I get asked questions every day about starting, finishing, and shipping things.

Let’s be honest: I bring this on myself.

Not only do I write about these topics, but I ask everyone I meet or who joins The Resistance to tell me what they’re struggling with (and how I can help).

The nature of this is that some questions come up again and again.

I find they fit a certain trend.

So today, I want to talk about  the second most common question I get asked (right behind “why are you so handsome?” - a question that has no human answer):

First, the question:

Tom, I want to [place description of doing something here, like: write book, sell more kitten mittens, etc.], but I don’t have [place description of excuse here, like: an audience, money, connections, platform, etc.]. What do I do?

Now, the solution is actually pretty obvious: go build or create the thing you’re lacking (audience, money, whatever), then do the thing you want.

Thing is, though, this advice is about as useful as telling a diabetic to stop consuming so much sugar.

Great thought, but the obvious isn’t what we need. If that were the case, the problem would be solved already.

Case closed. We won. Let’s go home.

No, most humans are great at recognizing what needs changing (whether in diet, business, relationships, or life). What we’re not so great at is implementing the changes necessary to succeed.

So what we DON’T need is someone reiterating the problem and telling us a solution.

What we DO need is a framework to facilitate success: a process to help us make change; a template to help us ship our project (or lower our cholesterol).

So if you’re stuck, confused, depressed, exhausted, or ready to throw in the towel (or already have), here’s what you need to do.
(more…)

Me jumping off a bridge in Ecuador #nobigdeal

This past June, my wife and I spent 15 days exploring Ecuador.

Unlike the other countries we visited this past year, our Ecuador adventure involved a lot of bus travel.

On the plus side, Ecuadorian bus travel is cheap. We traveled by bus from the Pacific Ocean to the Amazon jungle, with a couple stops in between for good measure, all for less than $100 USD.

On the not-quite-plus-side, the bus system is entirely unpredictable and you never know how many buses you’ll need to change to get to a particular destination.

On one such night, after about 6 hours of travel (with a few more hours to go), we found ourselves stopped at a standard Ecuadorian bus stop:

As we waited for our next bus, we came in contact with two other gringos; a couple taking a 2 week vacation in Ecuador. They had spent the past few days in the Galapagos and were now headed to the Amazon jungle.

“Perfect,” I thought, as we were also on our way to the Amazon (and if there’s one thing my Human Geography studies have taught, it’s that foreign travel is safer in packs).

So we got to talking the usual traveler’s talk:

  1. Where have you been?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. What place have you liked the best?
  4. What’s after this town / country / continent?

And of course, once these questions come to an end:

Our new acquaintances were grade school teachers. They spent the past year saving up for this trip and in about a week they were headed back to the States to teach and start saving again for another trip.

When it was my turn to answer, I told them I do a little teaching myself – on topics like pricing, product launches, and marketing / growth hacking – and that I basically collaborate on various projects and publish books for a living (my own and others).

“What school do you teach at?” she asked.

I don’t – I teach from a platform I created. It’s entirely online.

“So who do you work for?”

No one. I created the platform myself. I’m my own boss.

“Well, what books have you written?”

I mentioned one of my books, The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing, and told her it’s all about an unconventional pricing technique that helps people increase their reach, impact, and sales.

“What makes you the expert?”

I paused.

What makes you the expert?

I thought about the answer she probably expected to hear:

As I thought about these socially acceptable answers, I realized something: none applied to me.

I teach what I know, and I share what I learn. Some people find that valuable. Because of that, I have the opportunity to make a good living with the flexibility to travel around the world.

So I answered here:

"The better question is: why aren’t you?"

I went on to explain what I meant.

Fundamentally, it comes down to:

What is stopping you from being the expert?

What's keeping you from being the go-to, subject matter expert in your field?

What's holding you back from shipping that book or blog or business?

Because the answer certainly isn't "I don't have a degree" or "I haven't won an award" or "I am still paying my dues..."

More than likely, it has to do with your actions;  the action you take when you start, even if you're not ready, or feel under-qualified, or would rather concoct some other excuse instead of doing the work...

Once you decide to take action, the only question after that is: when?

I hope the answer is today.

---

Started, finished, and shipped in Denver, Colorado.

Total writing time: 3:41 hours

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Last week, we wrapped up the The Flight Formula LIVE – an intensive, in-person, heart-centered business incubator program.

For 7 days, a small group of motivated entrepreneurs met in the mountains of Asheville to discover their gifts, activate their purpose, and build heart-centered businesses from scratch.

Jason and Asher led the way (with me providing a virtual support role from Peru) providing a truly transformative experience for all attendees.

It’s only been a few days, but the reviews are starting to roll in…

"I spent $380,000+ over 5 years and got 10% of what I needed to build a heart-centered business. I attended The Flight Formula LIVE and got the other 90%.”

- Samuel Nazar Walsh, The Flight Formula LIVE 2014 TRIBE #3

“Words fail - one of the most truly transformative, powerful and meaningful events I've ever been a part of....”

- Bruce Brodeen, The Flight Formula LIVE 2014 TRIBE #3

“There are so many people who I think would benefit from this work...I am totally inspired and grateful for the experience. All my clients and colleagues want to know about it and I tell them it totally exceeded all my expectations - WOW!”

- Ciel Walko, The Flight Formula LIVE 2014 TRIBE #3

“Wow. Just... blown away by the content of this retreat... and by the compassion-filled spirits that are joining me for the experience.”

- Lehua Kauhane, The Flight Formula LIVE 2014 TRIBE #3

These are just a few of many reviews and testimonials that are coming in.

Truly humbling to say the least.

What’s The Flight Formula Secret Sauce?!

Good question.

In a nutshell, we focus on:

Inside to out; Gift to service.

Not many business incubator programs work this way….actually, none do (that I know of).

All other business incubator programs start with an unmet need in the market.

This is great.

It helps focus our solutions on a real problem (not something we created in our own heads that doesn’t really exist).

But it also misses a fundamental piece of the pie…

Your gift.

What you can give and how you can serve best.

That’s what’s different about The Flight Formula:

We start with the person, his or her gift, and design and implement a way for that gift to serve others in the marketplace.

And today, I want to share with you the 11 step formula we built for The Flight Formula to create transformational change in our students and help them launch heart-centered businesses.

My hope is that these 11 steps will help you create the same transformation in your own life and business.

*note: if you like this post, shoot me a tweet and let me know [click to tweet me!!]

Let’s get to it:

Step 1: Discover Your Gift, Purpose, and Story

There’s no such thing as a heart-centered business if the founder doesn’t understand his or her gift, purpose, and story.

Every heart-centered business starts with a powerful purpose explained through an equally powerful story. And the founders of heart-centered businesses are people who lean into their gifts.

The discovery of your gift, purpose, and story is something that takes quite a bit of time if you’re doing it on your own.

But if you create a safe container or safe space – a tight-knit group of people with shared core values, in an equally safe environment free of criticism – you can multiply and magnify your results in a fraction of the time.

