My Librarian, The Drug Czar.

I didn’t get really into drugs until I was about six or seven years old. During the summers, I used to visit the Enid Public Library and wander about the shelves, carte blanche. It was there, cloaked from the public eye behind numerous texts, where I would be administered dosage upon dosage of fresh, new, enlightening psychotropic devices. Even so, this freedom to binge diminished as I relocated during the school year to a more cautiously monitored environment: the public school library.

Potent substances of epidemic proportions, if you look carefully enough, can be found littering the shelves of most libraries, though, and I was determined to find the most satiating of these. This, in my opinion, must have been why I was banned from visiting certain “Dark Arts” sections as an elementary student. It must have been that look in my eyes. Perhaps they were too red, or maybe the librarian had begun to take notice of that slight change in my disposition each time I made a new visit to this wonder emporium. Either way, I had to proceed with caution most days, if I was, after all, going to get my fix.

One day, in fact, the librarian caught me perusing around this “off-limits” section of the bookshelves. There I was at 11 or 12 years of age, Atlas Shrugged in hand, when that user’s itch overtook me. I dropped the book immediately and began frantically convulsing, part from fear of being caught in the act, part from knowing my stash was about to be flushed. All the while I knew if I did not administer soon, I would surely die.

It was no use, however, the ruse was up. At that age, I was hardly tall enough to see over the counter to check a book out, let alone hide a 1,200-paged manifesto behind my wimpy little back. So, I picked the book back up from the floor, replaced it on the shelf, and obediently followed the orders, promising myself I would find a way to unlock the potency of its contents at a later date.

That memory seems so long ago; I oftentimes wonder if it happened at all or if it was no more than the birth of some intense trip. After all, I have been using most of my life, and, it is not uncommon for me to drift entirely from all tethers to reality into fantasies tucked deep away in the darkest crevices of my mind, readily awakening to the inspiration I find in each new literary drug.

Subsequently, even if the instance with the librarian did not occur, I am certain the restrictions to prevent me from self-medicating or overdosing at such a young age were, in fact, in place. I despise that truth even to this day, but realize it did not stop me from introducing myself to those much harder drugs, so much as it merely delayed me.

However, what I know now is that had I simply been allowed to satisfy my craving when it initially had sprung, perhaps I would not have been so receptive to its effects or so keen to discover even harder, more illicit scholarly substances to fill the void such a prolonged introduction had created.

Furthermore, perhaps under the cautious supervision of the librarian or some other pedagogue dealer of dalliances, I would not have—once self-prescribing—been so keen to consume far above the recommended dosages. Perhaps given the opportunity at self-discovery—though this might be a stretch—I would have even hated the drugs, and rejected altogether any such interferences with my worldview as it then existed.

Even so, such was not the case, and it was made clear that such voyages into the unknown were impermissible for such a young, budding mind. This created nothing but contempt and inspired in me a sense of rebellion, a sense of courage to gallivant off into uncharted waters as a freelance pharmacist for myself, eager to indulge in every new available banned product I could find. So, too, did it make me more receptive to the mind-altering nature of these unapproved commodities. I found in these not merely a delightful escape, but more importantly, I discovered truth. I felt alive and aware, as if my eyes had at last been opened to all that was around me. I saw the world not as I thought it to be, but for what it truly was. I saw myself juxtaposed to the universe as a finite entity, both free and powerfully awestruck by the magnitude of what I had previously not only not known, but dismissed as impossible.

Those substances freed me from the restrictions imposed not only by coercive authorities, but of the inhibiting limitations I had enforced on myself through ignorance. Upon discovering this newfound, vast expanse of intellectual wealth, I gained a new appreciation for life, for learning, and for contemplating axiomatic truths.

I discovered how to listen rather than talk, how to humbly promote myself rather than boast, how to speak sincerely rather than with grandiosity. But far and above more imperative than all, I came to know how to love myself and as a result, how to love others. The ideas resulting from of all these trips and highs in prose and poetry unlocked all of these things for me, and I think they can for anybody courageous enough to give them a try.

So forget about prohibitions, censorships, or coercive deterrents. Why don’t you give the unknown a shot? Why not explore the limits of your own vast cognitive abilities?

Go pick up a book today, who knows? Your gateway drug could be waiting for you.

 

 

The Conversation You Should Be Having

Take-Home Message: People love talking about themselves. Give them a chance.

