were so impressed that they hired Caleb to create three more trailers for them. More publishers retained Caleb until he transitioned into creating trailers full-time. Today, his clients include some of the largest publishers in the world.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

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In this episode, Caleb shares with us:

  • How many years it took him to build a full-time book trailer business
  • The story of how he landed Random House as a client
  • How he defines a big break and if you should wait for one
  • Why video is so powerful
  • When you should make a book trailer and when you should not
You have to be in business first if you want a long-term sustainable career.
Caleb Rexius
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Lesson from history

When a young Michelangelo Buonarroti approached Domenico Ghirlandaio, the famous Florentine artist, he must have had a lump in his throat.

The boy was barely a teenager and about to ask one of Florence’s most fashionable painters to train him. What’s more, his father Lodavico was pressuring him into being the family’s sole breadwinner, which did not jibe with his own ambitions of becoming a sculptor.

In a monumental moment for both men, the aspiring artist met his elder with what must have been a combination of both fear and respect. Many young Florentines would have been honored to even meet the man, but the boy wanted more.

As the story goes, Michelangelo not only asked for an apprenticeship but had the audacity to request compensation.

This was outrageous. In the Renaissance, apprentices did not get paid. If anything, they paid their way through their education. Anyone in Ghirlandaio’s studio witnessing the event would have stared at the boy’s request with abject horror.

Whatever the master must have felt — at first outrage and maybe then amusement — he surprised everyone, maybe even Michelangelo, by accepting the offer. The boy got to work and quickly learned to paint under the tutelage of his new master.

It was about a year or two later that Michelangelo left the studio of Ghirlandaio to continue his apprenticeship in the Medici palace at the personal request of Lorenzo de Medici, one of the wealthiest art patrons at the time.

And thus, a star was born.

Don’t wait for your big break

Stories like this often get dismissed as happy coincidences. Serendipity. We tend to think of what happened to Michelangelo as a “Big Break,” that wonderful moment when someone discovers your talent and makes all your dreams come true.

Many of us wait for such a moment, and when it doesn’t come we assume it was never meant to be. And everything about that assumption is wrong.

As Walter Matthau once said to a young actor who had recently moved to Hollywood and was waiting for his Big Break: “Kid, it’s not the one big break. It’s the fifty big breaks.”

Kid, it’s not the one big break. It’s the fifty big breaks.
Walter Matthau
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As I wrote in Real Artists Don’t Starve, the Big Break is a myth. Something we tell themselves out of laziness and fear of the work ahead. If Big Breaks do happen, we’d be better off not counting on them and focusing on what we cancontrol — the work.

So what should we do if not wait for our Big Break? We should do what Michelangelo did. We should practice, and we should prepare.

Practice when no one’s watching

Long before entering Ghirlandaio’s studio, Michelangelo was practicing. He was not waiting for his Big Break; he was doing the work. Before he was an actual apprentice, he was acting like an apprentice.

That meant learning from whomever he could from. He knew he wanted to be an artist and that he could not become great on his own, no matter how talented he might be. No amount of natural ability can compete with diligent practice. So the boy used the opportunities that were available to him.

Michelangelo had cousins who worked in a nearby quarry every day. In fact, he was raised by this family for a short time in his youth. This allowed him the chance to familiarize himself with stone, a skill that would be invaluable to him later in life as a sculptor.

He adopted the attitude of a student, learning from anyone who could teach him. So when an opportunity came, he would be ready.

That’s what being an apprentice is all about: not just making big asks but taking the work seriously from the beginning. What will make you stand out from the crowd is not just the audacity to ask but the humility to learn.

What will make you stand out from the crowd is not just the audacity to ask but the humility to learn.
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All that practice paid off, because in no time, Michelangelo began to stand out amongst his peers. Soon, he was being recommended by Ghirlandaio to study under Bertoldo di Giovanni, an Italian sculptor who had studied under the great Donatello.

That simple move to the palace changed the young artist’s fate forever. But it never would have happened had he not been practicing the whole time.

