Why You Should Ask “Who Benefits?”

Cui Bono? is a latin phrase that translates to who stands to gain? or for whose benefit? I’ve heard it tossed around in political conversations lately, as a reminder to think about the motivations of those involved in a given situation.

I think there’s an application for this phrase in our work as creators.

I firmly believe that a creator cannot be truly successful if his or her main goal is to make money or become famous. If the answer to Cui Bono? is “solely the creator”, then the creation will suffer, or fail.

There are many reasons for thinking this – I believe it’s a law of nature; I believe it is a true, eternal principle; I believe it is a prideful and selfish notion and that those desires stem from the darker side of who we can often be tempted to be.

Charles Haanel, who wrote The Master Key System, often touted as the “original” self help book, taught this same principle in a lecture back in the early 1920s:

“Every transaction must benefit every person who is in any way connected with the transaction, and any attempt to profit from the weakness ignorance or necessity of another will inevitably operate to his disadvantage”

When we’re looking to turn our creative output into a money generating business, we must maintain the pure motivations we had when we were creating just for ourselves. The only art that I personally care about is art that was crafted by someone who cared about the creation, not the monetary result of creating it.

Seth Godin, another self-help pioneer, speaks about mass marketing. If you’re creating work for the masses, the only real way to differentiate yourself is by price. The only reason you would ever do that is to compete in the marketplace – for money.

Who wants that life? Who here cares if they get heinz or some other brand of ketchup? It’s a mass market condiment to slather on mass market hot dogs. It doesn’t matter who made them, only that the product does what you want it to do.

What we’re setting out to do is to create work that changes people. You want people to see or read or experience the thing you’ve created and feel something. That takes a ton of effort to not only infuse the creation with a bit of yourself, but also to have that desire to change people and benefit people as part of the process. From the very inception of the idea, you have to think about why you’re making it, and if the reason is “to get more followers on instagram”, I think you should stop right there and find something else to do.

If we truly care about the work we are doing, we’ll also care about how it can potentially benefit others, how it can change people. That, to me, is the definition of work worth doing.

In the comments, let me know what you think of this principle. Do you agree? Does it feel true? What else would you add, or what would you remove from what I’ve argued?

Awareness Vs. Knowledge

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the last decade reading all of the top books on the subjects of film producing, business, and self improvement. I could probably do a Q&A sitting in for Seth Godin or Tim Ferriss and give you the exact answers they would give because I’ve read and absorbed so much of their writing and speaking.

Yet, there I was, at the end of 2017, with a failed business and drowning in debt from holding on to that business for too long.

How does that happen?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Awareness Parading As Knowledge

I had awareness, not knowledge. Although I understood all of the principles behind growth, marketing, profit, and more, I still failed. Why? Because none of it turned into knowledge.

So, obvious question: how do we turn awareness into knowledge?

The process outlined in the greatest self-help book of all, The Book of Mormon, works.

Gaining Knowledge

First you need a desire to believe – something to hope for, a goal or an outcome. You need a picture of what you’re working towards.

Next, awareness. Study the laws that govern the thing you’re doing, whether it’s marketing, or creativity, or profit, or your personal health or finances. Everything has fundamental laws that if you don’t understand them, or act against them, you cannot succeed.

Then, you act, act, and keep acting. You put one foot in front of the other, put in an hour a day, for as long as it takes. At some point – which neither you and I can know when that point is – that action turns into knowledge at the point where the work you put in creates the desired outcome. You know have knowledge – you wrote 1,000 words a day for three months and now you have the first draft of a 90,000 word manuscript. You made 7 sales calls a day and now you have enough work to grow your business.

You may think you have all the “knowledge” in the world, but you may only have awareness. If we don’t put in the work to turn that awareness into knowledge, we’ll never know what we don’t know. That’s a scary place to be.

How well do you understand the laws that govern your goals, your business, your life? What actions are you making on a daily basis that are intended to help you reach the desired outcome? Have you seen this principle in your own life? Let me know in the comments.

Business Procedures

Over the last ten years I was the CEO of a small (read: two-man) production company called Telekinesis Entertainment. I left that position at the end of 2017 to go back to freelancing on my own.

