Fortitude

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m always torn between staying up later to have a little more time to learn and work on my passion projects, versus going to bed on time so that future josh will feel fresh in the morning.

Should I grit my teeth and push a little bit more, or do I let go and rejuvenate?

I’ve read Dr. Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep, I understand how vital good sleep is—not just for creativity— but for everything. Yet still, I’m torn. I don’t know what my future looks like. Would future Josh wish that past Josh tried harder or does he wish that past Me didn’t focus so much energy on doing more?

More doesn’t always bring you the results you are seeking.

As Seneca once wrote, “We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”

I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as I’m living a life true to myself. My dreams in life aren’t going to realize themselves. There’s a reason most people don’t do what they want to do—they convince themselves it’s not possible. As long as we are making decisions for the right reasons—based on value, connection, joy, love, meaning, passion, curiosity, etc— it doesn’t really matter how long it takes for my day to come, or even if it does. Because if you live true to yourself, and treat yourself and others with respect and care, then the life that we end up living will be 10x as meaningful, compared to a life spent in fear, doubt, and by someone else’s rules.

It’s a simple idea, but it’s far from easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. It takes strength and perseverance to surrender to the moment while also never wavering on who you are and who you want to be.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #929

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The Undo Button

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”

Bruce Lee

It’s easy to make tasks grow into monsters in your mind. A large and heavy goal can become too impossible to start. There’s just too much pressure riding on it.

Sometimes the desire of something so badly becomes the reason that stops you from getting it.

This goes for love, to be sure, where we fantasize about being with someone who really isn’t that person we are making up in our heads. It also rings true for any outcome or success we wish to achieve.

The desire to become healthy, and the tightly held tension in the attempt (or vision) to make it happen becomes the stressor that leads us to being unhealthy. Or, more often, we become more healthy in how we were striving, becoming a runner for example, but become unhealthy in areas we aren’t paying attention too, such as always eating junk food.

It’s good to pause every so often and look at the whole playing field of your good habits and bad habits you currently have. Our bad habits are often hampering or subtracting our good habits, leaving us feeling like they aren’t helping us, or that we aren’t making any progress.

For example, having a good habit of doing great work at your job, but having a bad habit of mis-communicating or even not communicating what you are doing and why. Nothing kills a project like forgetting to stay in touch with the client and updating them on your progress.

To make a goal possible, we need to take the pressure of it off our shoulders. What would it look like if you were doing it for fun, rather than doing it because you need or really want to? Think about how you can break the goal into smaller and smaller components. It’s difficult to act on something that isn’t tangible and easy to grasp.

Instead of trying to accomplish this giant scary thing, why not start with this tiny un-scary thing first? Remember—on a micro level, there’s very you could do that you couldn’t immediately undo if it doesn’t work out. Didn’t work out? No problem—undo it. Get in trouble for trying something new? Apologize and go back to where you were before. Small decisions add up on a large time scale, but here in the daily actions of today, small decisions are rarely permanent and can easily be rolled back into something that works better for you if need be.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #917

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All I Know is that I Know Nothing

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

Socrates

The realization that you don’t know much as you think you do is a humbling and important experience.

There’s a great line by Richard Williams, Director of Animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit that encapsulates this feeling perfectly. He was finishing up his first animated film, The Little Island, and around that time Disney’s Bambi came out in theaters. “… I saw Bambi again and almost crawled out of the theatre on my hands and knees. ‘How did they ever do that?’ I’d learned just enough to realize that I really didn’t know anything!”

You have to be a little naive and arrogant in the beginning when you are just starting out on a new venture (be it a business, project, prototyping an idea, learning a new skill, etc). Otherwise, you’ll know too much to start and overwhelm yourself.

Knowing what you know now, would you have started if you knew how hard it would be to get where you are?

You have to be naive and inexperienced enough to try new things.

Zen Buddhists describe this is having a beginner’s mind. A beginner’s mind is open and ready to learn.

Eventually, you learn a thing or two about your craft. You start making things, designing things, selling things, and get good enough to move things forward. Product sales role in. Your design clients like your work. Your art gets praise. Your song gets applause.