If you wait for your Big Break, when it comes, you will squander it. We can’t control when or how these moments come; but we can be ready for them — first by practicing, then by making the most of them.

Prepare for lucky moments

So if Big Breaks don’t exist, does this mean we should rule out the role of luck in success? Of course not.

We all get lucky at some point, sometimes without realizing it until after the fact. But luck is a fickle friend. As soon as you find her, Lady Luck will leave you when you need her the most.

Luck is a fickle friend and unfaithful mistress. As soon as you find her, Lady Luck will leave you when you need her the most.
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You can’t count on luck. What you can do, however, is prepare for the likelihood that good fortune will visit you at some point.

In his book Great by Choice, author Jim Collins compares the performance of enduringly great companies to average companies. Collins demonstrates that the more successful companies had about the same amount of “luck” (defined as unlikely but fortunate events) as less successful companies.

What separated the successes from the failures was the fact that the successful companies got a “return on their luck” and the unsuccessful ones did not. In other words, they did something with the opportunity they had.

Opportunities come — either by putting ourselves in the right place at the right time or simply by sticking around long enough. But good opportunities lead to great work when we make the most of them.

When Lorenzo asked Ghirlandaio what two apprentices he should bring into the palace, the painter recommended two artists: Michelangelo and a friend. But history only remembers one — the one who used his opportunity and leveraged it for a lifetime of creative success.

In the palace, Michelangelo was educated alongside the Medici children who would eventually become popes and princes and wealth art patrons. He befriended them, and apparently the friendship paid off.

After leaving the palace, Michelangelo began earning ten times what other artists of his era were making. He would go on to become the wealthiest artist of his time, earning a fortune worth nearly $50 million today.

This doesn’t mean you can plan or orchestrate these moments. You can’t. But if you work hard and understand that luck comes to us all, you can be ready to get a return on your luck.

Lastly, be patient

Few things in life come easy. And if they do, they rarely stay. So plan for the work, not the break. Because you can control that. Just be prepared to be invisible for a while.

Because nobody notices you when you’re getting up at five a.m. for an entire year to write on a blog no one reads.

Nobody cares about you when you’re doing free gigs in dive bars seven days a week just for the exposure.

And nobody sees you pulling all nighters just to get the website working.

Except of course, when they do. When the hard work pays off and people tell you how you just “came out of nowhere.” But by then, it’s too late. The myth is already born.

Be prepared to be invisible for a while.
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Now, you have thousands of fans, and people tell you that, kid, you’re a natural. And of course, you agree with them, because it feels good.

But you did not come out of nowhere. You came from the same place they did. You just didn’t stay there. You didn’t take a leap. You built a bridge. You put yourself in the right place at the right time and did the work.

You didn’t wait for luck. You looked for it. You practiced and prepared for those opportunities. And when the time was right, you were ready to make the most of whatever chance you got.

Of course, that took time. Maybe it’s still taking time. For now, you are patient, focusing on what you can control. It’s a slog, but a beautiful one and in the end will be worth it.

Good things come to those who work

So now you know. There are no Big Breaks, only tiny drips of effort that lead to waves of momentum. The harder things are, the longer they last, and the more you appreciate them.

We can’t wait for luck. But we can prepare for it, understanding that there will be many lucky — and unlucky — breaks throughout our lives. But it’s not luck that leads to success. It’s perseverance.

It’s not luck that leads to success. It’s perseverance.
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The choice, then, is up to you. Finding your fifty breaks will not be easy or quick, but if you persevere, it will happen.

Your job is to show up and do your work consistently and well enough that it’s worth noticing. Practice, prepare, and be patient.

Good things grow over time with care and intention. Don’t wait for your Big Break. Recognize the one you already have. And make the most of it.

The world is waiting (but you shouldn’t be).


What inspired action are you going to take after listening to Caleb today? Let us know in the .

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Create a connection that allows you to affect the audience intellectually, emotionally, and physically.

As we prepare for this year’s event, I wanted to share highlights from past Tribe Conferences with you, including this presentation from Michael Port.

