Focus on What You Can Control

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Steve Jobs

There’s a lot of things in life that are out of our control. I can dance all day, but my actions are not not going to make it rain today. But there are a lot of things that are in our control too. It’s when we dwell on things out of our control and ignore / dismiss things in our control, where we can cause the most unhappiness and friction in our lives.

Things in our control are easier to dismiss because they usually come in small and non-obvious packages.

Off the top of my head, here’s seven things we are in control of:

  1. How we think.
  2. How we act and react.
  3. What / who we surround ourselves with.
  4. What we prioritize in our lives.
  5. Our breath.
  6. What we say no to.
  7. Where we live.

How we think

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

Buddha

What does negativity do for us? Not a whole lot except make us miserable. Just like anything else, complaining, negativity, worry and fear are habits. Everything we do is leading us…. somewhere. The question is, where are our thoughts taking us? How we think is subtle yet pervasive. We never go a day without thinking, we’re always surrounded by our thoughts (internally and externally). But if we are constantly self-criticizing ourselves and telling ourselves we hate who we are, how is that effecting our lives? Does our daily self-criticism making us less confident and capable? I would argue yes. It’s a cliché phrase, but change your thoughts and you can change your life. Every negative thought has an optimistic counterpart. The goal is to train ourselves to think optimistically and see the possibilities of the life we’ve given (and driven), so that we can build a meaningful life instead of a negative one.

How we act and react.

“Action is the foundational key to all success.”

Pablo Picasso

Our actions are more potent than we think. When faced with fear, doubt and uncertainty, most people don’t make a move (or act with inaction). But we can be different. While everyone is standing idly by, we are out there trying and giving it our all. There might be a chance we will fail, but there’s 100% chance we’ll fail if we do nothing.

What / who we surround ourselves with.

“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.”

Oprah Winfrey

Our input equals our output. If we have a sucky relationship, harmful / untrustworthy friends, or surround ourselves with media and entertainment that isn’t making us better, then of course we’ll feel stuck and out of control. Ask yourself, “what has influence over my life?”

What we prioritize in our lives.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

Stephen Covey

What’s the first thing you do every morning? How often are you working on your creative passions that make you feel ALIVE? Our time may be finite, our schedules may be full, but we have to power to prioritize what we love over everything else that distracts us from that. The goal is to get our daily lives to match our priorities. Is your side passion your priority? Then why are you spending all of your time drinking? Is your family your priority? Then why are you working 24/7.

Our breath.

“Stay calm and aggressive.”

Gabrielle Reece

Breathing is free. To quote Wim Hof, “breathe motherf🙈cker!”. It only takes a handful of of deep breaths to calm yourself and switch from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic state.(1) Staying calm and focused on what’s in front of us can have massive impact on our lives!

What we say no to.

“All the mistakes I ever made were when I wanted to say ‘No’ and said ‘Yes’.”

Moss Hart

There’s a lot of circumstances, setbacks and responsibilities we have to say yes to. Your’s might be completely different from mine, but they’re still each of ours to bare. But that doesn’t mean we are helpless. We still have the power to say no. Our circumstances might limit us, our responsibilities might narrow our current capabilities, but we can still can say no to anything that doesn’t enable us to be better versions of ourselves. We can say no to a lot of things, really. We can say no to anything that doesn’t align with our goals and values. We can say no to non priorities. We can say no to people that don’t support us, or people who are actively holding us back. We can say no to unhealthy habits. What we say no to is just as important, if not more so, than what we say yes to.

Where we live.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Walt Disney

I’ve only been to a handful of places in my life (so far), but each place I visit has a distinct voice and prioritizes specific values. If you don’t like where you are, travel. Find a place that matches your values and the values you want to grow in. Work and creative expression drives New York. Technology and innovation drives San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Different speeds for different needs. Do you need to move to SF to start a tech company? No. Not with the internet. There are plenty of needs and ideas where you are. But if you are looking to grow in particular areas, then surrounding yourself (either where you are or somewhere else) with people that can make you better is key.

But recognize that liking where you are and liking yourself is two different things. It’s easy to get lost in the romance and newness of travel and moving, while at the same time, you’re still bring yourself and all your problems with you.

