How is Just a Phone Call Away

‘How’ comes from doing. We never know how until we try it for ourselves. We might have an idea of what it means to do something, but until we get our hands dirty, so to speak, we don’t really know first hand.

This goes for a lot of things — starting a company, asking someone out, traveling abroad, being poor / rich, pretty much everything.

Creativity is usually an individualistic act. But collaboration is not too far behind (and sometimes is far ahead). Let’s not forget, at the end of the day, we are creating for someone. Often, that someone we are creating for ourselves — creating just to create and express our voice. But even so, our work is for others as well. Connections like, buy and celebrate your work.

Luckily, we don’t have to learn ‘how’ always on our own. We can learn from other’s example and experiences, through stories (books, talks, conversations, etc) We can build a tight-knit community around us, and gather closer to people who care about us and what we are going through.

If we surround ourselves with generosity (helping others, letting others help us), then ‘how’ becomes a whole lot easier.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #639

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Staying Creatively Fresh

Writer’s block isn’t something I worry too much about. Rather, staying fresh is constantly on my mind when I create (write, draw, song-write etc). In my mind, there’s nothing worse than repeating yourself. In my mind, there’s nothing worse than repeating yourself. (Had to… 😉 The last thing I want is for my work to feel creatively bankrupt or stale. Mmm, smells like bankruptcy. (<- Inside joke from high school that only one person, who isn’t reading this, will understand. Had to… 😉

Stale work is saying the same thing over and over, without improving upon the ideas or having a new resolution.

Letting other creative work inspire you? All day.
Stealing something and putting your own spin on it? Awesome.
Selling your work? Great job.
But repeatedly creating the same thing without improving? No thanks.

There’s no growth. No positive change. No intention behind the repetition. Just the same old same old.

It’s like that friend or relative you have that repeatedly says they are going to do something, but never does (and usually does the opposite). They really want too, but because they don’t, they rarely ever do. (We can easily fall into this rut as well. I know I have.)

Creative staleness can happen on a micro and macro level.

Micro Level

On a micro level, we can easily lean into using familiar tricks and patterns which ultimately can plateau our progress. Writing for example. Lazy writing is using the same words, sentences or structure. One example for me is using ‘—‘ too much to break up a sentence and to give dramatic pause to an idea. (I even had them in this blog post, but edited them out.) Another lazy one I have to watch out for is ending every blog with a “blah blah blah, this is how you can have a meaningful life.” This phrase, “meaningful life”, is a part of my mission statement and tagline for Renaissance Life “The Pursuit of Creativity, Mastery and a Meaningful Life”, so it naturally pops up when I’m writing. Moderation is key here. Adding a line about having a ‘meaningful life’ at the end of every josh dang blog post is sloppy, isn’t winning me any brownie points and quickly detracts from the meaningfulness I’m trying to create.

This happens in all types of creative pursuits, not just writing. Comedy, acting, art, songwriting, lyrics, poems, speeches and more.

Example: Rappers relying on ‘uhh’ or a specific curse too much as filler words.
Example: Speakers saying the word ‘um’ or ‘pretty’ or ‘like’ too much.
Example: Musicians using the same chord, tempo or scale progression in every song they make. Like a continuous thump thump thump thump drum kick in 4/4 on every song.

Good Example: Comedians throwing out there material after they finish their one-hour special. This allows them to focus on new ideas instead of treading on old ideas.
Good Example: Actors or film makers who continuously change themselves by taking on new and different roles and projects.

TAKEAWAY: Observe how you create in your practice. Go granular; Observe the specifics. Avoid repeating yourself too much to keep things fresh and interesting. Try challenge yourself with rules and restrictions (i.g. If you write a word too much, like using the word ‘maybe’, challenge yourself it to not using ‘maybe’ next time — or ever again.)

Macro Level

On a macro level, we can fall into traps of or work retreading on the same old topics and themes without any clear variation or difference. Giving old ideas life by adding new ideas are great, but having the same idea repeatedly? Not so much. This usually happens to me when I’m trying to convince myself to do something. For example, an idea I want to do, like experiment with filmmaking, loops in my head, but I haven’t done it yet so I’ll keep talking about it to convince myself to do it. (Which never works.) I’ll end up repeating myself into the ground trying to convince myself. Eventually, I’ll get tired of hearing myself and I’ll shut up and do it already.

