instigate. inspire. lead.

All posts in Do the Work

The Creative Journey

In the movie The Grey, John Attway (the protagonist played by Liam Neeson) is a grizzled wolf hunter.

He works for an oil pipeline and protects the employees from wolf attacks, which (according to the movie) are common in the wild of Alaska.

The movie begins with this crew of workers getting ready to fly home.

But before John gets on the plane, he contemplates suicide.  The only thing he wants is to be reunited with his wife but he knows it’s futile.  Life has become so seemingly meaningless for him, he figures the only way out is to take his own life.

He’s moments away from pulling the trigger, but something compels him to hang on for one more moment.

John ends up getting on the plane,

On the flight back, the plane malfunctions and a hideous crash ensues – only a handful of people survive, including John.

It doesn’t take long before a pack of wolves attack the survivors.  To make matters worse, a blizzard rolls in.

John realizes the only way to survive is to move outside the kill radius of the wolves, which can be up to 300 miles.  He picks a direction – the treeline – and heads for it.

What follows is a desperate struggle for survival against blood-thirsty wolves and the terrible ferocity of nature.

The Struggle for Survival

When you see the plane crash, the forlorn escape out of the wilderness and all the terrible things that transpire afterwards, it almost seems like John should have pulled the trigger - that just giving up would have been easier than what he went through.

If life is going to be so hard, why deal with it?

Toward the end of the movie, when John has only an ounce of life left in him, he begs God to save him.

At this point, he’s the only person still alive – the rest of his crew got picked off one by one over the course of the last few days.  He’s done everything he could to help them survive, but couldn’t protect them.  And now, after a terrible and brutal few days, he just wants the struggle to be over.

He asks to be saved.

For a moment, he stares into the sky.  He waits.  He prays.

Nothing happens.

He picks himself up and keeps walking.

He marches deeper into the brush and once again runs into wolves…but this time something is different.

After days of trying to escape, after running for miles trying to get away from the wolves, after desperately trying to survive, John finds himself in the wolves den: the exact center – the root – of all this death and destruction.

Instead of escaping their kill radius, John walked right into the heart of it.

Live and Die

So there he is, surrounded.

The alpha wolf waits for him to make a move; John knows it’s all over.

Calmly, John pulls out a picture of his wife and reflects on a memory of her in a hospital bed, right before she died.

He puts the picture down and pulls out his father’s poem.  It’s a poem he’s kept in his wallet his entire life – a poem that clearly means a lot to him.  He reads it one last time:

“Once more into the fray,

Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.

Live and die on this day.

Live and die on this day.”

It’s a warriors poem.

It’s a message for the fighter, for the soldier, for the gladiator.

It’s a battle cry.

John could have given up at any point throughout the journey, including now, but he doesn’t.

And at the end of it all, he enters the wolves den and squares off against the Alpha wolf.

He takes out his knife and goes into battle one last time.

Stand and Fight

So here’s a person who, even after everything falls apart around him, keeps fighting.

He keeps fighting for a simple reason: because that’s what a warrior does.

And this final fight, in the wolves den (the symbolic end) against the Alpha wolf (the physical manifestation of his inner demons), John doesn’t submit.

He stands and fights.

It might seem like a pointless fight – after all, there’s no way he can win, so why try?

And therein lies the beauty of the story: John wants to be reunited with his wife, but he also wants to uphold the virtues of the warrior, the virtues instilled in him by his father.

What better way than one last battle with a great enemy?

The Impossible Battle

The creative struggle is real…

It’s hard…

And it’s universal.

I’m not talking about the carefree painter who paints without direction – who paints to paint – and whatever turns out, turns out.

I’m talking about the creative struggle of creating with purpose – for a purpose.

  • The design of the perfect user interface.
  • The structure and pacing of the perfect novel.
  • The systems and processes of the perfect business.

These things are hard as hell to create. 

And the journey can make you want to quit, to throw in the towel, to simply accept what life throws at you instead…

After all, if the enemy is too great to beat, why fight in the first place?

Once More Into the Fray

Here’s the deal – life’s not about surviving.

If that were the case, we’d all lose: nobody is exempt.

So if your life is nothing more than surviving: skating by at a dead end job; accepting your status in the rat race and unhappily climbing the ladder; spending 50% of your waking hours – 50% of your life – doing something you hate because that’s the only option you think you have…

Well then you’ve already lost, haven’t you?