But then you see a professional at work. You see someone who does what you do, but a hundred times better. Heck, you didn’t even realize your guitar could do that. For example, take one look at some of the designs on Dribbble and you’ll realize your designs are garbage designs. “Are they using the same app I’m using?? How do they even make colors and shapes look like that??” The same is true for any skill, venture, or activity. And you realize that—

There’s a lot of incredible creatives and entrepreneurs out there.

It’s painful when you realize you aren’t as good as you want to be.

(It’s also painful when you see someone doing things worse than you are, but they are getting all the praise and attention—Topic for another day.)

But this is a great place to be in. This is another one of those pesky turning points that separate those that succeed and fail. You could stop. You could let someone’s brilliant work make you feel down about yourself and lead you to quit. Or—

You can let it lift you up and inspire you to do better.

Knowing that there’s a lot you don’t know is a great mindset to be in. You’ll learn must faster and more effectively. Humility leads to growth. Once you get past the initial ego-sting of realizing you aren’t the best, you can use the brilliance of others as an experience to seek out advice and to get better.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #913

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Encouragement

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s souls.”

Daniel Burnham

There will always be ups and downs on every creative journey. Moments of doubt. A day where all you want to do is quit. And on that day when you are teetering on the edge of giving up your dream, you have a choice—keep going or give in. There will be many days like this. This is an inflection point. This is what separates those that succeed and those who give up and go on to and doing something else.

Success isn’t assured. Even if you do everything right, there’s still the chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that doesn’t mean you are destined to fail either. Perhaps the right place at the right time is in your future if you push through the difficulty and have the courage to continue forward. No one said pursuing a creative life would be easy. But if you love what you do, and you really want it, then you need to find the encouragement to keep pursuing.

Remind yourself why you are doing this.

Collect memories of encouragement and compliments to help you preserve on difficult days. (See Tim Ferris’s Jar of Awesome)

Remember that your work has the power to encourage and lift others. (Which also means other people’s work has the power to encourage you too.)

Related:

BOOK: Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

“A good director creates an environment, which gives the actor the encouragement to fly.”

Kevin Bacon

“I’ve always thrived on the encouragement of others.”

Patti Smith

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #912

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Never Second-Guess Yourself

“All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it.”

David Bowie

How do you know if you are making a decision for the right reason?

Intuition? It’s almost always the best decision to go with in the moment. (That’s easier said than done of course.) Think of it like a hunch that’s backed by experience—who we are, our values, our culture, our beliefs, our sense of what’s right and wrong, and our likes and dislikes, all rolled up into one “feeling”.

We usually know when we’ve made a bad decision (and certainly know afterward).

“I knew I should have said no to the project, but the money was too good to pass up…”

“I thought he was the one, but my gut was telling me otherwise…”

“I knew college wasn’t right for me, but my family convinced me otherwise.”

Intuition is something that we know is true (personal truth), and yet somehow second-guess and let fear, worry, and vices drive us to ignore it. But intuition isn’t perfect.

In the fascinating book, The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk M.D. explains how our intuition is normally great, but when we experience trauma, we can shut ourselves off from reality: “Our gut feelings signal what is safe, life-sustaining, or threatening, even if we cannot quite explain why we feel a particular way. Our sensory interiority continuously sends us subtle messages about the needs of our organism. Gut feelings also help us to evaluate what is going on around us. They warn us that the guy who is approaching feels creepy, but they also convey that a room with western exposure surrounded by daylilies makes us feel serene. If you have a comfortable connection with your inner sensations—if you can trust them to give you accurate information—you will feel in charge of your body, your feelings, and your self. However, traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become experts at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”

Bad decisions are hard to recover from. Intuition is our first line of defense for blocking bad decisions and making smart ones. But we need to stack it with second and third defenses.

First, we must never second-guess ourselves. Second, we verify. 