Repetition + growth is what we want.
Repetition + repetition is actually what makes us feel stuck. As Mark Twain has said, “is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results”.

TAKEAWAY: Watch out for too much repetition that ends you in the same place you started.

How to Stay Creatively Fresh

Ideas spark ideas.

Let others influence you into your own ideas.

One great way of staying fresh is surrounding yourself with the ideas of others, anyone who inspires you to create.

Another great way is to also surround yourself with new ideas and topics you would normally not explore.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #638

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For The Hell of It

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”

Michael Jordan

A great sign you are on to something you should be doing every day is whether or not you could live without it.

What’s something creative you just can’t not do?
Something you would do even if you never got a dime (paid) for it in your life.
Something you think about often and talk about enthusiastically.

At the end of your life, what would you regret the most never doing?

This is a question that’s great for finding a driving factor in life.

This is art. This is your creative pursuit.

A creative pursuit is an amazing way to clarify your actions and priorities. Like lightning rod to lightning discovering within yourself work you can’t live without is an obvious answer to what you should spend your time doing.

Perhaps you won’t spend your entire life doing it. We are continuously changing, responding to the world around us and loving new things as we grow. We naturally live multiple lives — or book chapters — as we get older.

However, if we feel a passion for something, we should just add it to our lives first and foremost, instead of trying to fit it in to an already stuffed life.

We have to make the time. No-one is going to do it for us.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #637

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Creative Flow

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

Jack Welch

There’s an interesting trend right now in technology (that you will begin to notice everywhere) where some apps and operating systems no longer have large update cycles. Instead of 2.0 to 3.0 massive updates that address problems and add new features in bulk, we are now seeing a steady stream of continuous updates. These updates are instant, and usually happen without notice. Google’s Chrome Browser for example. I don’t remember a single time I’ve had to actively update it. New features, tweaks, bug fixes, they just flow in while we aren’t looking or while we are sleeping. And, with more and more of our gadgets being connected over the Internet. This is a powerful shift in computing. Kevin Kelly calls this trend ‘flowing’.

What if we were to apply the same incremental, continuous approach to our own skills and creativity?

We aren’t computers. I can’t Matrix download Kung Fu into my brain in a couple of minutes (…yet). But there are ways we can learn and improve more optimally in this fast changing world. Daily habits, for example.

I’ve been talking to death about daily habits this year, but they are a great conduit to creating daily steps of improvement.

Habitualizing* our creativity enhances our creativity.

Whether my arguments of practicing daily habits persuades you, adding a ritual, a practice, around your work gives you access to an endless flow of ideas. Instead of creating something every now-and-then when the feeling strikes, you are putting pen to paper (so to speak) every time you practice.

Creative flow is our direct line to a stead stream of ideas, portfolio of work, momentum and community.

Personally, I don’t worry about writers block anymore, because I know that when I sit down (stand up) to write, I’ll have something to say. Because of my daily commitment to the craft, ideas flow.

Tapping into our creative flow also heightens our awareness of the world around us.

Our experience influence our work (and vice versa). By subconsciously / consciously knowing that we are going to create something, our mind seeks out the interesting out of our experiences.

One could argue that our job as creatives is to tell our story through our work. A part of that job is seeing the world as it is, seeing it as it could be, seeing what we like and dislike or find amusing or interesting — seeing the magic in the ordinary — and saying something about our observations with our work. (Or just creating stuff because it’s fun and we can’t not do it 🙂

Continuously creating gives us the abilities of creative flow.

It also elevates our skills faster than otherwise and gives us the freedom to pursue a life of creativity.

*Not sure if this is a word.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #636

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Just Start Already

The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.

Thomas A. Edison

Creating something and putting your work out into the world is one of the scariest things you can do. (It’s up there routine dental checkups, or having kids.)

That is, until you do it. Once you start, the fear subsides. Every time you act, the fear diminishes a little more. It’s always there, but it doesn’t have the same sting it once did before you started.

You write and then you hit publish.
You draw and then you share your work online.
You record, edit and then upload.

Create. Edit. Share. Repeat. (Or some days just create and share.)

At the beginning, nobody cares. (Well, your mom cares. Hi mom!) Your work either falls flat, does okay or hits a cultural thread that lifts it to unbelievable heights.

Most of the time our work does okay.

And at any point of the creative process, we have the temptation to give up.

