How Tom Petty Helped Me Understand What I Really Wanted To Do With My Life.

Tom Petty

“You belong among the wildflowers.” — Tom Petty

One man is responsible, probably more than any other, for much of what’s happened to me the past two years.

That man is Tom Petty.

I can’t tell you the date, but I can tell you how it felt when I first heard “Wildflowers,” an acoustic number off of the Petty album of the same name. “You belong somewhere you feel free,” he sang, and I knew he was right. I felt, at that moment, like he had written that song solely for me.

A song had never felt like that to me before.

It was the spring of 2010, and a lot of things were hitting me all at once. There was frustration over my job and my place in the journalism world. There was anxiety over my future — was I destined to hop from $35k journalism gig to $35k gig? What the hell was I doing with myself? With my life?

Something about that song just struck me. I had this sense that Tom knew something I didn’t. I had this sense that I was supposed to listen.

I’m not sure why, but I knew Tom was right: I belonged somewhere I could feel free.

Here’s the thing: Freedom is a place, I think, not just a state of mind. It’s a place where you can do great work. It’s a place where you can surround yourself with people who want what you want. For me, it’s a place where I can tell stories that nudge our world a little bit forward.

Freedom’s within all of us, but for me, it took a physical place to find it within myself. It took Biloxi, a place that scared me and excited me all at once. Biloxi’s where I found the fear, and also where I found the freedom.

I can’t tell you what freedom should mean for you. But I can promise you this: It is a wonderful feeling to find that place where you can be free.

Freedom doesn’t give you all the answers, but it helps define the path ahead. It helps you see, clearly, what kind of life you really want for yourself.

Today, start the search for the place where you feel free. It’s an awfully good place to start the work you’re meant to do.

That photo of Tom Petty at top comes via John VanderHaagen.

How I Lost 30 Pounds In A Year (And You Can, Too).

Me on the left, at 225. Me on the right, at 195.

“Staying comfortable is the number one way to stay exactly where you are.” — Kate Matsudaira

In 2008, when I got my new driver’s license, I weighed in at 175 pounds. By the end of senior year, as I started to grow into myself, I hit 190. But I was still pretty darn skinny. I’m 6’5”, and at that height, people don’t really notice a belly until you start putting on serious weight.

But in Winter/Spring 2011, I was living at home, and I put on weight quickly. It wasn’t hard to do. I was living with my parents, and my parents were always putting food in front of me. We had Girl Scout cookies everywhere. My dad was trying to convince me to put whipped cream on chocolate milk before bed.

I wasn’t working out, and I didn’t belong to a gym.

The tipping point came in May. I went to my sister’s college graduation, and I realized that I could only fit into my suit if I sucked in — hard. None of my jeans fit anymore.

When I saw the scale — TWO HUNDRED TWENTY FIVE POUNDS! — I was shocked. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize it was that bad. It’d never weighed that much before.

But then three wonderful things happened. And by the end of Summer 2012, I was down to 195 lbs. I was in the best shape I’d ever been in, and I was also — not coincidentally — as happy as I’d ever been. In August, I finished a sprint triathlon.

There aren’t any secrets to losing 30 pounds in a year. There’s no mystery. All you need to do — and anyone can do them — are these three things:

1. Starting Cooking For Yourself — When you eat out — or when someone else cooks for you — it’s easy to put crap into your body. When I was at college, I always joked about the “Winter Break 15.” At home, I’d go on a diet of Thin Mints and leftovers, and I’d always come back to school a few pounds heavier. When you’re not cooking for yourself, you’re usually not thinking as much about what you’re eating.

When you start shopping for yourself, you start making better decisions. You start choosing good stuff to put in your shopping cart — fruits, vegetables, protein, grains — and start leaving out the junk.

And actually cooking the food helps, I’ve found. It makes you extra conscious of the stuff you’ve had other people sneaking into your food all these years — butter, fatty oils, etc. When you cook for yourself, you’ll start leaving those things out.

Cooking for yourself is how you can hold yourself fully accountable for what goes into your body.

2. Start Exercising — Again, there’s no magic here. The first thing I did when I moved out to Missouri was join a gym. I started going a couple of days a week for 45-60 minutes each morning. When I noticed my enthusiasm lagging, I hired a personal trainer to work with me twice a week. I find that I work out much better when others are doing it with me.

