The Struggle

“I really try to put myself in uncomfortable situations. Complacency is my enemy.”

Trent Reznor

Complacency can creep up on you at any stage of your journey. Beginning, middle, and end.

  • When you think you have nothing and feel hopeless—you can become complacent to the life you dislike but tolerate.
  • When you are finally starting to make progress—but then you let the fear of failure (or success) lead you to procrastinate and avoid what you need/want to do.
  • When you’ve succeeded beyond your wildest dreams (or your family has succeeded before you, and has accrued wealth and/or status) — you can become complacent to a life of luxury. Your immediate needs are fulfilled, but you can’t help but wonder, “Is this all there is?”

Complacency also lives somewhere in the middle of not failure and success. A not-not world. A negative space. That pesky in-between state where nothing seems to be happening to us. We are working harder than we ever have, but we’re not making progress towards our goals. Or we aren’t trying hard enough to tip over into something better, but we aren’t getting worse either.

The word ‘struggle’ gets a bad rap, but it’s through the continuous drive to learn and improve, and the love of the craft that we can find meaning within our lives.

There’s a paradox here though— momentum creates both meaning and struggle. In fact, the struggle to be someone, or the struggle to create something worthwhile gives us the energy to stand out and make an impact.

Joy is found in motion. Work. Rest. Work Rest. Forward. Change. Towards somethings. Without that things can feel lost and distant. Luckily, there’s purpose waiting around every corner, you just have to put one foot in front of the other to see it.

The struggle isn’t the problem. The struggle is the solution. Let go of trying to rid yourself of struggle and embrace what comes, no matter if you like it or not.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #933

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Practice #1: Do The Verb

Note: This is a post pulled from my premium monthly email publication, Practices. Practices the sister publication to Considerations. Where Considerations is about creative inputs, Practices is about creative output. If you are looking to up your game, sign up for Practices.


A few years ago, I was fed up with myself. I was constantly droning on and on about wanting to be a writer (likely to the annoyance of everyone around me). My heart was in the right place, but I just wasn’t doing it.

I had recently started a blog, Renaissance Man Life (which is now Renaissance Life) around the goal of writing more and my main goal of being multidisciplinary. The problem was I wasn’t writing.

I would tell myself that once inspiration struck, I would write something worthwhile and post it. But inspiration rarely came—if at all.

I was doing a lot of dreaming, but not a whole lot of doing.

I finally had an epiphany on how to resolve this after I started my podcast around creativity and mastery, and noticed a pattern between some early guests on the show.

Josh Green (@permanentrecorddrums) a musician, mentioned how he improved his skills by creating and filming a daily drum groove for a year.

Travis Knight (@travisknight), illustrator and designer, did something similar by drawing a “creep” monster every day for years.

After hearing their stories (and also being influenced by Seth Godin’s work) I decided to start writing a blog post every day.

Today, I’ve written 900+ consecutive blog posts and counting. Not only am I writing more and honing my writing skills every day, but I also feel like a writer.

Have I written a best-selling book yet? No. But each blog post is a step towards achieving that goal.

It’s impossible to be a writer if you never write.

That goes not just for writing, but for any craft you want to become great at.

Are you a musician if you don’t practice?

Are you a potter if you don’t sculpt clay?

Recently I came across this quote from Austin Kleon that summarizes the essence at what I’m driving at:

“If you want to be the noun, first do the verb”

The noun and the verb – Austin Kleon

Or in other words, if you want to be something, you have to go do it.

Of course, you don’t have to go out and start a daily habit like me. Writing daily is just what works for me personally and helps build momentum. You can just as easily work on your craft on the weekend, or weekdays after hours.

The key is to start.

If you want to be something, go do it.

Reflection: What’s one thing you want to do that you can start doing today?

“Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake in little things, and then proceed to greater.”

Epictetus

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #904

Note: This is a post pulled from my premium monthly email publication, Practices. Practices the sister publication to Considerations. Where Considerations is about creative inputs, Practices is about creative output. If you are looking to up your game, sign up for Practices.

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Practicing Character

“Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.”

J. C. Watts

When you do something nice for others, like donating money to medical causes or treating the checkout clerk like a human being, you’re doing it out of kindness, but you are also doing it for yourself. And I don’t mean selfishly. Rather, our actions are a byproduct of our character. And the same is true said in reverse— our character is spoken through our actions.