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Even one change in one of these seven (or other things in our control) can have a massive impact in all areas of our lives (directly and indirectly). When you find yourself at a place where you are cultivating none of these things, start with one. Pick the one that stands out or is the easiest for you to do. If you’re doing one, try changing another. If you’re working on them all, keep doing it. The variable that makes these (and everything really) more complex is time — our life isn’t static. Change is continuously happening. Imagine what cultivating all seven of these over five, ten, twenty years could do for us.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #689


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Let it breathe

“In the quiet moments, the discoveries are made.”

Vera Farmiga

If you don’t give your creativity time and space, you’re not gonna do it.

Creativity needs breathing room to grow. Not an unlimited time amount of time, of course. Too much time might be just as detrimental as not enough time. In both cases, we usually end up not creating anything meaningful.

Shoving your craft into the last 20 minutes of your day is fine if that’s all you have to give right now. But it highlights an important idea: is our creative pursuit — the thing that you love to do — so unimportant to us that we can only fit it in our busy schedules at the very last moment of our day?

Believe me, I get it. Not everyone is doing their creative work as their full time gig. (Maybe that’s your goal, but you are not there yet. Or maybe you just love doing it in addition to your job.) But that doesn’t mean we should bench it to the sidelines. We need a little space to thrive.

Do your creative work first. Get up earlier if you have to. Find a way to prioritize enough time that allows you to do the work you feel called to do.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #688


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Slow and Steady

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at
the end of the day whispering, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

Mary Anne Radmacher

Not every one of these blog posts will be great. Go peruse the archives (The Archives sounds like a great fantasy novel title) and I’m sure you’ll find a couple stinkers.

Was I trying to make something mediocre? No. I was doing the best I could with what I had to give. But some of them being bad ideas in retrospect less important. Sometimes things are so bad, they are good. But often our so-so works of creativity are steps towards greater ideas later.

When it comes to creativity, motion is what matters. Motion gets the gears turning and ideas flowing. The best way I’ve found to practice this is taking your art — what you feel called to do — and making it a daily habit.

Think of it like planting a tree each day. One tree might be well. One might not grow at all. Another might grow into a massive redwood. But each tree we plant teach us something for the next one we plant tomorrow. And as time passes, our weird daily tree habit turns into a forest of work and creativity. The single planted tree matters, but the forest is the goal. This is what a daily habit can do for us.

Picture yourself 20 years from now.

20 years is 7300 days. Can you imagine what 7300 days of working on our creativity would do for us? That’s 7300 paintings, 7300 songs, 7300 days of practicing woodwork, 7300 written pages or 7300 days of coding… Not only would that amount of time invested in our pursuits gives us a massive library of work, it would also hone us into masters of what we do.

Remember: we don’t have to always go big to improve and reach big. Going small and persisting long also gets us to big too.

Besides, unless we get hit by a bus tomorrow (knock on wood), we’ve got the days to do it, we just need to start and keep going.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #687


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Thinking Outside the Box

“At the time, my life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

“Named must be your fear before banish it you can.”

Yoda

The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. The first rule of thinking outside the box is recognizing that you are in a box.

But what is a box? (Is it slang for boxers underwear? ‘Yo, are you a box guy or a briefs guy’.)

When we give in to fear, doubt and uncertainty — that’s a box.
When we listen to others ideas for how we should live our lives, instead of listening to our own hearts — that’s also a box.
When we let our friends, peers, community and even family influence us to live and act a certain way. — that’s a big box. (Is this starting to sound like a Jeff Foxworthy redneck joke? ‘You might be a redneck if your bicycle has a gun rack’.)

The box is normal. It’s the standard deviation of how ‘they’ say we should live our lives.
Sometimes other people try to put us in a box, and sometimes we put ourselves in a box. There are different boxes, for different folks. They come in various shapes and sizes, and are made of different materials, but they generally serve the same purpose: to keep us right were we are in life.

Boxes aren’t always bad. Some boxes are safe and comfortable. Some boxes influence us in positive ways. But in order to create, grow, change, add value to our lives and pursue our dreams, we’ve gotta step out of the box we are in. All the fresh air and good ideas are outside of our cardboard walls.

