Tag Archives: keep going

Learning To Solve For X.

“Impossible is only true until you prove it otherwise.” — Tanner Christensen

 
There’s this thing I tell people often, whenever the bill comes or whenever a series of numbers get laid out on the table.

“I’m not very good at math,” I’ll say.

This is a standard journalism line. Journalists all say they’re bad at math. (1)

But I wasn’t always lousy at math. Actually, I’ll confess that I used to like it.

I remember when math made sense to me. Algebra was a wonderfully simple thing: Look at an equation, locate the parts, break them down and then just solve for x.

Simple.

There were nuances, sure, and tricks to help you get there faster. But ultimately, finding that “x” was all that mattered.

I look back now and realize that my worldview was inadvertently shaped by forces like algebra. It taught me to be a problem solver.

As a kid, I never dreamed of changing the world. I never wanted to be an astronaut or a firefighter or the President. I can’t remember any major ambition or goal from my childhood, really.

Mostly, I wanted to do my schoolwork well, and score a couple of goals at soccer games, and wake up early enough on Saturday mornings for cartoons.

Modest goals, all.

Every day started by sorting out the variables and finding “x” in my daily life. “X” meant learning how to the work I needed to do to get the grades I wanted. “X” meant finding new ways to score on the field. “X” meant discovering that I could leave my blinds open on Friday night so the light would quietly wake me on Saturday morning and I could tip-toe downstairs to watch TV.

In my little corner of the universe, I wasn’t focused on changing the world. I was all about making little things happen — locating “x,” and then solving for it.

The “x” has gotten more difficult to find over the years. The challenges have gotten bigger. The variables have gotten more complicated. I feel so lucky to have these challenges in my life.

But the bigger the problem, the smaller the steps that need to be taken to solve for “x.” There are no big breakthroughs or magic bullets, I’ve found, just thousands of small steps.

It never hurts to have big goals. But the only way to achieve them is through doing small things, through solving for “x” over and over again — until all those little answers add up to the breakthrough you wanted all along.

Photo at top via @iheartstana.

  1. This is probably a bad sign for an industry that’s starting to focus more and more on the bottom line.

The Magic Equation: Work = Passion + Hustle + Skills + Time + Tribe.

“I find the courage to follow my dreams because I don’t have any other choice.” — Karol Gajda

 
Let it be known: I love doing the work.

I love it. I love showing up each day to make things happen. I love the feeling at the end of the day when I know I’ve done good work.

But when I talk about “the work,” I’m not talking about the day-to-day tasks and duties. I’m not talking about the bullet points.

The work is so much bigger than that. What I’m talking about is The Work — the thing you do to make a dent in this universe.

The work starts with five things. It is a simple equation:

Work = Passion + Hustle + Skills + Time + Tribe

 
Some people have one, maybe two of those things down. A lot of entrepreneurs have the first three, but they don’t have the time or the tribe, and without those, projects die.

If you can find a way to put all five together together, you’ll have magic.
 

Passion

Do you love showing up to put in the hours? Are you excited about what you do? Do you truly care?

Matt Rutherford’s a case study in passion. This year, he circumnavigated the Americas on a 27-foot sailboat — by himself, without stopping. A fellow sailor who’d done the journey — on a much larger boat, and with a small crew — described Rutherford like this:

“What Matt is trying to do, I’m absolutely blown away by it, He’s doing this in a boat that, frankly, I’d be scared to sail from Newport to Bermuda. I’m in awe of the guy. This is such a mammoth undertaking, and to do it without stopping — alone — is mind-boggling. It’s almost teetering on the edge of blood-insanity, frankly.”

That’s the kind of passion I’m talking about: the kind of passion that would drive your fellow colleagues to question your own sanity. Great work will push you to limits others say can’t be reached. Without crazy passion, you’ll listen to them — and turn back before the journey’s up.

Love — with every bit of you — what you do. It’s the only way to convince yourself to do what should be impossible.
 

