The heat was unbearable. The old hotel concierge laughed at us: only French girls would come to Tuscany in the middle of August! We didn’t care. We were twenty years old, and we made it to Florence after a neverending bus journey.
We had no itinerary, hardly any money to spend, so we used to sit on the stone steps that run between the old buildings alongside the Arno, seeking whatever shade we could find. That’s where we would grab the teaspoons we’d packed from home and share a tin of sweetcorn for lunch.
We would watch the tourists hustle by, maps covering their faces to make sure they didn’t miss any of the sights, instead of taking in the beauty of their surrounding.
Hey, I get it. We stick to maps because the alternative, being lost, missing out or even worse, being wrong, is scary. I guess it comes from school, where we’re taught to use our brain. And that brain is trained to follow the rules, plan the route, and follow the map. With the map comes safety.
We try to make one up at best we can with everything we’ve learned at school, at work, by trying to replicate someone else’s path. But the truth is, living a creative life means that the journey is continually shifting. The path appears as you take steps.
Sometimes, a few steps feel great, and you feel unstoppable. Sometimes, you have to walk in the dark, hoping for the best only to realize you have gone in the wrong direction.
So you correct your course, you take new steps. Sometimes it feels like you’re going backward or like you’re walking in a circle. Sometimes a storm hits you by surprise, and for a while, you cannot take any steps at all. Sometimes you land upon a dream landscape, and you decide to stop there for a little while to catch your breath, reflect and recharge before taking new steps.
As humans, we have built a world ruled by strategy, data, knowledge, and facts—which means the thought of navigating unknown territories sans map is somewhat unnerving. And yet, we have a different kind of tool at our disposal.
Trusting Our Inner Compass
We tend to forget about it entirely as it doesn’t have an excellent reputation in the traditional education system: our intuition—otherwise known as, our inner compass.
Your inner compass is the little voice that nudges you in the right direction—the one that gives you that funny feeling in your gut when something doesn’t feel right. It is a real gem, but a grossly underutilized one. It has the power to steer you in the direction that is right for you in spite of the uncertainties brought by an ever-changing world.
I wish I could give you a shortcut to find and use your compass. There is no such thing. Like Anne Lamott said, “It’s very much an inside job.”
And one that requires daily attention, for the more you play with it, the sharper it gets. Here are a few things that have helped me fine tune mine, and I hope, will help you fine tune yours.
1. Be quiet, and let silence do its thing.
It’s a lost art, being quiet. We’ve forgotten how to be bored. We are constantly stimulated, distracted, filling every last bit of quietness with some white noise. Busyness and chaos are drowning your compass.
That’s why it is more important than ever to find ways to be quiet in one way or another. Meditation, prayer, walks, yoga, morning pages are all examples of activities that can help us create a little more white space around us, and allow that voice to speak up. It will enable us to develop a relationship with it, so that with practice, we can hear the subtle difference between our inner compass, and inherited self-limiting beliefs.
I’ll be the first one to tell you that taking a step back to do nothing “productive” goes against all our beliefs about success. It is hard to hit pause and to let go, even for a few minutes, when you’re not used to it. But with intention, it can become more natural.
2. Notice what your body is telling you.
Recognizing your inner compass is only the first step. You also need to tune into your body and the entire spectrum of sensations specific thoughts, words or pictures may bring. Your body thinks with senses and feelings too, even though we have become good at ignoring it.
What do you feel in your body when a boundary is crossed? When you hear something you genuinely believe? When you feel aligned? When you’re feeling frustrated or angry? These are all clues to uncovering the values that are non-negotiable for you, and therefore will guide you to your most authentic self.
3. Uncover your core values.
I tried to define my core values, as suggested in many blog posts and books. I concluded that I don’t think they are ours to define.
To truly live in alignment, our job is to uncover the ones already entrenched in us. How do you want to feel in your life? And why do you want to feel like that? What brings you utter joy and lose track of time? What makes you want to scream with anger?
The minute I let go of what I thought I should define as my values and focused on feelings, I hit the nail on the head.
4. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
Society doesn’t like us to make mistakes. But mistakes are part of the journey: they will teach you what doesn’t feel right. Are they unpleasant? Of course, they are.
If you welcome them with the compassion you’d have for a child trying new things, you can correct your course with self-love and learn from it. You’re doing the very best you can. You should applaud yourself for trying new things and having the courage to be wrong, in a world where it is so much easier to follow the herd and not make any waves.
5. Let go of your desire for control.
The desire for control brings me to surrender. Yes, it is a tough one. As humans, we like to know things and feel the assurance that we have everything figured out.
The truth is, we never will. As we figure something out, circumstances will have changed. This new level of knowledge will change your perception, and you’ll find yourself at a new level—and achieve a breakthrough.
But when you think of it, surrendering to change and uncertainty is the only way to adapt to an ever-changing world. And when you do, taking steps in the dark won’t feel that scary anymore.
Calling all the shots is hard. But instead of covering your face with a map, try giving your inner compass a little more credit. Nurture it as it is here to help you navigate unknown territories and help you live by your values and towards your real purpose.
Accept and trust that you will never have all the answers, and at the same time, you have more knowledge than you give yourself credit for.
It is widely understood that those of us living in developed countries consume far and away more material goods than necessary—or even reasonable. That’s a part of what drew me toward minimalism in the first place, a few years ago.
But another significant motivator for me was the realization that I was consuming more content (news, entertainment, advice, rants, fluff) than I ever had before and that all of that consumption was decreasing the quality of my work, my relationships, and my life, rather than increasing it.
I began every day, for example, by reading news that came to me through notifications on my phone. Because of Twitter, I was well aware of what my entrepreneurial peers were creating, and thanks to Instagram, I also often knew what those peers were having for dinner or doing over the weekend. Facebook brought me more news, more opinions, more success stories, more noise. Sometimes it felt like the volume of information that flowed into my mind every day could knock over a truck.