How to wow an audience and own the stage

Michael Port is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, professional actor, and public speaking coach. He used index cards to engage the Tribe Conference attendees and shared 20 tips to wow an audience and own the stage:

  1. Never speak until the room is silent.
  2. Never use your voice to call the room back.
  3. Shorten your bio. It only needs to show that you know what the audience needs.
  4. Do not waste time with filler. Get started.
  5. Do not head straight for center stage. Start as soon as the audience sees you.
  6. Never apologize for the time you do not have. Own the time you do have.
  7. Tell your audience why you care about your topic.
  8. Surprise your audience. Do not tell them over and over.
  9. Demonstrate you understand the way the world looks to the audience.
  10. Create a connection that allows you to affect them intellectually, emotionally, and physically.
  11. Connect your ideas for the audience. If you use an outline, ensure you deliver.
  12. Don’t slow down. Pause to give your audience time to consume what you said.
  13. Plan your movements. Move and talk, but keep the big moments center stage.
  14. When your point is essential, stand and land it. Stillness drives the point home.
  15. Don’t turn your back on the audience, unless it’s intentional to make a point.
  16. Memorize your quotes. Avoid slides and distracting visuals.
  17. Serve the audience, no matter what.
  18. You deliver the impact. Use technology to enhance your delivery, not as a crutch.
  19. Always say yes. Don’t give up the room, but say yes and respond in the moment.
  20. Learn how to rehearse. Perfect your content and cater it to the audience.

Click here to download all 50 tips from Michael Port.

Don’t think about your rehearsal, but instead get in the moment with the audience.
Michael Port
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Would you like to learn more incredible tips and techniques from more than a dozen thought leaders like Michael who’ve been in your shoes? Join me this year at Tribe Conference and make an investment in your education.

To listen to Michael Port’s presentation on The Portfolio Life, click the player below.

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Life keeps evolving. Business keeps changing. But building a personal brand has never been easier.

As we prepare for this year’s event, I wanted to share highlights from past Tribe Conferences with you, including this presentation from Chris Ducker.

Building a Business Around the Brand That is You with Chris Ducker

It’s never been easier to build a brand because the barrier to entry has never been lower. The internet has allowed us all to be on equal footing. The online business space offers complete and total justice.

When you build an online company, you create a personal brand. Here are the keys to building a business around the brand that is you:

  • Be original
  • Solve a problem
  • Build relationships
  • Reverse engineer success
Be original

Being yourself is the ultimate ‘x’ factor that allows you to design products, package them, market them, deliver them, and make money off of them. With so much competition and so many industries, it’s harder than ever to be original than at any time in history. Be yourself. It’s the only thing only you can do.

Being different is better than being better.
Chris Ducker
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Solve a problem

At our very core, as entrepreneurs, we are problem solvers. Figure out how to provide solutions for your audience. Solve a problem. Help them. Make a living doing it. What you do to solve people’s problems becomes your brand. And what people say about you when you’re not around is your brand.

At the very core of your brand is the importance of being original. Whatever you’re doing, you must do it right. Doing it right is more important than just doing it.

Serve, don’t sell.
Chris Ducker
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Build relationships

If you solve problems with your products and your services, you’ll never formally have to sell.

Market like a magnet. Attract the best. Repel the rest. You attract people who respond favorably to your message. Your vibe will attract your tribe.

Forget about Business-To-Business and Business-To-Consumer models, and think instead about the People-To-People model of doing business. People want to do business with other people they trust.

Don’t cozy up to get something from them in the future. Relationships should be treasured, not just used for future profit and gain.

No matter what you do, charge what you are worth and do not apologize.
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Reverse engineer success

Reverse engineer what you want to achieve from a financial perspective. Determine your yearly profit target and then break it down into quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily targets. You will find your desired income is closer than you think.

All you have to do is serve your audience by producing several streams of income. Don’t build them all at the same time, but one at a time, including:

  1. Books
  2. Online courses
  3. Download workshops and workbooks
  4. Ebooks
  5. Online events
  6. Web events
  7. Live events
  8. Affiliate marketing
  9. Coaching
  10. Speaking

To listen to Chris Ducker’s presentation on The Portfolio Life, click the player below.

