What’s hard is what’s good

Pleasure is a fickle lover. It’s an external high that numbs you at the moment and leaves you with regret afterward.

I should clarify here that pleasure coming from inside of you and working its way out is great. You work to climb the mountain and you derive pleasure from the accomplishment. You bust your hump at work and the promotion is sweet. You study like your life depends on it and the high scores are as the sweet syrup of victory flowing down to you.

But the external pleasure that comes first from the outside, binge-watching that Netflix series, spending all day browsing YouTube, indulging in the various hedonistic tendencies of many folks in our day and age, etc… are all superficial numbing agents at best.

Chase that which is difficult. Look to better yourself. Get after it. Go for the hard stuff. Believe you can do it and then start. You will derive long-term satisfaction from doing that which cultivates true, inner happiness.

I want to be great at doing everything

To get exceptional at doing something you need to spend a lot of time and effort.

My problem is picking only one or two things. I want to be great at doing everything. I want to shoot photos, read amazing books, write stuff that connects with people, learn everything I can about history, philosophy, religion, psychology, and medicine, I want to lift weights, ride my bicycle like a pro, make top-notch videos, be an amazing logo designer, be amazing at drawing, at illustrating, motion graphics, social media marketing, I want to be an amazing chef, and I want to combine all that stuff while traveling to cool places in the world and share everything via videos I make while doing all that stuff.

But the truth is, without focusing on being great at a couple of things, all that other stuff most-likely won’t come. You need your hits, but you only need a couple of hits. Most artists get popular on the back of a song or two. If it’s good enough for them, it’s probably good enough for you and me.

Get good (really good) and start making stuff and the hits will start coming.

The easier things get, the harder we make them

The better things getter, the more we tend to expect things to get even better.

Hence begins the long walk down the road toward entitlement. It seems to be a first-world problem for the most part. We expect more because we’re special (or so we tell ourself).

I think the key is to find contentment, real contentment, with where you are and what you have. Never let the fire inside of you die of complacency, but don’t mistake complacency for being thankful with the good stuff you have now.

It’s a delicate balance and one that far too often we fall afoul of.

Rest takes the pain out of torture

Chinese water torture is effective because there is no rest.

The dripping doesn’t hurt, but it is constantly there and constantly inconsistent.

Life, business, mentality, mood are all constantly inconsistent, too. It becomes torture unless we remember to take our rest.

We’re far too focused on the result of what we do

We’re far too focused on the result of what we do. Getting famous, making lots of money, building that dream house, winning that marathon, or traveling the world. 

The truth is that when it comes to building a business or bodybuilding, you must love the process itself. The painful, difficult stuff, The long nights in the gym and the questionable-tasting protein drinks, the long hours working, and the sleep deprivation.

If you just want the payoff without the build you’re not going to get the payoff and the building you do will be miserable. Life doesn’t work that way. The painful bits present challenges which, when solved, load us with happiness. You can’t run from the painful bits. They just get bigger and more difficult to contend with in the future.

So don’t focus only on the result you expect. Instead, focus on the build and learn to love the build. If you don’t love the process of building, you might be in the wrong business.

I was riding my bike up a particularly difficult hill...

I was riding my bike up a particularly difficult hill the other day, huffing and puffing as I went. 7%-12% grades for a mile will make your legs burn and get you pretty out of breath.

I kept looking forward and each time I rounded a small turn I would just see another bump upward. Each time I saw the new obstacle I had a split second battle happening in my head between the side that felt dismayed and wanted to give up and the side that was excited and wanted to conquer the hill.

So I kept turning and looking behind me at how much I’d already climbed. Looking back at what you’ve done already can be the best motivation to press on toward the finish line with renewed gusto.

I finished that climb and I did it more than 2x faster than when I had first tried it. Look backward occasionally to motivate you forward.

The paradox of procrastination

Avoiding what you don’t want to do brings happiness, right? Right??

Wrong. You end up filled with regret, frustration, and panic as the deadline approaches.

The paradox of procrastination is that running from the discomfort of doing something you’re unsure of, or scared of, or just don’t feel like doing, you end up running yourself into a frenzy of misery, self-loathing, and panic. 