The weather is gloomy or hot, we get sick, we didn’t sleep well, a Marvel movie comes out, something better is happening, and so many other distractions can very easily derail us from creating anything today. And not creating today is a slippery slope. (You take one day off, and suddenly three years slips by and you haven’t made anything.)

This is why I’m so committed to daily habits. When you decide to do a daily habit, there are no days off. (Sticky Weather or sick days be damned. No excuses.) Good or bad, at the end of the day, I make myself sit down, write and hit publish. Otherwise, I’d miss a day. (And there’s nothing worse than missing a day when you have a daily habit.)

On bad days, It might sound awful to you to put out work and ideas that sucks and your not proud to put your name behind, bit it’s actually a secret to a lot of creative’s success.

Creativity is less about what you did on any particular day, and more about your whole spectrum of work.

Waiting for the inspiration to create or for a great idea to show up doesn’t work.
great work to shop.

Consistency and practicing your ability to create-on-demand does.

One secret to creative success is creating more and creating often — you cultivate a lot of okay work, but you’ll also make more great work than you would otherwise have.

Some of your work will shine above the others and that’s the point. (Side-note: if we stopped after shipping one great piece, we’d likely turn into one of those one-hit wonder creatives.) The process of continuous flow of creativity gives us moments of brilliant ideas (and some decent ideas.) Arbitrarily, for every great creative work you shop, you might go through nine crappy or just-okay ideas.

I would argue that one great idea is worth as many mediocre ideas it takes. Because one great idea can change your world (and quite possibly, change The World).

But nothing happens if you don’t start.

When it comes to creativity, starting is everything, because without starting, there’s nothing — just a bunch of ideas in our head.

Once you realize that, and how quick life goes by, the fear of inaction outweighs the fear of doing something new, potentially embarrassing, and likely to fail. Because if we don’t try — if we don’t even test out the waters — we automatically fail before we even get going.

When in doubt —
When hesitant, or fearful —
When others tell you that you shouldn’t or can’t —
When you tell yourself that you shouldn’t or can’t because of X Y and Z —

Just start already.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #634

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Just Show Up

“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Chuck Close, photorealist

Quality matters. Creating crappy work isn’t going to going to bring the boys to the yard, so to speak. Whether we are talking getting people to read your writing, sign up for your newsletter, listen to your music, buy your product… — Sh🙈t gets you sh🙈t.

One unfortunate side effect of seeking quality is the more you seek it, the more it paralyzes you from creating. This can lead anyone down the slipper slope of chasing perfection.

Perfection is the enemy of creativity. It stops you from starting and finishing. Perfection is a chatty chap. Perfection says, “if it’s not the best idea you’ve ever had, it’s not worth publishing / doing / uploading” and “if you mess up, throw it all away”. Perfection also has a lot to say about whether or not your ideas are any good. What Perfection doesn’t realize is creating is a process.

Some of your ideas will suck. Some will be great. But it’s often the case, we have to wade through the sucky ideas to get to the great ones.

Deciding to create — be it art, music, business… you name it — whenever you feel like it will get you a few good ideas every now and then. But those ideas are few and far between when you dedicate yourself towards creating every day.

Daily habits make me better at what I do.

It gives me no excuses not to create.
Whether I feel like it or not. Whether I have inspiration or not.

I just show up every day, and do it.

Ideas and inspiration comes when you show up.

It’s funny, most days I’ve got zero ideas about what I’m going to write about until I sit down and write. But that makes sense in a way. Showing up gives you the space to create, otherwise, we’d fill the void with errands, errata, eating and other things.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #620

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Shakespearean-Yoda Advice

“If the CEO does not follow the cultural norms of the company then the cultural norms won’t happen.”

Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, from the Distributed Podcast

Why do we take the advice of some, but dismiss the advice of others?

The tone matters, of course. If someone is giving me advice and their tone says “you’re dumb, why are you (not) doing XYZ…”, I’m likely not going to take them up on it. The same is true if the advice is unsolicited or un-actionable. Even if the advice is sound, if all I’m getting is negative criticism I’m not going to listen.

I think the biggest contributing factor in whether or not advice is taken is if the advice giver has or is living out what they are saying. In essence —

Is this person following their own advice or not?

If not, then proceed to throw it in the trash.