During those 10 years I had this running note in Evernote that I would periodically update, which kept track of the “policies and procedures” that I would one day plan on putting into a New Employee Handbook, were we ever presented the chance to hire new employees.

While that dream didn’t quite pan out, the principles and procedures I collected are still valuable, so I wanted to make them public and present them in a way where they can be continually updated as I go forward with my new business and on future projects.

Many of these are film related, but my hope is that they can be broadly applied to whatever field you work in as well.

  • Always show up at least an hour before interviews in order to setup properly
  • Check all batteries and cards the night before a shoot.
  • Charge batteries at end of day for multi-day shoot
  • Double check that footage is on hard drive before wiping/formatting card. (Trust but Verify)
  • Eyes on camera during interviews.
  • Always monitor audio.
  • Confirm proper audio signal chain levels, especially wireless transmitters.
  • Check batteries and card level between each interview.
  • Do as much as you can for the client.
    • Buy the hard drive
    • Offer to help them understand file naming and structure
  • Go above and beyond is as many ways as possible. People remember the experience and how they felt more than they remember the details of what you did or said. Make them end the day excited and impressed.
  • Be responsive to the client. Try to never make them wait more than 30 minutes during the work day, and follow up first thing in the morning for any correspondence the evening before or over the weekend. You are not expected to respond after 5pm PST or on weekends.
  • Be protective of your time. We’re only asking that you do what it takes to make the client happy and help the project and business progress. If you constantly find yourself working more than 40 hours per week (other than on-set/production work) please let us know so we can find solutions to streamline your processes or find a way to delegate some of your responsibilities.
  • For long term project contracts, build in future rate increases, or points in the future where that can be discussed.
  • On every video campaign we go through as many different formats and styles as possible to explore the possibilities of the messaging. Look for ways to combine two genres like “bandwagon and funny” or “sexy and fearful”
  • Run the system. Prioritize it. Do it first, do it quickly, but make sure it gets done. Macros/micros. Take them seriously, it’s how the business grows. It’s how your department grows. It’s how you contribute to the future of the company.
  • Strive to make the company a place of honest communication and emotional safety and security.
  • Budgeting a video – add up all hard labor and equipment and food and location costs an multiply by 2 to get to a 50% profit margin on every video.
  • New client calls – ask “tell me about yourself/your business”. Feel out their personality then construct the rest of the conversation in those terms.
  • Ask: what are you resisting?
  • Have an active todo for each lead or project that you’re assigned to.
  • Ask clients: “a month from now, when this project is wrapped up, what would make it a success? What metric is that measured by?”
  • Have a monthly “parking lot meeting” (how do we go from plowing 1 lot per hour to two lots every 30 mins?” Look at every aspect of the business and find ways to increase efficiency, and therefore profit margin.
  • New employee after each increase of $200,000 for senior and $150,000 for junior employees in REAL revenue (net profit after contractors and rentals)
  • The 2.5x per employee is the Real Revenue number. Not gross sales. (You need to make 2.5X what you pay your employees in order to afford them).
  • Domestic flights – arrive 90 mins before departure to allow for skycap check in, taking cars to long term parking, getting into the airport and checkin.

Better Than The Worst

The other day I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, ScriptNotes, where John August, one of the hosts, interviewed indie film producer Keith Calder. While I recommend the enlightening conversation, there was one point in particular that stuck out. Here’s the excerpt:

Keith: …It’s interesting because I think a lot of people, when they’re approaching independent film, are looking at the movies that exist in the marketplace, meaning like things you can just watch on TV or in theaters or on Netflix, and their assumption is, “Well, if I make a movie that’s better than the worst of those then that means I will get to be released in those same ways.”

John: The plus one fallacy.

Keith: Yeah. And it’s the same thing that happens with people writing spec screenplays. They look at the movies onscreen and they say, “Well, if I write a script that’s better than the worst of them then that means that I will be able to succeed.” And it’s just not the way that the world works.

The concept of being “better than the worst of those” made me stop and pull out my writing app and jot down the beginnings of this post. Why? Because I’m guilty of this paradigm, and I’d bet you are too.

This post will dissect what it is, how it hurts us, and what to do about it.

What Creatives Want

To be successful. To be seen. To be appreciated. To be significant. To change the world? I dunno, that last one feels a bit ambitious to me but maybe that’s 100% what you’re about. No judgement here.