We built this safe space into The Flight Formula as a core, foundational component of our program.

You can develop the same “safe space” into your group, organization, or program. All it takes is a cooperative group to sit down and set expectations from day one and hold everyone accountable to the same standards (no criticism, no judgement; just pure focus on gift, purpose, and story).

Step 2: Break Through Limiting Beliefs

Like clockwork, once someone has discovered his or her unique gift, purpose, and story, a set of mental roadblocks emerge from who-knows-where.

And so on.

These limiting beliefs are deep-rooted and generally only expose themselves when under attack (I’ve written about this a few times before).

This is the enemy, of course, and while we rationally understand why the enemy is wrong…the excuses can seem so real.

Like discovering your gifts, purpose, and story, breaking through limiting beliefs is hard to do by yourself.

It’s much more effective when you have unconditional support from a tight-knit group who share the same values (and are at a similar stage). Coaches and mentors at this stage are invaluable and can speed up the process dramatically.

Step 3: Identify Who Are You Serving

Once you’ve overcome the mental hurdles of why you can’t succeed (be honest, we all experience this), it’s time to focus on who you’ll serve.

The people you decide to serve are your target market or target audience.

I personally prefer the term “who am I serving” versus target market or target audience simply because it is much more tangible and visceral for me to think of the people and individuals I can directly serve…it’s just much more human for me than target market or target audience.

That said: different strokes for different folks, so think of it whichever way you prefer.

Regardless, the people you serve or your target market are the people that need your gift and who, if presented and approached the right way, will happily pay you for it.

Step 4: Define the Transformation You’re Creating

Step 4 is all about clarifying your offer to the people you’re serving.

This is the part people mess up on…a lot.

Just because you have a gift for playing Halo or drinking craft beer or playing dodgeball (guilty on all accounts) doesn’t mean that it’s something that can serve others…

Whatever your gift, you need to set it in the context of a need that must be met.

In other words: what is the transformation your gift is making in another person’s life?

This transformation must be specific, applicable, believable, and something the person wants and would pay money for.

How do we frame the transformation?

It’s all about outcomes.

Here’s a quote from James Gibson of The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception that helped me better understand the transformation process (and how to frame it):

“What we perceive when we look at objects are their affordances, not their qualities. We can discriminate the dimensions of difference if required to do so in an experiment, but what the object affords us is what we normally pay attention to.”

We don’t look at grass and think about color, saturation, length, whatever.

We think: that’s a nice spot to lay (because it looks soft), or: that’s a nice spot to grow something (because it looks fertile)…

Affordances NOT qualities…

Or to translate:

OUTCOMES (benefits) not features…

Step 5: Create Your Mini-Transformation Product or Service

At this point, you’ve got to bring your gifts in alignment with those you’re serving. The fastest, most effective way is to start with a mini-transformation.

What is a mini-transformation?

It’s a simple solution to a problem that positively changes the person you’re serving (your target audience).

The point of a mini-transformation isn’t to be groundbreaking, but to build trust with the people you intend to serve.

After all, who do we follow / believe in / want to be like?

Those people who demonstrate they are capable of doing (or being) what we want to do (or be).

Can you fix just one small problem your target audience has? Of course you can.

(and if the answer is: I’m not sure what problems they have, engage with them: they’ll be happy to tell you)

This step is all about connecting your gift, the most beautiful part of YOU, to the offer and how you can best serve others.

Simple – not easy.

Step 6: Listen and Engage

What do the people you intend to serve want?

What are they willing to pay for?

It’s not good enough to say “I have this problem, so I’m going to build a solution for it.”

I interviewed Andrew Warner of Mixergy for the next issue of Bootstrapped (the magazine formerly known as The Creative Entrepreneur) coming out this July, and one of the most powerful things he said was to NOT try to solve our own problems. Andrew has interviewed over 1,000 entrepreneurs, CEO’s, and business owners from across the world. He’s had access to some of the sharpest minds in the world.

So when he gives business advice, it’s best to listen up.

Don’t try to solve your own problem. Get to know the audience you want to serve, find out THEIR problems, and find out what solutions they would pay for. This is called product/market fit.

Identifying product/market fit isn’t rocket science, but it can be uncomfortable.

*note: if you’re an entrepreneur / artist / writer (or aspiring to be any of those): get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Step 7: Design the Flagship Product

At this point, you do not want to build anything. You simply want to wireframe a solution to a particular problem that your target audience said they would pay for.

In order to build out the wireframe (and, for the record, that is the ONLY thing you’re building at this stage – just a rough draft / outline / wireframe), we need to take the feedback from our target audience and mold it into the product or service they said they would pay for.

Wireframing your flagship product is not done in isolation.

You must continue to go back to the people you’ve initiated contact with (the people in your target audience who you listened to and engaged with in step 6) to develop the idea into something worthwhile.

Remember: Creation does not exist in a vacuum.

Use your potential and future customers for help in building what will be a solution to their problems (I promise they will help).

Step 8: Pre-sell to Early Adopters

Once you’ve gone through a few iterations with your target audience to develop the product or service wireframe, it’s time to sell.

If you’ve been communicating with the people you intend to serve throughout this entire process, getting presales will be easier than you think.

Why?

Because you’ve built trust with them and you’re providing a solution to a problem they said they would pay you for.

Simple, right??

These are the people that will buy your product or service on proof of concept alone (in other words: they are your early adopters).

*p.s. you have to actually sell your product or service at this stage – that means real money in your pocket (doesn’t matter what your mom thinks of your product at this stage unless she’s putting money down for the first version)

Step 9: Learn. Improve. Evolve.

This is an ongoing process and if you want to build a business that sticks around, you must continually learn, improve, and evolve.

Remember what I said about antifragile businesses – business success isn’t about the best products or the greatest profit. Success in business = survival.

By continuing to grow from the feedback you receive from your target audience, by continuing to build better versions of what they ask for, and by being able to pivot or change direction if necessary, you increase your chances of survival (and this is all that counts).

Step 10: Launch v1.0 of Your Flagship Product

By now, you’ve connected with and built trust with your target audience, you’ve built out a wireframe that your audience is willing to pay you for, and you’ve taken additional feedback to develop and improve the initial concept.

Now it’s time to launch.

Launching isn’t the simplest process – there are quite a number of variables to launch a product the right way, especially if you use an upside-down sales funnel like we did with The Flight Formula.

That said, by the time you get to this point, if you’ve done everything else right, you’ll be able to leverage your early adopters (the ones that bought on proof of concept, remember?) to be your most effective promoters and marketers of your product.

While not recommended, if this small group is all you can leverage to expand distribution of your product or service, it will suffice for now.

*note: I’m writing a book on how to validate a business idea, assemble a team, and ship a collaborative project to market (complete with how to nail a big launch for your product or service).

Get Early Access to My New Book: COMMAND

Step 11 (and beyond): Progressively Validate, Build and Ship New Solutions

For The Flight Formula, we started with a very expensive, premium product.

While Pay What You Want, the nature of the program being at a particular place and time meant it was inaccessible to some people.