I’m guessing I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Did you know that TechCrunch has reported that U.S. consumers now spend an average of five hours a day on their mobile devices? (Yes, five hours!)
Did you know that Apple Podcasts features more than half a million active podcasts? Or that podcast listeners report listening to seven episodes a week?
How about the fact that 41 percent of American women regularly use Pinterest?
As much as I wanted to believe that knowledge is power and that everything inside my head would make me a better entrepreneur, a better web designer, a better husband, a better dad, I started to wonder if maybe it was stunting me instead. I needed a clearer perspective on it all.
I remember exactly where I was when I read a single line of text that changed my life.
Where Passion Meets Need
Because of the buildup of stress and pressure I’d been feeling, I decided to read the book Packing Light (aff.) by Allison Fallon. I had picked up a copy (actual paper!) and had taken a moment to sit with it on our deck, a cup of coffee nearby. As I read, I was struck by these ten words:
“Where your passion meets their need, that is your calling.”
What was I really passionate about? (Consuming podcast episodes, blog posts, and viral videos? My answer: no.)
What did people need?
How could I make those two questions intersect?
As I mulled this over for the next few weeks, I slowly admitted to myself that my passion wasn’t consuming, and that wasn’t what people needed. What the world needed—what I needed—was my creativity.
Going forward, I determined that I’d operate under a new paradigm: I’d spend less time consuming content and more time creating passion-filled work.
How to Be More Productive
If you, too, find yourself falling into the consumption trap all too often, here are six tips to help you consume less and create more. In so doing, you might just bridge the gap between your passion and someone’s need, leading—if you’re lucky—to discovering your calling.
1. Limit the volume of information you take in every day.
It may be the most obvious step, but it’s essential to creating a body of work you’re proud of. You need less distraction, less noise to compete with your creativity.
Curt Steinhorst, distraction researcher and writer of Can I Have Your Attention?, says few things matter more than your attention:
“[Attention] holds the power to unlock your potential. It can be the source of your success at work and the key ingredient to great relationships. Yet, distractions are working around the clock to steal your attention away from you, along with your time and energy. And they’re doing a pretty good job.”
In that case, I suggest the following to help you avoid these drains on your attention:
Turn off as many notifications as possible on your phone.
Unsubscribe from emails and podcasts that aren’t serving you creatively.
Deliberately edit the people, pages, and profiles you follow on social media.
2. Notice when you do your best creative work, and leverage that.
Do you do your clearest thinking right when you wake up? Or are you most creative in the late evening, when your inhibitions are lower? Set up your workflow so that you capitalize on the time of day when you’re most creative, leaving other periods of time for answering emails, scheduling meetings, making phone calls, and other low-creativity tasks.
3. Be honest with yourself about the legitimate work that is taking away from your creative expression.
Often we gravitate to work that requires less brainpower to complete. And we justify it by telling ourselves that it is work that does need to get done. Maybe it does, yes. But does it need to happen during your most productive hours of the day? Does it need to be done by you, or could some else do it?
And even harder to answer is this: Does it really need to get done at all?
For many of us entrepreneurs, posting to social media is a prime example of legitimate work that is all too often taking the place of deeper creative work. Maybe you do need to build that Facebook page for the sake of your platform, but do you really need to put as much time into it as you are? Ask yourself the hard questions, and carve out space for the creative work you feel called to do.
4. Take to the outdoors.
A quick walk outside is a great break for your brain, because seeing nature—when your eyes are so accustomed to artificial surroundings—is restorative and increases creativity. But a word of caution: be sure to commit to yourself beforehand that you’ll return to your work as soon as you get back in. Otherwise, what could have been a restorative break leads to wasted time.
Many times I will run first thing in the morning, setting my brain free to think about the things I will do when I return. I’ve found this is a brilliant way for me to start the day—weather permitting, of course.
5. If you find yourself gravitating back to consumption over creation, consider the impact of boredom.
One of the reasons we consume is because we’ve lost interest in whatever our hands are engaged in. If your creative work is no longer lighting you up, it may be time to shift directions or even start something new altogether. In this way, the temptation of consumption can actually be a well-timed clue—when you’re watching for it.
6. Set up a life of creativity.
After more than a decade of doing the creative work I feel called to do, I can tell you this: You have to be inspired. Regularly.
You can’t spend all of your time behind a computer or in your workshop, wherever your place of work may be. You need to do the activities that fill up your soul. You need to travel to places that inspire you, climb mountains that challenge you, and have conversations with people that make you think about something in a new light.
Creativity isn’t just about the work. It’s about designing a life that allows ideas to flow to you. Design a life of creativity, and I can promise you that you’ll experience the satisfaction that comes from production instead of consumption.
. . .
This article is featured in the June 1st (Technology) Simplify Magazine—a quarterly, digital publication that I created with my friend, Joshua Becker.
It’s been nearly 2 years since I first thought about the name Authentik, and in that time, it has gone through many iterations. Truth be told, the domain cost me a lot of money and that served as the first barrier to entry.
But I believed in the idea, and I believed that Authentik was the only name I wanted. So I waited patiently until it financially made sense to pull the trigger. And when that time came, I pulled it.
After securing the domain, I entered a zone that I had never been in before. Perhaps “stage fright” is the best way to explain it, but the bottom line was that I was paralyzed. My inaction stood tall, and I had no idea what the first step should have been.
Up until that point, I had a roadmap—a plan that had been formulated over the years—that took up an entire Moleskin. And than some. (Looking at you, Evernote.)
For whatever reason, I simply couldn’t push the gas pedal. I had the keys to the car—expensive as it may have been—but there I sat, engine running, with a green light and open road ahead.
