Another long break from posting in the rearview mirror, a summer of driving back and forth on I-40 is also winding down. My time at Camp Rockmont was a gift, as always. Whenever we give of ourselves freely, I believe we always receive more than we expect. I had the opportunity to hike the AT, sleep under the stars, bomb down world-class mountain bike trails, back flip in to turquoise lakes, explore caves, see sunrises and sunsets at 6000 feet, and hang out with some of the best people I know. All while teaching and sharing stories of life with young men who are developing in to men who live for others.
I walked around my apartment this morning, heating up coffee, cooking food, enjoying air conditioning, listening to music. Little luxuries are wonderful, but so is the absence of things we think we need. For three weeks this summer, I lived without electricity, running water, or regular cell reception.
And surprisingly, I’m still here!
These things we believe we need to get through most days, we usually don’t truly need. They’re nice, but not essential. What is? Shelter, food, warmth, water. Even in my rather spartan arrangement, I still lived in relative comfort compared to most of the world. Plenty of food to cook, water to drink, some clothes to wear, a hammock and 30 degree bag to sleep in. Definitely “roughing it” compared to my normal day to day life, but incredibly luxurious for many people in the world.
Now I’m back in Nashville, with apartments to move, jobs to interview for, and life to live. This summer was a blessing to me, a reminder of how great life is and how blessed I am. In our teachings with the guys, I was also reminded that life can be hard, I’m not in control, life is not about me, and I’m not that special. Words and lessons which can feel counter-intuitive to the culture we’ve created, but when applied, give meaning and peace to our daily interactions and relationships.
One of the leaders at Rockmont posed this question to our young men at the end of their session.
Once you’ve reached Mount Everest, what are the two things you should do?
1. Take a picture! It’s Everest!
2. Get the heck off the mountain!
You can’t stay on Everest, you’ll die! We don’t live on the mountain tops, it’s essential to our lives and our communities that we get back down and integrate our experiences to ways we can serve others. Mountain top experiences are important, they provide the inspiration and lessons which keep us going in the valley. We can’t live our entire lives in either place. For me and many others, it’s how we can take the lessons of the mountain and apply them to the valley, staying present with the people and places we’ve been placed in. Longing for the adventure of the mountain while working in the valley is fruitless. But wishing for the comforts of valley life during the harsh leanness of the mountain journey is equally destructive.
Regardless of your location, and where you think you’d rather be, I encourage you to stay where your feet are. The gifts life has for us are all around and in each person. But if we’re mentally off somewhere else, we’ll miss them.
I agree, a bunch of blanks between June 19th and July 9th isn’t an ideal practice. I’ve spent the past two weeks in North Carolina, working at Camp Rockmont as a part of the Catalyst program. I originally had grand ideas of waking up early and literally writing (by hand!) in my journal, but that proved exhausting, especially with the number of mosquitos buzzing about.
When I returned to Nashville, life didn’t slow down. Morgan and I are moving in to a new apartment next month, and finding one was the first order of business (as I alluded to yesterday). Hilariously, after spending hours on Craigslist and Padmapper, the duplex we’re moving into is simply a place I rode past on my bike. Our elderly landlord doesn’t do all that computer stuff, and when you’re smack in the middle of Green Hills and Lipscomb, you don’t really have to.
The rental market in Nashville is very fast-paced, and friends made sure I knew to bring a check when we were looking at the house. Decisiveness is rewarded, in fact while we looked, he received another phone call and a walk-up inquiry about the house! Houses go that quick, in fact I’m a little surprised it lasted long enough for us to snap it up!
The last few weeks have been very unsettling for me, yet I’m continually reminded that God has my back. For all the time I spend worrying, he provides. Even when I think I don’t deserve it, he provides. Especially when I think it must be time for me to learn some hard lessons, he provides. I always forget, and he always provides. Francis Chan would call that Crazy Love.
The new worry is how we’re going to make up the extra rent we’ll be paying now, but I know God has that taken care of too. It still involves me working, writing, coaching, and hustling, but everything has come together so well without me, it’s silly to think I can worry myself to an extra $300/month. When life is lean, I look back and see how I couldn’t ever plan what was about to happen. In my weakness and pain God showed himself more than he ever did when I thought I had everything in control.
I’ve been continually reminded of the five great truths the Catalysts are learning right now. They are:
Life is Hard
You are not that Important
You are not in Control
Life is not about You, You are about Life!
You are going to Die
The Catalyst group is away from the world 90% of their time at camp, no access to cell phones or even electricity. We camp most of the time. Being away from all the busy-ness of life gave me the gift of being able to reflect on these truths in a way I haven’t since my own rites in April 2012. At first glance, they seem very harsh and negative, rather un-American too.