I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone close gives great advice (to me or people around me), but because they don’t eat their own dog food, so it’s not taken. And then, you hear the exact same advice from someone who lives it out— typically someone in the public sphere, an Author, YouTuber, Entrepreneur… — and suddenly the advice is the best idea you’ve ever heard.

The same holds true to giving advice. If you want to be able to help others and give advice that’s taken, you’ve got to listen and act on your own advice. “You should put 20% of your monthly income into an investment fund, like a ROTH IRA or Index fund” “You should spend your time more wisely” “You should focus on email marketing to gain more sales” Okay. Cool. Are you doing it yourself? If not, then you better start.

Follow your own recommendations

The same holds true in art and work.
Talking about doing something is not the same as doing it.

As much as I love coming up with ideas, if they are never executed, then they don’t matter.
Impressing people and inspiring people are two completely different things.

If you want to be creative, find your true fans and make a living doing it, you’ve got to create.

To take it back to middle school english class (I still suck at grammar):

’Creative’ is a noun.
‘Create’ is a verb.

To be a creative, you must create.

And share it with the world.

As Author Jeff Goins discovered on his journey of becoming a writer, “You are a writer. You just need to write”.

To be, you must do. (Wow, so Shakespearean-Yoda of you Josh)

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #612

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Related:

The phrase, “Eating Your Own Dog Food”

“Quality over Quantity”

:How quality and quantity can be combined to increase our creativity and progress.

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

Steve Jobs

I think there is time (and room) for quality and quantity, but there’s one interesting thing about quality:

Quality gets you both

The more hard work, heart and spirit you put into your work, the more it will resonate with others. In an un-intuitive way (but in a way that makes sense when you think about it) quality creates quantity automatically by being a breath of fresh air that a lot of people want and are looking for. This is a very Steve Martin “so good they can’t ignore you” approach to creativity and work.

Quality won’t get you overnight success, but it will put you on a path towards success. Personally, it makes me much happier too. I feel 100x better when I put the time and effort into high quality work versus when I don’t put in the time it needs and phone it in.

Cheap work doesn’t last long. Cheap can potential be a powerful tool to iterate towards quality, but why not reach for quality from the get-go? However, it also leaves us open to taking shortcuts (aka lazy-cuts) and put in the bare minimum. Quantity gets you speed —which is great — but what is the cost of going faster? More backtracking? More time refactoring and redoing? It’s all about balance, of course. What do we need to do to ensure quality without being a perfectionist, and produce quantity through quality, without sacrificing quality from our work.

But how do you know what’s quality and what’s not?

Tricky question.

I think it’s part doing the best you can, pushing your capacity to its max on what you are doing, while constantly learning and consuming other people’s great work. Great work sets the bar. It’s our job to push past the bar, or even break the bar with our creativity and originality. You need both — doing and learning. Otherwise, you can easily fall into the trap of comparing how great everyone else’s work is and how poor your is (or how little you are doing comparatively). Great work says, “This is where I am, now what are you going to do? and you say, “keep creating, keep learning, keep pushing boundaries and keep getting better every day”.

All that said, in order to have quality, you also need a little quantity on your actions. By narrowing your focus on what matters, and consistently coming back to that focus, day in and day out, you can expedite or even compound your creativity. Just as Aristotle once wrote “Quality is not an act, it’s a habit”. Quality is the focus; Quantity (as in consistency) is the means.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #587

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A Little Tenacity

“If you hang around long enough, they think you’re good. It’s either my tenacity or stupidity – I’m not sure which.”

Adam West

We can get a little too close to our business or creative endeavors sometimes. It’s understandable of course. After all, we are the ones spending, day in and day out, trying to make something happen and real. But when all you can see is weeds and none of the flowers and herbs, your garden starts to look like an uncontrollable slop. You know you are working hard and the small, daily improvements are adding up to something… eventually, but right now it looks like nothing is working, nothing is effective. ‘Why am I even doing this anyway?’

It’s tempting to give up on the spot under the duress of thoughts such as this, or to give up subtly by putting less effort and less attention into your work, until eventually you stop all together.

I experienced this early on in my freelance career.

One of the hardest parts about freelancing is learning to balance the need to find new clients with the need to finish the work of your current clients. Current clients give you work now and have already paid (or partially paid) and sustained you up until this point and the near future. New clients enable you to keep your business going past the near future. Both needs demand all of your time and both can stress you out if your not careful.