On the other hand, if each day you live to create, to love and serve others, to do everything in your power to make yourself and your world better…

If each day you keep moving toward your goal, no matter how long the journey, no matter how difficult the struggle, no matter how terrible the battle…

If each day you can muster the strength to fight the creative enemy just one more time…to fight your wolf…

Well then it doesn’t matter if you win the battle.

What matters is that you entered the fray.

And what matters every day moving forward from here is that you continue to enter the fray.

Every day. No matter what.

So when you feel like quitting because the battle seems impossible to win, remember:

Great enemies are the only enemies worth fighting. [tweet]

Here’s to entering the fray.


*Photo credit: MyJayKay from morguefile.com

The Most Likely Resultmorguefile

This is it – your project is almost complete.

You took the uncertain and difficult steps from start (creating the idea) to finish (bringing the idea to life), and now you’re ready to ship.

It’s tough work, creating something from scratch, but you didn’t give up. And now is the moment of truth – the point where you reap the reward for your hard work and labor.

Confident, you launch your project and…

Nothing happens.

Nobody one-clicks your book on Amazon; nobody enters the store; nobody calls the ‘buy now’ number…

Crickets.

You check to see if it’s a system error, or maybe the server isn’t updating properly, or maybe there’s a traffic jam down the street…

Nope – everything is normal, but nothing happened.

Great and Everything Else

The reality for most aspiring artists, writers and entrepreneurs is that no one will notice what they do. And when they ship, no one will pay attention (a few of my prior entrepreneurial attempts fall squarely in this bracket).

Of course, the initial thought to remedy this is advertising and marketing – “if only I can get my message in front of enough people, then I can make a sale…”

This could work – statistically, the more people you expose a message to, the greater the chance of your message resonating with someone.

But more than likely, no amount of attention will change anything.

Why?

Because most things aren’t great.

Pareto

In 1906, an Italian Economist by the name of Vilfredo Pareto noticed an interesting trend in the distribution of land: 80% of land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

Going one step further, he analyzed the distribution of other data sets, including the number of pea pods in his garden that contained peas (20% contained 80% of the peas).

This observed distribution became known as the Pareto principle –most things do not distribute evenly, but unevenly, and they generally have a ration of 4:1 (specific distributions vary but are nonetheless uneven).

The Pareto principle applies to everything, from public sentiment (only a few bands have the majority of the attention) to effectiveness (most seminars and newsletters and eCourses simply aren’t effective).

This distribution most certainly applies to startups, art, and creative pursuits:

Most will be ignored.

Are You Overvaluing Your Origami?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Well, that might be the case for other products, but mine is great. I put so much time and energy into it it must be great – the right people just haven’t see it.” (internal dialogue of the archetypal entrepreneur)

This response I’ve heard a million times (I’ve told myself the same thing many times before).

Sadly, it’s usually not true.

In a study conducted by Dan Ariely (Psychology professor and author of Predictably Irrational), researchers found that people overrate their own creations based on the amount of effort they put into them:

“Our research shows that labor enhances affection for its results. When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations. We call this phenomenon the IKEA effect, in honor of the wildly successful Swedish manufacturer whose products typically arrive with some assembly required.

In one of our studies, we asked people to fold origami and then to bid on their own creations along with other people’s. They were consistently willing to pay more for their own origami. In fact, they were so enamored with their amateurish creations that they valued them as highly as origami made by experts.”

In other words, it’s impossible to objectively valuate something if you’re invested in the process.

You can believe your product is great – you can HOPE it is – but the true value of your product is the value given to it by the market (i.e. other people).

The John Carter Mistake

In 2012, a little movie called John Carter was released into theaters.

Actually, it wasn’t little at all: it was one of the most expensive movies ever produced. And when it finally shipped, it bombed. Hard.

But here’s the funny thing – everyone (as in, everyone involved in the project) thought John Carter would be a blow-up success. That’s why producers invested $250,000,000 (yes, that’s millions) into the project.

Even when signs pointed to no (actually, to hell no), producers kept pumping money into the project. The thought was: throw enough money at it to get it in front of everyone’s face and we’ll still come out of this alive…

The producers behind John Carter thought if they could scream loud enough, they’d get enough people to notice what a wonderful movie they created. Counter intuitively, every dollar pumped into this movie, instead of increasing its chances of success, actually increased the chance of it failing (greater the investment, the greater the needed return).

And as far as getting people to notice them?

Well, they got their attention – but it didn’t matter.