But I know that personal trainers — even in Columbia, Mo. — are expensive. So here’s an alternative: Find a class you can take. Find a group you can run with. Join a local league for soccer or frisbee. It’ll all help.

3. Create Routine — Any health pro can tell you this: Diets don’t work because diets don’t create routine. Go on South Beach for two months and you might lose 10 lbs., but as soon as you drop the diet, you’ll gain it all back.

Diets are like duct tape: They’re an okay temporary solution, but they’re not always pretty, and they’re certainly not something you should rely on for too long.

What you want is to build something lasting for yourself. Build out a block of time in every week to work out, and find time to go grocery shopping once or twice a week. The more you shop, the more likely you are to buy stuff like fresh vegetables, and the less likely you are to stock up on the frozen stuff.

The longer you keep all of these things going, the better. Work begets work. Healthy habits beget healthy living.

Getting in shape doesn’t need to be a mystery. It requires a lot of work. It requires a certain persistence — you absolutely have to be willing to put one foot in front of the other, and again, and again, and again.

But something wonderful comes at the end of all of it.

A month ago, I went to a wedding with a friend. She had made fun of me a year earlier for having to buy bigger jeans.

So this time, before I hopped on the plane to see her, I stopped at Old Navy. I discovered I’d dropped a full size — from a 38 waist to a 36.

When I finally saw her, I showed off the new belly. The word “astonished” came out of her mouth.

You can earn that kind of reaction, too. Just do these three things — cook, exercise, and create a routine — and keep it going. That’s the roadmap to getting yourself into the shape you want.

It is not magic. In fact, it’s a little bit boring.

But I’m living proof: It gets results.

A Message To The Guy Wearing The ‘Lazy But Talented’ T-Shirt.

“Failure is temporary. Quitting makes it permanent.” — Layne Beachley

Hi. I saw you on the subway the other day. You were wearing a T-shirt that said, “Lazy But Talented.”

Let me very blunt: Me and my friends — we will own your ass.

    We will outwork you.

    We will outhustle you.

    We will outwit you.

    Talent means shit. Respect is earned in this world through two things:

    1. Work.
    2. Results.

    But please, go ahead. Celebrate your lack of passion. Glorify your unwillingness to try.

    The rest of us will be out here trying to put a dent in the universe. And doing that takes effort.

    So you can either do the work, or you can get out of our way.

    I’ll tell you this, though: When you’re ready to hustle, let us know. We’d love to have you join us.

    But it’ll be work. There aren’t any shortcuts here. And you’re probably not interested in all that work, are you?

    Photo via.

What’s Next For


“Moving forwards into the unknown is a lot better than falling backwards into the abyss.” — Simon Sinek

When I was in San Antonio, I got asked to cover a Los Lonely Boys concert. It was a bit of a surreal experience. I knew exactly one Los Lonely Boys song. They spent most of the night covering other bands, actually.

But then it came time for them to play “Heaven,” that one Los Lonely Boys song that everyone knows. It was their closer. They played the first three notes, and the crowd went crazy.

Three notes was all it took to make 1,000 people lose their minds.

I remember that at the time, I was thinking a lot about success. How do you measure it? How do you know when you’ve got it in your hands?

And I remember thinking: If 1,000 people immediately lose their minds at what you’re doing, that’s probably a pretty good sign.

I always thought that if I could ever pull something like that off, it’d be as a result of some simple thing — a story I’d written with a memorable opening line; a talk that got big laughs.

I guess I never thought about the idea that something big — an entire body of work — could be that thing.

But now I look back on People recognize the colors on the site as ours. The style of the stories. The themes that we report on. The design of the site.

This isn’t “Heaven,” but it’s pretty close.

We’ve gotten such a fantastic response to the project. Here’s one email I got this summer:

“Springfield is my hometown … For most of my life, it was hard to get past the conservatism, but your stories helped me learn that there really is more to Springfield than politics and religion. I’ve stopped to read every new story each time I received your weekly newsletter … You were good for Springfield. Thanks for the memories.”

It’s so wonderful to get an email like that — and it’s one of many that showed up in my inbox this summer. It’s feels fantastic to have created something that made so many people so happy.

But it’s also only a single step.