And then it hit me, like a ton of bricks—words that have pretty much been gospel to me over the years:
Where your passion meets their need, that is your calling. — Allison Fallon
I speak them often, and with good reason. As a creative, I have spent the better part of the last decade trying to figure out exactly what I want to do. Not just what I enjoy doing, but precisely what I love to do, and more importantly, who I want to do it for.
At the beginning of this year, I extended an invitation that wasn’t just a course or program. It was my chance to work alongside creative entrepreneurs (like you), in a fully supported, hands-on environment to help them completely reimagine their business and brand, step by step.
Last month, we wrapped up, and let me tell you—it was sublime. (That’s a word I haven’t used in years, but aptly describes how it went.)
While the direction of our conversations deviated from the plan a few times (ahem, we call that being “agile”), I feel like that this experience was perfectly timed for many—if not all—of the inaugural members.
As I look back on the (many) honest conversations we had, I can’t help but notice a trend that existed with pretty much everyone. A deer in headlights.
You see, we are all in this together, my friends.
Perpetually Under Construction
Earlier this week, I was on a call with a woman who is in the early throws of launching her blog. During our conversation, she mentioned that she felt stuck—perhaps experiencing a bit of that stage fright I had talked about in the early days of Authentik.
As we were talking, three very specific words came to mind, so I jotted them down: Fear, Perfectionism, Time.
I truly believe that they are among the common culprits which keep us from starting—or pushing the gas pedal, if you will. They are the reasons we find ourselves perpetually “under construction” and stop us dead in our tracks.
But I have some good news here. We can flip them around and use them as a catalyst, to help kickstart some much needed movement in our creative lives.
1. Fear is an opportunity.
Without a doubt, “fear” is the number one reason I fail to do the things I want to do. Perhaps it’s my need for approval or the feeling that I’m not good enough—it has the power over me like no other.
Maybe it’s the fear of failing, or being overwhelmed, or simply the unknown.
Instead of worrying about what people say of you, why not spend time trying to accomplish something they will admire. — Dale Carnegie
According to researcher, Dr. Philipp K Berger, awareness is key. He says, “With a lot of psychological problems, if you’re aware of that, that’s one big step to getting along with it. You want people that are aware of fear.”
We need to stop being afraid and start building our business. We need to remember our dreams and fight for them. We must remember what we want from life, and remember the impact we want to make. That’s the point I came to with Authentik, and I hope you can do the same.
Here’s to taking the first step, and focusing on what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. That alone will spark admiration.
2. You can always make time.
So you have days where you feel like there’s not enough hours in the day, right? Yeah, me too. We’ve all been there, and I’m fairly positive we’ll be there again—and again.
It amazes me how much the idea of over-committing and never-ending to-do lists defines us these days. I mean, we wear it on our sleeves, and sometimes go out of our way to brag about it on social media.
‘Crazy-busy’ is a great armor, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us. — Brené Brown
Crazy-busy is great armor, until it’s not. Because when it’s not great, that means we are not great. And when we are not great, our creativity is not great.
What we really need to do is stop the glorification of being busy, and go out of our way to carve out time in our day to do the things that really matter.
I have made a number of decisions lately—a few of them monumental—to deliberately create space and room for margin in my life. And it feels so good.
Raise your hand if you have failed to start doing something because you knew you couldn’t do it perfectly. Or raise your hand if you failed to deliver something because it wasn’t perfect.
Ok good, 100% of our hands are raised.
It’s no surprise that I am a huge fan of Paul Jarvis, and it goes without saying that I look up to him on many levels. But allow me to let you in on a little secret: He’s not perfect either, and he ain’t afraid to admit it.
Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it. — Salvador Dali
One of the best places to be—creatively speaking, that is—is the place of atonement with the single reality that not one person on this planet (or any other planet for that matter) is perfect.
And in case you need to be convinced of this further, here ya go:
Kobe Bryant is an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, 12-time member of the All-Defensive team, and 5-time World Champion.
Kobe Bryant has also missed more shots in the regular season than any other player in NBA history—14,481 misses, to be exact.
See what I’m saying? Nobody. Is. Perfect.
The Authentik Equation
Now that I have identified—called us all out, actually—some of the reasons why we stand motionless and in perpetual “under construction” mode, it’s time to break free.
It’s a simple equation, taken from the points I’ve made above:
I have a love/hate relationship with quotes. On one hand, I see the value in using a group of words as a source of inspiration, but on the other hand, I think they are abused for the sake of personal gain.
In transparency, I’ll fully admit that I am not without fault on the latter, as I’ve used them to build the No Sidebar Facebook page—and I’m using them again to build a presence on Instagram for Authentik.
According to Meghan Monaghan of Smart Bird Social, using quotes can be an effective strategy for building an audience. She says that content is meant to foster positive relationships that increase trustworthiness and perceived value.
Here’s a list of reasons why Meghan thinks they matter:
Quotes are brief and easily consumed.
Quotes arouse an emotional response.
Quotes support influencer outreach.
Quotes make easy visuals.
Quotes make branding simple.
Quotes are informational and educational.
As a creative, a few of these reasons resonate with me far more than others do. In particular, the “emotional response” and “simple branding” reasons are why I’m choosing to use quotes to help build the Authentik brand.
With No Sidebar, the strategy was to choose quotes that had a greater chance of being shared. And it worked: this quote has been shared nearly 250,000 times, and this one more than 200,000 times.
Success, right? Well that’s a subjective question.
While going viral and making the rounds on Facebook, that sort of distribution left me feeling like I had made a wide impact, rather than a deep one. (More on wider vs. deeper in an upcoming post.)
A Greater Purpose
A few weeks ago, I decided to re-watch a video from Jeremy Cowart on YouTube: I’m Possible. Something he said really (like I mean REALLY) stood out this time. Click here to watch it specifically. Here’s what he said:
So I did it. I made it. But wait. So what. Seriously, who cares? Was being a ‘photography rockstar’ really my goal? I realized that I shouldn’t aim for greatness and stop there.