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Have you grabbed your ticket to the Tribe Conference yet? Early bird pricing goes away July 1st! Find out more here.

When I first starting writing, I heard people talk about conferences. They said go to this one or that one. It was a good way to “connect.” But what was I, a shy guy, going to do at a conference?

I’d also heard the case against conferences. The crowds. The unnecessary expenses. The inspirational but ultimately un-actionable content you tend to get. I just wasn’t sure the investment was going to be worth the cost, for me.

But then, on a whim, I forked up the cash for a conference and was blown away at the content and the experience. That was the place where I first started calling myself a writer. I was hooked.

And so it began…

Shortly after that, I found a way to volunteer my services as a writer to attend another conference. I didn’t expect much from the conference but wanted to get to know the event planner better.

After four life-changing days, I began to drop some of my skepticism about conferences. And over the course of about six months, I began building a network, organically and somewhat accidentally, of writers and bloggers and people whom I would soon call “friend.”

Within a year, I had formed some of the most important relationships in writing career — many of which came from conferences, meetups, and other kinds of events. In fact, it was at a conference in Chicago, eating panini sandwiches, that I met an editor who published my first two books.

In the world of writing, an important step to success is forming the right relationships. In fact, I think this is true in many different industries, but it seems to be especially true for creative ones. Who you know matters. And a great way to meet more people is to attend conferences.

You can’t do this alone

This journey towards becoming a writer is not a solitary one. You will need help. You will need guides and mentors and peers to help you find your way.

This is the secret to success that few people like to admit: no successful person ever succeeds alone. Just as Hemingway went to Paris in the 1920s to be around some of the most interesting literary minds of the century, you, too, will have to find a tribe you can learn from.

But if you’re not careful, you can totally waste your time and money going to the wrong conferences. You can just go from inspiration to inspiration without any practical application. So it’s important that you know how to make the most of your investment, if you decide to register for a conference.

Here are a few goals you need to have when attending a conference if you don’t want the experience to be a waste. These are lessons I learned from attending conferences and from hosting one myself, and I hope they help you.

Goal #1: Learn

You need to go to a conference that has the kind of speakers you respect and want to learn from.

I can’t learn from someone who hasn’t done what I want to do. It’s a personal preference but an important one. I must be learning from people who have done the thing that I want to do. Otherwise, I feel like it’s a waste.

Also, a secondary but significant goal for me at a conference is to meet one of the speakers. This is easier than it sounds, actually. It doesn’t have to be some A-list presenter, but the point of an event is connection with people, and you’d be surprised at how accessible some “celebrities” are.

I first learned this when I attended World Domination Summit and asked, out of the blue, if Chris Brogan would be willing to meet me in person. He replied to my email, saying he’d love to. We played it by ear and ended up skipping a session, chatting in the lobby.

By the end of our conversation, there was a small crowd surrounding Chris, peppering him with questions. I didn’t mind. Here was a blogger whom I respected and had only interacted with online, and we had just spent an hour together, chatting. We’ve been friends ever since. I don’t remember the session that I missed, but I know I was able to watch it online later.

How to do this:
  1. Reach out to the person ahead of time to book a meeting at the conference. Once the event starts, everyone will want to meet these people. So just email them a week in advance, asking for 15 minutes of their time.
  2. Offer to buy them a meal or coffee. Something. Demonstrate that you’re not a taker, but a giver.
  3. Do this whenever it is convenient for them. Early in the morning, late at night whatever. When Chris emailed me back and asked if I could meet him in the lobby in five minutes, I immediately grabbed my stuff and left the auditorium.
Lesson: You can meet influential and important people at conferences if you are willing to make sacrifices.
Goal #2: Connect

Second, you need to go to conference that has the kind of attendees you want to be around.

Who, exactly, is that?

Well, it should be people like you. When I hosted the Tribe Conference last year, I was amazed at how many people said that was their first conference ever. What made them want to attend it? They didn’t know there was a place where they could go and people others just like them.