Here’s the other thing about Los Lonely Boys: You know that one song by them, but you probably can’t remember anything else they’ve ever done.

What’s coming — what’s next — matters. A great first album deserves a second.

So let me bring this back to me. The good news is, many people have been asking me lately, “What’s next for” That means they’re excited about what me and my team have already done.

But I don’t have the answer to their question right now. I wish I did.

What I can tell you is that I’m going to get back to doing what I love most: Telling great stories, building communities around stories, and committing to the work. I hope has a role in all this going forward.

I can also say this: I don’t think you’re going to be seeing a Biloxi- or Springfield-like bureau anytime in the near future. The amount of work — and money that it takes — to make one of those happen just isn’t sustainable in the short term.

So we’ll see where the road ahead leads. The work has only just begun.

How Can I Help You?

“You have to put in many, many, many tiny efforts that nobody sees or appreciates before you achieve anything worthwhile.” — Brian Tracy

I am at a very unusual point in my life. I have put in a lot of tiny efforts. I’m closing in on 10 years since my very first published clip, back in 2003 in the Boston Globe. I have had internships and jobs. I’ve covered the Olympics. I’ve built stuff that worked, and I’ve built stuff that didn’t. I have a whole bunch of projects in the works now.

The big breakthrough has not yet come. But I’m also starting to realize: It’s not a big breakthrough that I’ve been working toward all these years.

What I’ve been working toward is a place where I can do what I really love: Helping other people tell great stories and do great work.

The next stage of my life will be defined by a very simple question: How can I help?

That’s why I launched the newsletter this week. I want to help other reporters do their job even better.

And it’s why over the coming months, I want to do more to help others — especially young people who are about to go through the post-college phase that I’ve just gone through.

How can I help you? Let’s get in touch. If I can help — even if it’s just offering up a link or a tool or a few words of advice — I want to.

Great Tools + Great Storytellers = Tools For Reporters.

About nine months ago, I launched, a wiki of journalism resources. It’s massive now — some 500+ tools and tutorials for journalists.

The problem is, it’s tough to sort through all of that and figure out what the best tools are.

So I’m launching a new project:, a weekly newsletter geared specifically to reporters. Each week, I’ll highlight a different tool and how people in the journalism/storytelling world can get the most out of it.

If you’re a reporter who wants to build a better toolbelt, sign up today! Together, we can do better work.

25 Ideas That I May or May Not Decide To Do Something With.

Ideas never run out

“Start where you are.” — Danielle LaPorte

Five words I don’t ever expect to say again:

I don’t have any ideas.

The challenge, it turns out, isn’t coming up with good ideas. It’s deciding which of them is worth pursuing and working on.

I have a list where I keep all these big ideas I’d like to work on one day. Some of them will get acted on in the coming months. Some of them will get executed in the coming years. Some will never make it past this list.

And then I decided this week to put all of these ideas down on the Internet. This scares the crap out of me. Maybe one of these is a million dollar idea, and I just don’t know it yet.

But then I realized: Maybe you’ll see something on this list that you’d like to work on with me. Maybe you can help point me towards the ideas that are really great.

No reason to keep this list secret. So here they are: 25 big ideas that I’d like to work on one day.

Got advice or help to offer on one them? In that case, shoot me an email or a tweet. Let’s talk.

Stuff That Could Actually Happen In 2012.

1. Wiki 2.0: Tools For Reporters —> A revamp of, my giant list of journalism resources. I’m going to relaunch this as an email newsletter specifically geared toward journalists, and show them tools that can help them do better work. I’m launching this next week.

2. The Student Guest Blog project — The big challenge for college students with blogs is finding an audience. I’d like to open up my blog to any student who wants to write about how to do better work. I’d be able to offer editing help and blog advice to those students, and they’d be able to use that post on “Good. Better. Done.” to help pitch future guest blogs elsewhere.

3. The “Almost Famous” blog challenge — I love the movie “Almost Famous,” but I always wondered what the main character’s final story for Rolling Stone would look like. So I’m going to write it up myself — a 3,000 word piece about the fictional band, Stillwater — and I’m going to invite others to submit their own versions of William Miller’s story.

4. The Good. Better. Done. Newsletter — A weekly update from yours truly about doing better work and links/awesomeness that can inspire such work.

