Tag Archives: do the work

When You’re Lost, Don’t Be Afraid to Ask. And Definitely Don’t Be Afraid to Listen.

Let me take you back to 2009. Newspapers were slashing staff daily. Jobs weren’t plentiful. A young, wide-eyed Dan Oshinsky was about to graduate from college.

And in the midst of all this, a strange thing happened: A big newspaper chain decided that they really liked me. They liked my attitude and my skills. They told me, straight up: We want to hire you. We don’t know what for yet, but we want you.

Over the next few weeks, I had a number of phone conversations with one of the chain’s executives. The chain had just launched a big blog project at one of their papers, and they seemed really excited about the numbers. They had an idea for me: Start a blog for our papers devoted to young people and business. We’ll give you $100k and a small team to start. Give it a few days and come up with some potential topics for us.

Understand this: I was coming out of journalism school like most J-school students. I had great clips and great ambition. I was fully prepared to start working for a newspaper on a city desk or a political beat.

I thought I was totally unprepared to lead an ambitious, new journalism effort.

I didn’t know anything about business. I didn’t read business blogs. I didn’t understand the market for business news.

The next week, I told the executive: I’m flattered, but sorry. I’m not your guy for this project.

Looking back, I’m stunned at how stupid I was. I can’t believe that I said no, and I can’t believe that I failed to even produce a single tangible idea for such a blog.

How could I have been so unresourceful?

Over the course of about 72 hours, I was given the opportunity to pitch something really impressive. I had everything I needed to start such a project: I was ambitious, I had blogging experience, and I had a good sense for how to create a voice that was readable.

Sure, I didn’t know anything about business news. But here’s the thing: I knew plenty of people who did.

I didn’t ask for their help.

I could’ve turned to my network — my friends, my former bosses — and asked for input on ideas. I could’ve generated a really impressive proposal for that blog.

And I didn’t even think to ask.

What I’ve learned since is the importance of a really good conversation. You need people who can advise you, guide you and — most importantly — ask the kind of questions that will help lead to you the right answers. When you have an opportunity, talk about it with smart people. It’s amazing how a good conversation can really open your eyes to your full potential.

I was reminded of that last week. I was down in Springfield, taking meetings for my upcoming reporting experiment with Stry.us. And in the course of a half dozen conversations, I started to notice some new themes popping up. I suppose I had been thinking about these changes for some time, but it wasn’t until I started really talking it through with others that I realized how big these changes were.

I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am to have smart people on my side, asking good questions and helping guide this project towards an even more awesome future. Stry.us will be be stronger because of their curiosity and wisdom.

When you’re starting something new, you have to keep your eyes open. You have to listen fully.

And for goodness sake: When you’re lost, don’t be afraid to ask. You don’t have to go it alone.

You shouldn’t.

The ‘Cool Runnings’ Theory of Doing the Work.

I’m going to guess that you’ve seen the movie “Cool Runnings,” simply because I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t seen “Cool Runnings.” It’s one of my favorite films, the based-on-a-true-story tale of four Jamaican guys who somehow qualify for the Olympics as bobsledders. It’s funny, and goofy, and inspiring.

It’s also, it turns out, a really interesting case study in learning how to start doing the work.

Think about the beginning of the movie. We meet our four intrepid bobsledders in unlikely places: Three are trying to qualify for the Summer Olympics in track, and one is a pushcart driver. But when the track thing doesn’t work out, they come together to try to qualify for the Olympics in bobsled, even though they’ve never seen snow, and the Olympics is only a few months away.

And somehow, they qualify for the Games. These four men — through sheer willpower, and also a few classic Disney montages — put in the work needed to learn how to bobsled, and they make the Olympics.

But on the first night of the Games, disaster strikes. They can’t get into the sled fast enough, and the driver, Derice Bannock, has a bad race, and Jamaica finishes the day in last place among all teams.

Then comes the key scene. The whole team is back in their room in the Olympic Village. Derice and his coach, Irv, are talking about what went wrong. Derice suggests that maybe they don’t know enough about the race course. Maybe they don’t know about bobsledding to win.

And that’s when their coach says:

“You know the turns! You know everything there is to know about this sport!”

Think about that for a second, and strip away the fact that this is a Disney movie. Imagine it by itself: An Olympic-caliber coach telling his team, You know everything there is know about the sport, even though you just started learning about it a few months earlier.

