It became an unofficial life motto of mine about two years ago. I was having a conversation with my friend, Ryan. We were talking about moments. I was about to leave my job to start Stry.us. He was about to finish his master’s degree and get a job.
There was a big moment ahead of us, we agreed. We should enjoy it. That was what people kept telling us. Enjoy it. Savor it.
But then we had this little breakthrough. We didn’t want to merely savor this moment ahead of us.
We wanted to devour it.
Savoring is for little moments: the ice cream cone that’s slowly melting away, the card rush at the Bellagio’s blackjack tables.
But this is life we’re talking about, and you have to devour it whole. You have to take it on. You have to squeeze out everything that you can. You have to take big leaps, big risks, big action.
For nine years of my life, I’ve been a reporter. I’ve been lucky enough to report everywhere from Biloxi to Beijing. I’ve gotten to see some things that most people don’t get to see. I’ve done this job long enough to see the spectrum of what exists in our world: the pain, the joy, the frustration, the hope.
This whole thing is so fragile.
And in a fragile world, there isn’t time to do anything less than go all the way. The moments come and the moments go. We don’t get back time; we have it now, and never again.
So show up and go hard. Smile. Laugh. Work.
Wake up in the morning and devour your moment. This is your time. This is our time. Let’s use it to do great things for our world.
“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” ― Henry Ford
In the late 1880s, Karl Benz built the first modern automobile. In 1908, the first Model T rolled off the assembly line.
And then came the dawn of a new age in America: The age of the automobile.
You know this part of the story.
When most people talk about the birth of the American auto movement, they talk about companies like Ford and Oldsmobile. They talk about the handful of companies that broke through and got their cars into driveways across America.
2,000 companies entered this space, and today, we’re left with about 15.
This is how it often works at the start of a big movement. In the wake of a breakthrough invention, there’s a rush of people who enter the field to offer up a product. Some survive; most don’t.
And new competitors enter the field, too. Henry Ford wasn’t thinking about skateboards or bikes or subways or buses or helicopters when he built the Model T, but today, they’re all players in the field of transportation.
The point is, at the start, it’s chaos. Over time, chaos weeds out much of the competition. Some companies innovate, but far more die off.
We need more doers. We need more action. Most of us will fail, but that’s alright. It’s entirely possible — maybe even probable — that Stry.us will go the way of the Auto-Bug or the Biddle, just another company forgotten in time.
But in order to build a better future for storytelling, we have to actually do things. I so admire the 2,000 founders behind those initial car companies. They had the right idea, just the wrong luck or team or execution.
But they made something happen. I hope my colleagues in news don’t give in to the inevitability that many of us are going to die off, and that we’ll be left with a few big media conglomerates running the show.
We have to build. We have to create. We have to do.
The rush to build a better story is just beginning. This is no time to idle.
“I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way.” ― Voltaire
I have friends who are addicted to their GPS devices. Without a GPS, they couldn’t find their own feet. They’re always plugging destinations into that device, and that GPS voice gives them the road ahead. Miss a turn? The GPS tells them how to get back on track.
It’s a type of traveling with one thing in mind: Getting to the destination as quickly as possible.
What I find is that so many people I know live life this way. It’s always about moving on to the next milestone. Graduation. Job. Marriage. Kids.
But I don’t think life is meant to go this way, hopping from job to job, from destination to destination.
Isn’t the best stuff in life the stuff you find along the way?
“Wizard of Oz” isn’t a movie about the girl who makes it to Oz. It’s about the people she finds on the road.
“Into Thin Air” isn’t about reaching the summit of Everest. It’s about the power of the human spirit.
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” isn’t about getting where you want to go. It’s about getting lost along the way.
This life needs to be about the journey, not the destination. There’s value in being lost. There’s value in keeping your eyes open, in staying curious. In exploring!
We have to stop worrying about the perfect route. We have to be willing to wander.
I think we need to keep one eye on the road and the other on what’s happening all around us. Otherwise, we’ll wake up one day at one of these milestones and wonder, How the hell did we get here? And what did we miss along the way?
Put down that GPS. Go enjoy the journey. Go enjoy the ride.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know already: I’m a big fan of awesome work. But doing the work isn’t easy. It requires persistence, patience, luck, hustle — and a whole lot of inspiration.
I’d like to help connect you to some of the things on the web that inspire me. Maybe they’ll spark something in you, too.
Every month, I’m going to add to something I’m calling “The Awesome File.” Today’s your first filing.
So: Here are 10 completely awesome things that you should really make time for this month:
1. READ: Derek Sivers’ “Anything You Want
It’s only 90 pages, which means that you could finish the entire thing over a long lunch. But savor “Anything You Want.” It’s not as much a business book as a manifesto for creating things that matter. If you’re looking for the courage to take a small step, start here.
2. READ: “Waking Up Full of Awesome”
If you’re just looking for a swift kick in the pants, read “Waking Up Full of Awesome.” In 216 words, it’s a reminder to wake up tomorrow ready for everything the world has.
