Rituals: You Do Them Because You Have To

Because I write daily, people often ask me how it’s possible. How do I write something worthwhile every day? How do I stay motivated?

The answer to both questions is simple and the same: I don’t.

Let’s tackle quality first.

It’s not possible for every article I write to resonate. Not with everyone, not every time. I write every day because doing so is an exercise in thinking critically. As I put words on the page, the gears in my head are whirring, attempting to create some meaning or insight. It’s not always great in the end, but more often than not, the exercise does its job and gives me (and you) something worth thinking about.

My hope is that, over the days, weeks, months, and years, many of the posts I write will touch people in a way that matters. And maybe, just maybe, a few of the pieces will shift something profound in the minds of readers that will cause them to make a massive change in their lives.

Now let’s talk about motivation.

I’m not motivated to write every day. In fact, about half the time I feel apathetic toward the idea of opening my browser window and doing the difficult, emotional labor of bringing something meaningful onto the page. Some days it’s a breeze, and other times it’s a real slog.

But I do it anyway.

I do it because it’s my job. I committed to doing it. It’s non-negotiable. It has to happen. There’s zero wiggle room. I’ve written while terribly hungover and while extremely sick.

The only reprieve I get is that I get to decide what’s good enough. I can write two sentences if I feel like it’s enough to convey something useful. My last post barely broke 100 words. So long as the post is up, and something I can stand behind, it goes on my scorecard.

And I think there’s a valuable lesson in this for your work.

When was the last time you committed to something and let yourself off the hook part way through?  When was the last time you pushed a deadline? My bet is fairly recently.

That’s okay. We all do that.

But what would happen if you took one thing, something that could have a major impact on your life, work, or relationships, and you turned it into a ritual; something you did because you had to, regardless of quality or motivation?

What would happen if you committed to making your partner dinner every weeknight? What would happen if you committed to wake up at the same time every day, regardless of daily output or the time you went to sleep? What would happen if you committed to make a genuine connection to a person in your field of work every single day?

I’m guessing that over the next six months, a few things would happen. First, you’d get a lot better at that thing. Second, the other person(s) in the equation would certainly notice. And third, maybe whatever it was would stop feeling optional. Then you could take on a new ritual.

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True North: Pick Your Purpose or Live Somebody Else’s

I don’t believe there’s an intrinsic purpose to life. No true north. Seriously, I don’t.

Instead, I believe that we all get to make up our own purpose, and that it only has meaning to us.

Nobody cares about your purpose. They only care about their purpose, or whatever it is they believe to be their purpose at any given moment.

So the question you need to ask yourself is not, “what is my purpose?”

The right question is, “am I trying to live my life according to somebody else’s purpose?”

If the answer is yes, the only thing to do is stop.

Then do that thing that only you want to do.

Pick your own true north.

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Evergreen: On Doing Work That Stands the Test of Time

Evergreen
/ˈɛvəɡriːn/
adjective
Relating to or denoting a plant that retains green leaves throughout the year.

We often talk about being evergreen when we’re talking about content. Content that is evergreen sticks around. It may not last forever, but it does last a very long time.

A blog post can be evergreen. So can a book, a movie, a business, or a building. Rick Astley’s song, Never Gonna Give You Up, is evergreen. And so is Warren Buffett’s business, Berkshire Hathaway. Evergreen work is what Ryan Holiday calls a perennial seller in his book by the same name.

Creating evergreen work takes early mornings and late nights. It takes consistency. It takes digging deep and pulling out ideas that others have overlooked. It takes synthesizing hundreds or thousands of pieces of information to come up with a new way of looking at the world. In short, it takes time and effort.

And sadly, most of us aren’t up for it. Most of us get caught up in doing work that’s not evergreen. Instead we obsess over work with a short shelf-life.

We do things like publishing e-books written by others for profit, instead of publishing incredibly useful and unique insights based on our personal experience or in-depth research. Things like building yet another online course to teach people how to build online courses. Things like building drop shipping sites to game the margins and make a a few quick bucks.

This “work” doesn’t last, and it doesn’t have an impact. They are flashes in the pan. Thieves in the night that steal your true self’s unrequited passion and dreams.

Don’t do that! Your super short time on this planet is undoubtedly worth more than that.

Instead, be evergreen.

Not only is being evergreen far more impactful and fulfilling, it’s actually the easier path.