And then he said some really heavy and impactful words:
Greatness should serve a greater purpose.
Words that spoke so loudly to me they instantly brought me to tears. Not crocodile tears, but tears of emotion that affirmed something that I have spent years searching for. I finally know exactly what I love, what I love to do, and who I want to do it for.
Carve out 25 minutes in your schedule where you will not be distracted (that means shutting down social media and turning off notifications!) and watch (not just listen to) his video. Let’s just say it helped inspire Authentik, and will be 25 minutes you won’t regret.
That afternoon, I developed a content strategy for the Authentik Instagram account. I wanted to combine the “emotional response” and “simple branding” reasons mentioned above, and come up with something that was visually stimulating, but also elicited some heavy thinking.
So I had a little fun that day—here’s what I came up with:
I will continue to create and share words of wisdom that inspire me, and words that I think will inspire you. It’s my hope that they help you in your journey, and encourage you to pursue an intentional and meaningful life.
Quotes to Inspire Your Creative Journey
Here are ten quotes that have impacted me, and I hope they impact you:
1. “Greatness should serve a greater purpose.” —Jeremy Cowart
2. “Create with your heart and you will never go wrong.” —Brian Gardner
3. “What art offers is space—a certain breathing room for the spirit.” —John Updike
4. “You don’t have to be ‘a creative’ to be creative.” —Droby Ben-Menachem
5. “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.” —Salvador Dali
6. “No one ever discovered anything new by coloring inside the lines.” —Thomas Vasquez
7. “Every great design begins with an even better story.” —Lorinda Mamo
8. “Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.” —M.C. Escher
9. “The world needs your art. Go forth, and create it.” —Brian Gardner
10. “It’s not the idea, it’s never the idea, it’s always what you do with it.” —Neil Gaiman
Last year, my wife and I spent a much-needed evening out on a date. We enjoyed fireside lattes, vanilla cupcakes, and some really great conversation. Afterwards, we had some extra time so we decided to drop by Barnes & Noble bookstore—believe it or not, there are a few of those places still around.
While we were there, I walked past a book that I had seen a number of times and one that was recommended to me by many friends: #GIRLBOSS (aff.) by Sophia Amoruso, Founder and Executive Chairman of Nasty Gal.
I felt a little weird picking it up, but I knew this was the story of her life, from a homeless teenager to aspiring entrepreneur—in some ways, something I knew I’d relate to. But something on the back cover caught my attention:
#GIRLBOSS is more than a book … #GIRLBOSS is a movement.
When I started No Sidebar, it began as something personal that I was going through, and was something I thought others would benefit from. But quickly, it grew into a thriving community of like-minded folks.
In short, No Sidebar became more than a blog—it became a movement.
Currently, we have more than 50 contributors, and many of those not only contribute there, but they also write for their own blogs and websites.
We have more than 185,000 fans on Facebook, and the engagement and reach we get there far exceeds any expectations I possibly ever had.
I share these numbers with you because they matter.
They matter because they reflect a movement we are experiencing together there. At some point in our journey, we’ve all made the same decision, and it’s something Sophia Amoruso writes about in her book, #GIRLBOSS:
You’ve already taken the first step toward an awesome life by simply wanting one.
I believe we’re all in a similar place, and this one very important thing is the key toward building that awesome life—we need to want it first. And when we want it, we’re motivated to be committed to the work it takes to stay there.
Authentik is the next step in my journey, where I have the pleasure of sharing all that I have learned as a creative entrepreneur. It’s a step that I invite you to take with me, and one where we can walk the path together.
I want Authentik to be more than a blog, I want it to become a movement.
Behind all of the hours behind the computer and the hours banging our heads against a desk—there is an awesome life for us, should we choose to pursue it.
Building an Awesome Life
I have an Evernote file that is filled with “takeaways” from Sophia’s book, but here are five quotes from it that really stood out to me. I hope these provide the perspective needed to help you experience an awesome life.
1. Focus on your own journey.
The energy you’ll expend focusing on someone else’s life is better spent working on your own.
Why bother wasting time and energy thinking about the journey of someone else when you can channel that into your own?
As easy as that sounds, I find myself frequently suffering from imposter syndrome and comparing myself to others. Obviously it’s something I need to remind myself often, but beneath it all, I know it to be true.
If we embrace the “my grass is plenty green” mentality, I think we’ll be in a much better place and on our way to experience a joy-filled life.
2. Be prepared for—and willing to—change.
One of the best things about life—a reason not to go blindly after one and one goal only—is that sometimes it will take you to something that is way cooler than anything you would have consciously set out to do in the first place.
Once in a while—or maybe even more often that that—we might be presented with an opportunity we weren’t expecting. Just because “it’s not on the roadmap,” that doesn’t mean it’s not a path worth pursuing.
Often the places we think we want to go aren’t necessarily the best ones for us. I think we learn things along the way when we head down a road that might be unfamiliar. And that might just be an amazing experience.
I know there have been plenty of these circumstances like this over the last ten years of my journey, and I’m fairly certain this can be said of yours.
3. Embrace your uniqueness.
The last thing the world needs is another boring person or another boring brand, so embrace all the things that make you different.
I’ve never been someone to shy away from being different, and it’s something I’ve always enjoyed about myself.
When I was in high school, I thrived on being a contemplative person and someone who was more interested in poetry and philosophy than my friends—it’s just what I wanted to do.
Nowadays, I place high value on authenticity and being real, which in today’s business world isn’t quite the norm. In her book, Sophia’s transparency about her journey is infectious, and something that drew me in from the start.
4. Be original in what you do.
In whatever you do, you’re not going to stand out unless you think big and have ideas that are truly original. That comes from tapping into your own creativity, not obsessing over what everyone else is doing.