3. WATCH: “Her Morning Elegance” by Oren Lavie
As cool a stop-motion video as you’ll ever see. It’s all kinds of whimsy. What I love most is the story that gets told in the video. A friend once told me that we all love stories when we’re 6, and we all love stories when we’re 60. But sometimes as you get older, you need a reminder.
Let this serve as your reminder:
4. LISTEN: Daytrotter
I’ve been a huge fan of this site for years, and their recent transition to a subscription site has been superb. For $2 per month, you get (nearly) infinite live recordings from all sorts of bands, from the established (Counting Crows) to the up-and-coming (The Lumineers.) Five or six bands record new sessions for the site every single day. Make your earbuds happy and get yourself a subscription.
5. LOOK: Once Magazine
If you’ve got an iPad, get a copy of this into your hands. If Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz and National Geographic had a baby, it’d probably look a lot like this. It’s a magazine full of awesome stories presented beautifully.
7. SMILE: “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Ben Rector
Ben Rector does a one-man cover of Whitney Houston’s classic. It is supremely catchy. You will enjoy it. You will almost certainly start dancing.
Stop reading and go click play:
8. CONSIDER: Alarm Clocks Are Evil
“The snooze button is a weapon in the battle between the selves we’d like to be and the selves we actually are.” This is an excellent read on alarm clocks — the enemy of hustle. This month, try to heed its warning.
9. LAUGH: Nick Thune.
Possibly the only comedy bit ever that includes jokes about both pregnancy and acute angles. Insanely clever and very funny:
Navin R. Johnson: The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!
Harry Hartounian: Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.
Navin R. Johnson: Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 — Johnson, Navin R.! I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity – your name in print – that makes people. I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.
¶ ¶ ¶
I’m seeing that Navin R. Johnson kind of excitement from my team at Stry.us lately, and it’s a wonderful thing. I can’t remember where I read it first, but it’s true: You can teach skills, but you cannot teach attitude. Right now, we’re at the start of this project, and everyone is excited about everything.
The challenge is in keeping that excitement going. I have to know how my reporters are running — right now, I can see that two of them are slightly overworked, and one of them is a little bored, and the fourth is right about at her maximum output — and when I need to step in and intervene. Because it’s really easy to lose a good employee to burnout, and it’s equally easy to lose a reporter to boredom.
Like Navin, I know how excited my reporters are to see their names appear on the site. But that excitement is fleeting.
On those slow days, I like to think about the moments when the energy’s there, when the excitement is high, when I’m absolutely giddy about the work I’m doing. On a day when I’m down, I can always remember: Tomorrow could bring that excitement again. Today’s just a bad day.
Until then, I have to find a way to do the work I need to do with the passion I need to have. And I need to teach my team how to do the same.
Otherwise, we’ll wake up one day as that gas station owner, trying to figure when the days of getting excited about the phone book passed us by.
There are so many wonderful things about being young and stupid and excited. I will not let that go to waste.
But on that trip to Florida, my mother decided — and I do not know why — to bring along some George Carlin for the drive.
That was the first time I’d ever heard Carlin’s famed “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” routine.(3) I’d never heard anything quite like it before. I’d never heard anyone use words — simple, clear, decisive words — to prove such a powerful point.
Things would never be the same after that.
One line in the routine hit me especially hard. There was this idea that certain words were inherently “bad.” Carlin said that was total crap.
“There are no bad words,” he said. “Bad thoughts. Bad intentions. And words.”
I’d like to say the same is true with your work. Again, it doesn’t matter what your work is — playing basketball, writing the Great American Novel, building a better mousetrap. All that matters is that there is no such thing as bad work.
The results aren’t what you want sometimes. But the work itself is always good. Always.
There are bad results, sure. But work? Passionate, driven, goal-oriented work never fails. It’s never bad. Through it, regardless of results, you’ll learn how to do better work.
There will always be people who tell you that your work isn’t any good, just like there will always people who tell you that you can’t say certain words, or that you can’t try certain things.
But I know what Carlin would say about those people:
Go do the work instead.
I still can’t hear Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” without singing, “Boris Yeltsin is the hardest rhyme.” ↩
I remember that I didn’t like music all that much. I’d spent my childhood listening to sports talk radio — to 570, and then to 980 when it moved up the radio dial. I’d come home from school, and I’d catch the last hour of Tony Kornheiser’s show. I’d start my homework, and Andy Pollin and a team of local reporters would be talking about Redskins season. I’d go to bed listening to Ken Beatrice, a host with a Boston accent that would’ve shamed the “Car Talk” guys.
There wasn’t a backing track to my childhood as much as there was a whine — a low drone of Washingtonians, watching their sports franchises sink further into the muck, their only outlet a radio call-in show that catered to the most neurotic, most obsessed among us.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I started listening to music. It started during a summer up on the Cape, when I’d discovered a classic rock station with good taste. I learned that I liked U2 and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I discovered the Guess Who, and I remember listening to a lot of J. Geils Band. I made my first — and only — radio call-in request that summer: Van Halen, “Hot for Teacher.”