Character and action are two way streets. What you do is a reflection of who you are. Not just what you do for a living (although that’s a piece of it) but everything you do (or don’t do).

Which means every decision is an opportunity to practice building our character.

Patience, generosity, sincerity, persistence, optimism, ambition, courage, charm, humility, encouragement— these are all things we can practice in our daily lives.

If we don’t practice them, how else would we except to get good at them? Magic beans?

One simple practice I like to do is whenever I’m leaving the grocery store, I take my cart back to the store’s entrance. It’s so tempting to unload your groceries in your car, and they peel out of the parking lot, leaving your buggy next to where you parked. What the big deal anyway? I don’t have time to bring it back. It’s someones job to gather up all the loose carts anyway. Why should I do their job for them?

Because you are doing it for youself as much as you are doing it for them.

Everything we do not only sends a message about who we are to those around us, but also ourselves.

By leaving your empty cart where you parked and driving away, you are telling yourself that you are lazy. Alternatvely, by taking the cart back to the store’s queue, you are telling yourself you are hard-working and not to mention caring to boot.

The same is true for anything we do. Holding the door for others. Not letting our angry control us when someone cuts us off or someone loses their temper. Cleaning up after ourselves. Following through with a promise or conversation. Staying true to what we value.

It’s like the old saying goes, “How we do anything is how we do everything.” Especially when no one’s around to keep us accountable.

That’s why I adopted a “Do it Now” mentality. Not everything has the same amount of importance and priority, but taking care of things when they need taken care of is a great way to practice character. If there’s a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, I’m going to clean them now, instead of later. Even if that means I have to unload the clean dishes from the dishwasher first before I can put the dirty ones in. If there’s a thing around the house that needs to be taken care of, I jump on it. If I’m in the middle of something, I’ll focus all my efforts on that one thing, before I jump to the next.

These are tiny things, but they make all the difference.

Because your actions are telling yourself that “I’m the type of person that get’s things done.” This isn’t a blame game. Just because someone else isn’t doing it doesn’t mean I get to point a finger at them for being lazy. Because if I did I would only be practicing characteristics I don’t want to be.

I’m far from perfect, of course. Some days I can barely manage to do my nightly routine and don’t have the energy to clean up the house or put away my fresh laundry. So then I double down the next day. But if I do manage to put away my clothes when I don’t feel like it, I know I’m working my character mental muscles and showing myself what I’m made of.

Remember, It matters less what you’ve done and more what you do.

If you want to be strong, practice strength. If you want to be resilient, learn everything you can about how to persevere in chaos and get back up when you fail.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #902

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Little Advantages

“Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding or relating; but when they consider that though dust blown into the eyes of a single person, or into a single shop on a windy day, is but of small importance, yet the great number of the instances in a populous city and its frequent repetitions give it weight and consequence, perhaps they will not censure very severely those who bestow some attention to affairs of this seemingly low nature. Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”

from “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life” by Walter Isaacson

Over time, things naturally accumulate. Grass grows tall and thick. Humans multiply. Dust piles. 401K’s compound.

From a quick glance, practicing your creative skills every day doesn’t seem like much, On a day to day basis, it doesn’t look like you’re making much progress. Sometime it might even feel like you are regressing.

Even a hard day of deliberate work can often only come across as incremental improvement. However, what we are seeing is from the perspective of one day — one click of the camera shutter. Now let’s speed things up a bit. click click click. ten days in a row of practicing. click click click. Fifty days. click. a hundred days. Our tiny number of days of practice is suddenly adding up. We’re no longer looking at a single photo, but a time-lapse of a hundred photos.

With each daily repetition, we are gaining progress and building momentum.

  • Small ten-minute meditation each day has added to hours and hours of practice.
  • Thirty minutes of practicing guitar every day will turn inexperience into prowess.
  • A page of words has grown into a book.

Of course, we want to make sure our efforts are aimed towards something. Otherwise, our daily work isn’t collecting into anything meaningful.

By giving a little bit of our time each day towards practicing (what’s important to us), we can take advantage of how time compounds.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #894

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You Need A Practice

It took me a long time to realize how very little of life is in our control. We go through life feeling like we are in control—until we aren’t. Something happens that shakes us. A broken arm or health issue that shows us we are not invincible. A random circumstance that knocks the wind out of us. A realization that changes how we think about the world. These are turning points that can either keep us scared or lift us to a new level of understanding.