Once we successfully launched the in-person incubator, the next step was to build out another solution that was accessible to a wider audience.

A lot of businesses start with a small sale and upsell from there (like a $39 eBook to a $399 course to a $2000 whatever).

We decided to go the opposite way, starting at the top and working our way down. This gave us more working capital and validated that what we were creating was a true need in the market.

At this point, we’re developing an online incubator program which we’re getting ready to launch in a couple days (a couple spots are available but we close up shop Monday night – if you’re interested, go here).

In the future, we can continue to build out even simpler and less expensive options for those interested in the same transformation but with limited time or funds (for example: a DIY course with all the core elements, but completely self-guided and self-paced).

The key here is to continue to find and fill unserved needs in the marketplace. You can do this by looking at income level (less expensive or more expensive products or services will attract different audiences), time (people with more or less time on their hands want different solutions), or any other number of variables.

Next Steps

So that’s The Flight Formula in summary form.

Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into anything that creates real transformation (like people, mentorship, one-on-one time, space, access to the tools, strategies, techniques of the best in the industry, etc.), but I hope this gives  you a new way to approach building a business.

You don’t have to do things the conventional way:

But it all starts with you:

Will you take the plunge to build a heart-centered business?

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Started, Finished and Shipped in Huaraz, Peru

Writing time: 6:34 hours

 Myrmidons! My brothers of the sword! I would rather fight beside you than any army of thousands! Let no man forget how menacing we are, we are lions! Do you know what's waiting beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it! It's yours! [Troy]

Creators have a dilemma.

We want the freedom to create whatever, whenever we want...

But the market will only compensate us for what IT wants.

This leaves your average creator (whether entrepreneur, writer, or artist) in a particularly uncomfortable position, with only two real options.

Option 1: Create what you want, ignore the market…

Many creators do just that.  They build for themselves and completely ignore the rest of the world.

There’s only one problem with this: it rarely pays off.

Yes, there are outliers.  But that’s exactly the point: they’re outliers.

If the market doesn’t like what you create, you bear the burden.

‘Do what you love’ sounds fun and sexy, until you realize you’ve been living on your mom’s couch for 3 years.

Option 2: Create for the market, ignore what you want…

Many other creators (probably the vast majority) choose this route.

They ignore their curiosities, inspirations, and passions, and build widgets instead.

There’s only one problem with this: it comes at a cost.

How long can we supply the demand for something we don’t care about?  How long can we commit to creating something personally valueless?  How long until the money’s not worth being a robot in the robot factory?

A False Dichotomy

Of course, this is a false dichotomy.

It doesn’t take a human geographer to realize there are other options besides ‘starving artist’ and ‘miserable cog’ when it comes to the life we choose for ourselves.

Just look at how many starving cogs and miserable artists there are in the world…

I kid (sort of…).

So why do we do it?

Simple:

We create this dichotomy, first and foremost, because it’s easier to process the world this way.  The brain can only process so many things at one time, so simplifying things makes the brain happy (we avoid sensory overload).

Second – and much more insidiously – we create this dichotomy to create an out

The Enemy wants to keep us stagnate.  An ‘either / or’ dichotomy with seemingly brutal consequences is the perfect weapon to make this happen.

If the world is a zero sum game, if it’s either win or lose, if it’s either me or him…well, better reason to just stay put, keep our heads down, and blend into the rest of the tribe

Now that we have a good, rational reason to sit still, we are off the hook for not taking action.  We have our out.

The Real Creator's Dilemma

But of course this out isn’t really an out.

It’s submitting for comfort and safety (or so we think…).

The real dilemma isn’t: do I do what I love, or do I do what makes me money?

This dichotomy doesn’t exist – it never did.

The real dilemma is: do we acquiesce to a life and lifestyle undesired because it’s comfortable and safe?

Or…

Or do we take the uncomfortable, uncertain, and difficult path…the one we know won’t be easy, clear, or guranteed…the one fraught with hardship, setbacks and failure…

Because we know it will be worth it?

Take it. It’s yours.

You can do important work and make money from it.

It’s possible, I promise you this.

I meet new people doing it every day.

More importantly, they’re doing it their way:  they’re picking the route, choosing their packing list, and drawing the map as they go along.  No, it’s not easy - but it was never supposed to be.

The same reality can be yours.

It’s waiting for you, just beyond that beach…

The question is: will you take it?

p.s. interested in taking the beach, but rather do it with an army?  I'm writing a new book that will teach you how to assemble and lead a team to take the beach (and own your market). Sign up here.

 

Start, finished, and shipped in Cape Town, S. Africa (after hanging out with penguins!)

Total writing time: 5:30 hrs

“Once you decide on your occupation... you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success...”  – Jiro Ono (Jiro Dreams of Sushi)

*   *   *

a map of the gilisFor the past two months, my wife and I have been traveling around South East Asia.

We’ve spent the majority of our time in Indonesia, with a one-off stop in Singapore for a long weekend (flights were $9 and we needed to renew our Indonesian visas, so it was a no-brainer).

Toward the end of our time in Indonesia, we made a trip to the Gili Islands, just off the coast of Lombok.

There are three Gili Islands – Gili Trawangan (Gili T for short), Gili Mano and Gili Air.

Each island has its own unique atmosphere (Gili T is more party, Gili Mano is basically undeveloped, and Gili Air is that quiet middle ground, more suited for honeymooners or people who prefer less crowded locations but all the essential amenities one might need while visiting an island paradise - like Wi-Fi).

We decided to spend the majority of our time on Gili Air.

Artisanship on an Island Paradise

I knew this place was different the moment our wooden boat floated up to its sand and coral beaches.

Unlike most Indonesian cities (and most SE Asian cities for that matter), instead of being greeted by hundreds of taxi cab drivers looking to take all our money (we stand out here), we saw a dozen horse drawn carriages lining the street with not a single moped in sight (again, for SE Asia, this is bizarre).

Courtney and I had done our research, though – Gili Air is only a few square kilometers, meaning everything is in walking distance.

So we started walking.

We had no set plans or booked reservations – we normally wing our travel and this was no exception.

As we walked along the half-cobble, half-sand roads, we were greeted with the standard set of Indonesian idiosyncrasies (smiles, laughter, offers for a place to stay or eat, and lots of ‘mista’ and ‘boss’ thrown into their sentences for good measure), and passed by dozens of independently owned and operated shops.

One shop in particular caught my attention.

gili air artisan

- How do you NOT stop here? -

A little hut, just off the side of the main road (there’s really only one main road in Gili Air), with a sign that read:

Gili Air Artshop Made to Order. Looking is for Free, Smile Included.

But it wasn’t the warm, inviting sign that drew me in; it was the man sitting outside the shop, hacking away at a coconut that did.

His name is Nin.

Nin is an artist.  He carves, paints, and constructs things from wood and other natural materials.  Today, he is carving a necklace out of a coconut.