We want to do fulfilling work and hopefully get compensated for it, either directly or indirectly. Sure, many of us dream of the huge payday one day, but most if not all of us will be just fine if our bills are paid and we get to do what we love for a living.

Is that too much to ask?

What Creatives Think

That as long as we’re “better than the worst of them” — than the worst that we’ve seen — then we’ll be successful. Except…that’s not reality. Not by a long shot, unfortunately.

Don’t blame the messenger.

What Really Happens

That “what we’ve seen” portion represents about 1% of the total amount of content that exists. That’s right. 1%. Now, because I love math and spreadsheets you’re gonna have to bear with me a sec here.

As an example, in 2016 there were 736 movies released in theaters, comprised of 93 studio films, and 643 indies. However, that’s the tip of the iceberg, and you probably only saw a few dozen of those movies, maybe more if you have a Movie Pass.

4068 films were submitted to Sundance in 2017. (18%) Let’s be generous and say that 1 out of every 10 films made in 2016 submitted to the Sundance film festival. So what we see in theaters represents less than 2% of the total output from filmmakers, and again, you only saw a small percentage of those movies.

In case I managed to make things super confusing, if you see 50 newly-released movies in a year, you’ve only seen about 1% of the movies that were made and submitted to Sundance or put into theaters. So, if your goal is to be “better than the worst of them”, you still have to be better than more than 4,000 other films, at least.

Put another way, even if you’re in the top 2% based on whatever metric you’re measuring this example by, the chances are you’re still not getting into theaters, let alone having a box office hit. That is reserved for the top .01%.

What really happens when you try to be better than the worst? You fail.

Why? Because you didn’t make your best work. You tried to just be a little better than someone else, without even considering what “better” even means. You were trying to score a touchdown on a golf course. Whoops.

What To Do About It

Focus on making the best work you possibly can, on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you”. Don’t hold back. Give it your all.

Find the people that are looking for “it” already, your so-called “tribe”. Learn how to tell people that you made something that they will like based on who they are and what they’ve enjoyed in the past. Keep making more every day and don’t let some arbitrary measurement of success like followers or subscribers or favorites get you down. Beat back the resistance with a massive stick and get to work.

Brian Grazer once said that “good enough equals shitty” . This is a man whose films and TV series have been nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 131 Emmys. He knows a thing or two about what “good” is.

The resolution we must make is to constantly improve. To seek out mentors, examples, and opportunities that will make us better. To do the hard things that lead to progress and growth. To never settle for “good enough” or “better than the worst” examples of what we’ve seen in the world. To strive to be so good that we can’t be ignored.

The Rules Of The Game

Last fall we signed up our middle child, who was 4 and a half at the time, for youth soccer. He’d watched his older brother play for the last two years and wanted badly to play on his own team.

When we got the jersey from the coach he wore it around the house with his hand-me-down soccer cleats for what seemed like a week straight. The smile on his face was as big as the oversized shirt on his tiny frame.

We practiced in the backyard together. I’d pass him the ball and he’d cheer and shout with every goal he scored.

The big day came, a beautiful Saturday morning. All the work – the strutting around the house, the joy and cheering, the countless goals in the backyard – led up to this. He walked onto the field a tad hesitant but still willing. My wife and I and his two other brothers sat on the sidelines with anxious anticipation.

The teams lined up on their youth-sized field, five players per side. The other team waited for the whistle from the referee to start the game.

As soon as the whistle blew, my son stood there as the other team huddled around the ball – as only 4 year olds can do – and dribble-passed it down the field, tripping over each other, to ultimately score the first goal.

I could see the tears well up on my son’s face. He stood still in an attempt at being stoic, but was unable to hold his emotions for long. I saw it coming – as his dad I’d seen it dozens if not hundreds of times before.

He looked at me and I knew it was over. I walked on to the field and picked him up, and he let it all out. Huge cries accompanied huge tears. Soccer broke him, and all it took was about 15 seconds.

So what happened?

After I got him to calm down and regain his composure, I asked him, “what’s the matter?”

His response cut me to the core:

They didn’t give me the ball!

The tears welled up again and he buried his face into my arms.

I realized at that moment that I had failed my son. I forgot to teach him one of the fundamental principles of the game of soccer – that the other team isn’t going to give you the ball.