Because so many people are obsessed with being just a little better than the person who came before them or the person down the street, gaming the margins, and looking for profit, that means there’s a lot less competition for evergreen work. It means that you actually have a shot at making a lasting impact.

If you ignite your passion in the bowels of your soul, wallow in incomprehensible complexity, and press on through the sleet and hail and frozen wasteland that is obscurity, you have a chance. A fleeting, but real chance.

No, not a chance at fame or money or power. Those vain goals will only take you back to the place you came frome. What you have a chance to do is to make something that lasts. Something that people, perhaps only a few dozen, will talk about for decades to come.

But of course I’m lying. You also have the chance at becoming a millionaire with your own talk show. That, too, could happen. But it’s not worth focusing on.

In either scenario, rich and famous or incredibly normal, it’s much better to strive to do work that lasts than to put around margins and fight for meager scraps.

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Everything is Political

If you haven’t noticed the rise in political sensitivity over recent years, you’re likely living a blissful life. These days it seems we can’t talk about anything without politics getting involved. So much so that we avoid certain conversations in certain settings with certain people.

Perhaps we don’t want to hear their opinion or they don’t want to hear ours. Whatever it may be, that’s our business because those are our private lives.

But when it comes to the online world, it seems we’re slowly on the path to everything being considered public. We’ve shifted away from privacy rights and into the land of data for hire. Because, after all, the places we express our opinions, like Facebook, are not private domains, no matter how much we wish they were.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft), the once beloved bastions of public discourse and online freedom, are increasingly in the spotlight regarding free speech, censorship, and breaches of privacy, receiving scrutiny from both sides of the political aisle.

But we must remember that these entities are publicly traded companies. They have an obligation to keep their platforms in good standing with the public and the media, to ensure their shareholders’ wealth grows. So the data protections will become more robust, and the censorship more strict.

However, in recent years, we’ve seen the failures of these tech behemoths. And that spotlight has intensified.

It’s intensified so much that, if you’d like to boost a post on Facebook that’s political, you can’t. At least, not unless you want to endure a lengthy, outdated, and flawed identity verification process.

And of course the problem that’s becoming more and more apparent is: what’s not considered political today? 

Almost every important topic you can imagine is political, by definition, because if it’s important we all hope our politicians are discussing it.

Censorship may do something to stop hateful speech and fake news on any given platform, but it has the real potential to prevent public discourse on incredibly important topics as well.

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How to Catch More Fish

Well meaning advice givers will try to console you after your recent breakup or job loss.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of fish in the sea. That partner/job/passion just wasn’t right for you.

Really? That’s your advice?

Were there plenty of fish in the sea when you couldn’t stop wetting the bed? What about when you fell down for the 100th time learning to walk? How about the three years you ate hamburgers with only the meat and bread? Were those appropriate times for plenty of fish one-liners?

Of course not.

What people fail to realize when they dole out cliches is that they’re almost always useless to the recipient. Nobody wants to hear that their solution is to stop feeling bad right now because eventually something else will come along. Moreover, this cliche advice can reinforce harmful habits.

Instead of burning through girlfriends or job opportunities or friendships or passions like they were Tinder dates or a pack of gum, in hopes of finding “the one,” perhaps it makes more sense to figure out why they don’t tend to stick around.

Instead of looking for more fish, what would happen if you discovered there was a hole in your net and fixed it?

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Money is a Story

Seth Godin repeatedly tells us that money is a story. Recently, in this post, he beautifully illustrated the point with a few apt examples.

I resonate with this idea.

Since selling Coworking Insights last year, I’ve had a far better story about money than ever before in my life. A story of abundance, if you will. Whereas my story of money used to cause me immense stress, for the last 12 months it’s been relatively benign, even quite positive at times.

What changed?

Well, obviously, after the sale, the digits in my bank account changed significantly. I went from dancing with the red line to sitting comfortably away from it. Suddenly, I had a large buffer between me and and an overdraft fee. I felt a sense of invincibility.

But this feeling didn’t last forever.

Slowly, slowly the story began to shift. Suddenly, there was a new barometer for my bank account. A minimum threshold that I couldn’t bear to dip below. If I got close to my new lower limit, I’d open up spreadsheets and login to my bank accounts and build complex projections to ensure it wouldn’t happen. All this stress because of a new number, even though the new number was 100x my old number.