At its fundamental level, control means having power or influence over something. With just one hand, I could count how many things I have controller over:

  1. My thoughts.
  2. My actions and reactions.
  3. What I prioritize, focus on and/or value.
  4. Where I spend my time (and other resources).

In a way, what’s in our control are all related to one another. Thoughts lead to actions, and actions show what we prioritize our time on. These give us a credible amount of agency over our lives, but at the same time we are are in the midst of things outside of our control—an island in the middle of an untamable sea. But chaos doesn’t mean we are powerless. By focusing and honing what we do control, we can handle any life circumstances that come our way.

One great way to channel what’s in our control is to start a practice. Having a practice grounds you when everything else is up in the air.

Having a practice grounds you when everything else is up in the air.

What practice(s) you do is up to you. It could be something creative, like writing, dance, pottery, painting, drawing, making youtube videos, calligraphy, guitar, etc. It could be something nourishing, like yoga, mediation, cooking, running, swimming, etc.

What matters is making it intentional. And, ideally, it’s something you put into practice daily. But I’m not yo mama. I’m not going to tell you how you should live your life. We each have our own choice here. We could go about life rocking with the ship and whatever wave hits us. Or we could learn how to sail.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #876

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Related:

Having A Practice – Steven Pressfield

Daily Habits Aren’t Sexy (…Until They Are)

“Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.”

William Shakespeare

There’s nothing sexy about taking the slow and steady approach.

The spectators watching the hare 🐰 and tortoise 🐢 run were definitely rooting for the sleek and energetic rabbit, not the slow lumpy turtle. But starting a race isn’t the same as finishing one. And what about the skills and traits we want to cultivate over our entire lives?

For example, An index fund is so boring compared to the ups and downs of the daily stock market. But an index fund is a fantastic way to build wealth overtime with very little effort. All you have to do is keep adding some in and let it grow.

There’s nothing glamorous about bookending your day with a daily writing habit. It’s difficult to find the time and energy to sit down and work on your dreams. When the time comes to write, I often want to do anything but.

But that’s what’s powerful about a daily practice. Every day you are proving to yourself that you’ve got what it takes. You are training yourself to practice no matter what’s going on in the world or what mood you are in.

After you build up a streak, you don’t want to stop.

Day 1: a habit is fun —but not sexy. It might even be a little hard or confusing.
Day 15: you are getting into the grove — but still nothing to glance at.
Day 50: Things are starting to take shape. Your practice is having a noticeable effect.

But when you have 365 consecutive days in a row? When you hit 1000 or 5000 consecutive days of practice? There’s no way you are going to miss today’s practice and break your streak.

All from just a simple 15, 30 to an hour of your time (whatever you have to give). Less than the time it would take you to cook and eat a meal, or watch one episode of a show.

Now we are cooking. Whenever someone finds our I’ve meditated over 2000 days in a row, they usually exclaim, “wow! No wonder you’re so calm and level-headed all the time”.

Now that’s not the reason I’m meditating, nor does it mean I’m a pro at meditation. But each day contributes to my wellbeing. And each day ripples into the next.

The crazy thing is it doesn’t take much effort or discipline as you think. You just need enough to practice today. Starting today gets you to tomorrow.

With each day’s practice, you are doing your daily allotment of work today. It’s just a little bit and it doesn’t look like much. But it’s deliberate. It’s progress towards something. And it adds up quicker that you might think.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #871

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All In

Learning never exhausts the mind. Leonardo da Vinci

It’s a misconception that a renaissance human — someone who practices multiple skills — can’t be as good as a specialist who only focuses on only one skill.

Yes, It’s true that the more you divide your focus, the less amount of time and energy you can give to each. And yes, there is a limit to how many things you can pursue at once without scattered yourself in too many (ineffective) directions.

But a multi-disciplinary can be just as great if not more so that single-disciplinary individuals. Divided time doesn’t mean you aren’t putting in the hard work.

Even pursuing one skill, there’s only so much time and energy you can give to something before you need to stop and take a break. For a renaissance type, it just so happens you’re likely going to take a “break” by jumping into another skill. You aren’t reducing work, you are adding in different work.

You can go all-in on multiple things. Not too many — there are only so many hours in the day. Try too many things at once and you won’t be able to go deep enough. (This is the jack/jill of all trades zone.)