This story has stuck with me over the last 6 months or so, and has become one of the biggest breakthroughs for me spiritually, financially, and across my whole life.

In order to succeed, you have to know the “rules of the game”.

I have found that there are true principles that govern everything we do.

Yet, so often – like my son – we see someone else having success and we decide to try our hand at it without fully understanding the “rules of the game” or the principles that govern the thing we’re trying to do.

Like seeing a friend with 1 million YouTube subscribers and thinking, “yeah, I should start a YouTube channel”, or a relative with a six-figure-a-year clothing business she started in her basement and thinking, “I could do that!”

I’m not saying you can’t do that, but I AM saying that if you dive head first without any awareness of or respect for the rules of the rules of the game, you’re going to have a hard time finding any success.

Think about it this way: you sit down to a brand new game that you just got on Kickstarter. There are dozens of pieces, hundreds of cards of various types, a timer, six tokens, and a hat for someone to wear, supposedly.

How would you even know where to start if you didn’t read the instructions?

How would you know what to do next?

How would you know how to win?

What’s hard is that we often don’t think of creative pursuits as having rules. This is RIGHT brain territory, where creativity and imagination are allowed to run free! RULES? We don’t need no stinking RULES!

How’s that working out?

For me, it didn’t work out at all. I spent nearly a decade beating my head against a wall trying to figure out how to “hustle” more, or trying to get more followers, or a myriad of other “hacks” and “tactics” to try and brute force my way into a successful career and successful projects. I read all the books, listened to the podcasts, went to the conferences and the meet ups and the networking events. Nothing moved the needle. NOTHING.

It failed every time.

The sad thing is that I’m 34 and I’m just barely learning this lesson. Talk about humbling.

I was going about it all wrong. I had skipped an essential step: learning the rules of the game.

Now, I had an awareness of the rules of the game. I could tell you how to grow your business, or make money off of your art, or get more followers or, or, or, or…

But when it came to my own career, I wasn’t abiding by the principles I was teaching others. I wasn’t playing by the rules.

There’s a difference between having an awareness of the rules, and learning the rules.

Back to our game metaphor. How do you learn the rules? First, you read the manual. Then, you play the game, over and over, until you’ve internalized the rules of the game. Even then, after dozens of rounds of gameplay, you still every now and then have to consult the rule book because you can’t remember. You learn the rules by playing the game.

But what if I lose?

Here’s another takeaway: when you play the game, you’re also – by default – accepting that there will be times where you lose. Someone else will play the game better than you, whether by luck or because they have more experience playing the game, and you will lose.

Does that mean you failed? No, not permanently anyway. It means you haven’t yet learned how to play the game at that level. It means you haven’t internalized the principles. It means you don’t have a strategy that’s been worked out and tested yet.

You can’t get lucky if you don’t try.

But the only way to get those things is to play the game.

Can you succeed without learning the rules of the game? Sure. You could get lucky. It’s possible, certainly, but it’s a terrible long-term strategy. You wouldn’t want to base a career on a lack of understanding of the basic rules of the game. But what about the friend on Instagram who’s getting paid tons of money in sponsorship deals despite paying for the first 10,000 followers?

Just because they’re playing the game differently doesn’t mean they’re right. It doesmean that they did the work to understand the rules enough to know how to shortcut the process, or how to “hack” the game in their favor. It doesn’t mean we want to do the same. The difference between them and you is action. They at least stepped up to play the game.

There’s a process in here that we can pull out and apply to anything in our own lives.

Learn the rules of the game > play the game > gain experience > put together a strategy > know how to win consistently.

The harder the game, the longer it takes to get good at it. Put another way, any time you see an “overnight success”, what you’re actually seeing is the outcome of work, of playing the game, often over hundreds or thousands of nights.

Here’s the best part about all of this though. While the rules may seem restricting, or cumbersome, or arduous, while they may be so overwhelming that it makes you lose any desire to even try to play the game, they also do something else.

Something important.

Something life changing.

The Rules Tell You What To Do Next.

Around the same time as the incident with my son’s soccer game, I realized that I had failed in another aspect of my life as well. I have attended hundreds of meet ups and networking events and conferences in my career, and inevitably at the end of every keynote or panel, when it comes time for the Q&A, I shake my head, fully aware of what’s to come:

“How do I succeed at X?”