What changed this time?

The digits stayed relatively the same, and so did my habits.

What changed was that the fear came back. The fear of loss, the fear of myself, the fear of my old way of living. That fear itself created the new barometer and held me to it, causing nearly as much stress as I’d felt when I was broke. And it’s still there. Likely, it will never go away.

That is part of the reason why Seth says money is a story.

Changing your story about money has nothing to do with the number in your bank account. It has to do with your expectations. It has to do with your belief about what money is for.

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Fake It Till You Make It Is Bad Advice

Fake it till you make it. We’ve all said it at some point in our lives, whether to ourselves or to a struggling colleague. But the problem is that this is bad advice.

Nobody likes a faker, a pretender, or a charlatan. Nobody likes a person that makes bold claims, but fails to deliver the goods. So much so that we’ve passed laws to hold those who do so accountable.

There’s now a whole industry built to nudge you into the direction of fakery. Books that can tell you, in 10 simple steps, how to be an expert at anything. People that will teach you how to build a thriving life coaching business, so long as you sign up for their expensive online course. Conferences dedicated to pumping you up, inflating your ego, and showing you why you deserve to make a ton of money.

But these too are forms of fakery. Systems built to sell a dream and make you feel good about yourself. Built to sell fake it till you make it. But that ultimately leave you with a hole in your bank account and not much closer to your goal.

I advocate something better. Instead of faking your way to expert status, I suggest you experience your way there.

Instead of claiming to be a social media marketing expert, spend your own money and hours upon hours of time testing various post types and ads.

Instead of getting that life coaching certification, find a friend and help them with a real problem, then find more friends and repeat the process. Do this for years and document the process.

Instead of trying to raise the profile of your writing career, write more. Much more.

The only way to make it is to do it. No fakery allowed.

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Time Travel for the Soul: On Rediscovering Your Old Passion

While conducting some SEO research today, I stumbled upon a personal blog from almost ten years ago, which I’d completely forgotten about. It is awesomely called RChatterton Blog Blog.

I lost an hour reading through old posts and watching videos I’d made of projects I’ve long-since forgotten about.

As I read, I was surprised by the ideas I had been able to articulate at the time. Compared to my writing today, there were many similarities in conceptual thought and style. The content was refreshingly naive, oddly thought-provoking, and filled with a passion I haven’t felt for the better part of a decade.

But today, that little relic of my past sparked something profound. Some ancient force like the Balrog from Lord of the Rings, a burning passion that had lied dormant, sprang from the deep parts of my soul.

While I’m lucky to say that today 95% of my work is writing, in that moment I realized I’ve always been a writer, and that some part of me has consistently been clawing its way out, no matter how much life and circumstances attempt to burry it.

I traveled back in time today.

You can too, and I think you should.

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Sick Days: A Reminder of Mortality and an Obligation to Dare More

It’s folly to believe you won’t ever take a sick day. We’re all human after all, so getting sick is an inevitability. Days when all we want to do is sleep, eat hot soup, drink tea, and curl under a blanket.

But even with all their misery, sick days are ultimately good.

Sick days provide us the much-needed excuse to take a break, to reflect, to consider what’s important in our lives.

It’s true! In a world where we invent apps like Headspace and Calm to force us to take this self-reflective time, sometimes what’s needed is a dose of reality.

And that reality is this: we’re all mortal. We get sick, we get old, we die. Sick days are a reminder of that mortality. They are a simple nudge from life that reminds us of our smallness and our ultimate lack of control.

In a world where we do our best to delude ourselves into believing that we’ll live forever, sick days put us in our place. They remind us about how utterly precious our lives are. They egg us on, cajoling us to dare more, love more, and stoke the fire that burns like wild inside each of us.

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Get Back on That Horse

Inevitably, there will be a time when you set out to do something positive, but find yourself sliding back into old habits. Be it your morning routine, an exercise habit, or some sort of enlightenment practice like meditation.

Setbacks are inevitable. The Lizard Brain, as Seth Godin calls it, is powerful. It’s that old part of our brain that thinks about survival, but it’s also the part that’s used to all our old habits.

When a setback occurs, don’t get down on yourself. We’ve all been there. We will all be there again.

Instead, stand up, brush the dust of your trousers, and recall the purpose for which you set out to change in the first place.

Tomorrow is another day, so get some sleep, and get back on that horse.

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