When you find yourself with a need to change, there’s two great ways you can start:

1. Act.

Action breeds momentum, and momentum drives change. Even the smallest of acts done consistently quickly gains traction and drives growth over time. Compound interest isn’t just for money — it can also be applied to any goal we want to pursue or skill we want to master.

2. Surround yourself with people and ideas that are outside of your box.

If you want to be an artist, surround yourself with other artist who are also ambitiously seeking to improve and create. If you want to be an entrepreneur, surround yourself with people who think differently and see opportunities everywhere. Surround yourself with friends who want you to succeed and want to get better themselves. And surround yourself with books, ideas, and creative work that inspires you to see the world differently and do what most only dream about doing.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #685

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A Job to Love

“Don’t let a bad day make you feel like you have a bad life.”

Hustling can only get you so far. No matter how much blood, sweat and pixels you give to something, if your heart’s not in it, you’ll eventually burnout.

The ideal form of work is loving every second of it, even the parts that suck. How can you love something that’s difficult, painful, tedious and occasionally stressful — because it’s fun.

Sometimes we decided we want to separate our passion from money. I think that’s okay, as long as your day job isn’t getting in the way. But to make your passion your living is also a path you can pursue.

Work is play when it’s something you love, even the difficult parts. And it’s yours. It’s something to plant your flag on.

Sometimes we have to go through a lot of turmoil and crap to get to a place where we can make money playing, but when you do it makes the effort even more worth it. Perseverance and determination are key. To do the work we love, we have to give it our everything.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #679

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Two-hit Wonders

Why are there no two-hit wonders?

On the homepage of the previous version of this blog right above a link to my post of the day, I had the phrase “you’re only as good as your latest post”.

You Are Only as Good as Your Latest Work.

It was a reminder to myself, more than anyone else, really.

The goal of any creative work (and work in general) is to make something great. Music, Entrepreneurship, Authors, Poets, you name it. Everyone wants to make a hit, but nobody wants to be a one hit wonder.

The problem is, once you make something great, we tend to stop making. The fear of failure becomes too strong. ‘What if I make something terrible now?’ ‘What if I never make anything better than that?’ Our work becomes a monster of our own ambition and fear. Even on a small scale, like writing a blog post, becomes this massive obstacle in our way. So we don’t even try. And that, my friends, is when we become a one hit wonder.

We become a one-hit wonder when we stop trying. There are no two-hit wonders, because the the creatives who figured this out and kept going turned into the amazing artists and entrepreneurs we know today. If they stop at their first hit, or their first failure, we would know (or not know) them for that too.

We may only be good as our latest work, but that means if we keep working hard good things will come. Not every thing we do will be great. Some things will flop. But make enough work and the good will outweigh the flops. And because we are only as good as our latest work, if today sucks, tomorrow is our chance to improve and make something better.

We only lose when we quit something we love*.

*unless that thing we love doesn’t love us / is bad for us, like cigarettes, the quitting is a good idea. 😜

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #678

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Creative Feels

“It is usually the imagination that is wounded first, rather than the heart; it being much more sensitive.”

Henry David Thoreau

Sensitivity is something that all creatives must understand and face.

No matter the medium of art, to express who we are – our personality, our likes and dislikes, our pain, our circumstances and setbacks – we become hyper-aware of the world around us and the world with us.

This new heightened sense is a double edged sword. Opportunity and threat. Our ability to feel the world open us up to having higher highs and lower lows. On one side of the blade, it makes your work sharp. You become able to see the world in a unique and different way than everyone else.

But on the other side, we can easily cut ourselves . Too much input and we can quickly overwhelm or even sabotage our own work.

Or, in the most serious cases, we can even sabotage own lives. Amy Winehouse. Ernest Hemingway. Kurt Cobain. Prince. Robin Williams. The list goes on, celebrity or not. Depression. Anxiety. Burnout. Empathy. Negativity. Doubt. We absorb the world around us, possible more than your average muggle. And if we aren’t careful with what we allow into our lives, and how we nurture our inner dialogue, we can quickly absorb too much of the bad things that will ultimately weigh us down.

Creativity, and it’s potential rise to success and fame, can leave us vulnerable to negative and un-constructive criticism. But also makes us better at what we do.