“I tried this and it’s already been two weeks and I only gained 10 followers”

“No one is buying my stuff”

Answers that I used to think were stupid and entitled. “Tell me what to do next so I don’t have to figure it out for myself” is how I translated those questions. Oh, and the responses were even worse:

“Hustle”

“24/7/365”

“Hire me as a consultant for $1,000 a month”

Gross.

Here’s where I failed though: I chose to look down on these people who were asking these questions, and I chose to gag at the responses. What I should have done – and what I’ve since chosen to do as much as I can remember to do it – is to see these questions as a cry for help, to translate them into “I don’t know what to do next”.

They just didn’t know the rules of the game. I should be helping them, not criticizing them.

I wanted to be a self-help writer, to put up helpful blog posts, to create courses for creatives, yet I wasn’t playing by the rules of the game. I was hurting more than I was helping, just as I had done inadvertently while teaching my son to play soccer in the backyard. I’d forgotten an essential part of the process.

What About You? What Game Are You Trying To Play?

What is it that you’re trying to do? Start or grow a business? Make some money from your art? Influence more people?

What are the rules of the game? Where can you go to learn them? Who’s successfully played the game before you that you could learn from? How can you start playing the game, getting some experience, figuring out your own winning strategy? What does success look like for you?

What should you do next?


 

I’ve spent the last few months writing down every principle I can think of when it comes to being a creative professional. I’m going to share them here on the blog as well as in some courses that I’m putting together. The first one is encapsulated in this short, 5-email course called Anything You Want, which expands on this principle of learning the rules of the game. If you enjoyed this post, I know you’ll like this course. It’s free, and you can get the first lesson with just putting in your email address below. Thanks for reading!

Fighting “The Resistance” While Traveling

The “resistance” has reared it’s ugly head on this most recent trip to Italy. My wife booked a wedding out here in Rome last year so we’ve been looking forward to it for a while, and decided to extend the trip into a 2 week Italy/Barcelona excursion. So far it’s been cold but hasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

I was mostly excited to have some extra time to write and make progress on some of my goals. Without the commitment to leave at 8am every morning and go to work for 8 hours, I felt a huge opportunity to spend more time being creative.

So, I hopped on the 8 hour flight from Philadelphia to Rome, put my laptop on my tray table, and… slept. The whole time.

I did wake up for numerous bathroom breaks and to eat some cheap airline food, but other than that, I didn’t even crack my laptop once. Pathetic, I thought.

Arriving in Rome, we did some sight seeing and got home early because of the time difference (+8 hours from Utah). We both fell asleep around 6am, which meant I was WIDE awake at 1am, as I normally only get about 6.5 hours of sleep a night. Not recommended, but it’s what I can do at the moment.

I got up to write since I had all of this energy and went out into the living room area. Cracked open the laptop and… wasted about three hours of time. I did manage to write a few emails to get ahead on my Daily Mormon email list, but wrote exactly ZERO words on my book, which is what I had intended to do. Pathetic, yet again.

Yesterday, we took a train to Venice. The total time was 3.75 hours, so clearly I had ample time to write. You’ll never guess what happened…

Normally when I set out to get some deep work done I make a concerted effort to turn off my notifications, close the door, flip on Brain.fm for some extra neuro-awesomeness, and then start a Freedom session to really make sure nothing interrupts me. Sure, it would be easier to just turn off the wifi and go to work, but we all have our process.

Naturally, then it should have been easier to write on a train with wifi that was existent but not functional. Yet, that’s how resistance works. It flips the script on you. What should have been a boon ended up being the death of my writing habit for the day. To be honest, the habit didn’t even put up a fight.

“No WiFi!?! Well, looks like I’M not getting anything done today.”

Pathetic.

It wasn’t until this morning that I actually realized what had happened. The resistance won a battle I didn’t even know I was in. 

The takeaway is that the resistance is always there, always seeking an opportunity to prevent you from doing your work, to stop your art or your writing from being able to affect the world in the way you want to. Each of us has a different, personalized version of it, and we each need to know how to recognize it and fight it.