Hustle

Hustle often gets confused with speed, and that’s not quite right. Hustle isn’t about working faster. It’s about working harder. It’s about putting in those extra hours, and making a few extra things happen each day.

Hustle means setting your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier every morning to make time for a big task. It means staying at the office 15 minutes later to make that extra call. Over the course of the year, all those 15 minutes add up.

The Olympics have given us story after story of athletes who hustle: the soccer player who has a bad game and then turns in 10 straight days of four-hour work sessions to prove to her coach that she’s ready for the Games; the gymnast who takes an extra job as a teenager so can he support his family while he works towards London.

Hustle is one of the true game-changers in this world. Hustle is the physical manifestation of passion. It’s the way you show how hard you’re willing to go to do work you love.
 

Skills

What skills do you already have? And what do you need to learn in order to do better work?

The greats go and practice their skills every day, and they get better. Over time, skills get honed, refined and perfected.

Skills can be learned. You have no excuse: To do great work, you must make learning a priority.

If you’re not constantly evaluating your own skills, you’re not thinking about what you can do to do better work.
 

Time

Time cannot be accrued; it can only be lost.

So do you have time to do the work you need to do? There’s a reason many of the greats preach the virtues of saying “no” to time-consuming requests. There’s a reason the greats say something like this nearly every day:

But we can’t. We get the time we have. And every day is one less day.

Great work requires all the time you have. Start immediately.
 

Tribe

The final piece of the work, and the least obvious. Your tribe encompasses the people who believe in you and support you. They are your friends, your family, your co-workers, your mentors. They are the people who love the work you do.

Everyone who does great work has a tribe. Together, with your work and their support, you can make things happen that you alone cannot do. Work is best shared.

But you must be willing to ask for help, and you need that tribe there to help you find the answers.

Find your tribe and show them how important they are to you. They will give it back to you ten-fold.

¶ ¶ ¶

So that’s your equation: Passion + Hustle + Skills + Time + Tribe. Put those five together and — I promise you — you will do great work. Some of it will break through, and some of it will not. Luck and timing will play a role.

But if you have those five things, you have the formula.

Now it’s up to you to make the work happen.

Today, I urge you: Do great work.

That photo of the work getting done comes from @pyensan.

Some Advice to the Kid Who Was Afraid of Jumping Into the Pool This Morning.

“The best way to truly crush your self-doubt is to take action immediately. No plans, no ideas, no considerations, no excuses, no tomorrow. Just go do it right now.” ― Andrew Olson

 
I’m at the pool this morning, doing my weekly swim. There’s a six-year-old over in lane 1. He’s wearing a red Angry Birds bathing suit, and he’s clutching a noodle like its his last nickel. He’s squeezing his eyes as tight as he can. He standing on the edge of the pool. There’s a swim coach standing in the water, maybe five feet away.

I stop swimming and start watching the coach. He wants the kid to jump in and doggy paddle that five feet. This seems like an entirely reasonable request.

Except, for this six-year-old, this is the scariest thing he’s probably ever done.

“This is the last thing you have to do,” the coach says, “and then you don’t have to do it again today.”

“I don’t want to do it again for forever!” the kid calls back. His eyes are still screwed up tight.

I watch the kid on the edge of the pool, and I remember when I was once him, a young man full of fear.

I remember when I first started out in journalism, and I had to psych myself up before each phone call to a source.

I remember the day before my bar mitzvah, when I screwed up a line in my Torah portion and ran to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall for 30 minutes, crying and worrying that I wouldn’t get it right on the big day.

I remember every big leap, every first kiss, every terrifying step that felt like it might crush me.

It never did.

Fear lurks behind us. It waits ahead of us. It surrounds us, always.

But we cannot let it own us. We cannot let it destroy us.

The fear never goes away. It adapts. It’s crafty, fear is, and it finds way into our lives.

The only way to own it is to push through it. The only way to own it is to do what the kid eventually did at the pool today.