Watch him work for just a few minutes and you realize a few things:

1. Nin is a professional.  This is his life.  It’s what he does every day for hours a day.  His craftsmanship shows.

2. Nin is an artisan.  He works with his hands to bring his vision to life.  And he’s skilled at it.

3. Nin’s workshop is sustainable in the perfect sense of the word.  He uses discarded wood and coconuts to make his art.  This isn’t for marketing purposes – it’s out of necessity.

Naturally, I had to buy something from Nin.

gili air artisan

- Nin hard at work -

He charged me 200,000 Rupiah for a coconut necklace.

As a point of reference, that’s less than $20 US.  As another point of reference, that’s more than it cost for one night on our beach front bungalow, and about 2 times as much as dinner for two at a high end restaurant on the island.

Depending on how you view it, it might seem like I got ripped off.  Relative to prices on the island, 200,000 Rupiah is quite a bit of money.  And I never bartered (something you’re supposed to do in Indonesia).

Of course, after watching him work, I didn’t want to.

He spent three days carving this necklace from a coconut shell.  Every day, I watched his progress, forming something from (essentially) nothing.

When it was finished, I wondered if 200,000 Rupiah was too little.

The Artisan in the Digital Age

I tell this story for a reason.

First, to point out that artisanship still exists.  All over the world.  And many people just like me are willing to pay a premium for it.

And second, to beg the question:

The Message and the Message Spreader

In the beginning of this essay, I quoted Jiro Ono, a sushi chef made famous from a little documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Jiro’s an artisan.

He lives and breathes the perfect sushi dish.  He’s been doing it every day for over 70 years and will continue until he physically can’t.

Jiro charges over $300 a meal.

He does because he can - because people want to see a master artist at work.

We’re naturally drawn toward those who perfect their craft, who’ve weathered the inner creative battle for decades and come out on top.  And we’re happy to pay a premium just to be in their presence (Jiro’s sushi shop is booked months in advance).

Again, this might solidify the idea that artisanship only exists in the physical realm…

Until I think about how I heard of Jiro.

I’ve never met Jiro in person, nor been to his sushi restaurant.

It was a documentary – a digital download - that brought his work to my attention.  It was this medley of pixels, gigabytes and high resolution that shined a light on his work and his philosophy.

The digital world made this message possible to spread.

And no other medium could have delivered the message with more impact.

We’re Waiting to Pay You a Premium

As entrepreneurs, creators and instigators in the 21st century, a very big part of what we do is online.

Yet instead of killing off what is left of artisanship, I honestly believe it’s helping to grow and expand the roll of the artisan (just listen to some of the interviews I've done with true digital artisans like AJ Leon and Dan Adams, among others) .

The artisan storyteller; the artisan craftsman (online and off); the artisan message spreader...

The roll of the artisan is expanding.

The question isn’t one of accessibility or ‘how’ – anyone can be one if they choose.

The question is: are you willing to put in the hours, days, and years (and the sweat, blood, and tears) to create the perfect product or service for the people who matter - the ones who want to hear from you?

My advice?

Start today - before you're ready.

Because we’re waiting.

And we’re willing to pay a premium.

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Started in Gili Air; thrashed in Sydney; finished and shipped in Perth, Australia (while listening to the song Perth by Bon Iver)

Total Writing Time: 3 hours and 8 minutes

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Want to support Artisanship in the 21st century?  Subscribe to The Creative Entrepreneur and support an artisanal publication while helping fund entrepreneurs in developing countries.

 

For the past two months my wife and I have been vagabonding through New Zealand.

Vagabonding is probably the best word for it – the majority of the time we’ve been living out of our backpack and a tiny red hatchback (The Getzya!).

The first weekend here, we rented a car (buses are too expensive and a car would give us more flexibility).  Since then, we’ve managed to see more of New Zealand than most New Zealanders (we’re very curious and we don’t waste time).

We started in Auckland in the north (of the north island) and made it all the way to Queenstown in the south (of the south island), stopping along the way to see rocky, windswept coastlines, majestic waterfalls (lots of waterfalls), surreal-looking giant trees, and a never-ending supply of sheep grazing on rolling, green hills.

In a very nerdy way, it reminded me of the Nintendo game Zelda come to life (although there were no boss battles or treasure chests in the caves here).

Our time here has come to an end, but it’s been an incredible ride with just enough misadventures to keep it interesting the whole time.

But the point of this essay isn’t to gush about New Zealand (although, if you have a chance, definitely go visit), nor is it to brag (can you really brag if you’ve been living out of a car?).

The point of this essay is to tell you a story of a couple people whose work has impacted millions (including many reading this, I’d suspect), yet few of us even directly recognize their contribution…

***

Our last stop in the north island of New Zealand took us to the windy city of Wellington (they call Chicago the windy city in the States – it doesn’t come close to Wellington, where some days the wind could actually knock you over).

While there, we did what we always do in a new city: go for explorative runs, conduct hands-on research of the craft-beer scene and wander wherever we feel compelled to go.

One of those daily wanders led us Weta Digital.

Weta is the company responsible for the visual effects for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  From makeup, to costumes, to set design, to digital FX – Weta created it all.

Based on the record-setting box-office numbers and gluttony of awards they won, they obviously killed it.  They brought Tolken’s Middle Earth to life, convincing the die-hards that a well-produced film could do the books justice, and convincing the masses that some fantasy stories are worth hearing (even if it means sitting down for over 3 hours to do so).

But what’s even more remarkable is that they did all this under seemingly impossible circumstances:  Weta hadn’t officially been around for 10 years before Peter Jackson picked them for the project, and they didn’t do just one film, they had to do all 3 at once.

There’s no good reason they should have succeeded, but they did.

***

Of course, if this is where the story ends, where you close the browser and say got it, you miss the point entirely.

Weta’s story didn’t start with multiple studies, hundreds of employees and this extremely complex, multi-faceted, million-dollar blockbuster project.

It started as an unreasonable idea in the back room of Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger’s cramped flat in 1987.

It started as the kind of idea your peers would tell you to forget about (for your own good, of course), so you can spend more time making time-and-a-half and watching football.

It started as the type of idea that usually goes nowhere, so why waste your time?

It started as an idea that’s for kids and dreamers, not adults.

Lucky for us, Richard and Tonia didn’t care.  Instead, they kept doing the odd thing, the childish thing, the unreasonable thing…

With each small project, they pushed the boundaries of their own creativity.  They put their blood, sweat and tears into every creation, beyond any reasonable expectation of repayment.  And with each new film, they improved, honed and sharpened their skill-set.

They also formed relationships that lasted.

They got their first major film gig in 1989.  Their job: to create bizarre-looking muppets for an even more bizarre black comedy.  The guy directing was a local to Wellington as well: Peter Jackson.

4 years later, they joined with Peter to expand their film effects company (RT Effects at the time) and formed what is now Weta Digital.

7 years after that, they got their big break: the opportunity to work on The Lord of the Rings.

Since then, they’ve worked on dozens of blockbusters, from Iron Man 3, to District 9 to the new Hobbit movies, and expanded into a total of 5 studios running the gamut of film production (from pre through post production).

