This is one of the most important posts I’ve ever written.
I’ve been going through a transformation process, a creative renaissance if you will. It’s been uncomfortable, as change always requires us to tolerate the pain of loss.
It started while I was in Charleston for vacation. My wife and I would sit on an old Victorian balcony each morning and drink coffee. It was the first time in years that I truly allowed myself to disconnect from my work. The thoughts came pouring in. Since that time, the thoughts have continued to trouble me.
My mind has been racing. Hopefully by the end of this article I will have more clarity on where I’m going and you will feel inspired and obligated to make the changes you need to become the best entrepreneur you can be.
Let’s get started.
On Friday, Jules and I got caught up on Dave. (If you’re not a Lil Dicky fan, you are truly missing out on the finer things in life.)
The most recent episode (episode 9) was brilliant. Here’s the cliff notes version.
Dave is struggling creatively. He is at a crossroads with his identity. He can’t decide which route to go with his music. Should he mix in humor? Is he a tough guy rapper? How can he make music while also dealing with the pain of losing the love of his life and abandoning his friends? His writers block has brought him to a dark place. Dave has an experience in a float tank and goes on a spiritual journey within a dream state.
In the dream, Dave comes face to face with his ego. He thinks he has to kill his ego. But after he and his ego have a conversation, Dave discovers that what is actually holding him back is his expectations. It’s possible to create art that is in line with your ego while also being in line with risk and creatively. It’s the expectation of who we think we should be and how other people will judge us that is truly the creativity killer.
Dave’s ego tells him “stop trying to be high brow or low brow, just be… ‘no brow.'”
Dave wakes up from his dream state and immediately runs into the studio to start recording with a new found freedom to express himself creatively in a way that only he knows how.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Yesterday, I finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.
The way Gaiman writes is both beautiful and perplexing. I never knew it was possible to write stories like that. I haven’t stopped thinking about this book and it’s leaving me with a nagging realization.
In the story, the boy finds a duck pond. Over a series of terrifying adventures, the boy discovers that the duck pond is limitless. It’s finite, yes, but has limitless possibility. It’s endless in it’s scope of wisdom and potential. When swimming in the pond, the boy discovers that everything is both limited and limitless at the same time.
Isn’t that always the case? Isn’t every idea, relationship, experience, story and narrative both limited and infinite? What will be has limitations, but what could be is infinite.
There is no end to what we may become.
A Creative Journey
It can’t be a coincidence that I watched this Dave episode at the same time I finished this book.
They are bringing me face to face with myself.
For the last 5 years of my life, I have dedicated myself to mechanizing my creativity in order to build great businesses. I don’t regret it at all. I am proud of what my team and I have built, but I have always had the feeling that I am not fully living up to my creative potential.
It’s tough to explain, because I am not unhappy with anything. In fact, as I look back I think I have truly made all the right decisions that have brought me to the place I want to be. I have no regrets. But I do have creative voids that haven’t been filled.
In particular, I’ve had two goals that I’ve constantly been putting on the back burner. I keep telling myself that “when I reach a certain point, I will start working on those projects that I’ve always wanted to work on.”
Just like Dave, I have been fighting a battle with my ego and my truest self. Ultimately it comes down to one question.
What do I want?
- I want to write a book. You know when you’re a kid and you go to a place in your imagination and you dream of being an astronaut or a rockstar or veterinarian? My dream was always to walk into an airport and to see my book on the shelf. I’ve been working on a story in my mind for 5 years. I need to write it.
- I want to write my paid newsletter. When I hired my business coach two years ago, the first thing I said to her was that “I want to create a paid newsletter to help young entrepreneurs find the courage to start companies.” I’ve been working with my coach ever since and I’ve never gone all in on what I want to do. I’ve talked about it every session. I’ve avoided the subject by working on everything else possible except for my newsletter.
Why? Because my fear and my ego have convinced me that I’m not actually good enough to create something worth paying for.
I change my mind over and over again. I start and then I stop. I constantly get stuck on a sentence or an idea and then instead of working through it, I sit back in my chair and I say “this is stupid, no one cares about this anyway.”
The best part is that I’ve done all the work to launch my newsletter. It’s been done for months. It’s like a painting that I keep to myself and never share with the world.
So here it is. You can sign up for The Apprenticeship here.
Here We Go
All that is required of me is focus and conviction.
I have plenty of time. I have plenty of bandwidth. Almost everything I own is automated and systematized.
This isn’t some kind of Van Gogh moment where I cut off my ear and recluse into the wilderness. This is simply a realization of my fears. This is me coming face to face with my ego and with the resistance. All I have to do is commit to doing the meaningful work that allows me to express my creativity.
I have to be no brow. I have to swim in the ocean at the end of the lane.
My Message to You
It is unwise to stop everything you’re doing and quit your job to become a starving artist. The same thing goes for starting that dream business or becoming a musician. I’m not blowing up my life in pursuit of writing a book. You shouldn’t either.
I still have to manage Stodzy, run the membership community for Copyblogger, finish my Agency Clarity course, stay in shape, be a good husband and be a good dad.
Creative freedom does not equate to irresponsibility. It’s not about being reckless or negligent. It’s about being self aware.
If you’re like me and you’re trying to find ways to fill your creativity void, the first step is to ask yourself a simple question.
What are you afraid of?
Is it failure? Is it success? Is it the judgement of your peers? Is it that exposing your truth will then hold you accountable to living up to the promises you’ve made to yourself?
It’s the hardest thing in the world to do. Because it’s impossible to lie to yourself while pursuing your truest form. You can’t do both at the same time. It’s like swimming and breathing.
Your mission isn’t to be successful. Rather, your mission is to allow yourself to be the writer, the artist, the creator and the entrepreneur that you naturally are.
If you do that, the success will come.
I’m certain of it.