He jumped, and he doggy paddled his ass off — all five feet to the swim coach. He was hyperventilating when he got there, and scared out of his mind. But hell, he’d made it.

So here’s to you, kid. Way to go. Today, you took a damn big leap.

And remember: Don’t let fear crush you. Sure, the leaps will get bigger. They will get riskier. Scarier.

Don’t let fear stop you. You’ve crushed it once. You can do it again. I promise you that.

That excellent photo at top of the leap is via @devfairfax.

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.

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.

Hard Work + ________. (or: The Secret To Doing Better Work.)

About two weeks ago, I started swimming again. There’s a guy who’s been at the pool each time I’ve been there. He must weigh close to 300 lbs.

But every time I’ve looked up, he’s been lapping me. He’d be a lane or two over, and I’d start racing him, trying to beat him to the wall.

I’d get to the wall, and he’d already be on his next lap.

And this started to piss me off. I’m 6’5”, and I’m as skinny as I’ve been since college, and I’ve got big hands and big feet, and I’m just not fast in the water. I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ve got Michael Phelps’ size but absolutely none of his talent.

But to find out that I was way slower than this fat guy? It made me mad. What was his secret?

Yesterday, all the lanes were taken, so I shared with the fat guy. I hopped in the pool and looked down at his feet.

He was wearing flippers.

The secret was out. He was swimming with an outboard motor attached to his feet.

But it also reminded me of a common misconception. Many people will tell you that hard work alone guarantees success. It does not.

Lots of people work hard, but much of it is not the work that people are most passionate about. I know people who work long days, but their jobs are filled with conference calls and TPS reports, and they burn out. Hard work is a prerequisite for success, but it’s not the only prerequisite.

Hard work has to be paired with the right things — like passion, ideas, good people, the right tools and skills — in order to actually take you somewhere.

Here I am in the pool, kicking like crazy, and the 300-pounder in lane 2 has fins attached to his feet. Both of us are putting in the work in the pool, but when it comes to pure productivity, he’s far exceeding my output. With those flippers on, he can probably swim twice the distance I can flipper-less in an hour. He told me that he’s trying to swim a thousand meters each day. With the flippers, he can do that in about 45 minutes in the pool.

That’s fantastic. He’s pairing the right work with the right tools to meet his goals. He’s focused in how he goes about the work.

Then there’s me, flailing about in the water. Talking to the guy with the flippers yesterday, I realized that I hadn’t set any goals for the pool. I was showing up to do work, but I wasn’t sure what work I wanted to do.

As a result, I was doing empty work. I was sweating my ass off without any real purpose in mind.

I owe the guy with the flippers a thank you the next time I see him. Because the next time I go to the pool, it’ll be with specific goals in mind. I’ll be swimming with purpose.

When you’re trying to do good work, that can make all the difference.

Thanks to @hadleyvictoria for the excellent picture of flippers.

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Give Absolutely Everything You Have To Something You Love.

To partially steal a line from the band Dawes: If you can gives yourself to something, then you should.

Stry.us is the closest I have come to realizing myself in another thing. It is everything I care about — stories, the web, people, building, design, sharing. It is impossible to separate myself from this project. There is already so much of me in it.

And I am all in on this. There is no backing down from it now. There is no going back to normal jobs in journalism. Not after this. Not after I’ve put in the work. Not after I’ve learned how hard I can work.

You know how many athletes will refuse to retire even after their playing career is clearly finished? Oftentimes, it’s because these athletes can’t imagine a future beyond sports. This is all they know.

And on a much smaller scale, I’m starting to understand that mentality. I don’t know just yet what the next thing is for me, but I do know that this part of the Stry.us journey ends Sept. 1. And I know that to go from Stry.us to anything less than an equally absurd challenge would be a letdown. I’d be bored at a desk job, and life is too short to be bored.

I’ve gone all in, and I cannot imagine life on a lower plane than this.

There is something so incredibly rewarding about giving myself fully to this business. On a daily basis, I’m asking myself to do things that I couldn’t do the day before. I’m asking myself to take on challenges that I didn’t know existed a month earlier.