I’ve had this same experience as an attendee at several events. There’s something powerful when you end up some place and instantly feel like you belong.

For me, I don’t want to go some place where I can’t tolerate the people attending the event, no matter how good the content is. This is why I don’t attend many business and marketing events. I just don’t love being around that crowd.

Perhaps the most memorable part of an event is the conversations you’ll have in the hotel lobby or outside the bathroom in between sessions. It’s the late-night hangouts or random lunches with strangers that will stick with you. So you want to get some place where people “get” you.

What does this matter? Because if you go to enough conferences with jerks and swindlers and people who represent values you don’t want, well, some of that just might rub off on you. You are the company you keep, so choose to hang with the kind of people who will make you better.

My first conference, I sheepishly attended a meetup for bloggers and was too nervous to introduce myself to anyone. Nonetheless, another blogger named Kyle whom I knew from Twitter came up to me and said hi. We stayed in touch and became close friends after that (we just had lunch the other day).

Later, he told me that he could tell I was nervous and that’s why he approached me in the first place. This is what you want — people who get you, who will make you feel comfortable, even when you are unsure of yourself.

What I learned from Kyle is that we can all do this. So the very next conference I attended, I found someone who looked nervous and was clinging to the wall, and introduced myself. Worked like a charm.

How to do this:
  1. Go to the event (this is important but something we shy people tend to overlook — yes, you actually have to show up).
  2. Find someone less confident than you — because when you’re shy and unsure of yourself it’s hard to approach someone who is larger than life. So just find someone who is looking around the room, lost.
  3. Say hi to this person and ask them this question: “What are you hoping to get out of this conference?”

If you need more help with this, check out this old interview I did to on how even as a shy guy I am able to meet new people at conferences.

Lesson: You can make lasting relationships at conferences if you go where people like you already are and meet people who are just as nervous as you are.
Goal #3: Apply

Third, you need to go to a conference with the intention of not just learning but of applying what you will learn. This means that the conference must have the kind of information that will make you better.

In other words, the content has to be more than just basic stuff you can Google. It needs to include exclusive teaching or access to the speaker or a brand-new application of it.

When I started attending a few conferences a year, I realized that what I wanted was not just a good experience but a transformation. To take home with me the things that I had learned and be able to apply to my own context.

So I started making a habit of putting into practice the things I learned at the conference before I even left the event. Forget notebooks filled with information you’ll never look at again; this is the best way to get your money’s worth out of a conference. Just do it before you leave.

I learned this from my friend Danny Iny when I saw him pull out his computer in the middle of a speaking session at a conference and send an email to his assistant.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m telling my team to start doing this right now.”

He then proceeded to tell me his rule for attending conferences: find three actionable nuggets and put them into practice before the event is over. Once you’ve done that, you can enjoy the rest of the event, guilt-free.

I saw him do this several times throughout the conference and decided to make that same practice a habit.

How to do this:
  1. Decide ahead of time what you want to get out of the experience.
  2. When you hear something that resonates with you, step aside to put the thing into practice. That could mean taking a break or simply emailing yourself a to-do item.
  3. Set a quota (e.g. “I’m going to immediately apply three things I learn at this conference”) and give yourself permission to stop once you’re done.
Lesson: Going to a conference won’t be a life-changing experience unless you are willing to be changed by the experience itself.
Why I created my own conference

There are a lot of conferences and events out there. A lot of paid mastermind groups and summits and experiences to keep you busy for a long, long time. Honestly, it’s easy to pick the wrong thing. It’s easy to get swept up by where everyone else is going and what everyone else is doing.

But that shouldn’t concern you. You need to go where you know you can learn from people you trust, connect with people you respect, and apply information you need.

After attending conferences for the past four years, one thing struck me as a writer. There aren’t many options available for writers and creatives who want to thrive in the modern age. There aren’t many places that help you understand where to begin, who to connect with, and what plan to follow after you leave the event.