But when you go a little deeper, they’re revealed to be very life-giving. Life is also happy and wonderful, but we all know it’s hard also! Why waste time trying to believe it isn’t? I’m not that important that I should feel entitled to a life of ease, every job I apply for, or opportunity I grab. We all know deep down we’re not in control, which is a major reason we spend so much energy trying to control everything! There’s so much more to dive into, but it’s a much larger topic.
Last week I went backpacking for three days on the Appalachian Trail. In this picture, we’re headed up Big Hump in the Roan Highlands of NC & TN. In front are my friends Tryon and John, and we’re with five other guys. Six of us had never been on this section of trail before! Seeing impenetrable fog like this always makes me think of how little we really see of what’s ahead in life.
When you’re hiking, or just moving through life, it’s always reassuring to know where you’re going, to feel like you’re in control. “You are not in control” is one of the mantras we’ve been teaching the Camp Rockmont Catalyst group this summer. What they don’t know yet is it’s much easier to repeat a mantra than practice it!
I had to do some practicing of my own these past few weeks. Morgan and I are moving around Nashville and had been frantically looking for a new place to live before our contract is up on the current one. Mash it together with the knowledge I’m going back to Rockmont on July 19th, and I’ve been interviewing for a couple of jobs, and life was hectic.
Honestly, most of the time it felt like I was moving down the trail with nothing but fog in front of me. I couldn’t see more than the next day, the next ten feet, or the next interview. So much was unknown, and so much out of my control. All I could keep do was keep going and keep praying.
I believe a lot of life is like this too. Sometimes we get our beautiful vistas, clear paths, and refreshing swimming holes. But most of the time it’s tough to see past the tangle of leaves or surrounding fog. But it doesn’t mean the path is necessarily different, it simply means we have to trust in a power bigger than us, and the guidance of those around. The fog is a great part of life, and makes the clear vistas more beautiful every time.
Today we found a great little duplex between Green Hills and Lipscomb, and couldn’t be happier. After surveying Craigslist and PadMapper for the better part of three weeks, I simply happened to ride by this place on my bike. The landlord never listed it online, and I just can’t help but think it was there for me to ride past. In a fast-paced Nashville rental market, it stayed up for two days, and two people came by to look at the place while we were there! In the end, we wrote the checks and move in August 1st.
Though it’s hard to remember when you’re in the fog, know the trail is still under your feet and God is your guide, with countless Angels helping you along the way. In the fog we can re-discover our need for him. Keep walking.
I recently began keeping a Spark File, which helps me keep track of ideas, articles, and other seemingly disparate information. The inspiration is that you’ve had a “spark” of an idea, and simply jot down as much or little as you like about it. I’ve had sparks that are a few words, and some are over 100 words with sub-bullets.
People have been keeping track of their ideas for as long as people have been around, but the specific labeling of the spark file (plus the rules and guidelines around it) first came to me from Austin Kleon, who heard about it from Steven Johnson. If you haven’t read Austin’s books, Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, they’re 100% worth your time and focus.
Steven Johnson is a writer and the curator of the Medium collection The Writer’s Room. It was there I found his in-depth post about what the Spark file is, how he uses and reviews it, and the ways it has benefited his own work over the years.
Personally, I’ve been keeping my Spark file in Evernote. Since I usually have access to either phone or laptop, I’m able to access the note and jot down the spark. Again, since there’s no judging or hating about the length of the spark, I can jot down a few words and move on.
The note is also a part of a Spark Files notebook I keep in Evernote, so if I see something I want to snap a picture of, or clip a webpage or other block of text, I can keep all of these sparks in one place. But the master spark file is simply one lengthy note.
Per Mr Johnson’s recommendations, I’ve tried to review the file monthly, re-reading the whole thing. Not only does it help re-spark any ideas you’ve had, possibly at a time you need them, but I’m relieved and inspired to know I’ve been coming up with ideas all this time.
There are two reasons I use Evernote instead of a slightly more accessible tool like Google Docs.
The search functions in Evernote are some of the most powerful I’ve used in any application.
Keeping the spark file inside a greater Spark notebook also helps me recognize a larger number of ideas and sources of inspirations, hopefully teasing out a common thread which leads to a breakthrough.
Now, just like the four rules I have for 500words, you must be ruthlessly graceful to yourself when adding to your spark file. Just get the ideas down, the only order being chronologically, so you know this idea was before that one. There’s no particular reason even for this, except it’s what naturally happens and you don’t have to do anything further. Inside the spark file, do not attempt to go back through and re-organize based on subject, industry, media type, or anything else. If you’d like to assemble common ideas, make another category-specific folder and copy the common ideas there (ideally within the same folder in Evernote or Google Drive).