This morning I got up after a luxurious 8.5 hours of sleep, made sure I did my morning routine, and am sitting here writing. (With working WiFi…)

It’s a never-ending battle with resistance, and there will be days that we lose. The important thing is that we get back up the next day to fight it again, and again, and again.

2017 Year In Review

I want to make this a more official, annual post, so here it goes. 2017 was an interesting year, to say the least, and that interesting-ness spread into every aspect of my world – political, financial, career, physical, etc.

I want to make sure that I remember all the good things rather than focus on just the bad parts of the year, with the hope of increasing the good and reducing the bad in my life in 2018.

This year I turned 34, which seemed – for whatever reason – a bigger deal than both 33 and 30, the two previous benchmarks for emotionally charged birthdays.

Here’s some of the great stuff that happened this year: Continue reading 2017 Year In Review

Real Work – Steven Pressfield

Real work and real satisfaction come from the opposite of what the web provides. They come from going deep into something—the book you’re writing, the album, the movie—and staying there for a long, long time.

~Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield is a favorite author of mine. He’s the one who brought us the idea of “the resistance” in his book The War of Art, a book I try and read at least once a year.

This concept of going deep has been on my mind for a few years. I loved Cal Newport’s book Deep Work and highlighted it to death. But highlighting a book and implementing the principles it teaches you are two entirely different things.

(One is a few orders of magnitude harder as well…)

A goal I have for the new year and beyond is to stop spreading myself so thin with as many projects as I can think of, and instead going deep on one (maybe two) things.

I have a book I’m working on, a screenplay, a web series, and a website that I’m trying to get off the ground, and the only ones I’ve been able to make any meaningful progress on are the book and the screenplay, and only when I block out a few hours a day with no distractions – no phone, no internet, nothing – and going deep.

I want to do that more often, but I’m my own worst enemy. So, that in mind, I’m going to do much more creating and much less consuming going forward.

 

Advice For A Homesick Elder

One of my step-brothers just started his two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like many of us who served a mission, especially those who served in a foreign country, he’s struggling with a bit of homesickness.

Here’s a recent email I sent him. Feel free to send it along to anyone who might need it.