***

There are at least a dozen good lessons to take from this story, but I’ll leave you with just one:

Life is for the unreasonable.

This goes for everyone and everything.

Your existence on this planet, in and of itself, is unreasonable.  The chances of you being here, right now, just as you are – they’re so slim as to be non-existent.  There is no random chance here.

Yet so many squander this gift by waiting, letting others go first, and favoring the safe and secure bet.

Richard and Tonia didn’t wait.  They didn’t let someone else create the studio they dreamt up.  And they certainly didn’t favor safety or security.

They were completely unreasonable.

And those who love their work and feel their impact are better off for it.

***

Of course, you’ve probably never heard of Richard and Tonia, unless you’re a huge LOTR fan.  Most of us enjoyed the movies and might recognize a few of the actors and maybe the director - that’s about it.

So what’s in it for them if the masses of people don’t even recognize their contribution?  

And what's in it for the rest of us if no one notices what we do?

I’m not sure what Richard or Tonia would say about this (I’ve yet to interview them for In the Trenches), but I know what one of Tolkien's characters would say:

"There may come a time for valor without renown." - Aragorn

Don't wait.

Be unreasonable.

___

Started, finished and shipped at The Sprocket Roaster in Newcastle, Australia. Fuel: double espresso. Soundtrack: Bon Iver

Total writing time: 5 hours

___

p.s. want an unreasonable way to sell your products or services?  Check out my book: The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing. It might just change the way you approach your business, art and writing forever.

The Start and the End

Finally, it was over.

For the past four years, John fought the inner creative war…

Four years of writing, editing, cutting, scrapping and starting from scratch…

Four years of uncertainty, doubt and fear…

Four years of painful creative struggle – the kind only a fiction author can truly appreciate…

But in February, the war was over – John had finished his manuscript.  He had won.  He could relax and breathe a sigh of relief. 

All that remained was sending it to a publisher.

That’s the easy part, though, right?

The Struggle

John packed up the manuscript and sent it to a publisher – Simon and Shuster.

The manuscript eventually made its way to a senior editor - Robert Gottlieb.  This was a big deal.  Robert was responsible for discovering and editing then-unknown Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.  He obviously recognized talent and knew how to edit a book.

If John’s manuscript had even a hint of value, Robert would find it.

John’s manuscript didn’t make the cut.

At least not the first iteration.

Robert asked John to try again.

John tried again.

Again, his manuscript got returned.

Robert admitted John had talent – he was certainly a capable author…but his book didn’t have a pointAnd you can’t publish a book that doesn’t have a point.  Robert asked John to submit another rewrite.

Over the next two years, John struggled to rewrite a book he had poured his heart and soul into.

Yet no matter what he did, the book never made the cut.

The Fall

John threw the manuscript aside and tried working on a new novel, but his heart wasn’t in it.

At the encouragement of his mother, John attempted to submit his manuscript to a new publisher.  It had now been close to three years since he had finished the original manuscript.  With renewed optimism, John tried again.

His manuscript was rejected.

John had put everything into this novel.  The characters were pieces of himself.  When publishers rejected his manuscript, they were, in effect, rejecting John.

The personal rejection was devastating.

This final rejection set into motion a downward spiral of depression – a hopeless and miserable depression that lasted for two years before John couldn’t take it anymore.

In March 1969, John Kennedy Toole took his own life.

Dunces in Confederacy…

As some of you may know, this is the heartbreaking true story of author John Kennedy Toole and the ill-fated tail of his posthumously awarded, Pulitzer Prize winning book A Confederacy of Dunces.

During his lifetime, John’s manuscript wasn’t given the time of day.  Publishers didn’t like it.  It was a book that was seemingly about nothing.

A book like that can’t be published, can it?

It wasn’t until years later, after John’s mom went on a personal crusade to get the manuscript published, that it caught the attention of Walker Percy and, in 1980 - 15 year (!) after John had finished the original manuscript - the book was published.

Think about that.

15 YEARS.

It took 15 years before a big publisher recognized the value in this book.  15 years before John’s incredible story was brought to the masses.  15 years before the rest of us got to experience the brilliance that was Ignatius Reilly’s misadventures in New Orleans…

15 years…

11 too late to save John’s life.

Who Should Choose You?

This story isn’t meant to point out the failure of traditional publishers – we already know the model is broken.

No one can see value in what the creator produces quite like the producer himself (or his happy readers).  This is a given.

Nor is this story meant to vilify traditional publishing – we already know their job is to make money.

If a book doesn’t have a point, how do you market it?  If it can’t be marketed, how do you sell it?  If you can’t sell it…move onto a book you can sell.

This story is meant simply to consider one question: if an author like John Kennedy Toole was living today, what would stop him from choosing himself?

Time and time again John was rejected…

A thousand times a day, creators – artists, inventors, and authors just like John 50 years ago - are being rejected by gatekeepers: publishers, producers, angel investors, whatever.

This made sense 50 years ago…but today?

Today, every single one of us has the means to be the publisher, the producer, and even the manufacturer.

We are the gatekeepers now.  Not the film studio, not the publishing house, not the hedge fund – YOU.  The only one stopping you from saying ‘go’ is yourself.

So tell me – what’s stopping you? 

What’s keeping your manuscript from seeing the light of day?  What’s keeping your movie from being created and distributed?  What’s stopping your product from going into production?

Your Opportunity to Commit Today

I wish John was alive today – not only for his family and friends sake, but for the world’s sake.

He created great art.  He wrote words that mattered.  I have no doubt he had more to give…

Today, there are thousands of talented creators just like John all around the world.  People with talent, with value to add to others, with a story, product or idea that deserves to see the light of day.  They’ve probably been rejected a thousand times.  And they may be rejected a thousand more.

My plea to those authors, designers, writers, entrepreneurs, warriors and leaders:

1. Don’t give up.  No matter how hard it gets, there’s a reason you’re here.  There’s light at the end of every tunnel – if you can’t see it, it means you haven’t walked far enough.  KEEP GOING!

2. Pick yourself.  It feels good to get chosen by others.  Getting picked is like a drug - and like a drug, it’s superficial, ephemeral and addictive.  The high is fleeting, destructive and anything but real.  Be your own catalyst: pick yourself instead.

And if you need help with either of the above, I encourage you to check out Insurgent Publishing - a boutique, creative publishing platform that was designed and built to remedy the failure of traditional publishing.

In fact, if you're a writer, artists, designer, editor or just an art and book enthusiast, I challenge you to get involved today.  In January, Insurgent Publishing is publishing our first ever creative entrepreneur's journal - a literary journal that focuses on business and art in the 21st century.

Here is a real opportunity to commit to something that could change your life (and the lives of others) for the better.  Get involved today by following the link above.

If your idea doesn't 'fit' with Insurgent Publishing, it's my promise to you that I will personally help you publish yourself, so that, no matter what, your idea sees the light of day.  This would be commercial suicide for the traditional publisher.

Luckily, a traditional publisher I am not.

Final Thoughts

I know it sounds clichéd or rehashed at this point - don't give up and pick yourself...

