I’m writing this to you from a coffee shop outside of Chicago, Illinois.
But really… I’m really writing to you from the front lines of building something that matters.
A unique place where ambition meets purpose.
And we need to talk.
Konstantine by Something Corporate plays endlessly in the background.
Most often, when I write and don’t know how to start, I just focus on being honest.
I’m struggling to find product market fit… with myself.
This is getting harder.
My wife calmly reminds me that there are people that I’ve helped and things that I’ve done that are important.
But I want to do something bigger.
A bigger what?
A bigger business? Yes.
But a bigger impact? FUCK YES.
As of late, I find myself thinking often of legacy.
When I die, will I have been a proper steward of everything that I’ve been given?
Will my children be proud of their father?
My funeral will be nice. I’m sure. Yours will, too. I promise.
Let’s be honest. Most funerals are sad grasps at claiming the deceased lived a meaningful life.
The truth is, most of us are so selfish that our lives really aren’t that meaningful.
So I want a meaningful life, if I’m really honest here, it’s not that I’m afraid of not leaving the legacy that I want to.
It’s that I’m afraid to leave that legacy.
It’s that I’m terrified that I want so much more.
To those who know me well, this isn’t new.
But I think that sometimes, from the outside looking in , “terrified” isn’t the word that people would use to describe me.
I’m scared to want more, scared to move up to the next level…
because I’m barely surviving this one.
I’ve always read stories of people who self sabotage and thought, “What a loser. Why would you ever hold yourself back?”
And yet I re-hash the last year of my life and see it in every area.
I sabotage my meditation with work.
I sabotage my health with 11pm junk food binges.
I sabotage my sleep with Netflix.
I sabotage my productivity with YouTube.
I sabotage all of my relationships with all of the above weighing so heavily on me that I’m never really myself.
Recently, I read a thought from Sarah Doyal about buying material things:
“We buy material things in an attempt to satisfy our desires for greater, less tangible pursuits. There might be many reasons we do this, but one is the most important, and that is fear. We fear the thing we want; we find it to be so big, or our own hunger for it so intimidating, that we choose surrogate objects because they’re more attainable. Safer. These proxies will never be enough, however, and the resulting dissatisfaction may even sharpen our need rather than dull it.”
Sarah was writing about buying a shirt to support vegan activism, something she is extremely passionate about.
But instead of engaging in the activity, she bought a material good to supplant it.
I wonder how often I do this, not with goods, but with knowledge.
I learn about personal branding instead of working on my personal brand.
I learn about video editing instead of creating a new video.
I look at my Google Analytics instead of writing a new guest post.
I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with me, but I’m exhausted. I’m on the edge of tears all too often. And I feel really really weak.
But there’s some hope.
A New Formula for Success
What I’m learning (and pay attention here) is that the formula for success that I’ve used for so long, just doesn’t work for me any more.
The formula is: work harder, be passionate, focus on your strengths, practice a lot, don’t quit, and remember to be grateful.
It’s a great formula, but what I think now is that it’s not the formula for success.
It’s the formula for initial success.
That’s why every project that I’ve applied it to has initial success, but slows down or fizzles out at some point.
So here’s what I’m doing. Here… is why there is still hope:
For the next six months I will be pursuing and writing about six different habits. These habits are based on Brendon Burchard’s book “High Performance Habits.” In my own words, they are:
- Seeking Clarity – Who am I and what do I want to be known for? Once decided, it becomes a systematic approach to being that person in all of my interactions and insuring that my output is focused on what I want to be known for.
- Generate Energy – Caring for my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual energy in very specific ways.
- Raise Necessity – Who needs me to be on my A game today? That last sentence has been a driving force for getting more done in the past week than I have in the past month. I’ve gotten away from selfless self improvement and seeing what my work means to others. It’s time to refocus in that area and see why it is such a necessity that I achieve.
- Increase Productivity – Produce at a level that is prolific in the area that I, through seeking clarity, have defined as the area I’d like to be known for. My output is also dependent on my ability to say “no” to things outside of that area.
- Develop Influence – This has more to getting those around me to believe in me and support me than my ability to get somebody else to do what I want. This is NOT becoming an “influencer.”
- Demonstrate Courage – Taking action when it is uncomfortable and when I’m afraid. For me, this also includes putting some skin in the game so I have something to lose if I don’t play 100%.
And it’s going to be a long road ahead. I took a quick assessment and here’s where I am on each of these right now:
Overall, I scored a 3.75 out of 5. That’s a full point lower than high performers.
I scored a 4 out of 5 in Clarity. I have a good start to knowing who I am, but as you know, still don’t know what I want to be known for. I want to write about my faith, intermittent fasting, marketing, and being a dad all at once. Remembering that I can pursue one after the other will be essential in deciding what order to pursue them in. One at a time, Brendan. One at a time.