I feel your pain man. We’ve all been there. Here are a few thoughts:
Confide in your trainer, other missionaries, mission leaders & mission president. They’ll have lots of experience and advice, especially because they have the authority to receive revelation on your behalf. Humbly seek them out, ask for help & guidance, and be willing to do what they say.
Serve. Serve your companion. Serve people in your ward. Serve random people on the street. Want to know something interesting about charity? Read Moroni 7. You cannot have charity for yourself, it is only charity when it’s outward love and concern for the well being of others. (That’s the “forget yourself” part of the quote.)
There are specific answers for you if you’ll seek them out. The scriptures talk about “diligently searching”. That signifies effort, that it may be hard. But, at least in my experience, it takes going through some tough, humbling times in order to get to a point where you’re willing to listen to those answers. They may be unexpected. They may be different than what you thought was possible. They may push you out of your comfort zone.
Ponder what it would look like if you didn’t have homesickness. What would you do with the extra time and energy you currently spend being homesick? What does a version of Elder Nielson look like without the homesickness? How does he get up? What does he do in the mornings? How does he interact with his companion? How does he serve? How does he teach?
• There’s a line of thinking that says that everything comes down to two base emotions: pleasure and pain. Those two emotions are the reason we do anything, or don’t do anything. So, if you’re homesick, it stands to reason that it’s one of two things. Pleasure: the mission is hard, and so it’s more “pleasurable” to think back to your life before your mission in a “homesick” way. You’re homesick because it’s easier. That speaks to the pain as well – missions are hard. You feel incapable, slow, behind, like an outsider, or unwelcome. These are the emotions satan uses to reinforce the pain of becoming the missionary the Lord wants you to be. Missions are HARD. You’ve literally ripped yourself from your life that you’ve known forever and have been dropped into a new country, with a new language, new people, new cultures, etc. That’s HARD for ANYONE, especially an 18/19 year old kid who doesn’t speak the language and has nothing to hold onto that’s a constant thing.
Except that you do. You have the Lord. You have the scriptures. You have the Holy Ghost, that’s capable of teaching you all things, guiding you, etc. So you’ve got to rely on the things that remain constant.
• There’s another thought that comes from Stoicism, a fairly old philosophy that even pre-dates Christianity. One of the principles of Stoicism that I love says that “The Obstacle Is The Way”. What’s it mean? It means that whatever your biggest obstacle is – take the feeling of homesickness – rather than trying to ignore it, or forget it/not think about it, you actually turn and lean into it. You take homesickness and use it to make you a better missionary. One example of how to do that: you’re homesick because you miss your family. Your mom and your siblings. Imagine that feeling multiplied 100x – that’s probably what people who have lost a loved one to death or tragedy are feeling when they think about what happens after they die. You can use your experience of experiencing the emotions around homesickness to better connect with investigators and teach them about the plan of salvation. That’s just one idea.
You can use the feelings of homesickness to strengthen the relationship you have with your companion and other missionaries. Treat them like brothers. Learn about their lives, find commonalities, grow closer together. They become your surrogate family while you’re away, and those friendships last forever. As I type this I’m right in the middle of working on a project that my mission trainer sent me – we work together every few months on film projects even though we’ve been home for over 12 years.
See if there’s a way to use “the obstacle is the way” when it comes to this trial, because that practice you put in on dealing with this struggle will help you with the next, and the next, and the next.
• On my mission, about 6 or 8 months in, I got a call from the mission president. In the MTC I was the district leader, and we had 6 elders and 4 sisters. We all got really close, and I felt a great love for the sisters especially, because I knew how hard it was for some of them to leave on the mission.
On this call, I found out that one of the sisters, sister Dickens, had gone home early from depression. She had some heavy stuff she was dealing with, and over thanksgiving break in 2003, she committed suicide. She took her life because she couldn’t overcome the stuff in her head.
The reason I tell you this is not to scare you. It’s because going through that on the mission helped me tremendously when I returned home a few years later and found out my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I was there, five years and a few months after that, in the hospital when she took her last breath. I closed her eyes after her spirit had left her body, and felt peace. I knew where she had gone. I know that my experience would have been incredibly different if I had not had a personal experience with the death of a friend prior to that. Going through this hard time is going to make you stronger and better and a stronger instrument for the Lord – as long as you don’t give up and don’t let it get the best of you. It’s going to be hard. There will be harder things down the road. Decide now that when you have hard times that you are determined to figure it out, press on, endure, and make it through.
The Lord needs you, Elder. You specifically. You’ve been called and put in the mission and the area and companionship you have been put in because there’s no one else on earth that can do what you can do for the people you’re there to serve. So whenever you find yourself getting homesick, take a step back, try to see a broader perspective, and realize that you’re there to become the person the Lord needs you to be to help his work move forward, but also that there are people specifically praying for you, who need you to serve them, and they need every bit of you. So, in those immortal words, forget yourself, and go to work. 

The Resistance Is Real

Guys. The resistance. It’s real.
 
Two days ago I parted ways with my business that I’ve been running for about 10 years now. The moments and days that have followed have me realizing that my options are infinite. That feeling is equal parts motivating and crippling. 
 
If you can do anything you want, how do you decide what is and isn’t valuable? How do you define “value” in the first place? Why seek “something of value” at all?
 
After the crippling thoughts came the crippling guilt . “What if the thing I want to do isn’t big enough? Isn’t valuable enough? Doesn’t provide value to the “right” people? Or provides more value to me than it does to others?
 
What if what I’m “supposed” to be doing is much, much bigger than what I’m considering doing?
 
If you’re looking for answers to these questions as well, I’m sorry. This isn’t that kind of a post.
 
The thing I realized today is that all these issues do one thing well: prevent you from creating anything at all. 
 
Questions like these are ones that I’ll never be able to answer. They only serve “the resistance”, as Steven Pressfield calls it.
 
They prevent you from writing, from creating, from putting your art into the world.
 
To divert a little bit, I love Seth Godin’s definition of “art”, that it’s the idea that a human puts out into the world. Whether it’s received or not is irrelevant.
 
So, after two days of crippling questions and expectations and fighting the resistance, I opened wordpress and started typing. This is what came out.
 
There’s no such thing as “writer’s block”. I stand by that. Because I didn’t have anything to write about, that is, until I started writing. That’s what I’m going to try and do when the resistance shows up again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.
 
When the resistance comes, (figuratively) get out your pen, and write.