We must surround ourselves with people who have our back and want to see us succeed. The majority of my past mistakes could have likely been avoided if I had someone advising my decision and ideas, telling me “Hey, that’s probably not a great idea, here’s why…”. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking on my part. Perhaps my past self wouldn’t have listened. But that’s why it’s massively important to have a group of “life advisors” (I picked this phrase up from my conversation with Alex Lavidge on The Renaissance Life Podcast) who can help guide you in the right direction.

The third defense is self-examination. Periodically take stock of your life as if it wasn’t your own. If your sister or friend were going through the problem(s) you are facing, what advice would you give to them? When we are dealing with something—like lack of motivation or health problems— it’s hard to come up with solutions because we are so close to the issue (Plus the stress it’s causing us.) When we take ourselves out of the equation it’s much easier to come up with ideas for our problems. 

Have the courage to believe in yourself. But be intentional.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #911

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Create What You Need

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My best creative ideas come from work that I do for myself, or from work that I do for a specific friend or type of person in mind. When it’s personal, it means more to me, so I become more willing to be vulnerable and honest, and infuse more of my personality into it. Music, writing, art, design, coding— it doesn’t matter which medium— creating for one person is a great way to make your art real and inviting.

When I write a blog, I try to write something that I would find valuable to read. Put another way, I write what I need to hear (or need to tell myself).

By creating for what you need, you are at the same time creating things people similar to you need too.

Your art connects us. We may come from different times and different places, we may look or speak differently, but by making your work meaningful to you, you’ve made it meaningful to me.

Your art inspires my art. Your story gives me hope for my journey. And through that connection we’ve found someone like us, a sign of encouragement and a place to belong.

Everything you make has the chance to change someone’s world.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #910

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Creative Refresh

“When you are creating to the magnitude that I try to create, your brain is like a computer, and you need to refresh.”

Missy Elliott, Musician

“Rest until you feel like playing, then play until you feel like resting, period. Never do anything else.”

Martha Beck, Author

Sometimes, we just need to sit down and work on our craft. As much as learning and seeking inspiration can help us come up with our own ideas, they also be distracting and take away time from putting pen to paper (literally and metaphorically speaking).

No conversations. No books. No twitter. No inputs—just pure focus on creating. Without effort, there is no output, just ideas, and dreams.

But on the flip side too much work back-to-back and we’ll deplete our energy and stamina, which also slows and stops great ideas from coming.

There have been many times where I’ve been go-go-going and I’m seeming to make progress, but in reality, I’m treading water. Or I’m working on good things, but I’m agitated, my neck is yelling at me and I’m not present with what I’m doing so my work suffers.

All work and no play makes Josh a dull boy.

We need both creative input and creative output to make great things and enjoy making them.

It’s good to take stand up and walk away for a while. Space and time are great creative palette cleansers. Go for a walk. Draw something. Workout. Write a poem. Work on some unrelated craft or project. Read a good book. Sleep on it. And then come back with fresh eyes.

Fresh eyes create fresh ideas.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #909

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Creativity & Uncertainty

“There is no science in creativity. If you don’t give yourself room to fail, you won’t innovate.”

Bob Iger

It’s okay if you have no idea what you are doing —

No one truly does. We’re all making decisions based on the best guesses we can give based on our experiences, knowledge, and information we have to go on. Even the people who have ‘made it’ aren’t immune to uncertainty.

I have no idea what I’m doing either. But that doesn’t matter. As long as I’m doing my best and not compromising on who I am and what I want, then defeat can’t touch me. Sure, I’ll fail—likely I’ll have some epic failures—but failure is just one moment.

  • Your business sets on fire so then you start another one.
  • You realize your art is not as good as you think it is, so then you get better.
  • Your friends disappear when you need them the most, so then you find more caring friends.

Uncertainty isn’t the enemy.

As Richard P. Feynman once said, “I think that when we know that we actually do live in uncertainty, then we ought to admit it; it is of great value to realize that we do not know the answers to different questions. This attitude of mind – this attitude of uncertainty – is vital to the scientist, and it is this attitude of mind which the student must first acquire.”