When you are working for a company, you typically only have one thing on your plate: the current work. You might have an idea what you will do next after you finish what you are working on, but the demands of finding new clients is delegated by someone else and abstracted into a paycheck you get each month. The abstraction of a paycheck gives you peace of mind and a drip of money beyond the immediate needs. (Whether or not a paycheck is actually a safety net, or just an illusion of one as long as the company or sales people getting new clients continues is up for debate.)

Of course, early on in my freelance career, I didn’t know any of this. I was stressed out to the max, because I was not only dealing with this, I was also facing health issues and my expenses felt overwhelming. Which led me to the number one killer of freelancing: worry.

Worrying about where the next check will come from. Worrying about lack of time. Worry worry worry. And if you let the worry continue and consume you, it becomes a second full time job. By exhausting yourself with worrying over where your next client will come from, you push away the work you have in front of you and begin to feel incapable of doing it. You hit a wall, no energy left to find clients OR do the work in front of you. Which alienates yourself from what you need to do and also alienates you from your current clients.

To skip over the bloody details, early on, I dropped the ball. It was a hard lesson to learn, but a lesson that’s helped me later on. In hindsight, by letting worrying become my second job, I clouded my judgement and mindset on what I need to do and how to move forward.

What matters most is the work that’s in front of you — that’s #1. Go above and beyond with the work you have, and the next gig will follow. Everything else will handle itself. Research new clients, set up new meetings. But don’t let those distract you or suck away all your time from what truly matters: the work.

This lesson highlights two important questions:

What can I learn from the mistakes of others, and plan ahead / mitigate the risk of falling into the same traps?

Personal mistakes sting the most, and are hard-won lessons. But it’s better to learn from the mistakes of others if you can recognize the value and heaviness of the lessons someone else has learned through trial and error, without actually having to feel the weight yourself.

Hard lessons are inevitable, eventually. But avoiding as many as we possible can is the smartest move we can do to avoid derailment and roadblocks on our journey. Obstacles don’t prevent us from freedom, unless we allow them too. Ultimately, they give us stories to tell (like this one) and give us the opportunity to help others on their own journey.

How do we keep going after failure?

Dropping the ball sucks. But it’s not the end of the world. There’s always a way forward. But if you hold onto failure to tightly, there’s no wiggle room to move forward. And if you hold onto a certain outcome to tightly as well, everything feels like failure, like weeds blocking your garden, unless that single outcome occurs, (an outcome blinded by lack of clear certainty and knowledge) versus the potential outcomes and opportunities that exist that we can’t see clearly yet.

We all need a goal, something to reach for, something to drive our actions. But the goal is the aim, not what gets us there. The aim is important, because it gives a ballpark direction. What gets us their is meeting each day by giving it the work and energy it requires.

The best way to holding drum sticks is to have a firm but soft grip between your index finger and thumb in the lower middle of the sticks, while the rest of your fingers lightly rest on the space underneath. This allows you to keep hold of the sticks without they flying out of your hands, but also give you moment and control in creating the sounds you want to create.

We must firmly grip the life we want to create, while not grasping to firmly to prevent our movement and ability to change when we need to change.

In many ways, life is fluid, not fixed.

Acting as though it is fixed only makes us brittle and resentful when we break or when things don’t go our way.

We must also adopt fluidity to create a life of meaning and worth.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #575

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Breaking the Fear Wall

What is your fear telling you not to do?

When you hear the phrase, ‘public speaking’, do you break out into arm sweats? Does the idea of writing a book or build an app (or to fail at writing a book or building an app) curdle your blood?

Are the things you want to do — dreams you desire more than anything — always seem to take the back burner, the last thing you do, or something you procrastinate into oblivion?

Then what your fear is telling you not to do, is exactly what you need to be doing.

Don’t get me wrong, fear sucks. No one ever said it would be easy to start a band or build an audience on YouTube.  But the ones who do and stick with it are the ones who are masters of their own fears. Fear is how we grow into our best selves.

The stronger the fear, the more you need to take action and do it.

Creative fears always feel impossible until you do them.
Creative failures always seem fatal before the fact.
Pushing past these creative barriers will amplify your confidence and creativity.

What fears do you need to tear down to build a better YOU? 

Stay BOLD, Keep Pursuing,

— Josh Waggoner

IG: @Renaissance.Life

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Related Insights

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'” — Eleanor Roosevelt

“If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” — Dale Carnegie

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” — Mark Twain