Which is why it’s vital for us to attach meaning and purpose behind our actions, and intention behind our goals and direction.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #677

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Ideas are Currency

Not that currency is the ultimate goal of an idea. Money tends to be a byproduct of great ideas. The more impactful the idea, the more people are drawn to it.

However, great ideas don’t always have to create billion dollar companies. (So I guess the title of this blog doesn’t quite work.) Ideas are change-makers. Even a small idea that personally changes your life for the better is a powerful thing. Idea’s are also force-multipliers — ideas inspire other ideas. One idea that changes your life has the potential to influence my life too.

Of course, the big difference between money and ideas is you can save and invest your money and money compounds, but you can’t save your ideas. We can give them, use them or lose them.

The longer we sit on an idea, the harder it is to do it.

So, go do it.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #675

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Always Beginning

“The secret of life … is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

In life, we are either beginning, or doing nothing at all. The problem is, ‘Nothing’ doesn’t always feel or look like nothing.

‘Nothing’ wears a lot of disguises. Sometimes It’s dressed up in complacency or average routines. Sometimes It wears fear, doubt and uncertainty on Its sleeve. ‘Nothing’ even disguises Itself as things we want, like money, power, fame at the detriment of things we really want and dream.

For example, making ends meet is necessary — sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do in order to fulfilling and follow through with the responsibilities we have. But if you are spending your time at a job that you hate, and you have the drive and opportunity to do what you love and you don’t, then nothing’s got you exactly where It wants you to be.

Beginning is meeting each day with a fresh start. Beginning is grabbing that blank sheet of paper, empty canvas, empty SD card and creating like it’s the first time. It’s sitting down at a piano, or a workbench or table and being open to ideas and possibilities. Beginning is also facing poor circumstances, setbacks, food poisoning and bad moods, and still somehow making time in the day for what matters to you.

Time fades yesterday’s creativity. We might create something perennial and remembered. But we still have to wake up and try to do it again and different.

Even if you’ve got all the money in the world, or you are considered the best in the world, you still have to sit down to a blank page of your craft.

Beginning never stops.

Which is terrifying, but at the same time exciting.

Today’s another change to make something great and impactful.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #674

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Making Creative Space

“Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.”

Dee Hock

Yesterday, I spent the better part of morning organizing my apartment’s work environment. I don’t have a lot of space, a cubby corner sandwiched in-between two windows, so a tidy and intentional area is key. Making art is something I’ve been pursuing more and more, and I wanted to make sure everything was accessible and open. Otherwise, creating feels like a chore.

I’ve discovered over the last couple years that I’m at my most creative when I have everything ready to go and in arms reach. The fewer obstructions I have to get from A to B (from an idea / desire to make, and from the tools, instruments, materials and space needed) the greater chance I’ll follow through. If I lean a guitar next to my desk I’ll inevitably pick it up and start playing. Put a blank piece of paper in front of me and give me some space and I’ll eventually write ideas on it.

We often point to and blame all these big reasons why we can’t work on our dreams yet — ’I don’t have enough money’, ‘I’m not old enough / I’m too old’, ‘I’m not smart enough yet’ — but in reality its the little things, like our environment, that are the true cause of our inability to act.

There’s this inherent unwanted laziness that comes with creating. I don’t have a lazy bone in my body, but when I have to dig around for some sketch paper, or if my guitar is in its case, or if my desk has no room for me to write, I’m less likely to do it.

You can see this pattern in many areas of life:

Health: We hang clothes on our treadmill or weight rack. We don’t know where our workout shoes are when it’s time to run. We keep ice cream and candy in the house instead of healthy foods.

Community: Our days are crammed with work or traveling to and from work. We have work meetings on top of meetings. When we are not working, we are scrolling. And with every second of our day stuffed like a turkey with immediacy, we neglect the important connections of friends and family.

Perhaps we aren’t a couch potato — we’ve just have physically prioritized watching TV over working on our side-business.

Space should reflect priority. We need to give ourselves the space we need to thrive in art, work and life. Physical space, mental space, time, solitude…

By giving yourself the space to create, you’ve created a safe haven for ideas. Prioritize space and you’ll start bursting with ideas and can’t help but lose yourself in creating.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #673

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