Having an awesome life isn’t the same thing as having a typical (or expected) life—it’s about trying new things, going about them in unique ways, and living the life you want to live—rather the life you think others want you to live.
5. Live out what you believe.
The heartbeat of Nasty Gal doesn’t exist in one style or article of clothing. It’s in the way we talk, the way we carry ourselves, and the way we see the world.
In whatever you do, do it fully. Be sold on your approach to life, and make it everything you are. After all, you’re the one in charge.
The way people will see you is really just a reflection of how you see yourself. If you’re a happy person, people will see a happy person. If you’re a person living an awesome life, people will see a person living an awesome life.
In the end, we have the luxury of determining where we go, what we do and who we bring—and all of this will be based on how we choose to live our life.
A few weeks ago, I watched the movie Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner, for the umpteenth time. It’s a great movie, filled with many life lessons, and one I’d highly recommend if you haven’t seen it.
The story revolves around the fictional general manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver, deciding what to do after his team acquires the number one draft pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Weaver, played by Kevin Costner, is met with many questionable opportunities—various trade offers that might (or might not) be in the best interest of the organization.
A yellow post-it-note is shown many times throughout the movie, which holds a message he wrote. The note is revealed toward the end, after the Browns have made their pick. It says: Vontae Mack, no matter what.
Costner’s character knew what he wanted going into the draft, and his strategy was to put the Browns in the best possible situation—without sacrificing what he knew was best for the team. In short, he didn’t falter with his responsibility, nor with what he knew in his heart was the right decision.
In a world where change and transition happens all too often, we are bombarded like Sonny was with opportunities—or temptations—to “forget” the masterplan, to get distracted, and to ultimately lose sight of our vision.
The storyline in Draft Day reminds me of my own journey as a creative entrepreneur. The noise, the people screaming at us, and the pressure.
Our personal brands matter, and even though we feel, at times, that nobody is watching, we must remember that they are—usually more than we think.
The adage goes… You do you.
While there is nothing wrong with being influenced by someone, by a design, by a way of doing business, it’s critical that we maintain our autonomy.
The Iceberg of Life
In 2014, I started a blog called Unfiltered, which was my first attempt at writing—creating a movement—about authenticity. It seems that over the past few years, a number of my peers—and others that I look up to—have also started to talk about the importance of mental health.
A good friend of mine, Cory Miller, has done a phenomenal job—far better than I ever have—addressing these issues. His message, The Iceberg of Life, has resonated with thousands of people—including me:
So much of life (and being an entrepreneur) can be explained with the example of the simple iceberg. On top of the surface are the things that everyone sees…or more importantly, what you WANT everyone to see.
But then he goes on to say:
And then for some of us, it’s life week to week, day to day, or moment by moment. The Below the Surface stuff that’s buried down deep, in the dark. The stuff we hide. That we obfuscate. That we share with few people or no one at all. And the deeper you go, the darker it gets.
Here’s something that he created, which gives a much more vivid look into what he’s trying to say:
If you have time—and I’d suggest trying to find some—I encourage you to watch the entire presentation he gave at WordCamp US. It’s something that can impact your life and the way you do things, as it has with mine.
The Unfiltered blog lasted just a few months. I could tell you that it was a result of being too busy, but the truth is: I simply was scared. Scared of putting myself out there, and scared that it wouldn’t be successful.
Because in full transparency, it mattered. Success mattered.
It always matters, doesn’t it? I mean, what we do matters, and we want that to matter to everyone—in the business world, and in our personal life.
Fast-forward a few years, and here we are: Part Deux, known as Authentik.
As much as I didn’t want to shut down Unfiltered, at the time I knew I needed to. But my desire to reach people—and to reach them with authenticity—never went away.
I want to share my story, and share the things I’ve learned along the way—in the hope that it will help others, like you, with their entrepreneurial journey. I want people to learn from the mistakes I have made. It’s that simple.
In an interview on The Great Discontent, Nashville-based designer Ruthie Lindsey said something that I have never been able to shake—something that to this day, rocks my world:
All of us are longing for connection and authenticity, and what we believe will repel people does the exact opposite.
These words are at the very core of who I am, and at the very core of who I want to be. In fact, not a day goes by that I don’t think about them or bring them up in conversation. In fact, they inspired me to take another crack at doing something personal like this, in a space that I think needs it.
The Fear of Failing
Among the many tragedies of my generation was a guy who spoke some pretty hardcore words. You may have your own thoughts about Kurt Cobain, but how can you argue with what he says here:
I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.
In today’s society, being honest isn’t always the “cool thing” to do. We’re trained at an early age to strive for the best and anything short of that is failure. Though we must define what striving for the best really is.
Is it a measure of tangible progress or is it a measure of character?
If it’s the latter, then we’re in a much better spot than we think. I’m guessing for most of us, we want to achieve something real. We want more money, more awards, more followers.
But on any given most day, I simply think we’re afraid—afraid of being seen as a failure, or being seen as someone who just can’t get it right.
Ernest Hemingway once said:
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
I want to bleed. I want you to see the real me, no matter what the cost or at what expense. No triage, nothing to hide, just me being real: Authenticity.
One thing I have come to realize is this: The key to building an authentic business is building an authentic life.
As I continue on this journey of mine at Authentik, I promise you one thing: These beliefs will be at the core of everything I do. They will serve as the foundation of my writing, my design, and everything else I create.
Like Sonny, I too, have a yellow post-it-note. It sits on my desk, mere inches away from where I am typing this. A place where I will always see it.
Seth Godin has done many things in his life. He’s the author of 18 books (some bestsellers), was the Vice President of Direct Marketing at Yahoo, and sold one of his early startups for $30 million.
In short, Seth is a smart man. A very smart man.
Nowadays, Seth is known for his blog, which hasn’t seen a design change in many, many years. He publishes very short pieces, most of which are shared on social media thousands of times.
