Do The Work You Love

Do you yearn to do work you love, but struggle to take the next step or even know what the next step is? I want to help you. Here's why.

So many times, the things I really want to do are the things I’m most scared to do.

Like most of you, I’m curious and I love learning. I have tons of interests and could probably be happy pursuing many different things. But if I’m honest, it doesn’t take much soul-searching to find the things about which I’m truly the most passionate.

But for some reason, I can’t even let my mind GO there. Because those things? Those are the things that are truly impossible. Those are the things at which I will absolutely, undoubtedly fail.

Or so my mind tells me.

For me, those things are creating content (podcasting, writing, making videos, etc.) and helping people. Specifically, helping people through my content creation.

But I’m afraid. And if you’re afraid too, then I want you to know you’re not alone. I know what it’s like to doubt myself on a level so deep it’s almost impossible to reach. I know what it’s like to spend YEARS standing on the dock and never diving in because I’m afraid I will fail, or worse, end up looking foolish. I know so deeply what it’s like to yearn to do work I love, but just can’t bring myself to do it, because I don’t think I have anything unique to offer. I’m an echo. Not a voice.

A very famous (and smart) guy was recently quoted as saying, “Be a voice. Not an echo.” And I understand what he meant, but it was so discouraging to hear, because my deepest fear is that I’m nothing more than an echo.

Whether or not that’s true is for another newsletter, but even if it is, I want you to remember this: History has proven that sometimes the echoes rang louder and truer than the original.

So DO the things that scare you. Face your fears. In all likelihood, the things you’re afraid you are, you probably aren’t. But even if you are, embrace them and do them anyway. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’ve missed the boat on doing the work you love. Or that too many people are already doing it, or that the “market is too saturated”, whatever the fuck that means.

For me, that means I’m going full speed ahead building my business of helping people overcome their fears and do the work they love. Are other people doing that? Yes. Am I just an echo? Maybe. But I’m going to be an echo that rings so loud and so true that no one will care.

And you can too.

You Matter

If you've been following along for any length of time, you know I write a lot about my fear of failure, insecurity and chronic self-doubt.

I write about this stuff because I’m constantly plagued by it and it’s always in my head. Every time I open Photoshop or Sublime Text, or iA Writer, or sit down at the drum kit, I fight with a voice that says “Your work is terrible. You have no skill. You don’t matter.”

A therapist would probably tell me this has something to do with my childhood and upbringing, and maybe it does, but I’ve never been able to shake it. Even in the height of “success”, I’m still filled with doubt.

If you feel that way, I want you to know that you do matter. I know how helpful it can be to hear that from someone else, even if deep down you know it’s true. You matter.

You may not realize it, but you impact the lives of people all around you. That’s an incredible responsibility.

A few month ago I was at a tiny web conference in Greenville. A guy walked up to me and said he loved my podcast (The Gently Mad) and that it was the reason he was there that day.

He told me how he had always dreamed of taking his life by the reigns and getting into the web industry so he could quit his job and do something he loved.

He told me that my podcast had given him the inspiration needed to move his family across the country and go through a web design and development course taught by The Iron Yard. He was graduating that day and just wanted to let me know how my show had encouraged him and given him the push he needed to start this new life.

I was completely floored. I had just finished whining to a friend for an hour about how nothing I did in life seemed to matter very much. How I had nothing to offer and nothing to say that hadn’t already been said.

And then that guy showed up. I knew nothing about him and yet he had been listing to my show and it had impacted him.

There are people like that in your life right now. People you don’t know, whose lives are being affected by what you do.

Zig Ziglar is famous for saying:

You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.

This should give you pause (and fill you with hope). Regardless of the size of your audience, you have an opportunity. Don’t miss that opportunity by believing the voice in your head that tells you you don’t matter.

The next time you sit down to write or design or create something, remember that there are people out there who are listening. You may never hear from them, but they’re there and they need you.

And that matters. A lot.

The Horn Doesn’t Matter

I've been a musician since I was 5 years old. My parents afforded me the opportunity to play lots of different instruments and one of my favorites was the trumpet.

I spent hours listening to stacks of jazz and classical records from heroes like Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and Doc Severinsen, and dreamed of being able to play like them.

But there was a problem. I hated practicing. Practicing was hard. In reality, I was more obsessed with the *idea* of being a great trumpet player, than actually playing. But I wouldn’t figure that out for many years.

So I became obsessed with gear. Even as a kid, I was a gear whore (some things never change).

I thought if I used the same gear as my heroes, I would be a great trumpet player. I would save my allowance and use that money to buy mouthpieces, mutes, bags and other accessories.

One day I was telling my teacher how I planned to save up and buy a Bach Stradivarius (a horn that cost thousands of dollars and was similar to the models played by many of my favorite trumpet players).

He encouraged me to try one first, so I did. My mom drove me to a Ken Stanton music store in Marietta, Georiga (where I grew up) and I asked to play one of those amazing trumpets.

I sat there in a practice room staring at that horn for several minutes before working up the courage to play something. When I finally did, I was shocked that it sounded exactly the same as the beat up Yamaha I had been playing for years.

Needless to say, I was pretty disillusioned. I related the experience to my teacher and he said something to me that I still remember:

“The horn doesn’t matter. It’s how you play it.”

I continued to play trumpet throughout grade school and into college. I always enjoyed it and I was good at it, but I never put in the sweat and practice needed to be great.

I’m a web designer now and I often find myself doing the same thing, obsessing over designs or platforms or processes or mechanisms. It’s easy to get distracted with tools, because some part of me thinks that if I just had a killer design, my blog would take off. Or if I had a better process or writing environment, I would finally be able to be a great writer.

