Tag Archives: inspiration comes from strange places

Success Is….

“Success is never owned, it’s only rented; and whether you win or lose, the rent is still due every day.” — Rory Vaden

 
Success isn’t an easy thing to define. It is — at best — elusive. You set a goal, and then when you get there, you find that the goalposts have moved. Your definition of it has changed.

Still, I’m finding on a day-to-day basis that there are ways to measure success — and they’re not quite what you might expect.

Success is…

Taking the first step.

…Getting to unexpected places and knowing how to find your way out.

…That smile when you mention what you do.

…Surprising yourself with answers you didn’t know you knew and lessons you didn’t realize you’d learned.

…Being willing to do work every day.

Finding your focus.

Defining your greatness.

…A to-do list that’s been finished off and loaded up again for the next day.

…Loving something and giving everything to it.

…Staying in over your head without fear of eventually going under.

Finishing what you start.

Most of all, success is often unexpected — even when you’ve been chasing it all along.

That gold medal at the top comes via @johnphotography.

An Oshinsky Family Lesson: Do Big Things With Crazy Amounts of Love.

“Of all the things to be picky about, people is the most important.” — Nick Seguin

 
Two years ago, I wrote a happy birthday message to my mother on this blog. It read:

“A very happy birthday to you, mom, without whom this blog would not be possible, and without whom I would be rendered hopelessly, painfully normal.”

Normal.

Normal.

Normal.

I shudder just thinking about it.

Normal isn’t something we Oshinskys do, and it gets us some weird looks. I’ve done a lot of things that I keep being told I’m not supposed to have done. For me, lots of stuff has come out of order. I covered my first NFL game before I went on my first real date. My first paid job in newspapers wasn’t a full-time gig, but it did involve covering the Olympics in Beijing.

This thing I hear from others — that there is some sort of order to this life — has never really applied to me, and I don’t mind that at all.

Mine is my path, and I’m rather fond of where it’s been taking me, potholes and steep climbs and all.

I learned the ways of the unmarked path from my family. The Oshinsky family does not do ordinary.

My father, at 55, decided he wanted to get into the best shape of his life, and he spent a year doing just that.

My mother, at 52, decided she wanted to run a marathon, and she finished at a 14:30-per-mile pace.

My sister decided she wanted to spend a semester of high school studying abroad — and then pulled off five months on the beaches of the Bahamas.

My brother decided he wanted to use his bar mitzvah for good, and raised $15,000 to build a playground in post-Katrina New Orleans.

I do not believe that we are an extraordinary family. We are not the smartest people you will ever meet, and we are certainly not the most athletic.

But in the Oshinsky family, we take pride in our work. We do big things with great amounts of love. We hustle.

When we go for something, we go all in.

I cannot imagine life any other way.

That photo at top is of my little sister, Ellen. She does crazy beach workouts.

The First Step To Greatness Is Defining It.

An empty Hammons Field

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” — William Hutchinson Murray

 
There’s a moment you’ve probably never seen at a stadium. It’s about 30 minutes after the game ends. The fans are already on their way home. The ushers are cleaning up the aisles. The grounds crew is on the field. The lights are still on.

And there’s this strange quiet in the stadium. There’s no music playing, no athletes on the field.

What you’re left with is a big, empty stadium, just waiting for someone to come on in and do something amazing.

It’s impossible to look at an empty stadium — for me, at least — and not think about all the great things that are yet to come in such a place. When I look at a stadium, I see an incredible stage on which greatness can and will soon exist.

For many of us, such greatness is elusive. It’s within all of us, but it can’t just be unleashed on the world. Greatness, like anything else, needs to be focused.

Here’s the thing with greatness: First you have to define it, and only after you’ve done that can you go out and actually be great.

That’s what I love about sports: It’s easy for an athlete to define greatness. It’s defined by what happens on the field — the plays they make, the records they set. Sports give athletes a defined space and structure in which they can be great.

Outside of sports, greatness is a little harder to define. To the entrepreneur, to the writer, to the salesman, what is greatness? There are no rules out there in the real world — just you and your work.

So define how you will be great. And there are so many ways to do it. There is greatness in being a great dad or a great friend. There is greatness is shooting for the moon.

There is greatness in taking the first step.

Not all of us have — in the literal sense — those big stadiums, where the lights are shining and just waiting for us to step out and do something great.

But all of us have those places within us. When we define them, we build them — and we give ourselves the stage on which great work gets done and great dreams get achieved.

Go find your stage. Define your greatness, and then go out and be it.

That photo at top is of an empty Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo. It was taken by yours truly.

The August Edition of The Awesome File.

Last month, I published the first edition of The Awesome File, a list of 10 awesome things that you should make time for each month.(1) It’s August, and that means The Awesome File is back, with 10 new awesome things for your month ahead.

Inside this month’s installment of The Awesome File: Stories of Olympic awesomeness! Feats of tremendous hustle! And sexual decadence!

Read on — and be awesome this month:

1. READ: Joe Posnanski on Rulon Gardner

Like everyone else, I’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics lately. To keep you in the spirit of the Games, here’s the craziest Olympics story you’ll ever read. (If you’ve never seen the event that inspired that story, you can watch it here.)