I had the pleasure of meeting Seth at our original Authority Conference, and found time to ask him one very important question:
“Seth, how do you build an audience of loyal followers?”
He was somewhat cryptic with his response, but the one takeaway I had was this: You must prepare yourself for an uphill battle.
A few months ago, Seth wrote a short piece, Toward Dumber, where he lays the foundation of what I feel is truly the right path forward as it pertains to building an audience and the content you should serve them.
He starts out with this:
“If you want to reach more people, if you’re measuring audience size, then the mantra of the last twenty years has been simple: make it dumber.”
He goes on to say:
“Dumber is an intentional act, a selfish trade for mass. It requires us to hold something back, to avoid creating any discomfort, to fail to teach. Dumber always works in the short run, but not in the long run.”
He then makes the turn that I think we fundamentally understand:
“Don’t confuse dumber with simpler. Simpler removes the unnecessary and creates a better outcome as a result. But dumber does little but create noise. Everyone owns a media company now. Even media companies. And with that ownership comes a choice, a choice about the people we serve, the words we use and the change we seek to make.”
Here’s one thing I’ve learned over the years as a creative: The more I focus on how many people it will reach, the less impact it has. The more I focus on how deep it will reach, the more impact it has.
In other words, when I write for distribution, the content suffers. But when I focus on writing from the heart, the better it is received from my audience—and the better I feel about it. A win-win situation.
“I don’t personally think sharing revenue numbers or income reports make sense, and I’m still not rich like me, but 2017 was my best year to date. Which means even though the audience I serve isn’t growing, more folks in it are buying what I create. I kind of absolutely love that.”
You know what that tells me? His focus is building a smaller audience that loves him, rather than a larger audience that likes him. Paul often refers to this as finding our rat people.
The Power of Creating Art
“‘Artist’ isn’t a superficial label. It’s an identity that forms from doing the work.” — Stefanie Flaxman, Editor-in-Chief at Rainmaker Digital
So you’re a creative, and because you’re a creative, that supposedly means you create stuff, right? Well yes, you are right.
Whether you are a writer, a designer, a podcaster, a marketer (because, yes, that’s different from being a writer), a photographer, or a baker—you are building things with your own hands and minds. We call that content.
Content is an article. Content is a website design. Content is a photograph. And yes, even a gluten-free flourless chocolate cake is content. If you are doing the work, then you are an artist. It’s really that simple, my friends.
Content is everywhere we look, yet it sometimes seems there is never enough of it—rather there is never enough good content. Because that’s a thing, ya know? “Good content sells,” they say.
Which begs the question, “What kind of content do you produce, and what is the underlying reason you are creating it?”
In other words, what is your end game with the content you create?
“‘Doing the work’ before you reach professional status in a creative field is often self-directed. Because it’s in your nature to create, you envision and execute your own projects. You know you’re practicing and building your portfolio, even if others ask you, ‘What’s the point?’”
And then she goes on to say:
“You could let that question drain your energy as you try to explain yourself. You could let it distract you. You could let it stop you. But artists don’t.”
You don’t. I don’t. We don’t… stop.
We do the one thing that is in our DNA, the one thing that we were born to do: create art that this world so desperately needs.
Working to Live
As I continue to think about the future of Authentik, there are two factors at play: What I want to do, and who I want to do it for.
Building a tribe of loyal followers—or rat people, as Paul calls them—requires an intentional approach and full devotion. This is something that I embrace, because over the last ten years of being a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to hone in on my sweet spot.
I have come to realize that it’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter. It’s not about the need for more, it’s about the desire for less. It’s not about living to work, it’s about working to live.
They discuss the importance of identifying what’s important to them in a business model and balancing the value equation for sustainability. One thing in particular stood out:
“Listen, we don’t hate money. We very much enjoy money because it affords us the ability to do and support things we love. However, we refuse to buy into the continual growth mindset.”
They are choosing to limit their growth—the amount of people (and dollars) they allow into their membership program.
WHAT? Yes, that is right. They go on to explain:
“Limiting our own growth will give us the ability to work directly with our members and give them an amazing experience. Limiting our growth also allows us to pace ourselves and check in often to make sure how we’re working is still the life we want to be creating for ourselves.”
And then comes the real deal—the best reason of them all:
“Kind of crazy, right? Goes against pretty much all other entrepreneurs and business owners you hear about? Why would anyone say NO to more money? Well, that’s us in a nutshell. At every turn, we’re more concerned about building the lives we want and having a business that supports us. We don’t want to build a business that grows beyond our control and that dictates our lifestyle.”
So I encourage you to ask yourself, “Do I have a business that is growing beyond my control? Am I focusing on living to work, or working to live?”
It’s your honest (and authentic) answer that matters here. More importantly, it’s what you do about your answer that makes all the difference.
A few years ago, our company put on a conference called Authority Rainmaker, which was headlined by some pretty hefty names in the internet marketing space: Chris Brogan, Daniel Pink, and Henry Rollins. (Yes, the Henry Rollins—lead singer of seminal punk pioneers, Black Flag.)
One of our other keynote speakers was a woman named Sally Hogshead—a world-class branding expert who has discovered a new way to measure how people perceive our communication. She believes the greatest value we can add is to become more of ourselves.
I had planned on skipping her session so that I could, um, work, which really meant checking email and doing anything else unrelated to her talk.
As a matter of happenstance, I chose to do this in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, where she just so happened to be speaking. (Because I was too lazy to find another place to do my, um, work.)
She was the first speaker of the morning, which would have been totally normal up until the point where she grabbed someone from the audience and managed to do shots of Jägermeister onstage.
As she was setting the tone of what was about to happen, she said:
“Jägermeister is not selling itself on the basis of taste, or convenience, or reliability. It’s selling itself on the basis of a toxic experience.”