While alive, our hearts keep beating. Our minds keep thinking. Even while we sleep our mind and body are still active.

When you are jumping from one skill to another to another, you are feeding your curiosity. The key is to pursue interests that rejuvenate you and keep you doing and learning new things. We get stale when we stay in our comfort zones instead of challenging ourselves. (That goes for both specialists and renaissance humans.)

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #868

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Just One More Book…

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

Benjamin Franklin

I love reading. If you looked at my home office space right now, you’d know that’s an understatement. I’ve got books coming out of books. There are books on, underneath, adjacent and near my desk. I read both fiction and nonfiction (I find there’s value in both in different ways).

But.

Did you sense the but coming?

But, reading isn’t everything. Books can make you smart and open your mind to ideas you never thought of. They can take you to imaginative worlds and spin thrilling tales where you can’t turn away. They can give you the knowledge (answers and questions) you seek and say your time and heartache by avoiding hard lessons learned by others. And they can become the mentors you need for $10 or so bucks when you can’t find the advice you are looking for. All from authors, entrepreneurs, artists, thinkers, warriors and more from all of human history and civilization. (Wisdom of the ages, as they say.)

But books won’t do the work for you.

Reading is sometimes insightful and sometimes a cheap distraction for something you know you need to do. “I need to start working on my business idea, but I don’t know enough yet. Maybe I’ll read another book first…”, or “One day I’ll be a great programmer, but for now I need to read *another* coding book…” No, you probably don’t. What you need to do is start *programming*. Insert your desired skill here.

Books are a great way to learn, but they don’t supplement action. 

“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”

Henry David Thoreau

I’m telling myself this more than anyone, by the way. Books aren’t the only thing that can distract us. Maybe your thing is TV instead. Or film. Or cleaning. Or (only) hanging with friends. Or spending all your time drinking. No shame here. No shade. 

The question we need to ask ourselves is are we doing this (watching tv, eating, etc) to enjoy it or are we doing it to distract ourselves and avoid doing what we really want (and sometimes need) to do.

When it seems like you can do anything BUT what you need or want to do, then you are likely avoiding it for some reason. 

Fear can do it sometimes. fear of messing up and looking like a boob. 

Laziness too. But laziness is a delay tactic to avoid change and avoid negative or undesired life outcomes. 

But neither fear or laziness will make it — or your life — any better.

Learning is great. Reading is one of my favorite things I do. But if all we do is learn and never apply, what’s the point in the first place?

But some times you just need to put the book down, bookmark your place to come back to later, and then get out there and do something.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #866

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Making it Look Easy (Creative Tennis Part 1)

“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”

Michelangelo

Creativity reminds me of tennis. I played tennis in high school. Double’s was always my favorite. My friend Cameron and I were unstoppable (at least that’s what my memory tells me) with our powers combined. Our secret was we cared enough to have fun but didn’t take ourselves too seriously. I don’t think either one of us was the best when it came to singles. I can play, but I wasn’t putting in the hours of training and practice as some players do. There’s skill involved with tennis and any sport for that matter. From the bleachers, it looks like you’re just smacking a fuzzy yellow ball with an oversized ping pong paddle, but if you know the game there’s a lot going on for the players. Accuracy, speed, agility, coordination, balance, power, cunning, action and reaction, and — of course — the mental gameplay.

The same is true for your creative pursuits. There’s a lot of skill and thought to go on behind the stroke of a pen, the strum of a guitar or the footwork of a dancer. Professionals make their art look much easier than it is. Anytime you hear of an idea so simple you wish you would have thought of it, you are seeing a professional* at work (*most of the time anyway :). Experience is lost to the untrained eye. If you see something that looks easy, it likely isn’t. The same is true when the tables are turned. When your art feels easy, you reached a level of skill and insight that most don’t actually have.

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come and how much we know about a certain skill or subject. Usually, because we are so engrossed in it on a day-to-day basis, and are surrounded by others who have similar skills. One conversation with someone who doesn’t do what you do will immediately highlight how much you know about what you do. And one conversation (or class) with an expert on what you do and you’ll see how little you actually know about what you do. Art and skill are a continuous spectrum of discovering new things and unlocking wisdom through time and practice. Even the creatives at the top of their game continue to learn and experiment with better ways of creating. We can learn to make it look easy too with a commitment to our craft and longevity in our practice.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #809

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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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