Stuff That Could Actually Happen In The Next 1-3 Years.

5. The Indecisive Man —> This is a manifesto I started writing in early 2012 dedicated to shaking self doubt and getting to work on work that matters.

6. Belly Challenge 2.0 — Belly Challenge 1.0 — between my father and I — was a huge success. Each of us lost 20+ pounds over the course of the year. But I’d like to invite others into the Challenge, and to create a small network of people who push each other to work out and improve their lives through regular exercise. When trying to lose weight/get in shape, having a team behind you makes a huge difference.

7. Guide to Startup Journalism — Using what I’ve learned from, I’d create a guide to the initial steps in starting up a journalism business. I’d focus on the things that don’t often get emphasized: The importance of getting the right business structure set up; finding a payroll service; launching a website; etc.

8. — A blog devoted to all of the little steps someone can take to get moving on a project, an idea or an adventure.

9. The Monday Morning Work Podcast — I’ve found that I’m always more excited when I start the week with a good conversation. So I’d like to start hosting a live podcast each Monday morning — 15 to 30 minutes long — about doing work and getting inspired. Each podcast would be built around a single conversation.

10. The College Graduate’s Guide to Getting a Job — I really want to help people who are about to go through early career decisions. I’d love to start by helping walk students through the basic career steps — how to network, how to build a portfolio site, how to do better interviews — in an online class.

11. The “How Can I Help?” sessions — A block of time each week in which I make myself available via phone to early career journalists (and other young people) to help in whatever way I can — from career advice to resume help.

Stuff That Would Be Awesome But That I’d Need Lots of Help On.

12. “30 Conversations” — One of the things that I loved about was that we gave people who otherwise wouldn’t have a say the opportunity to get their voice heard. I’d love to have 30 conversations with Americans in the days leading up to a big event — i.e. an election — about the issues that are on our minds.

Dayquil13. The I’m On Dayquil Gmail hack —> When I get sick, I go straight to Dayquil, and I get a little loopy on those orange pills. But I still try to send out email and do work when I’m sick. I really need a Gmail hack so that I can add something to my email signature when I’m on Dayquil, something that says, “Dan’s sick and on Dayquil. If this email makes less sense than usual, that’s the reason why.”

14. Dog and their Owners, Losing Weight Together: A reality show — I think that done right, reality shows can produce some really amazing stories. This would be one about dogs and their owners, losing weight together. It’d be a show about companionship, a show about trust — and a show that inspires. Done right, it’d tell some amazing stories about Americans and the role that pets play in our lives. Some reality shows are trashy, but I think this could really break the mold — again, if done with care.

15. — A site featuring great, original long-form journalism produced for specific local communities. It’d be for newsrooms at the intersection of hyper-local and long-form — think projects like for Springfield.

16. (or: — A site devoted to first-person testimonials about horrifyingly bad travel experiences.

17. The Big Book of Sleep — For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with sleep. What most people don’t realize is that sleep is a multi-billion dollar industry in this country. That includes the money spent on beds, sleep aids and sleep-related research. And if you count work hours lost to exhaustion, I bet the number would be several billion dollars higher. I’d love to write a book on the industry and how important sleep has become in America.

Stuff That’s Probably Never Going To Happen

18. The Plus-1 Network — A small email listserv for young professionals who love going to weddings. When someone on the listserv needs someone awesome to come along as a plus-1 to a wedding, the listserv would step up.

19. — A site devoted to helping people escape cubicle life and find meaning from their work. Also: The most memorable name of any domain I’ve ever purchased.

20. TV Dinners That Were On TV — A website featuring recipes that you saw your favorite characters make on TV. Kevin’s mom on “The Wonder Years” and Betty on “The Flintstones” always seemed to be cooking up awesome dishes, and here, we’d try to figure out how to make them.

21. Body By Thin Mints — A few months ago, I made my dad a joke T-shirt with the slogan “Body By Thin Mints” on it. He wears it everywhere. I’d love to turn this into a line of joke clothing for fellow Girl Scout cookie lovers, but I’d also like to not get sued by the Girl Scouts.

22. UsuallyAlways — Last year, a friend caught me responding a question of hers with the phrase, “Usually always.” I liked how it sounded, and I’ve decided: If I ever start a production company, Usually Always will be its name. Of course, first I have to figure out what the hell “usually always” means. (Also, I need to learn what a production company does.)