But deep down I know that’s not true. We get good at things by doing them every day. By practicing.

If there’s something you want to do, then just do it. It really is that simple. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

A famous writer has been quoted as saying, “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”

The few successes I’ve had in life can be directly attributed to that philosophy. The philosophy of doing.

My encouragement to you is to start that thing you’ve been putting off. Stop obsessing with the idea of doing something and just do it. I guarantee you’ll be happy with the results.

Confidence: The Holy Grail of Personhood

What is it about putting myself out there that is so compelling? Why do I feel the need to do it over and over again, despite a pretty solid track record of failure?

Even as a child, I dreamed of being a writer. I was fascinated with newspapers and books. I would devour them, imagining my name in the byline, my face on the jacket cover.

I think what lured me in was the idea that one day I could have enough confidence to write. Writing (or podcasting or designing or any form of art) is the ultimate statement of confidence. It’s me saying that I’m smart enough and knowledgable enough and sure enough of myself that I’m going to write this thing and put my name on it and put it out there for all the world to see.

That kind of confidence was mesmerizing to me as a kid. Because I didn’t have it. I’ve always been a bit quiet and shy, but not overly so. I did alright in first and second grade. The other kids liked me. I had a girlfriend or two. Those were the good old days. The golden years.

Then it all went to shit in third grade. I started gaining weight and the bullies came out of the woodwork. I don’t blame them now, because I was a 10-year-old kid with a set of extraordinarily large man-boobs, which is actually pretty funny if you think about it.

So, confidence. It was like a mythical holy grail of personhood that I couldn’t seem to attain. Sports were clearly not my thing, so I retreated to the world of the mind. I read, I wrote, I played music, I got into electronics and computers.

Looking back now, it was all clearly an effort to find that confidence. And I didn’t find it for a long time. But then, when I did find it, I lost it again after about 20 minutes.

And that’s been the last 20 years of my life. I make something. People like it. I get a little confident and then I start thinking, “They probably don’t *really* like it. They’re probably just saying that. I mean, come on, who would honestly like this shit? I don’t even like it.”

And suddenly I’m a 10-year-old again, with my arm crossed, trying to hide my manboobs from the sea of confident, successful, existentially-satisfied 10-year-olds all around me.

Because that’s all we really are if you think about it. We’re all 10-year-olds, hoping someone will like us so we don’t have to go onto the playground alone.

Maybe that’s why I put myself out there over and over again. Blogs, podcasts, articles, web designs. Maybe it’s all an effort to get someone to like me enough that I don’t have to ride the fuckin round-a-bout by myself. Someone to join me on the playground of life.

How’s that for a metaphor?

Don’t Be The Guy In The Pool With A Shirt On

Perfectionist. Detail-oriented. Cynic. Earnest. Authentic. Real. Meaningful. Passionate. These are all things that I hide behind. They are my excuses. They are the shirts I wear when I'm in the pool.

But underneath the shirt is the real me. Fear. Self-deception. Needing to be liked. Approval whore. That’s what I don’t want anyone to see.

But some days I wake up and want to tear off the shirt and live as free as a streaker at a football game.

But there’s that fear. The fear of judgement. The fear of being thought an idiot, or worse, a loser. The fear of being discovered as someone who isn’t very interesting, doesn’t have much to offer and isn’t needed by anyone.

I tell myself I’m detail oriented and a bit of perfectionist. But it’s not true. I obsess over the details because the details are all I have. If I don’t have details or designs or mechanisms or processes to obsess over, then I’m left with actually having to do something; to ship something. And that’s the greatest fear of all.

Deep down, I’m terrified of what people will think of me and of being a failure. Seriously, terrified. Take-a-bottle-of-pills-and-jump-out-a-window-rather-than-face-it terrified.

But that is no fucking way to live. I’ve done it for 33 fucking years and I can tell you, it’s no fun. And while I’m dropping f-bombs, I might as well say it again, FUCK! (sorry mom).

I build these personas based on what I think people will like, what I think they will respect. Every time I open up Photoshop or IA Writer or sit down at the drum kit, a cloud of angst settles around me as I set out to create or write something people will find impressive. And not just impressive, but so damn good, it will be linked to thousands of times and retweeted for all eternity.

How arrogant and insane is that?

Why are these fears so crippling? Why can’t I take off the shirt and bare my man-boobs proudly to the world and not give a fuck what anyone thinks?

I have designed and redesigned blogs hundreds of times over the last 10 years, but probably written less than 50 posts. I have dozens of side projects left half-finished. I have genuinely good ideas all the time. But I don’t do any of it.

I never ship because I can’t face the potential of failure. But this is failure in itself. The only thing worse than being the fat guy in the pool, is being the fat guy in the pool with a shirt on.

But I’m not kidding anyone. People can smell fear and insecurity. And, frankly, I reek.

Living this way is exhausting. I don’t know who it is I’m trying to please. So what if I fail? So what if people think I’m a loser?

I’m pretty sure there are at least three people (my wife and two daughters) who will not think that. Why can’t that be enough?

Don’t mistake what this is. It’s not an attempt to be “real” or “authentic”. I’m not trying to help anyone or garner praise for being raw. It’s an honest baring of my soul and some of my deepest fears.

I’m tired of hiding. I’m tired of missing out on the joy of creative expression. I’m tired of this soggy, wet, t-shirt that’s not really hiding anything anyway.

Adam (the one with the t-shirt)