Unsurprisingly, my Energy is a 3.17 out of 5. I don’t set up my environment to win. I make it really hard to go to the gym (claiming I’ll go at 10pm after my kids are in bed. That lasted two weeks). I make it hard to eat healthy. However, I have made strides recently by deleting Twitter and Instagram from my phone and logging out on my computer. No more mental energy drained by politics or comparing myself to others.
My Necessity score is 3.5 out of 5. I have more than enough in my life and things just don’t feel as urgent as they once were. My feelings of gratitude have led way to complacency, which is unacceptable. My co-workers need me on my A-game. My clients need me on my A-game. My family does as well. I am no longer working for myself. Remembering that daily will be key.
Productivity was at a low 3.5 out of 5. The survey noted that if you’re below a 4.6, it’s really hard to achieve your goals. I can’t just have the “regular” level of output. I need to be prolific. I’m already a beast at productivity techniques, but my problem is always a lack of clarity and spreading myself too thin. I don’t just blog. I blog and podcast and do webinars and youtube videos and and and and….
Influence was my first high score of 4.17 out of 5. People around me want me to success and I’m in that place personally and professionally. I have great steps moving forward on this, but I’m excited to learn more as it ties directly into wanting to have a larger impact, not just a larger business.
Finally, Courage was also a 4.17 out of 5. I take risks. I put myself out there. I raise my hand and take my turn whenever given the opportunity. To be honest, I surprised this wasn’t a 5 out of 5, but I think it’s in that surprise that I’m going to learn a lot about myself.
Taking Action on the Formula
What should be next is me taking a break.
Getting some sleep.
But you and I both know it won’t be.
Next is parsing these out into months and really focusing on one per month. The next article you read from me will be at the end of next month. It’ll be a full writeup of everything that I’ve learned about clarity: clarity on myself and this thing I’m doing.
It will, I hope, be a blueprint you can follow to gain clarity for yourself.
That’s what all this should be. I transform myself, but I also help you do the same.
“When you knock on the door of opportunity, do not be surprised that it is Work who answers.”
Time to get to work.
PS – If you’re reading this at just the right time, if this hit you at the perfect moment you needed to hear it, let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
Finally Getting My Head Above Water (1 Month Later)
Before we dive into any of the “here’s what I did and here’s how it worked” (spoiler: I did a lot. It all worked.), I want to share something really special with you.
I have to be honest that I found this at the eleventh hour and I’m not sure if it was fate, God, luck, or all of the above.
I can’t help but think that maybe I wouldn’t have found this crucial keystone in my thinking had I not continued the daily work of trying to make progress. And then, I guess that’s really been the theme all along. Let me explain.
I was taking a mental break from work and staring blindly at YouTube’s homepage, when this video appeared:
In case you don’t feel like watching it (although I recommend that you do), here’s the synopsis:
The British national rowing team, tired of mediocre performances year after year, find strength in singularity of purpose. Their mantra becomes “Will it make the boat go faster?”
If it doesn’t make the boat go faster, they don’t do it. If it does, no matter how begrudgingly, they do.
And they did that for two years.
For their sustained daily effort over two years, they surprised the world and won an Olympic gold medal.
I watched the video twice and then immediately checked to see if it was on Blinkist (it was!).
Often, I’ve found that a mantra, a small phrase that reminds me of a larger concept, is helpful to quickly righting the boat. “Amor Fati” and “Memento Mori” on my forearms are indications of this.
So for the last few days, I’ve been asking myself “will this make the boat go faster?”
Will eating chips and candy make the boat go faster? No. So I don’t.
Will going to bed at a reasonable hour make the boat go faster. Yes. So I do.
And yes, I realize watching five episodes in a row of Better Call Saul until 1AM basically sank the boat, but this is still a work in progress.
The boat could be anything. It could be everything. My fitness. My relationships. My work.
If it isn’t getting me closer to my goals, I need a reminder not to do it.
Maybe it was all the work that I did leading up to this fated phrased lodging itself in my mind that allows it to be effective. Since reading that first chapter on Clarity, here’s what I found in the last month:
My first step in finding clarity was figuring out who I wanted to be to the people that I cared most about. I set forth looking deeply at myself, ways others wanted to see me, and the ways that I wanted them to see me. Ultimately, the goal is to arrive at aligning my actions with how I want to be seen and allow that to become who I am.
How it turned out: Fantastic. Assuming that your spouse is doing their best at all times and attempting to put yourself in their shoes is always the right answer. A phrase that I come back to often is that “love is not a word, it is an action, a choice. Love is a commitment to doing the work of relating to another person when they are, simply, unlovable.”
How it turned out: I haven’t always been the most present present, creative, or strong dad, but this month really changed that. Having 3 words to come back to at all times really set a strong intention. Am I fully present? If not, I handle it. What can I do right now that’s creative, or silly? Easy. For this one, points go up on the scoreboard when I get an unprompted “Dad, you’re so silly,” from one of the kids. I think we had more of those last month than ever before.