23. Start my own community newspaper — I’m not sure why I don’t see young career journalists trying this, actually. Go to a small town. Buy a paper — they’re selling for almost nothing. And see if you and small team of really dedicated young people can experiment and hustle your way to success. With a really amazing team on board, I might consider this. But after, I also know how crazy you have to be to attempt something like this.

24. Why Choose News! —> A list of reasons why people should read news sites every day. The entire idea is based around one fake poster I made earlier this year. (See right.)

25. — A site dedicated to my personal travels — you know, once I make the first billion and dedicate my life to world traveling. :-)

So that’s what I’ve got. Maybe there’s something on here you’d like to work with me on? Shoot me an email or a tweet.

Maybe there’s something you’d like to steal for yourself? That’s cool, too.

Because here’s what I know: Ideas are only worth so much. Execution’s really what matters.

Photo of the lightbulb via here. Indecisiveness via here. Dayquil via here.

The September Edition of The Awesome File.


Every month, I put together a list of 10 things to inspire you to do better work. This is The Awesome File.

Inside this month’s Awesome File: Reality checks! Great stories! Serendipity! And a guide to getting $15,000 in free travel!

Read on:

1. READ: ‘Do Not Ask What Good We Do.’

I’ll start this month’s Awesome File with a fantastic, topical — but slightly depressing read. It’s called Do Not Ask What Good We Do, and it’s an inside look at the House of Representatives from 2010 to 2012. The reporting takes readers inside the screwed up world of Congress, where our elected officials are too busy fighting to actually get anything done. Read it and you’ll realize: Our political system really needs a kick in the pants.

2. CONSIDER: ‘Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want To Be’

Maybe a blog post like this could wake Congress up. “Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want To Be” is a call to action. Simply, it says:

We started to emphasize passion over discipline. Dreaming over doing. Positivity over pragmatism. And the end result was we became people convinced we get to do whatever we want, even if nobody wants it and even if we’re not particularly qualified to do it.

And then it goes on to explain what our priorities really should be. (A hint: Building and doing come first.) Read it and get inspired.

3. LEARN: ‘The Writing Class You Never Had’

This also might help. It’s a fantastic primer on how to write — the right way. When you’re doing it right, you’re starting too soon, you’re getting in over you’re head, and you’re figuring it out as you go. Great writing, you’ll learn, starts with screwing things up.

4. WATCH: A Great Product Pitch

When you learn how to write well, you’ll start to tell great stories. And anyone can tell great stories. Here’s proof: This is the product video for Do, a new productivity app. It’s as good — and as funny — a story as you’ll see all day.

5. REINVENT: Reworking Your Resume

Great writing and storytelling can come in so many forms, I believe. It can come in the form of books or blogs or product videos — or even in the form of a great resume. 99U shows off a few highly original and unusual resumes that tell a great story. How do you get hired in this economy? Tell a great story and present it in a way that no employer can forget.

6. GET OUT THERE: ‘Manufacturing Serendipity’

It won’t hurt, either, to get out and do some networking. The great Rand Fishkin explains how networking really works in this blog post. I can vouch for his methods myself. Get out, meet a lot of people, listen well and connect often. Repeat over and over. Eventually, if you’re doing awesome work, you’ll start to meet the people who can help get you over the top.

7. LISTEN: To Yourself, Especially

And this advice is also crucial: Listen to yourself.

“‘What should I be doing now?’ is a question I get a lot from people in their 20s. The answer is that you should be respecting yourself as you learn about yourself. You should give yourself the space to do anything and then look closely to see what you enjoy. You do not need to get paid for what you enjoy, but you need to find a way to commit to what you enjoy, and then use that as a foundation to grow your adult life.”

Amen to that.

8. HUSTLE: The Burger Delivery Website

Your 20s are also a fantastic time to hustle. Here’s my favorite recent example of hustle: It’s a website that will deliver a burger to anyone in San Francisco for only $10. It uses existing tools and a cheap website to deliver a really cool and simple product idea. I love this, and I think more people should steal an idea like this.