2. PAUSE: Nike’s Find Your Greatness Ads

My personal favorite part of the Olympics? The ads. Per usual, Nike’s produced a whopper. This one’s about all the Londons and all the greatness in the world:

3. HUSTLE: Here’s How Hard You Have To Work To Make Things Happen

And now that you’re inspired, here are three amazing tales of hustle. The first is a basement-to-breakthrough kind of story. The second is a tale of full on hustle. And the third is about an awesome portfolio site that got big — and rightfully so. Inspiring stories, all.

4. APPLY: The New York Public Library’s Wikipedian-in-Chief opening

And while you’re thinking about work, here’s something you don’t see every day: A job opening involving Wikipedia. It’s unpaid, yes, but doesn’t the thought of putting the words “Wikipedian-In-Chief” on your resume make you want to apply just a little?

5. WATCH: Charlie LeDuff Golf Across Detroit

Great things start with baby steps, not big leaps. And here’s Charlie LeDuff proving that by golfing across Detroit. One man, 18 miles, 2,575 strokes — and one great story.

6. CONSIDER: Robin Sloan’s Javascript-Based Book Review

Here’s something I’ve been asking a lot lately: Why do we do things the way we’ve always done them? Mostly, this has involved me digging into a more specific question: Why do we tell stories the way we’ve always told stories?

And then I see something new and awesome, and I get all excited. Per evidence, I would like to submit this book review by Robin Sloan. You have never seen a book review quite like this before.

7. READ: “Dear American Airlines,” by Jonathan Miles

On that note: You also probably haven’t seen a novel quite like this before. It’s called “Dear American Airlines: A Novel.” It’s the story of one man’s miserable trip through O’Hare International, and anyone who’s flown to Chicago knows what this guy’s talking about.

8. LOOK: National Geographic’s Traveler Photo Contest 2012

Of course, once you get outside of the airport, you might find some amazing things, too. Like these fantastic, reader-submitted photos from trips abroad.

9. LAUGH: “One Bed, Two Girls, Three Bottles of Wine,” by Hayes Carll

Apropos of nothing: One day, I want to write a story as good as this. The song title alone is worth the price of admission.

10. LOVE: “How to Manage Your Time”

Simple things can be powerful things. A simple story, a finite focus — that’s often what’s at the root of great work.

Here’s proof, from the awesome Amber Rae:

If that’s not the kick in the pants you need to start focusing on great work, I’m not sure what’ll do the job.

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.

  1. And that I hope will inspire you to do great work.

Devour The Moment.

“Now is the time to go for broke.” ― Jeff Goins

 
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.

Work matters. Hustle matters. Love matters.

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.

That ridiculous photo of the hippo at top is via @bebopbebop.

Big Auto’s Failures Can Teach Us A Ton About Building A Better Future For News.

“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.

But they leave out names like Auto-Bug and Biddle and Vulcan, three of the 2,000-some car companies founded in America that have since closed their doors.

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.

Out of many, few.

So here’s what it means for news:

Right now, we have the web. We’re still not sure how to make this thing work. But we’ve got lots and lots of people entering the field.

We know that what we’re doing really isn’t sustainable. We have readers; what we want are paying customers and partners.

But what I want right now is more competition. I want more people entering the field. I want more people bringing great ideas to the table.

Like Clay Shirky said: Nothing will work, but everything might.

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.

Image of the Model T at top via @erinslomski.

Journey > Destination: Why The GPS Generation Has It All Wrong.

“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.

There are a number of names for my generation, but let me offer my own suggestion: the GPS Generation. We hit one milestone and start pointing towards the next.

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.

That gorgeous image at top via the On Wander blog.

The July Edition of The Awesome File.

The Awesome File, a collection of awesome stuff. Collected by Dan Oshinsky.

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.

6. PAUSE: “Ram,” from CBS Sunday Morning

Every Sunday, at the end of his newsmagazine, Charles Osgood brings viewers 60 seconds of silence from somewhere spectacular. Here’s 60 seconds of sky, sound — and one giant ram:

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:

10. LOVE: A manifesto.

I don’t know how to get my hands on a larger version of this, but if it’s possible, I want it. These are words to live by.

That’s all for this month’s edition of the Awesome File. Got something to submit for August’s edition? Tweet me at @danoshinsky with your suggestions.

Photo of that crazy lightbulb at top via @jdp124.

Finding The Energy To Do The Work On Days When It Just Isn’t There.

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.

So much of building your own thing is about bringing that energy. Many days, you just wake up with it.

Other days, you have to fake it. You have to smile big and try to find energy in those moments when it just doesn’t want to come.

You cannot just show up on the days when you feel like showing up. The work has to be done every single day.

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.

There Is No Such Thing As Bad Work. George Carlin Taught Me That.

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When I was in 9th grade, my family roadtripped down to Florida over winter break. My parents had always found interesting things to play in the car on long drives. My parents were big fans of D.C. parody group The Capital Steps,(1) and we listened to their cassettes in the car. We listened to the hysterical stories of Bill Harley, and the random baseball rantings of Danny Kaye.(2)

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:

Fuck ’em.

Go do the work instead.

  1. I still can’t hear Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” without singing, “Boris Yeltsin is the hardest rhyme.”
  2. “Oh, I say D! I say D-O! D-O-D! D-O-D-G! D-O-D-G-E-R-S! Team, team, team, team ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”
  3. No need to Google it — the seven are shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits.