Just Once, I Wish Someone Would Ask Me: How The Hell Are You Still Here?

So it’s Tuesday afternoon, and I’m in an almost empty TV studio in the middle of Springfield. I am sitting next to Leigh Moody, news anchor at the local ABC station. I am the guest for the 4 p.m. news “Close-Up” interview.

The countdown goes “4.. 3… 2…,” and then Leigh turns to me and asks me the question that a lot of people ask, which is: How did Stry.us start?

And it’s the funniest thing. Because everyone — EVERYONE — wants to know how this thing started. But hardly anyone asks the really big question, which is:

How the hell is this thing still going?

I’ve started plenty of things that never went anywhere. But I’ve never started anything that’s lasted quite like Stry.us.

And that thought was rattling around in my brain when I hopped in the car after Leigh’s interview and turned on the radio. Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” was playing, and Bob was already through the first verse. And he sang:

How does it feel /
To be on your own /
With no direction home

And it all just kind of hit me at once. That’s what this has been — this solo journey, with no discernible course. Some projects are linear. Some have a definite road.

The path for Stry.us has been more of a squiggly.

I didn’t know what this thing was going to become two years ago. In my initial pitch for Stry.us, I talked about filming YouTube videos and wearing sponsored logos — like a NASCAR driver. (Seriously.) I was especially clueless back then. This thing’s gone through so many iterations that I’ve lost track of them all. It’s been a solo operation. A news syndicate. It went through a period of nothing, and then a few periods of serious somethings. And now?

Now it’s taking real shape, because I’ve paired it down to an incredibly simple mission. Stry.us is about two questions:

1. What matters to people?
2. And how do we tell great stories about those things?

It is the simplest thing in the world. And people get it. In my meetings this week in Springfield, I’m seeing that twinkle in the eye when I talk about Stry.us. People love the idea. They get the idea. The love what we’re doing with our reporting.

After two years, I finally got okay with the idea that we’re just a band of reporters in pursuit of really great storytelling, and we don’t need to be anything more. We’re focused, we’re uncomplicated and we’re really starting to go places.

So, Bob, you wanna ask me, How does it feel?

It feels pretty damn good.

Keep Stabbing. Keep Going. Keep Working.

I remember seeing the band Phoenix in Austin three years ago. It was at the Austin City Limits Festival. It was just an afternoon slot on a Friday — not quite primetime –but a massive crowd showed up. Even the band’s lead singer admitted that day that it was the biggest crowd they’d ever played for.

And it showed. They were very good — Phoenix’s songs are layered and powerful and super dancy — but they weren’t electric. Their music was fantastic, but the band didn’t look quite ready to perform on such a big stage.

Then I saw them a year later in Denver. It wasn’t even the same band. The singer was climbing up scaffolding on the stage and singing from high above his bandmates. At one point, the band just stopped mid-song, their instruments still reverberating, and walked off stage. The crowd — this was at another festival, mind you — started to leave the stage. And then the band rushed right back out and kept playing. The crowd flooded back in, a stampede of people jumping and screaming and generally losing their minds.

It was epic.

Maybe they weren’t ready for the big stage in Austin. Maybe they didn’t know what they were doing yet.

But they went out and played anyway. They started before they were ready, and they found themselves through doing the work, night in and night out.

The same holds true for Florence & the Machine. I saw her open for U2 last summer in Baltimore. She was very good. The crowd knew her music. But there was simply no way she was prepared to play for 60,000 people that night.

Then I saw her on Thursday in New Orleans. She blew the crowd away. She looked completely comfortable on stage. Her banter was good. When she told the crowd to jump, they jumped. When she told every guy in the crowd to grab their girlfriends and put them up on their shoulders, 500 women popped up in the air.

It’s an amazing thing to watch someone find who they are and embrace it, and to watch the crowd embrace it, too. But even the best — even the biggest rock and roll acts in the world — struggle to find themselves at first. I’ve seen it with Phoenix, and I’ve seen it with Florence.

It’s only through doing the work that we find our way.

Like Teller (of Penn and Teller) once said:

Get on stage. A lot. Try stuff. Make your best stab and keep stabbing. If it’s there in your heart, it will eventually find its way out.

Go out today and put yourself into the world. Take a step towards doing the work you really want to do.

How to Get Your Ass** Moving.

Some mornings you wake up, and

-You can’t find your keys.
-The gym’s closed.
-The highway’s blocked.(1)
-Oh, and it’s raining, and you accidentally left your couch cushions outside on the porch to dry.

That was the last 45 minutes for me.

And I know from experience: I can let this drag on as long as it wants. There are mornings where it’s an endless parade of things that can and will go wrong. Give it 20 more minutes and I’ll be on the side of the road trying to fix a flat tire. And then it’ll start raining again.

Murphy’s Law rides shotgun, somedays.

So this is a restart kind of morning for me. Things get off wrong, and I have to bring it all back to zero. Turn off the engines. Breathe. Maybe sit down at a diner with a stack of pancakes and find my center again. Maybe I’ll hit the gym, or run an errand or two. I’ll go through what’s wrong and figure out how bad the damage is. Often, it’s just a series of little things that I’ve built into something much bigger.

Bad breaks happen. Bad things happen.

But I can’t afford to lose an entire day of work because things aren’t going my way. That’s why I have to know when it’s time to stop the slide. I have to know when it’s time to restart.

This applies to your work, too. You will do work that goes nowhere. You will have days where you hit dead ends.

Recognize when things just aren’t breaking your way. Step back and give yourself room. Give it a few minutes for something else to take hold in your mind. And then come right back to the work at hand.

Some mornings, it all lines up for you. Every light’s a green. You’re fully in the zone.

Those days are fun.

But they don’t come around every day. And the work has to get done every day.

Know when you need to stop and restart. Just stop. Breathe. Grab some pancakes.

When you’re ready, you’ll find the zone again.

  1. Here’s looking at you, donkey in the road. And yes, Grandma, he’s the ass I’m talking about in the title. I wouldn’t use that kind of language on the blog otherwise :-)