Like I said, the rules are pretty simple, and must remain that way.
Start filing today. (what a terrible call to action)
Tools don’t matter as much as doing the work matters
I haven’t posted images on this little project yet, and I don’t plan on posting many, but I think this one helps convey today’s message.
I’ve been thinking about work a lot the past couple of weeks, and specifically why there’s no substitute for doing the work. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve been amazed at how easily I can make up good excuses for not practicing the craft of writing.
For example, there are several elements of being a good writer these days. Of course you must write, but you also need to connect on social media, build your email list, develop products, pitch to publishers, teach webinars, attend conferences, read books, learning new techniques, and more. Did I mention writers needed to write? Since each element is a part of the professional writer’s process (especially a writer who first established his or her tribe online), excusing yourself from writing in order to do any of these things is easily pardoned in your mind. Most of the time, I’m either hoarding information or promoting from a place of fear, not happiness to share.
There’s another significant force of resistance for getting to work or starting something new. The fear that we’re not ready. I’ve seen this mostly around my podcast, Story Signals. Here are some ways I delayed the launch date.
I don’t have the right equipment
I don’t have any interviews recorded
I don’t have enough interviews recorded
I can’t spend the money on hosting
I don’t have a nice microphone
My dog makes too much noise
I’m recording in a bathroom
There’s not a desk in my bathroom to set my nice new microphone on
The most recent problem was solved by creating a desk in my bathroom, placing a whiteboard over the sink and pulling up a chair, portrayed in the picture. Honestly, it was an upgrade over sitting on the toilet for an hour, should have thought of it before!
The point is we often have what is essentially needed to get started. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone, thinking I need a new computer, tech tool, recording device, you name it and I’ve considered making an excuse around it. But ultimately I don’t need more tools to simply get started, I just need to sit down and do the work. Plug in the headphones, line up an interview, write the script, and work.
In the book Re/Work, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of Basecamp (formerly 37signals), devote an entire chapter to this line of excuses we can come up with. Here’s the quote:
The gear doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you can do with it. Don’t be obsessed with getting the perfect tools, work with what you got.
Whenever we throw the word perfect around, it’s dangerous. Perfect is such a flexible, ambiguous word in world of imperfection. Right when you get the perfect tool, a new and better one comes out. If you believe it’s the marketing machine teasing out our wallets, fine, but it’s also the result of smart people continually building an creating new things. But there will always be a better product we could wait for.
Or we could just get started with the tools we have, bathroom desk and all.
For today’s practice, I wanted to share my application for the position of Platform Builder at HelpScout, a startup company based in Boston. I’ve known about HelpScout for a couple of years now, when I started reading Gregory Ciotti’s articles on Buffer, 99u, and Inc.
HelpScout and Gregory do a phenomenal job with their product and service, which is a given (because great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster). Along with Buffer, they offer two shining examples of content marketing as a way to build a brand while connecting with customers. Beyond great blog articles though, HelpScout has also developed a resource library with ten ebooks focused on customer service.
Below you’ll see my answers to the four main questions from the application. If you would also like to apply for the job, you can find the application at HelpScout.net/Jobs.
If you would like to give me a quick Twitter recommendation to HelpScout, click here to tweet them (you can edit the tweet after you click). Thanks!
3 Writing Examples I’m Proud of, and Why
1. Science of Starting Small
I’m proud of this post because of the process I went through to write and research my ideas. The article went through several draft stages and iterations, helped by Leo at Buffer, who was a big help at coaching me through the formatting to make an information-dense post applicable and digestible for the reader. I was also proud the post helped launch me on to the Huffington Post contributor lineup, and an appearance on the HuffPost Live Guru Forum.
2. Information Hoarding and the Value of Action
I’m proud of this post because it is helping solve a problem many people struggle with, which is how to balance information consumption and learning with actually getting started, iterating, and taking action. This has ended up being the most shared and viewed post on my personal site, and was picked up by 99u as “link of the day”.
3. How to Effectively A/B Test
I’m proud of this post because it’s simple. I took a dense, information-rich topic (A/B split testing) and was able to communicate the ideas in single page sketchnote. I’m always trying to take big ideas and make them easier to communicate and understand. Humans are such visual creatures, that using powerful images, graphics, and even simple sketches will become more and more important as the amount of information grows.
Why are you interested in working at HelpScout?
I come from a varied background of a startup, small business, blogging, podcasting, and recruiting. The nature of HelpScout’s business is to help other companies in a variety of fields engage with their tribe and help them solve problems. The opportunity to be the guide for people who are sharing great stories through their work (and thus guide their own people) is one I’d embrace. I would build HelpScout’s platform with different “planks”, e.g. research articles, presentation decks, videos, perhaps even a podcast sharing interviews and practices with entrepreneurs and service providers. Thank you for considering my application!