That sounds outrageous, and it is. Of course they don’t know everything about the sport! Hell, it’s not even clear that a single member of the team could name someone besides their coach who’d ever competed in an Olympic bobsled event.

But what if I told you that their coach was right? What if I told you that they knew everything they needed to know? — to start, at least.

What do you really need to compete in a four-man bobsled race?

1. A sled
2. A bobsled track
3. Four really big, really strong, really fast men
4. Four helmets
5. Ice

And that’s it. You don’t need fifteen years of bobsled experience to start. You don’t need to know who won the four-man event in the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games.

All you need is a sled, and a track, and four dudes, and some helmets, and some ice, and you can start racing.

Again, here’s the key concept: That’s what you need to start racing.

Yeah, to win a gold medal, it’s going to take years and years of practice. It’s going to take thousands of hours of work, and then some luck, and Jamaica wasn’t even close to having enough practical experience to win.

But to start, they had everything they need to know.

That’s the idea I want to drill into your heads. If you’re thinking about becoming the world’s best painter, well, yes, it’s going to take some time. You’re going to have spend a lot of time painting, and you’re probably going to spend a lot of time studying other painters.

But to start? All you need is a brush, a canvas, some paint and a little free time.

The world’s best basketball players all started with a ball, sneakers and a court. You think Michael Jordan waited until he’d watched a decade of basketball games before he felt he had enough basketball knowledge to pick up a ball?

Hell no.

The truth is, to start, you don’t need to know all that much. So start before you’re ready, because as Travis Robertson once wrote, you won’t feel ready until long after you’ve already started.

Let me give you another example. I was at a startup event in the fall and heard a guy pitch a lending business. He talked about how he’s been studying the field for five years, reading everything he can about lending, and he’d finally decided that he was ready to start.

The judges asked him what he’d actually done for his business idea in those five years.

Well, he said, I’ve read the books, and I’ve…

No, no, the judges said. What have you done? What actual work do you have to show us?

Nothing, he said.

And where do you think you’d be if, five years ago, you’d started building something instead of just thinking about it?, the judges asked.

The man’s face went blank.

You don’t need to know that much to start. You just need to know that you can do the work, and that you’re passionate about doing the work.

You need to start before you’re really ready to start, because that’s when you’re going to learn the most about what you’re doing. What you’ll read about in books is helpful, and important, but it’s nothing compared to the self-discoveries you’ll make along the way. The most important knowledge is what you’re going to learn during the process of the doing.

If you already know what you want to do, then ask yourself: What are the most basic tools I need to start?

If you have them already, then the only thing truly keeping you from starting is you.

The Difference Between Patience and Persistence.

I remember watching my little brother go fishing once. He was in fourth or fifth grade at the time. You have to understand that my little brother is highly allergic to fish. The kid’s face puffs up if he so much as walks past a Benihana.

But he sat on the banks of that river for three, maybe four hours with a fishing reel. Cast one out, reel it back in. Cast one out, reel it back in. He wasn’t going anywhere until he caught something.

Now, I don’t know what he thought he was going to do when he actually caught something, since he couldn’t actually touch the fish. But he’d deal with that when that time came. First he’d reel something big in, then he’d figure out how to get it onto land.

That’s how my family goes about doing the work. We finish what we start — even in situations where the finish line seems quasi-unreachable. We hang around longer than anyone would reasonably expect us to.

Some people call this trait patience, but that’s not quite it. Patience needs to be paired with something else to be worthwhile. By itself, patience is just the ability to tolerate the passing of time.

Patience is for people who don’t have the balls to get what they want.

What you really want is to pair patience with persistence. Persistence is the ability to push and push and push and push. It’s the ability to be stubborn in the best possible sense of the word. It’s the ability to be tenacious in pursuit of dreams.

I had that in mind when I heard this clip from This American Life’s Ira Glass. He says, and I’m paraphrasing here: When you start working on something, you will not be able to do the work like you want to. You have to spend a very long time building things that suck before you build anything good.

Getting good at something requires patience — yes, you have to understand that things probably will go slow, and be able to tolerate that — but you also have to have persistence — that voice that says that just because I’m telling you it might go slow doesn’t mean it has to.

The difference between patience and persistence is the difference between doing and dreaming. It’s the difference between those who get to the finish line and those who quit before the work really begins.

Be patient. Be persistent.

Do the work.

What Mizzou Basketball Taught Me About Understanding the Moment.

So here’s the moment when I absolutely knew that my team was special.