You've probably heard it a dozen times and read the same points a thousand times in a thousand different varieties...

But when life hangs in the balance - and, many times, it actually does - I’m not sure the point can ever be emphasized enough.

So here’s to John Kennedy Toole – a remarkable artist that was overlooked and who left us too soon.

And here’s to the unknown artist, in the trenches, day in and day out, creating work that matters – I look forward to reading your book, watching your movie, or using your product…

Sooner, rather than later.

***

photocredit: Courtney via FarAwayReasons.com

Over the last few months, I’ve received dozens of emails from readers asking me how to get their idea or project unstuck.

I’ve done my best to answer everyone’s question individually, but for every person who emails me directly, I can be sure there are two or three others with the same problem who haven’t spoken up.

So today I want to talk about how to get a project unstuck by leveraging a particular framework. This framework works for virtually any type of project in any industry, and I’m certain it can work for you, whatever your sticking point.

A Caveat: No, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every problem.

My intention isn’t to give you the answer.

My intention is to give you a framework for approaching problems so you can systematically improve your chances of getting unstuck and getting your book, business, blog,  or whatever to the next level.

If you have any feedback on the framework, leave me a comment below – even the best framework or system can be improved!

1) Identify your Endstate and Mission

The endstate is essentially your ultimate goal. It’s the final situation you want to create for your project.

Think of it this way: in a perfect world, what would your project look like when it’s finished and shipped?

Why is the endstate so important?  Because without it we have no guidance or direction for our mission, and the mission is exactly how we reach the endstate.

A good endstate is measurable, tangible and detailed enough to allow us to craft our mission.

Examples:

Objectives and the Scope of an Endstate

Being too big or too small with your endstate can hurt your plans here.

While it’s good to set your sites high, there are diminishing returns when you start setting impractical endstates relative to what you’re capable of achieving.  That’s why it’s important to remember that an endstate is composed of multiple OBJECTIVES.

Objectives are those mission-critical events that lead us to the final endstate.

There are progressive objectives in just about any scenario, and each objective is the result of hitting smaller objectives along the way.

In the Army, when you lay out progressive objectives, each one laying the foundation for the next, they call it nesting.

Nest Your Missions

The endstate for the military in the European theater of WWII was Allied control of Europe.  This meant the mission, vaguely speaking, was to defeat the Axis power.  Obviously, if you’re a lowly company commander, this endstate doesn’t help you much on the ground, does it?

That’s why in the Army they ‘nest’ their missions; they identity major objectives that must be met to meet the endstate, and they continue to break these down into smaller missions for lower units.  So as a Company accomplishes their mission it feeds into the Battalion’s mission, which feeds into the Brigade’s mission, etc.

Each unit’s mission must nest with the higher unit’s mission.

In this way, if I’m a company commander and I execute my mission successfully (securing the bridge), this allows the Battalion (one command level higher) to meet their mission (secure the southwestern region)

Application

Applying this to the world of entrepreneurship or art is simple: if you’re setting your endstate way beyond your capacity, that’s okay, but remember – you can only execute the mission at your current level.

So go ahead, by all means set your endstate as having your book published in 50 countries and languages across the world.  But this isn’t your mission.  You need to keep backward planning (see below) until you get to an actionable mission for the level you’re at (which, most likely, is publishing a book on Amazon and getting digital copies in the hands of readers).

2) Backward Plan

Backward planning means identifying every objective that must be met to reach your endstate and planning from the endstate backward to your present situation.

Backward Planning and Underpants Gnomes

Backward planning is effective because you’ll never end up with a giant gap of uncertainty – every objective will lead to the next, which means you’ll never be at a loss for what to do.

If we’re not detailed with our backward planning, it can often lead to massive gaps.  This is the reason most people’s projects get stuck – instead of backward planning and creating a detailed, step by step roadmap for what to do, they end up with an Underpants Gnome plan.

In the second season of South Park, there’s an episode about underpants gnomes.  Underpants gnomes are gnomes that sneak into peoples rooms at night to steal underpants as part of a broader business plan:

Step 1: Collect Underpants

Step 2: ?

Step 3: Profit

When we set unrealistic or impractical endstates, or when we try planning toward an endstate months or years out without meticulously working backward, we’re usually left with an Underpants Gnome plan.  Instead of establishing strict, actionable objectives, we have an idea of what we want (Collect Underpants), and a general goal (profit), and nothing in between to get us there.

You can avoid an Underpants Gnome Plan by aggressively chunking and thrashing your plan (see below).

3) Chunk

Chunking means breaking up your plan into actionable, bit-sized pieces with estimated time requirements and unique ship dates for each chunk.

The idea behind chunking is to identify every single step along the path to your endstate in a clear and precise manor.  By identifying a ship date for each ‘chunk’ we eliminate procrastination or missing deadlines.  By estimating (as accurately as possible) the time requirement to complete each chunk, we avoid the possibility of hitting a massive, insurmountable objective half way through our project (stuff like that can cripple a project).

Chunking is more art than science, but it starts with getting really, really detailed in your plan by identifying:

1) Facts – what are the facts of your project?  If you’re bootstrapping a software company, a fact might be that you have one engineer on your team capable of coding the product.  If you’re writing a book, a fact could be you have very little money to outsource editing.  Facts are important for identifying limitations and restrictions (which affects your timeline and the chunking process)

2) Assumptions – what are you taking for granted or hoping/guessing will happen throughout the plan?  A common assumption: I can do it all myself.  This is almost never the case, no matter what the project.

3) Limitations and Restrictions – this is where you identify where facts or assumptions will limit or restrict your planning.  So if you have one engineer to code the product, this limits the ability to start on the next product until the first one is done (without negative side effects).

A good rule of thumb for chunking: break everything down into objectives that take several hours or less to complete.

“Write Book” is a bad chunk.  Breaking it down into parts – Table of Contents, Outline, First Sentence, First Chapter, Title, etc. – is much more effective.

You want to be able to accomplish a piece of your project every day to maximize momentum and keep your project moving forward.

4) Thrash (ongoing process)

Thrashing is the process of removing everything but the essential.

Very few products require more than a few features.  This is especially true when you’re first starting out and you’re trying to prove an unknown (i.e. sell a new product to a new market).  The fewer features you have, the more you can focus on what matters – and the less likelihood your project will go over time and budget (the killer of all startups).

But there’s an even better reason to strip your product/service/idea of extraneous fat (read: unnecessary features): it is necessary for idea validation.

Idea Validation

Idea validation is determining what features you need based on iterative testing with users.

Ultimately, idea validation is about product/market fit – are people willing to pay for your product or service.  In a matter of speaking, idea validation determines whether what you create has a reason for being created.

This is the biggest hurdle for most aspiring entrepreneurs to get over – sometimes the idea you have isn’t as good as you think it is.  But the only way to find out is by testing it in a market.  The only way to do that is by selling it to your customer.

If your customer doesn’t want it, time to think of a new solution.

