When life comes to a standstill
The feeling a month ago when we were sent home early as the office was closing for good because of Covid-19 was an all to familiar feeling. The week after graduating university I had a similar moment. Isolated, lonely, on my own to make a really big decision with what to do next with my life.
Everyone had jobs, everyone had to be somewhere else to be. Everyone seemed to have a plan. I didn’t. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have school, for the first time in eighteen years of my life I had nowhere to be.
It was freeing in one sense. No tests to write, no boss to report to, and no alarm clock waking me up in the morning. But my student debt wasn’t going to pay itself. It was nice, but I couldn’t just sit around all day. I had to do something. I still hate alarm clocks.
I didn’t know what to do.
I started hating it. It sounds amazing, just like “working from home” sounds appealing to the person who never has. The truth is actually working from home, getting work done, being productive, that’s hard when you’re at home. There are a million things in your home that want your attention, work can hardly compete! Working from home isn’t easy. But I also didn’t want a regular job either.
What do you hate more? The status quo or adapting your life to do something you never thought possible. Either way it was going to suck. The “real” world? Give me a break. Cubicles, 15 minute coffee breaks, meetings about meetings. No thank you. I never wanted to ever go back to that life.
What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
I started reading, I started writing, and I started running.
Reading was important
Books were the most important gateway into the past and present worlds of business, psychology, marketing, economics, sociology, history and much more. I fell in love with books the summer of 2008. Blink was my first, The Tipping Point second, Freakonomics was up there. I remember Get Smarter, The Black Swan and a one of my favourites for years “Small is the New Big” introduced me to this up and coming author, Seth Godin.
I remember reading short stories in Small is the New Big and Seth just spoke my language. It’s like he could see the future of business. I bought many Seth Godin books after that first one.
Below I’ve included quotes from three books that were important to me at different stages in my life. All in moments of struggle, these books helped a lot.
Writing was important
Soon after reading I began writing a blog, jephmaystruck.com. It wasn’t good, no one read it, but that didn’t matter, I got used to publishing (that’s the hardest part). Writing became a way to look into the future. A trial and error approach to learning. I still haven’t stopped writing, Jephmaystruck.com and StrategyLab blog I’ve published over 500 blog posts and have no intention of stopping any time soon.
Running was important
Without physical activity the brain doesn’t work at 100%. I signed up for a half marathon on a whim, then realized 21km wasn’t just a regular jaunt round Wascana Lake. I ran a lot that Summer and finished the RPS Half Marathon in just over 2 hours. Wow, the loud, fat kid from the North end can RUN!
To this day if I’m in a bad mood 9/10 I haven’t done anything physical that day. Physical activity is like a miracle drug for the body. Right up there with sleep, if you can get into a good routine, it’s like a superpower. It gives you energy, mental clarity, and literally makes you happier.
Not to quote a cartoon fish but Dory was right. When you don’t know sometimes you just need to keep swimming. I think for the better part of the past decade I’ve not known where to go next, what to do precisely or have had a good plan. All I know is that if I keep learning, keep writing and keep running, life will work itself out.
Below are several books I turn back to when times get tough.
From The War of Art
By Steven Pressfield
I recommend this book to artists, struggling business owners, and anyone who feels lost. It’s written like a motivational self help book, but reads like a Steven King Novel. Pressfield is a great writer, he knows writing and I still think this is the best book for ANY artists (once you realize everyone’s an artist in their own way) no matter where you are at in your career.
“It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”
He introduces this concept of the “resistance” or the force holding us back from doing our work. Distractions, interruptions, other “priorities”, anything that keeps you from doing what’s important you must realize is the resistance and you must push back with everything you have in your soul. The resistance is there to be defeated.
“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome.”
Pressfield makes a lot of comparisions using the ameteur and the professional. It’s great point when you’re in between what you are and don’t call yourself a professional OR an ameteur. He inspires you to start acting like the professional knowing that one day you will be one. The difference between ametuer and professional is mearly an attitude.
Remember, every professional was once an ametuer.
“Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. resistance is the enemy within.”
If you’re good at procrastinating then you know resistance. Every day we must slay this dragon of distraction!
“The more resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you – and the more gratification you will fell when you finally do it.”
I always tell people that if you have a little voice in the back of your head saying you need to do something then you need to do it. That voice doesn’t get quieter. The more push back you feel, the more you need to follow that dream.
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt.”
Every entrepreneur, artist, performer, or driven individual has felt it. No one is immune to it.
“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.”
In school it was avoiding homework or the big project. Today it’s avoiding the important work for doing the urgent work. And we all know the important work needs to be done before the urgent. Be careful, the resistance can be disguised as many things, as long as it’s keeping you from your work it’s resistance.
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.” — W. H. Murray
If you follow your heart into the world of what you were meant to do it seems almost magical. There’s no time to wait for, decide now.
I remember in 4th year university I had decided to run for President of the Business Students Society. After a conference where I had decided to run I had told a few people at school No one believed me. No one thought I was serious. But no one ran against me and I had a very successful year. Boldness definitely has genius. If you want more information on this concept I recommend reading “The Magic of Thinking Big“.