“Hi, I’m Mitchell.”

“Hi, Mitchell, I’m [Insert Name]”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise. So, Mitchell, what do you do?”

That’s the script to each new interaction I’ve been programmed to rehearse. It happens on auto-pilot. On many occasions, I catch myself regurgitating these words like lines from a play. It’s not because I’m superficially interested, either. It’s something more Pavlovian than that. It’s the response I’ve been conditioned to recite for years, as if we’re all merely products defined by our roles in society, rather than humans with passions, a family, and a story.

It happens all around us, and it walks with us through each new stage in our lives. Questions about what you wanted to be morphed into questions about your major, or any other classifying information. Whatever the question, the result is the same, and I’m guilty of it, too.

I call it qualifying by classifying. It’s really an easy recipe. You take a glassful of notions you have about an individual, add two shots of answers to surface-level questions, maybe stir in a pinch of prejudice, garnish with a stereotype, stir, and then you drink this mind-numbing libation. Add rash judgment according to your preference.

This isn’t healthy. All this does is continue a broken narrative that our existence is pointless. It adds to this group-think mentality that our own intrinsic, individual characteristics don’t matter. It adds to the propagation of society as a swarm of worker bees, beholden to the hive. It grants us each a label according to our role–rather than our personality–as if it’s our duty–rather than our choice.

But, there is still hope.

It happens by working on our delivery. Instead of asking someone what they do, ask, “What’s your story?” or “What keeps you up at night?” or even, “What are you passionate about?”

Watch the fire light in their eyes. Why? Because people love talking about themselves, detailing their passions, and telling their stories. What they likely don’t get often is someone eager to listen. This is not mere conjecture. Research has proven that the areas of the brain that respond to self-disclosure are also associated with reward. People really, truly, love talking about themselves.

Here’s the beauty of this, though. When you engage someone else this way and set them into motion about their story, you will learn more about them than you would by asking them what they do or about their major. Why? Because when you show interest, it allows others to let down their guard and make way for a friendly conversation. Before you know it, you’ll be figuring out how your aunts went to high school together or planning a cookout.

But why does it even matter?

Here’s why. Because a lot of people haven’t thought out what makes them happy or evaluated what they would do differently if they could. They’re just like you and me, moving through life, searching for answers, only to find more questions. But something happens when someone engages us and we get to talking. The wheels start turning and it awakens these feelings and inspirations that we’ve either repressed or forgotten about. Sometimes, all someone needs is to feel like they have the permission to let it all out. We can do that for other people, and it doesn’t even cost a thing.

But why do I care or why should I?

Here’s why I care. Not long ago, someone asked me what made me come alive. He asked me about my goals and my ideal life, where I envisioned myself in a few years, and why it all mattered to me. It floored me. I thought this guy was the most impressive person I’d ever spoken to. Why? Because he made me feel like a rockstar. He challenged me to provide answers to questions I had not even articulated for myself.

I walked away from that conversation remembering him. I remembered how he made me feel, too. And I couldn’t shake the questions. They stuck with me. So, over the course of several weeks following that conversation, I hashed out answers to a lot of those questions. All of this from just a simple conversation, that only took a few minutes of a stranger’s time.

Now, I’m not  proposing you do this as charity. You can approach it from a motive of self-interest. You can even look at it as a key for networking better and making people remember you. You can do it from the joy you’ll likely receive from witnessing someone light up as they describe their story to you. You can do it to feel like a good person.

It doesn’t really matter why you choose to, or even if you choose to at all. But, I assure you, you’re leaving value on the table in every interaction you have if you’re continuing to engage people solely based upon their occupation or education.

I dare you capitalize on that missed value and to join me in making this change. It’s no easy one. It requires a process of undoing years of socially-cultivated colloquial. No matter how I look at it, though, all I see are opportunities–and years of missed opportunities from just scratching the surface. The ripple effects of those opportunities turned into action are impossible to know without trying.

So, will you join me?

Three Reads That Made Me Think

Take-Home Message: Do not simply read books that reaffirm your beliefs. Expose yourself to things that challenge your way of thinking.

Writer’s Note: Each of these texts made me scratch my head and think. They each provided me the service of tackling many notions I had about the world, thus forcing me to devise my own conclusions. Each of these challenged me to look beyond my purview for answers of my own.