Then she went on to say:
“You don’t drink Jägermeister on a Tuesday afternoon, that’s what Chardonnay is for. You drink Jägermeister when something has gone terribly wrong, or a bachelor party, or it’s 2:00 in the morning and someone goes ‘Hey guys, let’s do a shot of Jägermeister.’”
And then came the unthinkable: a Jägermeister virgin was chosen by Sally from the audience, with whom she proceeded to do a shot—first thing in the morning. An unforgettable (and toxic) experience, no doubt.
This shenanigan definitely got my attention. So I closed my laptop, and took an unexpected course in brand building. Let’s just say that she schooled me by presenting one of the most impactful messages I have ever heard:
“If Jägermeister tried to be right for more people, it would not be as valuable and extraordinary for exactly the specialty that it owns.”
But one thing I have learned over the years of being a creative entrepreneur is that I cannot do it all. In fact, only just recently, have I started to accept this truth, but more importantly, I am at peace with it.
I don’t want to do it all, because I know I can’t do it all well.
And I’m ok with that, because to be honest, there is a huge sense of relief that comes alongside that atonement. This opens the door to identifying my strengths and my passion, and intentionally living within that.
In her book, Packing Light (aff.), my good friend Allison Fallon wrote ten words I’ll never forget—words that have impacted me like no other:
“Where your passion meets their need, that is your calling.”
I design. But I cannot design all things well. What I mean, is that certain types of design feel foreign to me, and I feel uncomfortable trying to do them. I guess this knowledge comes from years of spinning wheels and banging my head against the desk. Ah, the life of a creative.
Over the past few years, I have come to realize that I love minimalist design. If I can step onto a soapbox for a moment, I feel as though I do this well.
It’s my wheelhouse. My comfort zone. Or as Ally puts it, my passion.
I want to live there, because I don’t want to live anywhere else. I want to focus on the skills I am good at, and stay away from ones I am not.
When I realized that I did not want to be doing #allthethings for #allthepeople, I was able to hone in on being just a minimalist designer—which differentiates me from being a web (or graphic) designer. (It also means I can rank on page 2 of Google, because “niche” term.)
The bottom line, and circling back to the point Sally was making, is that when I try to do something I can’t do well and when I try to be someone I’m not, I lose the value and extraordinary talent I bring to my work. And to you.
It’s important to know that different doesn’t mean weird—looking at you Portland, Boulder, and Austin. It just means that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with narrowing down and specializing in something.
There’s a lot to be said with shedding the “jack of all trades” role, and becoming a master of one. It’s exhilarating. It’s fulfilling.
It’s also quite possible that the adage, “Less is more,” is spot on here.
So do me a favor and don’t feel like you need to be doing #allthethings for #allthepeople. As a creative, you simply have just one responsibility:
I’ve been struggling a bit of late with my ability to focus. Whether it be design, writing, podcasting—all areas of my work life have been running inefficiently and it’s something I haven’t been able to figure out why.
The ideas in my head flow like an endless river, but finding the time to execute on any of them has always been my achilles heel.
Recently, I had a revelation, and I think I’ve been finally able to put my finger on why things have gone in this direction. Here’s the thought I landed on, and also what I shared on social media:
The more we focus on being great, the less we succeed at being good.
We all strive for excellence, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But in my eyes, 95% effort towards it, in my opinion, is 5% short. I think the focus should be on the former of what I tweeted, rather than the latter.
The pressure to be great—well, so great that it cripples us—injects us with expectations that are typically unrealistic.
We spin our wheels trying to write that epic post. But we have a tendency to measure ourselves up so inadequately to those we admire—so much that, in the end, we don’t write anything.
This is something I’ve realized about myself that needs to change. I’m slowly learning that I cannot be great at everything and thinking I can be is merely setting myself up for self-doubt and failure.
It’s ok to focus on being great, but not at the expense of being good—because in the end… the world needs your art.
It’s really that simple, my creative friends. The world needs your art, and the world needs my art. And we should do whatever we can to create it.
. . .
I had plans to take this post in another direction, but they have been derailed by the news I literally just received that Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries, has passed away.
The cause of her death is unknown—and it’s possible we might not find out for quite some time—but it’s no secret that she struggled with mental illness.
Over the past few years, many brilliant musicians and artists have died. While still tragic, I haven’t had to cope with the loss of someone who affected me in the way that Dolores did.
No Need To Argue was an album that I listened to endlessly back in the day. Those years were filled with angst and definitely among the most formative of my life.
Alongside Sarah McLachlan and Jewel, she holds a special place in my heart. Collectively, their songwriting pulled me through some really dark times—to which I’m eternally grateful.
RIP, Dolores O’Riordan—one of the most angelic voices ever.
. . .
This past week marked the launch of Authentik Creatives, a 3-month experience where I will walk alongside eight creative entrepreneurs in a fully supported, hands-on environment to help them completely reimagine their business and brand, step by step—authentically, of course.
Before we got started, I asked that all members of the group watch this video:
I'm Possible. - YouTube
Jeremy Cowart is a fellow creative, who I had the pleasure of watching speak at Circles Conference a few years ago. He is an award-winning photographer, artist, and entrepreneur whose mission in life is to “explore the intersection of creativity and empathy.”
Carve out 25 minutes in your schedule where you will not be distracted (that means shutting down social media and turning off notifications!) and watch (not just listen to) this video. Let’s just say it helped inspire Authentik, and will be 25 minutes you won’t regret.
There are so many nuggets of wisdom in the video, and it’s filled with a tremendous amount of encouragement—but one thing in particular he said stood out to me, and it’s something I relate to on many levels:
“Something came alive in me whenever I would create.”
When I strip away all of the external forces that affect me on a daily basis—practically every hour of every day—all I want to do is create. And I want to do it in a way that is consistent with who I am, and the things I stand for.