I feel the pressure. This is my baby, and if it gets screwed up, it’s going to be my fault. This thing goes as far as I can take it, and that means making the right decisions and hiring the right team to keep it going. I think I’ve made several excellent decisions so far. I really like my team. I think we’re kicking ass.

But we’ve got less than 70 days to go on this Springfield project. There is more reporting to be done. There are more stories to be told. I love the journey, but I’m also so excited to see where we’ll all be when Sept. 1 arrives. I have no idea where this thing will take us, but I believe that it will be somewhere great. I believe that if I keep pushing all of myself into Stry.us, if I keep reaching deep for all the talent and enthusiasm that I can muster from my team, we’ll have something awesome when the Springfield project ends.

There is more to give — so much more. I will give myself to this project, I keep telling myself. I will give it everything I can give. All the time, all the energy, all the joy.

I must.

Fortune cookie at top via @c_richa20.

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Tweet me your thoughts at @danoshinsky.

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.

Anything I’ve Ever Done Well, I Have Done Wrong First — Many, Many Times.


How about I just put this in the simplest way I can?

Everything I have ever done right in my life is something I’ve done wrong a half-dozen times first.

Every good idea, every well-executed plan, every romance — it’s all the result of complete, total, abject failure. I have never done anything right the first time.

The first time I tried to speak Spanish ended up with me locked in my closet, crying hysterically at the fact that I just didn’t understand the language.

The first time I interviewed a source using a tape recorder, I forgot to press record.

The first time I tried to play guitar, I sounded like an amateur.

The first time I wrote a blog post, the words came out all wrong.

The first time I tried to barbecue ribs, I nearly poisoned my friends.

Everything I have ever done right in my life — anything I have ever learned to do well, and to love — I have done wrong first, and I have done it wrong many, many times.

But what I have learned is that if it really matters to you — if it’s a thing, or a person, or a love, or a project, or a dream — then the first failure is no deterrent. And neither is the second, or the twenty-second.

Most of the people in our world see failure as an excuse to stop trying.

The builders in our world see failure as a chance to learn, and to try again.

I believe that the best things in this life cannot be had without failure — crushing, crippling, head-in-your-hands failure — and without the incredible bit of courage it takes to stand back up and fail again.

If you love something, then you must learn to love failure. It is the only road on which great dreams are made.

There Is No Set Path From A->B. There Are Only Steps. Take The First One.

Run, Forrest, Run.

When I first started Stry.us, I had this notion that I was going to create a company that was going to disrupt the Associated Press. It was going to do a lot of things — most especially, it would tell great stories — but it would be funded by news organizations who would rip up their contracts with AP and give me their money instead. All I needed was 100 news organizations who’d give me $10,000 each.

This was the very definition of cluelessness.

I got excited, and I got ahead of myself. Way, WAY ahead of myself. It was going to take way more than three months of reporting from Biloxi for me to raise money for Stry.us.(1)

The road from here to there — and for the record, the road has since changed, and I’m on a totally different path with Stry.us (2) — takes time. It takes a thousand tiny steps. There are no big leaps.

Think of it this way: Forrest Gump didn’t wake up and say, I’m going to run across the country four times.

No! He said: Maybe I’ll run down to the end of the block. And then to the end of town. And then to the end of the county.

And then you know what happens next:

My goal of getting people on board with Stry.us was one that was going to take time. It was going to take a certain amount of crazy before I got to that first follower, that first client.

It was going to take many tiny steps.

People quit too soon. If there’s one thing that I’ve done right, it’s that I haven’t quit on Stry.us. I’ve kept it going, and just by inching it forward, I’ve gotten it to Springfield.

It takes a thousand small steps to get to where you want to go. The first steps are slow. They are painful.

But if you really want to get somewhere good, you have to take the first one.

  1. And a million dollars! I thought I could get a million dollars! Lordy lordy was I dreaming big.
  2. And that’s totally okay!