In fact, I knew that the kind of conference I needed when I first started writing did not even exist. So I tried to cobble together some disparate experiences by attending a number of different events, but that became harder and harder to do year after year.

So I decided to create my own.

When people come together, life change happens. One person told me, it was “the best conference” they’d ever attended. Another told me it was the only one they’d ever attended.

But the truth is for a conference to make a difference, it has to have the right people, with the right message, delivered in the right way. Otherwise, you will waste your money.

That’s what the Tribe Conference is all about. It’s a place where writers, creatives, and artists can gather to share their messages and grow in their craft. It’s an event that gives you the practical known-how and inspiration to take the next step in finding the audience your message deserves.

What happens at a good conference

One attendee of the Tribe Conference, David Villalva, had this to say after leaving the event:

Every presenter and attendee I spoke with changed, challenged, or charged me. I arrived at this conference thinking I needed to somehow survive it. Instead, I discovered what it meant to be part of a tribe, and left feeling like I thrived in one.

I’ll be the first to admit that the reaction to our little event surprised me. But this was my goal: to create a place of belonging and transformation. And this is what I look for as an attendee of other events — to belong and to be changed.

Nearly half of last year’s attendees are coming back to the Tribe Conference because they’re making progress on the plans they started last year. Whether that means launching a blog or finishing a book, they’re taking action. And they want learning, connecting, and applying. It’s an honor to be a part of this growing community.

Last year was our “pilot” year to see if it worked, and it went even better than I could have imagined. This year is going to be even bigger and better, with expert speakers, brand-new technology and tools we will be featuring, and more fun surprises.

If you’ve ever dreamed of being a professional writer, then Tribe Conference is for you.

If you have struggled to figure out how to use digital technology to get your message heard, then Tribe Conference is for you.

If you dream of one day writing a book or speaking for a living or simply getting the attention your message deserves, then Tribe Conference is for you.

To check out the schedule, learn more about ticket pricing, and sign up before we sell out, go here.

If you’d like to get going on that dream of yours and connect with a whole host of speakers including Alli Worthington, Amy Landino, Todd Henry, Tim Grahl, Janet Murray, and others, then sign up for Tribe before the price goes up.

Join us October 26–28 in Franklin, TN at the Tribe Conference. It’s going to be great!

What has been your best conference experience? Share in the .

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Tribe Conference is a gathering of writers, artists, and other creatives who want to grow their craft and get the attention their work deserves.

As we prepare for this year’s event, I wanted to share some highlights from past Tribe Conferences with you that included presentations from Emily P. Freeman, Marion Roach Smith, and The Story Grid duo of Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl.

Uncovering your voice with Emily P. Freeman

Emily believes our default mode is to have a mediocre voice, and that we’re not alone in our struggle to make the change from sounding average to uncovering our authentic voice. She shared three keys to help us do just that:

  1. Frustration. What’s bothering you? Start there. Finding your most authentic voice is discovering what gets under your skin. Push ideas you think are worth addressing forward.
  2. Passion. Pay attention to what makes you cry. Your tears are tiny messengers from the deepest place of your heart. If you cry a lot, pay attention to the tears that burn. If you rarely cry, pay close attention to the times you do.
  3. Hope. We need to believe that sharing our voice can make a difference.

You can uncover your voice with only two of these three, but it won’t be your authentic voice. Instead, it will be a mediocre voice developed by a false formula:

  1. Frustration and Passion. Without hope, your writing turns into a cynical rant.
  2. Frustration and Hope. Certain things frustrate you, but you optimistically hope they’ll get better. You lack the passion for actively promoting a cause and instead settle for rote duty.
  3. Passion and Hope. This voice is like a Hallmark movie: it’s sweet, comfortable, and boringly optimistic.

Paying attention to all three keys in our lives will help us find the sweet spot to uncovering our voice.

We need people that write with hope.
Emily P. Freeman
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The benefits of writing with Marion Roach Smith

Marion Roach Smith left a great job at the New York Times to pursue her true passions: writing and living any place she pleased. She shares the benefits of writing and the secrets of doing it well.