Great Work

So if you’re shipping a project and people don’t respond, it’s probably not because you’re not screaming loud enough…no amount of screaming will change anyone’s mind.

And it’s probably not because you didn’t put a ton of time and effort and resources into your project…it doesn’t matter how much money you pump into John Carter…it’s still John Carter.

No, the reality is that you probably haven’t hit great yet.

And if you want people to notice and to stick around, you need to do great work.

This is probably disappointing for the person looking to make a quick buck or catch an uptrend – for the person in the trenches superficially (i.e. the writer who doesn’t write).

But for those of us in it till the end, for those of us who enter the fray every day, this should come as a comforting thought.

The Outlier and Your Life’s Work

Every project we undertake is a chance to improve our skills and hone our craft.

Every hardship we suffer through separates us just a bit more from the rest of the pack, as others will surely quit.

And, as others quit, we rise to the top – we become outliers.

By committing to the process (especially when it’s difficult), and having the grit to see it through, as sure as 80% of land in Italy is held by 20% of the people, you’ll find yourself, years from now, holding your “unfair” (see: completely fair) share of the success distribution.

So take heart – your project might bomb, people might ignore you, and things might not go as planned…but if you strap on your helmet, pick up your rifle, and go over the top just one more time each day, sure enough, you will find victory.

Remember, it’s not about a singular win –it’s about creating your life’s work.

And you create that one project at time, one small win at a time, over the course of your life.

Keep fighting.


Join the Resistance and get exclusive content not published on the blog:


You can also check out my new book 2 Days With Seth Godin on Amazon here or pay what you want for the PDF format here.

Doing the WorkFinished

I’ve been busy recently…

Very busy.

January came and went with the initiation of several big projects – stuff I didn’t think I would finish by February…

But, somehow, I’m on track to ship (subscribe to my blog to get insider sneak peaks and first releases of awesome content, products and projects before everyone else).

Here are a few things I did that helped me focus my effort so I could create some great stuff I really think will help you on your own journey:

#1. Establish a Deadline

No matter what happens, the projects I’m working on WILL ship.

Maybe that means I don’t leave the computer the weekend before they ship, but so be it.

As long as you set a ship date – and understand that shipping isn’t an option – your project will ship.

#2. Identify Perfect…and then Identify Good Enough

Perfect is what you strive for.  But good enough is what you NEED.

It’s important to identify what makes your project perfect, but perfect rarely happens.  If you don’t know what good enough looks like, you will spend time spinning wheels trying to reach the unattainable.

On the other hand, if you identify good enough beforehand, and the project is good enough, you can still ship on time.  And shipping is what matters.

#3. Thrash

Thrashing is all about tearing apart your idea to find the holes, the missing pieces, and the weaknesses of your project.

Thrashing is brutal.

When we sit down to really understand what and why we’re doing something, or how to put our project together, it means we inspect every part of who WE are.  If there’s not clear solution to a part of your project, it’s easy to feel terrible.

Don’t.

Thrashing is essential.  If you don’t thrash, you’ll never find your voice, manifest your vision, or ship your final product.

Thrashing occurs throughout the project, but when you spend serious time and effort thrashing in the beginning, you’ll produce a better product and run into less trouble along the way.

(here is a great article by Jonathan Fields on Thrashing)

#4. Chunk

Chunking is taking the thrashed version of your idea and creating individual ship dates for each component/piece/part.

I like to chunk down pieces of the project into 1-3 hour intervals.  This means every piece of the puzzle I can accomplish within a 3 hour time-frame.

This allows me to realistically set a ship date that know I can reach it.

-> “What if I don’t know how long something will take?”

I rarely know how long something will take.  But I’ve learned something through my experiences: a 30 minute blog post WILL take 3 hours.

That eBook you think you can write in a 7 days WILL take 1 – 2 months.

The manuscript you’re working on, the one you think will take a few months…give yourself a year.

My rule of thumb: When in doubt, multiply by 6.

#5. Ship

That’s right: actually shipping is essential to shipping your project successfully.

But how many people actually ship?

Everything here is focused on shipping, because shipping matters (see item #2).  Even if iteration 1.0 doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, it’s out there, and you can refine and re-release later.

The goal, of course, is to thrash and chunk in such a way that you create a stellar product and ship something incredible the first round.

But if you have to ship something less than what you planned, ship anyway (you’ll learn more than you would otherwise, I promise).


Get free updates, exclusive content, and first looks at AWESOME projects coming down the pipeline: Join the Resistance.