9. TRAVEL: The Credit Card Challenge

Speaking of hustle: Chris Guillebeau is a notorious for refusing to conform to traditional ideas. This month, he’s posted his Frequent Flyer Challenge, in which he’s applying to dozens of credit cards to earn $15,000 in free travel. And once you’ve gotten those miles, consider flying into these airports. Just make sure you get the perfect seat for landing.

10. STAND UP: Soledad O’Brien’s Awesome Interview

I close The Awesome File with this: a CNN interview from Soledad O’Brien in which she commits a seriously awesome act of journalism on air. Just watch.

That’s it for this month’s The Awesome File. Got something you’d like to share for next month’s edition? Tweet at me with your suggestions.

That awesome photo at top comes via Javier Delgado.

Run Your Own Race.

Kelly Fogarty

“At 25, if I was sitting at this desk speaking with you, as pompous as the things I have to say are now, they would be millions of times more pompous and inappropriate.” — Scott Avett

I’m 25, and it feels weird to say that. I haven’t been quite sure what 25 means — it doesn’t have the significance that turning 13, or 18, or 21 had for me — but it definitely means something.

And then I read something that really captured the experience of 25 for me:

“At 25, you will feel drastically more mature than some people you know, embarrassingly less put-together than others, and acutely aware of these imbalances in lifestyle, career, and consciousness between you and the friends you used to feel absolutely in sync with … Your 20s is supposed to be a time of rapid growth and development in every area of your everything, but we don’t always — in fact, rarely ever — evolve along the same timeline. And so we lose pace with each other.”

And that’s it! I have friends who are 25 and who own their own home and are married. I have friends who are 25 and who have kids. I have friends who are 25 and have graduated from law school, and I have friends who are 25 and taking the LSATs. I have friends who are 25 and who have started their own companies. I have friends who are 25 and who are permanently unemployed and live with their parents.

It’s weird to think about that, too. Some of these friends I’ve known since I preschool. We grew up together. We went through all the same life stages together. When one of us took the SATs, we all took the SATs. When one of us was getting internships or summer jobs, we all were going through it.

Then we graduated, and we all went different directions.

When I think about my friends at 25, I think about a 400-meter race. When you watch that race, each of the runners starts at a different point on the track. At first, it’s tough to tell who’s going really fast and really slow. The curve screws up your perspective.

It’s not until the straightaway that everything comes into focus.

I get jealous, sometimes, when I see 25 year olds who are way ahead of where I am. I get competitive. How’d that person pull off a book deal at 25? How’d they get a movie done? How’d they make their first million already?

But then I remember that this isn’t a 400-meter race. We’re not all shooting for the same end goal.

We’re all on different paths. We’re all running our own races at our own speeds.

It’s tough to tell where each of us is going now. It’s only with time — a decade, maybe more — that we’ll start to understand where we’ve been going.

In the meantime, what really matters is that we keep going. We keep putting one foot in front of the other.

It’s not easy being 25. But the road ahead doesn’t get easier. Stop worrying about what everybody else is doing and focus on what you’re doing.

I’m 25, and I’m pledging today to run my own race.

That photo of runners via.

Go Chasing Waterfalls.

Waterfall near Ballachulish

“Don’t go chasing waterfalls / Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to / I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing it all / But I think you’re moving too fast.” — TLC

With all due respect to the wise women of TLC:

Screw that.

This is the time to go chasing those big dreams in your life — those waterfalls way off in the distance. I don’t care if you’re 21 or 31 or 81. This is the time you have right now. This is all the time you know you have.

This is when things get done.

I remember when I started I told myself: I’m 23. I’m young, I’m without debt, and I don’t have a family. If there’s a time to try something crazy, it’s now.

The idea for lingered. I thought about it all the time. It didn’t let go.

I knew I had to face up to it.

I tell other young people the same thing: Right now, while you’re free of responsibility, this is the time to do something big. If it scares you, that’s a good thing. Fear’s often the way you know something is worth doing.

But I’m also starting to see people of all ages — and with all types of real responsibility — making big leaps. I see them chasing opportunity when it presents itself. I seem them refusing to idle.

Great things come with great ambition — and great hustle, and great tribes, and great skills, and great luck, and great passion.

This is me giving you permission to go screw things up. To try crazy things. Yeah, things will get weird along the way. It happens to all of us.

Keep going. Dream big.

Chase your waterfalls.

That shot of waterfalls come via Peter Hunter.