…she (the artist, the writer) doesn’t wait for inspiration, she acts in the anticipation of its apparition.
I’ll always remember a conversation with a friend who was a fake artist. She never really created anything, just worked a job a said “she’s waiting for inspiration”. It felt like she was making an excuse at the time but what I realized later was she’s was lying to herself.
Artists just like business people don’t wait for inspiration, they wake up every morning, go to work and inspiration comes to them. No the other way around. To think that artists all over the world wait to be inspired is absurd. No, like everyone else the artist goes to work and does her work. She has good days and bad days. But inspiration has nothing to do with it.
The Muse will find you if you work hard enough. If you want more information on how creatives tap into this unforeseen omi-powerful force watch this:
“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
I bolded this quote to remind myself that it’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to not know. The fakeness of people hiding behind social media profiles in this day and age is obvious. We’re scared. We’re scared that people will find out we’re not as pretty, thin, good looking, smart, genuine, or list whatever else we’re self conscious about. The sad part is that this is not slowing down any time soon.
Catfishing isn’t just some fun thing trolls do to fool people. We’re all Catfishing a little, none of us are truly self-confident all the time.
Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North – meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.
I like to think that what I’m trying to avoid doing is exactly what I should be doing. I hate calling people. I love talking to people but there’s something about talking on the phone I just have never liked. You don’t see body language, you can’t see facial expressions, it’s hard to talk to someone properly on the phone. I avoid calling you back like the plague. I would do anything not to have to.
But I know these thoughts are simply the resistance just peaking it’s gross little face into my life. Talking on the phone can be very beneficial and you can still show people how you care over the phone.
Listen to the resistance, it’ll tell you things your conscious won’t admit.
What are you afraid of? What’s your biggest fear?
Ask yourself this regularly. Seems more along the lines of a stoic principle. Realize your biggest fears aren’t really fears at all and you’re instantly stronger.
We feed it [Resistance] with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.
The only way it has no effect over us is if we don’t feed it. If we’re willing to walk into the fire believing we will be left unscathed.
The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.
NEVER TAKE REJECTION PERSONALLY. Say it again with me.
This is big. Generally if people leave our company it’s because they have a hard time with rejection. Feedback can feel like rejection. Losing the sale can feel like rejection. Getting let go, dumped, or fired can feel like rejection.
Critics are not the enemy, resistance is.
…Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.
This last story I found inspiring the first time I read it and I think it’s just as important right now.
You have to know how to be miserable. If you can learn to live with less stuff, more rejection and more failure, eventually you’re going to learn how to do your craft.
In my younger days dodging the draft, I somehow wound up in the Marine Corps. There’s a myth that Marine training turns baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers. Trust me, the Marine Corps is not that efficient. What it does teach, however, is a lot more useful.
The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.
This is invaluable for an artist.
Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction in having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys, or flyboys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because these candy-asses don’t know how to be miserable.
The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.
The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.
From Better and Faster
By Jeremy Gutsche
A Canadian author from Calgary! This book is an entertaining read, I’ve written about it before, I just like the way he presents his ideas. You will enjoy this book.
The point is that there comes a time when you need to imitate the phoenix. Destruction leads to creativity. The Black Plague, the London fires, Hurricane Katrina—all eventually spawned progressive change, from the Renaissance to modern London to major environmental initiatives to save our planet.
When crisis’ happen, rebirths happen, new industries are born, we adapt. The same will happen with the results from the Covid-19 Pandemic, our world will emerge, it’ll be different but we will live on. It’s difficult to look at the bright side while you’re in it or being negatively affected by it currently. Once the dust settles you’ll find a in people a new more resilient human spirit.
I loved the story below the first time I read about it. Since then there’s also a chef in Germany who was featured on Chef’s Table who follows the same practice. They don’t want to be “known” for a certain dish. More so they want to consistently innovate. It’s inspiring.
If customers walk into his restaurant and ask for a specific entrée that they heard was his “specialty,” he’ll tell them it’s out of stock and remove it from the menu before he ends up becoming known for a signature dish. While many chefs view a signature dish as an accomplishment, he believes it “means your success is in the past …[and] you’re not inspiring to anyone. All the care you’ve put into the old dish dies because nobody cares anymore … You’re not being creative anymore.”
He forces himself to be creative. Instead of waiting for the world to destroy what we make, how can we ourselves destroy what we make to then rebuild in a more efficient, user friendly, fun, entertaining, amazing fashion.
Ripert’s ruthless rejection of consistency has spawned more experimentation than many chefs might attempt in a lifetime. Constantly rotating his menu grants Ripert a deeper understanding of food pairings, taste combinations, and what it takes to adapt. And it worked. If you want to experience his $332 Chef’s Tasting Menu, reserve in advance, because despite astronomical pricing, his restaurant remains sold out weeks in advance. Intentionally destroying your business model, products, and services can feel uncomfortable and even painful, but destruction enables unrestricted creativity while providing newfound flexibility and depth.