In church yesterday, pastor Russ Ramsey taught on Psalm 131. The author of the Psalm is conveying to the people the gift of limits, something we struggle with in our modern culture. Here it is.
1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
I read this passage before the sermon, and it’s been on my mind ever since. Often we don’t think of limitations as good things, but as negative ones. We want to do anything we want, and live an epic, memorable life. The struggle we face and the stress we put ourselves under is the scope of our lives. An epic life is by definition something bigger than your community or family. We desire to be epic on a national or world scale. Yes, the internet has enabled most of the modern world to have possibilities and platforms previously unheard of. My words reach people all over the world, in fact the reader who emails me the most is a gentleman from Nigeria! This is an opportunity unlike any the world has ever seen.
And yet this mantra of the legendary life can be a crushing weight. Honestly, so few people live “epic” lives on the world scale, and ironically they seemed to not care about reaching legendary status. Dr. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and others like them didn’t set out to change the world immediately, but set about first changing themselves and their communities, and then moved along from to other communities.
Yes, there are plenty of self-made millionaires in the world today, and people who ambitiously seek fame and fortune, ultimately finding it. The convergence of passion, skill, and hard work will create opportunities for you, and we should actively seek to pursue that convergence. We all recognize some of the limits we have, perhaps physical limits. With the NBA finals ending last night, I know I couldn’t play in the league, no matter how hard I worked. A prideful part of me thinks I could have been like Wes Welker or Danny Woodhead in the NFL, but realistically that’s not the case either. When I compete in an marathon, I’m probably not going to ever win, despite my training load. I’m a good athlete, but not a world-class athlete. These are the limits I have.
One of the gifts of personality tests is being told what you’re good at, while also raising awareness to the blind spots and struggles you have. The Enneagram has been a powerful test for me, mainly because of the series of gut punches that describe my faults and weaknesses. I am a 3, a type labeled as “Achiever”, which places me in direct competition with Psalm 131. To be a three is to lift up my eyes and seek great and marvelous things, an ambitious desire to be a legend and be fearful of the ordinary. My soul is not calm, and often I find myself placing hope in what I can do or others can do for me, rather than what God desires to do for me.
However, a three operating in security and trust is the epitome of my hope, and something I can aspire to (the difference between aspiration and ambition is key here). Threes at their best are: Self-accepting, inner-directed, and authentic, everything they seem to be. Modest and charitable, self-deprecatory humor and a fullness of heart emerge. Gentle and benevolent. Awesome.
Notice the Psalmist never instructs us to be lazy and not use the gifts we have been given. Not at all! We are called to hope in the Lord, and use our gifts with intention and purpose. Through our limits, we see and recognize the power of God in our lives, and see how much we desperately need him and others to keep us from sinking down in to our worst self. For me, it would be like this: Vindictive, attempting to ruin others’ happiness. Relentless, obsessive about destroying whatever reminds them of their own shortcomings and failures. Psychopathic. Generally corresponds to the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Yikes.
Finally, our own limits make the gift of community and friendship that much stronger. If I can serve in a specific way that highlights my gifts, and then your gifts correspond to my weakness (and vice-versa), then we have a healthy community to live in. When we think we can do everything, and don’t need the support and accountability of the community, is when life begins to fray and fall apart. Our strengths and weaknesses support each other, making it vital for each of us to serve and cultivate our gifts for the good of those around us. This is the posture of a calmed and quieted soul, trusting in God to use his gifts for good, and have his needs met through others.
I encourage you to take some time and consider your gifts and limits. Where are you trying to overcome a limitation that highlights God’s strength, and can be served through his community? What strengths do you have which can be further cultivated to be of use to your work and family? I pray that we can all can have a calm and quiet soul, hoping in the Lord now and forevermore.
I’m very blessed to have such a great Dad, but for all kinds of reasons, many children don’t grow up with a Dad or significant mentor in their life. My friend John Sowers and his team are working to equip mentors all across the world, and I strongly recommend checking out their mission. They are literally changing the world in a powerful way.
I didn’t quite make 500 words today, but I did the layout, planning, and research for a post on how marketing posts are like Mad Libs. Like this…
Headline: The (Problem/challenge) of (noun) and (number of steps) to (Solve the problem)
Reframe the challenge in a smaller context.
Engage other senses through images.
Include a reference or research study.
End by giving the reader a small step they can take today. Repeat this framework for each section or step until you’re ready to tie everything together.
More to come later, and by the way, this week’s word count = 4450!