That fall, with some coupons I’d been birthday gifted, I went out and bought my first two CDs: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Greatest Hits,” and Jet’s “Get Born.” My first car, my grandpa’s Olds Eighty-Eight, had been passed on to a cousin. I’d come into possession of another Olds, this one white, and with a CD player. For all of three or four minutes in the morning, on the drive from Wood Acres to Walt Whitman, I rocked.
Of course, this isn’t a story about an 18-year-old who gets an Oldsmobile and falls in love with a quartet of Australian rockers who ripped off Iggy Pop. That wouldn’t be much of a story, really.
No, this is about this one moment I remember.
I remember that I’d made a left turn that day onto Whittier. I remember that it one of those in-between days in late winter — maybe February, maybe March — where the words “unseasonably warm” come to mind. I remember that my friend, Alyssa, had burned me a CD of a band she liked.
I remember turning left in my white Olds, and the school day ending, and the windows down, and the volume a little too loud, and the sound I didn’t know I wanted to hear.
The band was the Black Keys, and the first song on that CD was “10 A.M. Automatic.” It’s the kind of song that jolts you if you’re not ready for it.
Three notes in, I wanted to know where this band had been hiding from me. They had this massive sound. The recording sounded like it had been aging for decades.
Why hadn’t the classic rock stations been playing these guys?
I went home and Googled them, and I learned two things:
1.) They weren’t an old band. These guys were in their mid-twenties.
2.) There were only two of them.
Two guys could make a sound this big?
I bought their second CD, “Thickfreakness.” Then their first. I got to college, and I started buying more blues albums: Sonny Landreth, Hubert Sumlin. I read that Sumlin had played with a Howlin’ Wolf, so I had to look him up. I read that Howlin’ Wolf had been a contemporary of a Muddy Waters, so I Googled him.
Then I started working as a DJ at the college radio station, and that opened up an entire library of blues artists I’d never known. They’re old friends now: Lightning Hopkins, Cephas & Wiggins, Townes Van Zandt.
The Black Keys came to Columbia, Mo., in the winter of my sophomore year. I remember them being loud, and at points, louder-than-loud. I remember smiling as big as I’ve ever smiled.
There was the other thing I remember, too: I remember wondering why more people didn’t listen to this band I loved.
How could you listen to a song like “10 A.M. Automatic” and not love these guys?
I remember staying up late one night, before we had DVR. It was back in my senior year, a few months after I’d heard the band for the first time. They were playing Letterman. YouTube wasn’t out yet. I’d never seen them perform before. I remember looking around the TV, trying to see if there was someone else back there playing guitar or bass. I just couldn’t see how two guys could make that much sound.
I remember the first time I heard one of their songs as a backing track on a TV show, but I don’t remember the show. It was either “Entourage” or “Friday Night Lights.” But I remember smiling, because I knew someone else out there was going to hear that sound and fall for it just like I had.
This year, the Black Keys released an album called “Brothers.” It was their third full album since “Rubber Factory” — the LP with “10 A.M. Automatic” on it — had been released. Their most recent album, “Attack & Release,” had been produced by DJ Danger Mouse, he of Gnarls Barkley fame. The two band members, Dan and Patrick, had each released a side project. They’d also backed a hugely ambitious rap project, called BlakRoc, that somehow worked.
I’d been listening to the band for five years, and I’d pretty much accepted the fact that the Keys weren’t going to ever go mainstream. And I was okay with that.
And then they went big.
They won a VMA. Ended up on “Colbert.” Played “SNL.” Had a few music videos top a million hits on YouTube. Stopped playing dingy venues and started playing amphitheaters and concert halls.
The hipster’s dilemma, of course, is that I’m not supposed to feel that way. The Keys were the first band I ever loved, I ever felt was mine. And now they’re everyone’s. I’ll never get to see them play a venue as crappy as Columbia’s Blue Note again, and that’s where they’re meant to be heard. In a dungeon, preferably, or at least some place with exposed pipes and $2 PBR drafts. Last time they were in D.C., they played 5,000-seat DAR Constitution Hall. Next time, they’ll probably play Verizon Center, and 18,000 people will show up to watch.
They’re still one of my favorite bands, but they’re not just my band anymore.
But if they win this Sunday? Some kid’s going to go out, and… well, actually, no, that’s not entirely right. Some kid’s going to open up iTunes. He’s going to download “Rubber Factory.” He’s going to load it onto his iPod. He’ll go out for a drive. Maybe it’ll be a sunny day. Maybe the windows will be down.
Maybe he’ll hear those first three notes of “10 A.M. Automatic” like I heard them.
I hope he does.
I actually remember this one other thing. I was watching an episode of “Friday Night Lights.” This was about a year ago. It was one of those classic “FNL” montages — no words, just some light music and darkness falling and Dillon, TX, slowly melting away. I remember the music well: some fingerpicking on guitar, and a voice that absolutely ached.
I remember Googling the lyrics. The song was, “When The Night Comes,” by Dan Auerbach.
Dan Auerbach, the lead singer of the Black Keys.
And I remember feeling like I’d rediscovered that sound all over again.