We fear uncertainty because it might go against our plans (…Or kill us. That happens sometimes too). But again, our plans are just guesses about the lives we think we should have. In actuality, the things we didn’t see coming could show us a better way to live, if we take the opportunity to do so.

Uncertainty generates curiosity. It gives us the opportunity to look at a blank page, screen, canvas or out into the stars and ponder, “What If…?” And that leads to creativity.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #891

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Pressure is Necessary

“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.”

Kobe Bryant

Unless you happen to be an Astronaut and you are reading this blog from space, you are experiencing the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere. The Earth’s atmosphere is around 60 miles thick. It’s a relatively thin sheet of air, but it keeps us warm and alive. Atmospheric Pressure is due to gravity and the thickness and density of atmospheric gas. How much pressure depends on where you are standing. At sea-level, the standard amount of pressure is around 14.70 pounds (per square inch) which—for you lovely math nerds out there—is 101.325 kilopascals.

It’s interesting that we hardly notice the pressure we are under. Unless you traveled to higher altitudes like Denver or Nepal (or Mars—610 pascals give or take, less than 1% of the Earth’s value) or experience the pressurized cabin of an airplane, you’d likely never notice.

(Or maybe you keenly familiar with pressure because you are a super-nerd like me and remember those Gravity Chamber’s Goku and Vegeta trained in to get stronger in Dragon Ball Z 😉.)

Gravity isn’t the only type of pressure we face in life.

Finding a mate, figuring out what you want to do in life, doing your taxes, making money and the day to day stresses of pursuing creativity and living are all pressures we face.

Pressure is necessary for creativity and growth.

Not too much or you’ll be crushed under the weight.
Not too little or you might not feel the need to act or even fall complacent.
What we need is pasta “al dente”—not too soft; firm to bite.

The question is how to find a good balance of pressure and what to do when we feel too over-pressured?

Too much pressure for too long and we over-cook our broccoli.

When you are under a tremendous amount of stress, for example, financial stress, it’s difficult to think about anything other than that need/pressure. The problem is when we are under too much stress—and how much depends on your personal tolerance level— we focus too much on the problem instead of finding a clear solution. We’re like a person panicking in the water who can’t swim. Panic is what’s drowning us, not our lack of swimming skills. (I don’t mean to take this scenario lightly. In the moment it’s difficult to see how our panic is causing us harm and losing ourselves to fear can happen to any of us.) What we need is a way to kick us out of our stress so we can take a breath and think objectively.

We need a lifeboat. Something or someone that can save us from ourselves. Maybe for you, that’s your daily meditation or yoga practice. Or perhaps journaling in the morning clears your mind off any worries or fears that are bothering you. Whatever we choose, as long as we stick to it and double down whenever we are under lots of pressure, we can make it through.

Creatively we need to challenge ourselves to get better at what we do. Writing the same type of story or headline over and over again isn’t going to make you a better writer. Taking the same style of photos—the ones you are most comfortable with—isn’t going to make you a better photographer. Playing the same three chords—G…D…C— the same way isn’t going to make you a better guitarist.

But pushing your boundaries, seeking out knowledge, trying new things, experimenting with discomfort will make you better.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #888

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A Skill is Only Useful When You Use It

“Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.”

Leonardo da Vinci

As a developer, one of the easiest traps you can fall into is always learning new programming languages, but never using them to build things. There are over 700+ programming languages out there. What happens is you learn one, hear something exciting about a new language, and you start learning that one instead of using the first. And so we hop from one language to the next, without actually doing the thing they were each made for— to create stuff.

But it’s not just programming, anything we learn can get stuck in “learning mode”. Learning is one important part of the equation — using what you learn is the other part. Both are required. And the order doesn’t necessarily matter. You can act first and learn from those actions, or you can learn and act on what you know.

Is a skill still important if you never use it?

Perhaps. Anyone who knows how to defend themselves in a fight is grateful for their training and skills, and even more grateful if they never have to use them in a real toss-up.

But, in most cases, skills are more important if we use them. Otherwise, why did we spend so much time and energy learning them in the first place?

Knowing how to doing something isn’t enough. We must also do something.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #883

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