Sounds like fun. Try breaking up the day into single hours and close out the distractions. The distractions bring misery, the challenge of your work brings fulfillment and happiness.

The less you care, the more you do

Most of us have met the guy who cares so much that he chokes the life out of the projects he finds important. As a child, my grandmother had a kitten that she loved so much she accidentally smothered it to death the first day she had it.

In a somewhat less "deathy" way, creating artwork, writing, photos, films, etc… requires you to be willing to create bad work. You write 200 bad songs to get one hit. You shoot 100 photos for one good one. You create 250 YouTube videos to get one viral video.

But if you care so much that you can’t release “bad” work into the world, you lose the ability to run into those hits. I know you don’t want to release bad artwork, but I have to remind myself that sometimes what I think is “bad” work ends up being some of my most-well received artwork.

Maybe you don’t care about how your work is received and that’s OK, but if you want to grow a following and sell your work, you’ll have to start caring a little bit.

Falling behind and catching up

It’s what I do with my life every week. I lose focus. I fail to execute my tasks. I stare at a bigger mound of work the next day because of my lapsing focus.

I find that when I stop doing something for a day, it’s not too difficult to get started again. However, if I stop doing something for a week or two, it’s like tearing my limbs off to get back to doing it.

If I don’t check my email every day, I can go six weeks without checking it and then getting caught up can take hours which makes it even harder to want to sit down and get through it.

I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be dealing with me on an email-only basis.

Grappling with repeated failure

When you know what you need to do and the changes you need to make, but day after day you still fall into the same traps it is a hard thing.

I don’t have the solution for it. Only that we have to stay the course and make no excuses.

Speed doesn’t matter, just that you are working in a good direction. Be willing to make the sacrifices and be honest with yourself and start being disciplined one hour a day, to begin with.

Then work hard and endure the pain. It’s worth it when you look back on it all and the agony of regret vanishes in the wake of productivity, personal discipline, and consistency.

The death and rebirth of the artist

The best artists don’t punch the clock and leave at 5 pm.

The best artists enter the arena with the artwork and do battle as they play with ideas and venture forth into the unknown of nothing in an attempt to bring something back from that.

In the process, you sacrifice yourself for each project into which you pour your heart and soul. But the beauty of the artist is that after each project ends and he’s given his life for it, he is reborn a new artist and is ready to venture out again.

This is the life cycle of the artist.

The best ideas are always the scary ones

The good idea is the one that scares you to death. It’s the one you can hardly imagine being able to accomplish and the one that will exhaust all your time, energy, and resources.

After you exhaust yourself bringing that idea to fruition it's time to pat yourself on the back and then sit down and get back to work on the next scary idea.

The scary idea that will require your full commitment is THE good idea.

The sufferings of the artist

We’ve all been there. Sitting down to write a draft of a contract, a blog post, or even a book. But the moment we sit down we’d rather be doing anything else. I suffer from this when I sit down to create a mood board for a commercial photo shoot or when I’m building out my next YouTube video.

This force of resistance is like Satan on our shoulder pointing us everywhere but in the direction that will help us accomplish our task. Instead, we spend hours being distracted and go to bed that night miserable, angry with ourself and wondering why, yet again, we failed to do our work.

The artist has to be a self-starter, or force himself to self-start even in the face of this resistance to the work. It’s easier to work when your boss tells you what to do. All you have to do is do your things and go home. The artist lives in his work has no boss to push him in the right direction and will feel bouts of aimless wandering while trying to figure what’s next. 

Artists need structure and a target at which to aim.

Artists need to conquer the force that prevents them from getting started.

Artists need to be comfortable with floating through the creative process (once started) not knowing where it will end.

As Steven Pressfield so brilliantly puts it, “The artist enters the Void with nothing and returns with something.” That’s the job of an artist and that’s what makes what we all try to do so difficult yet so alluring.

The bright side of shade

The Spartans were facing certain extermination in the face of the million-man Medo-Persian army just before the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. You know, that famous “300” battle.