The benefits of writing:

  1. It will turn you into a Zen master by forcing you to live in the moment. Open yourself up to feeling and reacting to your experiences. Then write about them.
  2. It will force you to embrace a thrilling life of crime. Write everything you hear down and quote everyone. If you quote them, it’s not stealing. But you will still steal like crazy.
  3. It will help you win any argument. You learn to explain complex issues with simple ingredients.
  4. It will help you become a super athlete. You learn to experience the pain of life and play hurt. Writers feel, experience, and react to pain by writing about it.
  5. It will improve your sex life. Your life improves when you learn not to share your writing with your family.
Never read your stuff to someone who depends on you for food, sex, or shelter.
Marion Roach Smith
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Turning pro with Tim Grahl and Shawn Coyne

After spending a decade in a shadow career that was very close to being an author, Tim Grahl decided to apprentice under Shawn Coyne to not only learn how to write fiction (a story that works) but also what it takes to become a professional writer.

Shawn summarizes that Resistance, a term coined by Steven Pressfield to describe internal struggle, keeps us from our calling and meaningful work. To beat it, you have to turn pro. Here is what Shawn and Tim have learned it takes to turn pro:

  • A pro is self-validating. A book deal, blog followers, agent, and book sales are all external validations that will fail to satisfy. A professional looks for approval within to see if she meets her standard.
  • A pro is patient. He doesn’t chase other people’s definition of success. He isn’t looking to be an overnight sensation. He builds habits and keeps working.
  • A pro seizes ground every day. She embraces the warrior mindset, identifies Resistance as the enemy, and fights for inches on the battlefield of creativity.
  • A pro does deliberate practice. It’s a lie that you have to be born with a unique talent to be a writer. Having innate storytelling ability is helpful, but the professional knows she doesn’t need a mystical gift. She learns the form and structure of a story and deliberately practices to hone her craft.

To listen to the interview portion of Shawn and Tim’s presentation on The Portfolio Life, click the player below. Their complete conversation plus an audience Q&A are included in the video above.

The way to beat anything is to break it down into manageable tasks.
Shawn Coyne
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Have you ever considered how your disadvantages might actually be advantages Ryan McRae’s blog The ADHD Nerd is an example of this.

ADHD is Ryan’s challenge, and his website serves a real need for others. Launching his website has enabled him to help a niche audience and build a thriving community and business around it.

But The ADHD Nerd wasn’t Ryan’s first site. After attending the World Domination Summit, where I met Ryan years ago, he first started a blog called Master Presenting and wrote on it every week for a year.

Then, his friends encouraged him to find another audience to serve. This just wasn’t working.

Ryan went back to the drawing board and came up with another idea. Because he’s had ADHD all his life, Ryan has had to teach himself certain coping skills just to learn how to focus. His knowledge and experience have proven valuable to others with similar challenges.

On this episode of The Portfolio Life, Ryan shares how going to Afghanistan for a year helped him improve as a blogger and online community builder. He also tells how the advantages and disadvantages of having ADHD helped him grow an audience and business.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Ryan tells us:

  • What did his year in Afghanistan teach him?
  • The question to ask to find out what you can offer to the world.
  • When to grow your list, and when to focus on creating content for your current subscribers.
  • What’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?
  • What is executive function and how is it different with ADHD?
Ultimately you want to help people.
Ryan McRae
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The ADHD Nerd
  • What did his first attempt at blogging teach him?
  • When did he know The ADHD Nerd was his “thing”?
  • How many people were on his email list after a year of blogging?
  • Why shouldn’t you post great content on a Saturday?
  • How Ryan continues to help and serve his audience today.
You have to build the momentum.
Ryan McRae
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Growing Your List
  • Who should you reach out to and who should you not?
  • How to make a plan for expanding your audience.
  • Can conferences help you grow your list?
  • What percentage of his blog posts were for his audience and what percentage were guest posts?
  • How to position your pitches for guest blog posting for others.

What’s a personal challenge you’ve experienced that you can help others with now? Let us know in the .

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