- Student / Teacher
How it turned out: To be honest, I’m not sure how it panned out from their end, but I know that from mine, I was just noticing myself more and more ranting about things to be funny. The problem is, you come off like a fucking madman when you do that. Once and awhile, it’s funny. Multiple times per day, you’re Rick Sanchez. I caught myself many times keep comments and things to myself because I didn’t want to bring others down. I also dove into more ways to teach those around me whether through resources or internal talks. I also spent a good amount of time working with our project managers and getting feedback on how I can make their work lives (and lives in general) better. I’m looking forward to implementing those things this month.
How it turned out: I dropped the ball on this one. While I did a much better job communicating with them, my gratitude was trash. I was, mostly, an ungrateful jerk to the people who sacrificed to set my, and my family, up for all of the success that we have now. Obviously, I’m still thinking about this one.
Primary Field of Interest (PFI): Online Marketing
“It’s that high performers get more things done that are highly valued in their primary field of interest.”
After considering SEO as my primary field of interest, I realized that this one was one facet of online marketing that I wanted to master. If I had to break it down into three skills, it was SEO, link-building, and video marketing/production.
Based on the exercises in the book, I outlined three ways that I’d improve my skills in those areas every week.
Skill #1: SEO
- Subscribe to larger blogs in an RSS Feed
- Build a stronger relationship with smart SEOs
- Find a mentor
Skill #2: Link-Building
- Re-watch Ryan Stewart’s course for new / more ideas
- Look for case studies on what’s worked for other SEO’s
- Be more active within SEO communities: Moz, Marketing Inc, Fb groups, etc.
Skill #3: Video
- Video production courses
- YouTube courses
- Making shit and learning from it
The exercise also has you going through what it’ll take to be world class in these skills in the next five or ten years. Honestly, with the world changing at the pace that it is, I didn’t find it helpful to guess and map toward that.
I then laid out how I was going to achieve clarity and progress in all of these skills with a series of prompts that Burchard refers to as the clarity “chart.” Here’s what that looks like:
THE CLARITY CHART
Three words that describe my best self are . . . hustle, heart, and fit.
Some ideas for how I can embody these words more often this upcoming week are . . . getting better sleep, getting primary work tasks done, and training once this week.
Three words that could define how I want to treat other people are . . . empathetic (wife), creative (work/kids), and positive (work).
Some people in my life whom I could improve my interactions with this week include . . . my wife, my kids, and my colleagues.
The five skills I’m trying to develop most in my life right now are . . . The way I can learn or practice those skills this week includes . . .
Skill #1: SEO → Read one article on SEO – Start a dialogue with two smart SEO people around my level in SEO communities that I’m a part of (like this and this).
Skill #2: Link-Building → Review case studies for infographics, start interacting on Moz, Read one article on LB. In fact, I read a lot of articles on link building like this, this and this.
Skill #3: Video → Review my notes from Alex Becker’s course and plot next steps. Also watched a few really helpful videos like this, this, and this. Additionally, I tapped into a few friends that knew quite a bit about YouTube and put together some really helpful and tactical advice regarding video creation and marketing.
Three simple ways I can add value to those around me this week are follow up with EPIC. Reach out to be helpful about a team member being out. Make office coffee.
Something I could do this week with real focus and excellence to help someone else is summarize my findings from PM interviews with action items.
Focus on the Feeling
The main feelings I want to cultivate in my life, relationships, and work this week include tenacity around working out and getting “boring” work done.
The way I will generate these feelings is to knock out the most important work for people who depend on me when I have the most mental energy.
Define What’s Meaningful
Something I can do or create that would bring me more meaning in life is feeling progress towards my fitness goals. Also reminding myself what’s at stake if I fail at this.
So I finished that chart and reviewed it every Monday for a month.
I found it really effective to plan out my week based on that chart. As a recovering Google Calendar Addict, I just blocked out time to execute each of these items and then protected those time blocks ruthlessly.
I think these exercises have been immensely helpful for me in getting more clear on what I want in my life. I’ve been able to say “no” to a lot more things with the added clarity.
I hope these thoughts are helpful for you. If you know a high achiever who feels completely underwater, I’d love it if you’d share this with them. If that’s you, leave a comment below or get in touch with the contact form.
Random Things I Read and Enjoyed:
Design’s Lost Generation by Mike Monteiro – “Anyone who influences what the design becomes is the designer. This includes developers, PMs, even corporate legal. All are the designers.” While I would never assume to take on the title/talent/skill/work from anybody else, I think the reminder of how *important* the we do here on the internet was a great reminder for me.
The Teens Will Save Us by Dina Leygerman – A strong reminder that this next generation isn’t going to put up with our crap. I sure hope Dina’s right.
Random Things I Watched That Were Meaningful:
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