Herodotus recounts in his “Histories” a famous note about a Spartan named, Dienekes who was one of the bravest of the Spartans. He was told by a man familiar with the Medes that when they unleash volleys of arrows so thick and in such great number that they block out the sun.

Dienekes responded by pointing out this meant they would be able to fight the battle in the shade.

In the shadow of the greatest difficulties we face, there is always an optimistic outlook, even if we risk being reckless or sounding crazy at times. Oh, I should mention as well, Dienekes was killed in that battle of Thermopylae, but his comments about the shade have pushed his character into the sun in Greek history.

Creativity's valley of death

You’re sitting at your desk finishing the 9th version of the logo design you’re working on. You missed your daughter’s recital, your son’s game, and the family reunion as well.

You send the latest version of your work to the client and the response you get is that they don’t like it, they don’t have any real direction to add, and the tone of the response has zero respect for the effort you’ve put into making the logo.

You’re ready to explode and you’re wracked with disappointment for missing your kid’s events and it’s a year until the next reunion.

But, does anyone enjoy family reunions? So maybe we don’t get too upset about that specifically. But you get the point.

The key to avoiding this trap is to be prepared to give your heart and soul for the first 20 drafts and then throw them all away in a second. It’s not a travesty, it’s the process.

Think of the author who spends a year on his first draft only to toss it in the garbage. That’s the resilience you want and the resilience you’ll need.

The deep waters of doing what you love

When you do the things you’re most passionate about or when you decide not to get the white-collar job everyone has always gotten in your family, you’re going to get big push back from people whom you care about the most. It may even lead you to resent them.

Amid the frustration of hearing their continued concerns for what you’re doing or always feeling that they don’t trust you, it becomes very easy to get frustrated and give up. Or blame failures you have on their lack of support.

That’s the trick about doing this stuff you love. Do it, do it well, and never losing passion. Oh, and not hating everyone around you while you’re doing it. The biggest thing I’ve learned in the past ten years is that to be successful you must have an unwavering belief in yourself even when every single person around you doubts you. Stand strong.

Utter despair in the 75th minute

Most experienced screenwriters will know that if you fast forward to minute 75 or so in a well-written film, you will find the moment of utter despair in the film. The moment from which the hero needs to escape or enter and save the day.

I will often catch myself chalking up outcomes of success or failure of others as happenstance. But the truth is that you have far more control over an outcome than you may realize. You just have to be willing to spend the time to learn the matter inside and out.

People have thought about the best place for that moment of despair when developing a film and it leads to films that capture the attention and enrapture the audience more effectively. It’s not dumb “luck”, there is a method.

For me, this kind of thing serves as a humbling reminder that there are vast expanses of information that I don’t possess. It’s also exciting to know that there is a level of control to virtually everything. I just would need to apply myself.

Nobody loves the work you’re making

Your paintings, your stories, your client pitches, your presentations, your advertisements, your photographs. You don’t have much business and you don’t have people ecstatic about what you do for them.

It’s always just good enough to blend in, but never great enough to stick out. How can you possibly change that?

We must be able to exercise our creativity fearlessly and as unboundedly as possible, but we must take care not to spiral out of control and produce art that has no soul, feeling, depth, or direction.

The trick is to start with the end. Target what you want, the feeling you wish to envoke, the end of the story you’re telling, the conclusion the client needs for that pitch deck, etc…

Then it's simple: use your creativity to build to that point.

By starting where you want to finish, you can step backward and build to that finish point faster and more precisely. Your friends, clients, and fans (yeah, you’ll have some of them when you create art with soul) will love you and your work more.

Act one, act two, act three or is it all a waste?

Am I wasting my time writing a little bit each day, or does it get better bit by bit?

What’s to say I’m learning anything new or sharing anything special? Is it a matter of personal pride to stick with it? Or is there a way I could use my daily blog-post-writing to get better at writing in some kind of systematic way and not the fling-mud-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks kind of way I’ve been writing?

I’m not much of a movie or playwright guy, but the traditional method of three acts could be used in all creative expressions. Writing, photography, painting, music, etc… Where you tell a story and wish to have a theme beautifully unfold, you tell the story in three acts. Just as I’ve done with this post.