It was back in January. My Missouri Tigers were playing their first Big 12 game of the year. Mizzou had been written off during the summer, when the Tigers lost Laurence Bowers — an All-Conference-caliber power forward — to a knee injury. The Tigers were playing small ball, with nobody on the team above 6’8”. Kim English, a 6’6” shooting guard, was being asked to guard players who were anywhere from three to seven inches taller than him.

And then something weird happened: The Tigers clicked. I was there in Kansas City the night Mizzou beat Notre Dame by 30. The next night, against the Pac-12’s best team, Cal, the Tigers won by 40. I was there in New York when the Tigers steamrolled Villanova at Madison Square Garden. By the time the calendar hit 2012, Mizzou was 13-0 and ranked #6 in America.

I was there in the stands for the Big 12 opener. Mizzou beat Oklahoma by 38, and it was memorable mostly for being such an absurd display of offensive skill. But one play stands out.

There’s 1:17 left in the game. Mizzou’s got three walk-ons in the game, and we’re up 85-49. Our point guard, Mike Dixon, takes a runner and misses. Oklahoma gets the rebound and the run-out. It’s a one-on-none fast break, and Oklahoma’s going to get a meaningless layup.

Except that Mike Dixon starts running. There’s no reason for him to; the team’s up 36, and he plays 30+ minutes a game for Mizzou. Nothing good ever comes from trying to make a play here.

Except that this time, something does. The Oklahoma player slows up for the layup, and Dixon — all 6’1” of him — comes flying from behind. The shot goes up, and Dixon swoops in and blocks it into the fourth row.

Michael Dixon is not a shot blocker. He has blocked five shots in three years at Mizzou.

And yet, there he was, chasing down a player shooting a meaningless bucket in an already-decided win. It was as tremendous a hustle play as I’ve ever seen.

That’s when I knew I loved this team.

One of the things I’ve learned in my 20+ years of watching college basketball is how to recognize when a team is great. Great teams don’t come around every year. It takes talent, and it takes effort, and it takes desire, and it takes a kind of chemistry that you need to see to understand. Few teams have it.

I’ve only seen a few teams in my life that were truly, truly special. But as soon as you saw them, you knew. And you didn’t miss a game.

You don’t miss an opportunity to miss that kind of magic. You have to understand in the moment that they might not be around much longer. When the spark’s there, you can’t not watch.

That’s why I went to Kansas City and New York this year to watch my Tigers. It’s why I snuck into the student section for the final Kansas game this year. It’s why I flew to Austin to see us beat Texas(1). It’s why I’m in Kansas City today for the Big 12 Tournament, and it’s why if Mizzou ends up in New Orleans for the Final Four — and I think we will — I’ll go, even if it means driving all night to get there.

My fellow Mizzou fans, I fear, don’t understand how special this team is, and they might not until after the season is over. They are witnessing an amazing season, but they don’t have a frame of reference to understand it. One day, they will.

Just not this year.

But when they do, they’ll never fail to recognize it again. I feel so blessed to recognize the moment my Tigers are in right now. I know that sounds absurd, but understand: At its core, I watch sports to be inspired. I watch sports for the moments when someone does something that I’ve never seen before — and couldn’t have even imagined until that very moment.

And in those moments, there is an absolute joy in knowing that I’m watching my fellow man push himself to limits that defy all explanation.

And so, yes, I feel blessed to watch a Tiger team as special as this, in a season an amazing as this. When you understand the moment, you’re willing to make sacrifices to appreciate something as special as this.

And yes, understanding the moment goes beyond basketball. Two years ago, in San Antonio, I realized that there was a big conversation happening in journalism, and I wasn’t a part of it. I didn’t yet understand my role, but I recognized the moment. And I did something a little bit — okay, a whole lot — crazy to give myself the time to appreciate and be part of the moment.

Moments like that pass all too quickly. I’ve let the pitch go past before, and I wasn’t going to do it again.

That’s why the Dixon chasedown block versus Oklahoma was so amazing. It was the surest sign that my team had started to understand the moment.

See, the greats don’t take plays off. They have one setting:


I saw Dixon’s block, and I knew: These boys would not quit. Ever.

Meaningless layup? To the fans, maybe. But not to those players. There is no quit in those players. They may not win the National Championship, but I know they will not quit along the way.

After all, they understand the moment, too.

  1. I’m the tall guy in the yellow shirt in the bottom right corner of that screengrab, above.

How I Fell In Love. For the First Time. For Forever, I Hope.