If your customer likes it but there’s a holdup (cost, features, whatever), then you can continue to test new variations of the same idea.

The goal here is to test a decent sized audience so you’re not relying on just one person’s input, who could very well be the anomaly if you had taken a larger sample size.

Taken from the principle of lean starting, if ten people love what you make (and pay you for it), you’re probably onto something.

Thrashing Throughout the Project

While I mentioned thrashing as step 4 in this framework, it’s really an ongoing process that begins the moment you have an idea and doesn’t stop until you’ve shipped.

There are always things you can cut, slash, limit and refine.  This is not a bad thing!  Think about it – probably the best things in this world (product, service or art) are probably great at one thing, not okay at a bunch.

Your job is to be excellent at one thing.  Go for depth, not breadth.  Leave mediocre for the try-hards.

Wrapping Up

This is a really simple breakdown of the framework I use when I start a new project.  I didn’t include all the details here because they’re usually not the most important part.  What’s important is a clear vision and an idea of the path or roadmap to get there.

That’s the purpose of this framework – to help you focus on what really matters.

If your project is stuck, I'd guess it has to do with lack of clarity or focus, and that is usually the result of failing to execute one of these steps I outlined in this framework.gunslingers

If you found this helpful, you should definitely check out my guide and workbook on starting, finishing and shipping projects: The Gunslinger’s Guide to Starting and The Gunslinger’s Workbook.

In that guide and workbook, I go into more detail and give you a workbook to actually frame your project.  I’ve received some great feedback, so if you’re stuck with a current project of looking to start a new one, grab it (it’s free).

I hope you find this framework practical.

Leave a comment below and let me know what steps you’ve taken or what framework you’ve used to ensure the success of your projects.   And if you’ve found yourself stuck, let us know where and why, so we can work out a solution.

 

Change Your Input, Change Your Life

3 reasons you need to go on more adventures

When’s the last time you made yourself uncomfortable?

This question isn't rhetorical and it's definitely worth answering (at least to yourself).

Why?

Because your answer is indicative of the life you’re currently living – for better or worse.

So many of us instinctively stick to what we know.

We grow up playing certain sports and we stick with them through high school, college and (if we have just the right amount of luck) into our adult years.

The same goes for musical instruments, languages, hobbies and just about everything else in life.

It’s almost as if after we graduate school and get a job, new experiences vanish.

We become adults and we stick to what we know – to what’s comfortable.

It’s a shame, because sticking to what’s comfortable limits the adventures we’ll have in life.

And adventure is what we need now more than ever in a world where sedentary connectivity is the norm.

The following are 3 life-improving reasons you should go on more adventures.

1. Adventure makes you smarter…

In an experiment conducted by German researches, 40 mice were put in a large, enriched environment (5 levels of glass chutes, toys, scaffolds, nesting places and more) and monitored over the course of 3 months.

It turns out that the mice who explored more built more new neurons than those who explored less:

“Researchers found that the brains of the most explorative mice were building more new neurons -- a process known as neurogenesis -- in the hippocampus, the center for learning and memory, than the animals that were more passive.” [Article]

Neurons are fundamental for the functioning of the brain and body as a whole. 

The more neurons we build, the greater our capacity for motor and sensory development.  If we actively build and engage more neurons we can become better at things like reading comprehension, scientific reasoning and mathematics.

Of course, we’re not rats in a cage, so how can we implement this advice?

Simple:

Don’t have the time or means to travel?

The list could go on for days, literally only limited by your creativity (and if you consider yourself lacking creativity, check out my pay-what-you-want guide: Putting On Your Brain Goggles – it will help you invent, design and develop creative ideas)

In any way you can, expose yourself to new experiences.

The more you explore, the smarter you’ll become.

2.  Adventure gives you photographic memory…

The brain naturally lumps together consistent, similar memories.

This is effective from a storage and functioning standpoint – our brains don’t need superfluous details to function – but it also has drawbacks.

Think about your last year of work or school.  What stands out?

How about from middle school or high school?  What do you remember?

Chances are the majority of your memories are blurred and dull.  The day to day grind fades away over time.  What’s left is a general impression of what life was like at the time…an impression that will continue to shift, distort and change over time as you grow older.

So what happened to the details?

The truth is they’re nowhere to be found because most of our days are monotonous, familiar and ordinary. 

Under conditions like that, details fade.

Which means if you want to improve your memory – if you want to actually remember the details - you need to change things up.

According to psychology writer Claudia Hammod, you are most likely to remember an event if it is “distinctive, vivid, personally involved and is a tale you have recounted many times since.” [Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception]

To create long lasting, detailed memories, focus on these 4 elements of creating a memorable event:

1)      Distinctive – how does it differentiate from your day to day grind?  Changing up coffee shops is a good start.  Taking a day trip to the Bahamas is better.  There’s probably a happy medium in there somewhere.  Experiment and explore and figure out what’s right for you (but different than you’re used to).

2)      Vivid – how many senses are you stimulating?  The more senses we can stimulate at one time – and the better we can focus on this stimulation – the more vivid our memories will be.  Plus, there’s an added benefit to stimulating things like your sense of smell because it’s directly linked to your memory.  And you can make an event vivid without artificial sense stimulants (beer, cigarettes, etc.) – all it takes is awareness and focus.  When in doubt, do things that are intense (and pay attention to the details).

3)      Personal Involvement– you need to be the protagonist of your story.  Watching a rugby game?  Cool.  Playing fly-half and leading your team to a state championship victory?  The latter memory will stay with you longer – much longer.  So as much (and as often) as you can – be the person doing stuff:  Run from the bulls.  Take the wheel.  Make the introduction.  Get out of the bleachers and get into the arena.

4)      Recountable – memories relived are memories remembered (redundant, sure – but still true) .  If you had a remarkable time doing something, make sure to actually remark to someone about it.  Or at least to yourself.  Preferably several times a year.  Memories will stay clear and detailed the more you recollect and recount.

Want to create distinctive, vivid, personally involved, recountable events?

You guessed it – go on more adventures.

Exploring, traveling, learning, creating…all these things automatically hit all 4 elements, and what you’re left with is something you can actually remember in detail.

Photographic memory?

Okay, that’s hyperbole, but it’s pretty darn close.

3.  Adventure lengthens your life…

Or at least the perception of it.

Extraordinary things stick in our minds longer and more clearly than merely ordinary things (see above).

The memory of mundane, comfortable, ordinary routine lumps together and fades away in time.

Novelty, on the other hand, is a jolt to the brain system – we not only remember new experiences more vividly, they also seem longer to us when we reflect on them.  This is called the “Holiday Paradox” by Hammod:  “the contradictory feeling that a good holiday whizzes by, yet feels long when you look back.”

It follows then that the more often we experience change (and the more dramatic the change), the longer our lives will seem.

As a personal anecdote, I remember moving a lot as I grew up.  It seemed like every few years my family would move to a new location.  Sure, I never had the chance to establish roots anywhere, but I think I got the better end of the bargain: a brain constantly exposed to new people, locations and things.