When you risk doing something amazing like changing your menu regularly you may offend, disappoint or not meet peoples’ expectations. But the fact is a restaurant that cooks the same food all the time risks not meeting expectations more so than the place that always changes it up. It’s a sign of confidence in the craft of cooking.
Leading innovators often start from scratch—even make a practice of regularly destroying prototypes or the latest iteration to spark urgency and unbridled thought. Individuals need to push themselves to learn new skills beyond those that seem tried and true. Companies must seek out opportunities to adapt and question the status quo constantly.
The Obstacle is the Way
By Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday’s first book I read was called “Trust Me I’m Lying” and was a great read on how the media is very easily manipulated by people like himself. After watching The Great Hack on Netflix (the documentary on the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data scandal) I tend to believe what Ryan writes about.
This book though is more of an introduction to Stoicism. The Obstacle is the Way is inspiring and entertaining all at the same time. You’ll really enjoy this book.
Much of the book (such as life) is based on an attitude shift.
Just because your mind tells you that something is awful or evil or unplanned or otherwise negative doesn’t mean you have to agree. Just because other people say that something is hopeless or crazy or broken to pieces doesn’t mean it is. We decide what story to tell ourselves.
The worst person to lie to is yourself. Be vigilant of the stories you tell yourself. What opinions do you openly disagree with? When do you “stand your ground” on an issue? Or do you mostly not have an opinion at all? Those may be very telling about where your beliefs reside.
“You can always remind yourself: I am in control, not my emotions. I see what’s really going on here. I’m not going to get excited or upset.”
Never take your highs too high or your lows too low. You can control that.
Then Holiday starts talking about the future and why you need to always focus on improving, always getting better.
While overpaid CEOs take long vacations and hide behind e-mail autoresponders, some programmer is working eighteen-hour days coding the start-up that will destroy that CEO’s business.
What will the next generation look like? What will the next workforce look like? Will it resemble anything like the past? Or we completely a new working reality?
Those who attack problems and life with the most initiative and energy usually win.
Again, attitude will get you far in life. A positive attitude and a can do approach are a winning strategy. How can you improve on the energy you bring to meetings? To work? To your personal life?
They were transformed along the lines that Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, outlined when he described what happens to businesses in tumultuous times: “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”
This is very important to realize during a crisis. Yes some companies will go out of business for reasons they can’t control, but others will thrive because of the attitude they adopt.
“Always look for the helpers.”
The only guarantee, ever, is that things will go wrong. The only thing we can use to mitigate this is anticipation. Because the only variable we control completely is ourselves.
Have a plan but expect it to change. Change is what makes work and life interesting, don’t turn away from it, lean into it. When things change you can take advantage of it by having that positive attitude and can do approach.
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. —Viktor Frankl”
Mr. Frankl survived several concentration camps in World War II and lived to write the book Man’s Search For Meaning about it. Definitely worth a read in itself. That book gave me the confidence to get through pretty much every situation I could imagine in business.
A great book for when you’re feeling a little down on yourself of the world.
All great victories, be they in politics, business, art, or seduction, involved resolving vexing problems with a potent cocktail of creativity, focus, and daring. When you have a goal, obstacles are actually teaching you how to get where you want to go—carving you a path. “The Things which hurt,” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “instruct.”
Just like what resistance is trying to tell us, obstacles are showing us a better, harder, more rewarding path.
I like the Tim Ferriss quote, “When you have to choice between comfort or courage always choose courage.”
How we interpret the events in our lives, our perspective, is the framework for our forthcoming response—whether there will even be one or whether we’ll just lie there and take it. Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.
How do you improve your perspective then? How to you create a better mental framework? Oddly enough, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame has a really smart piece on this. Your filter of the world. And everyone has a filter. We can choose how we see things.
Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens—at that exposing moment—the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you’re sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or bullshit?
When your back’s up against a wall what do you do? It’s only happened a couple times where I really had to fight or take a flight. I fought and it worked out for the better. Sometimes you don’t know how powerful, smart, or productive you can be when you try. And well, you will definitely now know until you try.
“When we aim high, pressure and stress obligingly come along for the ride. Stuff is going to happen that catches us off guard, threatens or scares us. Surprises (unpleasant ones, mostly) are almost guaranteed. The risk of being overwhelmed is always there. In these situations, talent is not the most sought-after characteristic. Grace and poise are, because these two attributes precede the opportunity to deploy any other skill. We must possess, as Voltaire once explained about the secret to the great military success of the first Duke of Marlborough, that “tranquil courage in the midst of tumult and serenity of soul in danger, which the English call a cool head.”
Grace and poise. Rarely talked about as important attributes in today’s successful elite but they are extremely valuable when practiced regularly.
Keeping a cool head in the face of an altercation or stressful moment is a skill. Practice makes perfect. Putting yourself in situations where you must keep cool and communicate clearly is a good way to get better at this difficult task.
You will come across obstacles in life—fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.
It’s not the crisis people will remember, it’s how you handle it. Do you freak out and send a mass company wide email? Do you methodically pole your best people on next steps in their opinion? Do you open up a clear communication channel and lean into the problem? Or will you setup an online form so you don’t need to talk to angry people?