Love is in the air ! Literally !!

Something changed in me this year. I know, because I was on the phone with a friend a few weeks ago. I was telling her about all the work I’m putting in with Stry and Very Quotatious and the fellowship, and she didn’t say anything.

And then I saw her a few days later, and I told her that I was speaking at TEDxMU, and I mentioned that I’d started working out with a trainer for the Belly Challenge, and she just stared at me. It looked like she was trying to X-ray me, to look straight through me, to figure out whether or not she was talking to the Dan she used to know.

She knew something had changed. She knew that I’d started to find a new center.

I started to realize it, too. And I started to think about what had changed. And then it hit me. It feels like just a moment ago that I figured it out:

I fell in love.

And here I am writing it, and not caring how cheesy it sounds:

I fell in love.

And again, and again, because it is too wonderful not to say:

I fell in love.

I fell in love with the waking up in the morning absolutely full of awesome. With the feeling that I have when I’m absolutely exhausted after a workout. With the smile I have on my face when I cross something else off my TeuxDeux.

I fell in love with doing. I fell in love with building things. I fell in love with the work.

And then I started to notice a whole world full of fellow builders. Turns out I’d lived in this world the whole time, and I’d barely noticed.

I know now: We live in a world where amazing things happen. We live in a world where there are so many people putting the tiniest dents in the universe. We live in a world overstretched with awesome.

I used to be stressed, and I still am. But now, stress is good stress. Excited stress! The “We’ve got a deadline to make because we’ve got shit to do!” kind of stress.

I find myself smiling a lot. I find myself in front of journalism classes, running around and jumping on chairs and yelling about building things and being awesome, and the students look at me wondering how much Starbucks it takes to make me this loud at NINE FUCKING O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING ON A TUESDAY, and then I tell them that I don’t drink coffee, and they look at me like I am absolutely mad.

And I am. You have to as mad as I am to do the things that I want to do.

There is so much to do, and there is not enough time, but that’s okay. The truth is, there is enough time for now.

And the truth is: When you are as in love as I am, it feels like I have all the time I will ever need.

And the truth is: When you are as in love as I am, time hardly matters at all.

What we build is what matters, and time is only there to show how long it can last.

The Crescendo Rises Again.


The crescendo, we called it.

My buddy, Ryan, and I came up with the title during our senior year. Amazing things had started to happen. Our school’s basketball team was experiencing massive success. We were dating women we liked. We were applying for jobs. We were really enjoying the last few months of college. (Maybe too much.)

We looked at our four years of school, at all the highs and lows. The almosts. The maybes. We looked at it all, and then we looked at senior year, as everything seemed to be coming together. We envisioned it all merging together in one glorious semester, our final semester, and eventually building into this one spectacular climax — the moment in which we would have it all.

The crescendo, we called it.

It didn’t work out quite like we’d hoped. Our basketball team came up one win short of the Final Four. Graduation didn’t greet us with the employment prospects we’d hoped for. The economy turned three shades south of sour.

But still, the hope for the crescendo lived on: One perfect year, of work, of effort, of hope, culminating in that singular point when we could look out and say, Yes, right here, we have it all.

Dare I say, though: Right now, I think I may be upon the rise of a new crescendo. The work I’m putting in with Stry, the work I’m putting into my personal life, my side projects — it’s coming together in a beautiful way.

Except that I’ve changed one thing about the crescendo. Back in college, I couldn’t envision anything beyond that climax. It would happen, and then…. well, I don’t know what I thought would happen. But the crescendo was the end.

Now I see things beyond that crescendo. And it’s not just a singular point. Everything I’m doing now is building towards dual goals — one professional, one personal — but they’re just a start. Once I get there, the cycle begins anew. New goals, new hopes. New crescendos to build towards.

I feel myself on the verge of something amazing, something I am building for the future. It is just the start.

The crescendo — the first of many — is upon us.

Let it ring loudly.

Do the Work. Always Do The Work.

Finish Line

I read this story last summer, and I didn’t fully understand it. I loved it, and I bookmarked it, and I read it a half-dozen times, but I didn’t really get it.

It was about Bob Bradley, the former coach of the U.S. men’s soccer team. The story was by Luis Bueno, who used to cover Bradley when he was the coach of Chivas USA. And the reporter remembers one thing about Bradley:

The work.