And because it happened every few years, I remember each location uniquely and vividly.

This is in stark contrast to many people I’ve met who’ve spent their whole lives in the same neighborhood or working the same job.  Ask them about the last 5, 10, or 20 years and it’s a blur of sameness.

The question isn’t one of right or wrong, or living a good life or a bad one, or anything like that – the question here is: would you rather have vivid, positive memories throughout your life (and continue to create new, remarkable memories, or would you rather be the person who brings up his high school football highlight reel 20 years later?

So if you want to lengthen your life (or at least the perception of your life), go on more adventures.

If you want to take it one step further and not just lengthen the perception of life, but actually add years to your life, then go on physically strenuous adventures (consistently).

Not only will your life seem longer, you’ll have more years to create new, meaningful memories.

In the End

Will going on adventures make you smarter, improve your memory, and increase your lifespan?

The research suggests it will.

But it comes at a price.

There’s something I didn’t mention earlier but would be remiss not to mention at all: going on adventures, traveling, exploring, creating, learning - these things are fun, exhilarating and enlightening in their own right, but they do come at a price.

Discomfort.

Everything new is uncomfortable.  It has to be by its nature.

And that’s the rub – if you want to live a life of adventure, you need to get used to discomfort.

Sounds easy enough to deal with, but how many people do you know who’ve avoided taking action, avoided trying something new, avoided starting something that might not work because the prospect of doing any of those things is, well, uncomfortable?

Probably more than you or I’d care to admit…

The silver lining: it’s never too late to start. 

It’s never too late to try something new. 

It’s never too late to change.

In the end, the choice – and the responsibility – is entirely yours.

Whatever you decide, I hope you make the right choice for you.

Be bold and keep creating.

(p.s. and go on more adventures)


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What do you do when presented with an uncertain path?

Do you stick to what’s comfortable, to what’s safe?

If there’s something on the line (and there always is), this would seem the prudent choice.

After all, with uncertainty comes risk, and risk means danger - the reasonable choice would be to stick to what you know.

But what if sticking to the seemingly safest option – the certain path – isn’t so safe?

Sometimes (most times), committing to comfortable, staying on the tried and true path, and purposefully avoiding risks is the most dangerous thing we can do…

Burying Talent

You’ve probably heard the parable of the talents, but I think it’s worth revisiting.

It all starts with an estate owner and 3 trusted servants....

One day, the owner of a large estate sets out abroad, leaving his property and gold in the care of three servants.

The owner divides up his gold (aka talents) - 5 talents to the first servant, 2 talents to the second, and 1 talent to the third – each in proportion to his ability.  When the man leaves, the first two servants put their talents to work, trading, bartering and gaining more talents.  The third servant, uncertain and frightened of losing the talent he was given, hides his in the ground.

Months later, the man returns home.  When he goes to settle his accounts, he finds the first two servants doubled their talents, from 5 to 10 and from 2 to 4.

The man is pleased and gives these servants a share of his wealth: “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness.”

But when the man goes to settle the account of the third servant, he is met with defensive excuses: “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.”

The third servant brings the estate owner one talent – the original talent he had been given when the estate owner left for his travels.

The owner of the estate gets honey-badger pissed.  He calls the servant wicked and lazy and tells him how he could have at least made interest on the money by putting it into a bank.  He doesn’t stop there – he takes the third servant’s single talent and gives it to the servant with ten talents.  In a final finishing move, he throws the worthless servant outside into the darkness, banishing him from his estate.

And that’s the paraphrased parable in a nutshell (Matthew 25:14-30 for the actual text).

Pretty serious, right?

Beyond Talent

The clear take-away from this parable is that we should use our talents.

That’s a no brainer.

We’re each given talents in life (in the aptitude/gift way) – our job is to put them to work.  Most would agree.

Yet it’s surprising to me how most people seem to grasp this, at least conceptually, but completely miss the other more subtle (and possibly, more important) lesson:

The talent the third servant gave to the master upon his return is not the same talent he buried months earlier.

This isn't due to something mystical or magical – the talent didn’t transform or shape shift or disappear – it simply became what it must become, buried in the ground all those months…

This is a lesson successful investors learn early in their careers that the rest of us could take a cue from in our own lives.

Options

One of the most powerful ways to buy or sell investments is through the use of option contracts.

When we use options, whether in the stock market or in real estate (or in some other marketplace entirely), what we’re doing is purchasing the right to buy (or sell) something at a specific price on or before a certain date.

The beauty of option contracts is that they allow us to buy or sell, but they don’t obligate us to.

Want to know how people make a killing in the stock market or in real estate?  They learn to use options.

Options are powerful because they give us leverage and flexibility.

But like with every financial instrument on this planet, even options have a weakness: Time.

You see, every stock option has a time limit.  Once it hits that time limit, it expires.

If I don’t execute the trade or sell the contract itself before the agreed upon date, I could lose everything.

Simply put: as time goes by, an option contract loses value.

This is referred to as Time Decay.

And Time Decay affects everything in this world – including those talents buried in the ground.

Putting Talents to Work

Putting our talents to work is scary.

It means we can lose even the little bit we start with.  It means we can crash and burn.  It means we can fail.

The natural inclination to mitigate this risk is to protect our talents.  To shield them from uncertainty.  To bury them.

And while burying your talents outwardly protects them from theft or loss, there’s a catch; the talents are worth much less now than they were when we started.

This is time decay and it affects natural aptitude (our gifts/talents/aptitude) as much as money.

When we don’t use our talents, they waste away.

It’s as simple as that.

Are you a gifted singer?  Refrain from singing for 40 years and you might still be talented, but that talent is worth much less.  Why?  Because you have less time now to develop it into something worthwhile.  Not to mention those 40 years you spent NOT singing could have been spent creating high-impact albums, the kind of stuff that inspires us to be bolder, braver, and live better.

Because you waited, the world is short 40 years of life changing music. 

That’s a shame.

Are you a gifted writer?  Get a real job, work for 30 years, and then, when you’ve saved enough money for retirement, then start writing.  Are you still a gifted writer?  Sure, you might be, but your talent is worth much less, because you don’t have as much time to write all the great books you could have written had you started 30 years ago.

This world is short possibly dozens of books now because you waited to write.

Are you gifted at anything (even in the smallest, most marginal way right now)?  Sports, marketing, military strategy, project management, design, leadership?  Wait until retirement before you dig into your hobby and, sure, you might still have talent…well, you get the point...

Execute Your Option

We are each given talents.

You and I know this.

What we don’t recognize is that each one of these talents is an option contract – it has a time limit.  It suffers from time decay.

Every day you wait to start, your talent loses value.

And months and years from now, that talent, if you bury it in the ground – if you wait to use it - will become a shriveled, bedraggled, weaker version of its once former glory – a mere shadow of its former self (its true self).

But if you put it to use, if you have the courage to take the uncertain path, to step into the unknown with boldness and purpose…

Well you already know what is possible, don’t you?

Don’t wait for tomorrow.

Execute your talent option today (instigate before it's too late).

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