I love what Ruthie Lindsey says here:
“All of us are longing for connection and authenticity, and what we believe will repel people does the exact opposite.”
Well the reality is this: There are many days I don’t believe what she says, and my endeavors succumb to fear. But, there seems to be an increasing percentage of my days where I see the truth in this, and that matters.
Creating Authentik was a step in the right direction for me, because I feel deep in my heart that it is my mission—and a total pleasure, mind you—to walk alongside (and encourage) creative entrepreneurs.
“There’s room, regardless of how crowded or sparse a market is, for you and your perspective. And not just for you to say the same things in the same way—but for you to give your opinion, in your own style, on a topic.”
And with the freedom we have to create art and build a personal brand that wholeheartedly reflects who we are, we need to remember that being great is not a prerequisite to being successful.
“Regardless of your skillset or the audience you serve, 99% of what you do is the same as the competition. The remaining 1% is unique to you. That’s your personal brand. That last 1% is how you stand out, differentiate, build a tribe, become known. That 1% is the most difficult and most scary part to work on. Because it’s you, the real, honest, vulnerable you. Yet, this is how you stand out in a crowded world.”
Let’s face it: there is a ton of competition in our space nowadays, especially with the Internet at the disposal of billions of people. The world is a noisy place, and there’s simply a whole lot happening these days. There are plenty of ways to make money, and trust me, most of which are rather unfulfilling.
When I started creating, as Jeremy says, I felt alive. I didn’t want to be doing any but, and that was a great place to be. (And is still a great place to be.)
I learned very quickly that the point of intersection between my passion and the need I felt was out there was my true calling.
As I try to process the death of an artist gone far too young, I sit and wonder what people will say about me when I am no longer here.
Will they find value in what I made? Will my work be forgotten? Will the time I spend now creating make a difference in the lives of people later? Will the legacy I leave behind matter?
One thing I know for sure is this: the art I create is far more valuable than any money I will have left in the bank when I die. That’s a guarantee.
I want to create. I want to be alive. That’s the legacy I want to leave behind.
A couple months ago, I came across an incredibly honest post from one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist. It is starting to change the way I view a lot of different things, especially as they pertain to me as a creative.
Here’s how she opens things up:
My life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life. Everyone’s life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life.
I don’t think I need to tell you how right she is—partly because I’m hoping you have the ability to look inward and admit your life on social media looks much better than your life not on social media.
She speaks some pretty deep truth here:
When you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, the majority of your friends probably aren’t doing anything any more special. But it only takes one friend at the Eiffel Tower to make you feel like a loser.
The Search for Significance
Here’s one thing I know: we all post these kinds of photos.
I think all of us are guilty of this in some fashion—posting photos to elicit a response. I’ll be the first one to admit it, as I know for a fact there have been times where I’ve tried to find the right filter to make my photo look amazing.
Times when I went out of my way to snap the perfect shot, so I could share it with the world in hopes for a handful of “likes.” In the end, and when I’m truly honest with myself, there’s a reason that I’m doing this.
As a person who was clinically diagnosed with major depression years ago, and someone who shortly thereafter was admitted to a psychiatric facility and placed under suicide watch, I believe I have some credence here.
Back when all of this went down, I was heading in a tragic direction and sought out anything that resembled approval. I wanted to know others found value in me, and I was something special. It just mattered to me.
This yearning we all have is amplified by the reach of social media. Let’s face it: our society has an epidemic that is creating narcissistic tendencies, and those are severely killing our creativity—at least they do with mine.
You Are Not Alone
Loryn Thompson, Data Analyst of our company, Rainmaker Digital, also suffers from this. She calls it the “media loop,” and admits that it is one of her worst technology habits:
Here’s how it goes: I pick up my phone in the evening to check Instagram. Then I jump over to Facebook… and after I get bored there, I hop over to Reddit. Before I realize it, I’ve lost an hour and I’m back on Instagram again.
There’s nothing wrong with getting lost in social media, is there? Because everything in moderation, right? Well, she goes on to say:
The problem isn’t the circular behavior itself. The problem is how it makes me feel. Some evenings, loading up on cute animal GIFs is exactly what I want to do. But other days, it feels more like a trap. The more I scroll, the worse I feel. The worse I feel, the more I scroll.
That is precisely the moment our creativity and productivity dies. It happens to her. It happens to me. And I’d be willing to bet, it happens to you.
We spend our minutes, our hours, and even sometimes, our days—stuck in the quagmire of “not good enough” and that eats away at our souls, and eats away at our ability to create the stuff we love and what is so personal: our art.
By no stretch do I ever expect to create perfectly, but if I’m not creating at all, my perceived value and sense of self-worth can take a really big hit.
Life Without Filters
Like many things, social media can be a good thing—of course, in small doses, and when not abused. So why not let it enhance our life, rather than define it?
I encourage you to put a limit on the amount of time you spend on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or whatever platform sucks you in and spits you out.
1. Combat your muscle memory.
2. Remember to breathe.
3. Make time for reflection.
4. Be realistic about your productivity.
5. Use mental “hooks” to stay focused.
If this list seems overwhelming to you, just pick one of them. Take a small step to reclaim your life, and to get back on track.
Annie Dillard, in her beautiful book, The Writing Life (aff.), once said, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”
We can spend our lives on social media, or we can spend our lives doing the very thing we were meant to do. And then we can share what we create with the community around us—authentically, on social media.
Back to Shauna’s article. She really brings it home for us here:
Let’s choose community. Let’s stop comparing. Let’s start connecting. Because community—the rich kind, the transforming kind, the valuable and difficult kind—doesn’t happen in partial truths and well-edited photo collections on Instagram.
Here’s to being honest with ourselves, and being honest with our businesses. Here’s to building a tribe of loyal followers, who judge us not on the art that we create, but why we create it.