No matter the results on game day, at practice, all Bradley wanted to talk about was the work. Writes Bueno:

It seemed like every time I caught Bob Bradley after a training session, he brought up the work. The work was good, the work was getting better, the work, the work, the work… It was hardly ever about wins and losses, mostly always the work.

And when I read that story for the first time, it only kind of clicked. It had been a long time since I had worked really, really hard. I had gotten lazy. The passion wasn’t really there. I’d become one of those guys that Todd Snider was thinking of when he sang, “Everybody wants the most they can possibly get / For the least they can possibly do.”

And that story about Bob Bradley was one of the ones that got me moving again. I had to wake up in the morning and do the work. To miss a work day? Unacceptable.

But I still didn’t really understand what all that meant. It wasn’t until recently when it fully clicked. I’ve been on a heavy work binge — on Stry, on side projects, on the Belly Challenge, on my personal life. I’ve been putting in the work, and I’ve been filling up my TeuxDeux and crossing it off and filling it up again. Damn if I’m not as happy as I’ve ever been — even though I’m working as hard as I’ve ever worked.

Then I saw this quote by Jay Bilas, the former Duke basketball star and current ESPN commentator. He wrote a fantastic piece on toughness, and this quote absolutely floored me:

“I was a really hard worker in high school and college. But I worked and trained exceptionally hard to make playing easier. I was wrong. I once read that Bob Knight had criticized a player of his by saying, “You just want to be comfortable out there!” Well, that was me, and when I read that, it clicked with me. I needed to work to increase my capacity for work, not to make it easier to play. I needed to work in order to be more productive in my time on the floor. Tough players play so hard that their coaches have to take them out to get rest so they can put them back in. The toughest players don’t pace themselves.”

And there it was: Work begets more work. Until you put in the work, you don’t know how hard you can really go. Only with work can you understand.

So today is a work day. Today, I will do the work.

Will you?

Words Of Advice From an “Overnight Success.”

My startup songwriter-in-residence, Todd Snider, has a line that I find myself quoting a lot. It’s from a brilliant little song, titled “Easy Money.” He sings:

Everyone wants the most they can possibly get
For the least they can possibly do

And he couldn’t be more spot on. I meet a lot of people who want to be an overnight success. Problem is, for most of us in the creative/entreprenurial spheres, there’s no such thing.

Don’t believe me? Listen to the Twitter guys.

And here’s more proof. Meet Dave McClure. Out there in Silicon Valley, he’s what Ron Burgundy would call kind of a big deal. He’s worked with startups, invested in startups, immersed himself in startups. His latest extravaganza is called 500 Startups, and they’re a startup accelerator. They bring in a ton of startups — this year, they’ve worked with north of 50 startups. They mentor them, they groom them, they fund them — and then they send them out into the world.

Naturally, people thought this was crazy.

But then I saw this Twitter exchange tonight between McClure and Jason Cohen, an entrepreneur and investor who runs a popular startup blog:

Amen, guys. They speak to a simple truth: Want to make change? It can happen — one day at a time, one relationship at a time.

Things happen slowly. Success has to be earned. Trust has to be earned.

It happens: One day at a time. One relationship at a time.

Start there.

Life Lessons Learned From Three Chicks in an RV.

Every once in a while, I get to meet someone who just knocks me over. Someone doing something inspiring and risky and ambitious and epic. Someone who’s doing something incredible.

And last night, I met three ladies who are traveling America in an RV, doing good deeds and inspiring others to chase big dreams. I couldn’t help but be bowled over by the Girls Gone Moto. They started talking about their stories — how they embraced the fear, how they found a dream to chase — and I started thinking of my own story.

See, I remember when I was leaving San Antonio and headed to Biloxi to start Stry. I remember how terrified I was. I remember thinking that there were a million steps ahead of me. I remember thinking, What if it all works? What if it succeeds? What if it turns into a real business? What if I hire employees? What if people start depending on me? What then?

I’d never done any of that, and it all seemed overwhelming. The thought of success seemed overwhelming. So I let the fear in a little bit, and then the questions started changing. I stopped thinking about all the baby steps ahead of me, and started thinking, Well, what if I can’t do this? What if I shouldn’t?

But I know now: There’s a part of the brain that loves to sabotage dreams. It’s the naysayer within your subconscious. And I know now: Sometimes, you have to embrace that fear and blow right past it.

I did, and I can’t begin to describe the sensation of knocking fear back on its ass. It’s an amazing feeling.

And no, the fear doesn’t ever just go away. But once you’ve conquered it once, you’ll always know that you can conquer it again.