Life Without Principle, Henry David Thoreau (Published in 1862)

Thoreau advances an argument for withdrawing from the norms of society. He suggests to live a life of fulfillment we must find a way to abolish our slavery to the dollar and rather seek to live life according to the value we find in our own labor.

This essay made me contemplate my purpose in life, and what living for it would look like as opposed to not.

Resist Not Evil, Clarence Darrow (Published in 1902)

Darrow, an early-1900s attorney most famous for his defense of John T. Scopes in the “Monkey Trial, eloquently outlines the role of the state in administering justice in the United States. He provides a compelling argument against the death penalty and imprisonment. Darrow, sounding much like Ghandi, describes through analysis of the courts’ operations that an eye for an eye does society at large more harm than good. The book gains its title from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 5, verse 39: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

This book motivated me to explore my own thoughts and stance on the nature of justice and how best to seek it. 

The Law, Frederic Bastiat (Published in 1850)

This seminal text of Bastiat’s profoundly influenced my understanding of what it means to live freely. Though written over 160 years ago, Bastiat’s words sound  truer than ever today. This book challenges many of the ideas about the roles of both the government and society at large in relation to the individual. Bastiat praises America for the experiment of liberty it has begun, cautioning about its appetite for slavery and protectionist tariffs. I highly recommend this prophetic text to anyone interest in restoring individual liberty to the world.

This book stoked an intellectual fire in me to seek out answers about many of the problems plaguing the world today. 

The Why Chromosome

Take-Home Message: One thing that separates those who change the world from those who simply watch: A Vision. 

vi·sion·ar·y
adjective

  1. a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.

Have you ever observed someone describe a deeply-held belief? What did they look like doing so? What did you look like listening to them? How did it make you feel?

The ones who impacted me most profoundly made me feel something powerful awaken inside. They made me believe. If for but a moment, I shared their vision too.

They paint with their words. Not simple pictures, but beautiful, distant landscapes, and unfathomed horizons with brilliant, vivid clarity, these artists take hold of their brushes and gently, masterfully apply stoke after stroke with seamless effort, offering us an invitation to imagine.

These artisans paint us, too. With original insight, they carefully incorporate into their masterpieces our deepest fears and the sullen images of every shattered dream we ever encountered. Then, surreptitiously, the skilled hands of a genius fast at work replaces those pagan images of ourselves with bright, beautifully-colored, novel self-esteem and faith.

They possess a fierce, yet compassionate presence. They intimidate anyone unwilling to share in the enjoyment or embodiment of their vision. Simultaneously, they welcome into their presence all who share it.

Many mock them for their baffling distortion of reality. Yet, if at all moved by detractors, they become only more driven. They exist relentlessly for the pursuit of higher ideals. In the face of defeat, they embolden their vision all the more menacingly. They refuse to die until winning many victories for mankind.

Their beliefs do not equate to fantasies. Not to them. They see what we do not, they see that which exists beyond the veil. They hold confidence in both ideas and their ability to cultivate these into realities.

Others perceive them as discontent with each new creation. They simply see more yet to be done in their time. Others dub them profit-mongers, heretics, and cheats. These accusations distract them not. Their vision propels them toward a society of more apt standards of valuation for a man’s worth.

They envision the world as it could be and as it will be. They fret not of the present. To them, the future remains static, and we must approach it boldly.

They do not ask what. Rather, they contemplate why? They do not question how. They wonder when.

They live today to create tomorrow. We call them visionaries.

15 Days of Self-Improvement

Take-Home Message: As the world evolves, so should you.

Writer’s Note: This piece is inspired by 15 days with Ash Ambirge, rather, her e-course, “You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts.”

Thanks to the rapid rise in communications technologies, jump-starting the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of becomes more possible each and every day. Today, we each carry around access to a platform of permissionless innovation in our pocket. With internet more accessible than ever, there’s no time like the present to take control of your life by turning your ideas and skills into cold, hard cash.

So, how do you make it in this great big world with your ideas?

Easy. Set up shop online and allow your customers to find you. But first, let’s take a quick look at some important steps.

First and foremost, you need to think about the lifestyle you desire. What does it look like? Do you want to travel? How frequently do you want to work? How much money do you want to make? These are good starting points.

After you’ve answered those, let’s weigh in on your passions. What could you do every day for the rest of your life? What makes you come alive? What keeps you up at night? What ideas are you carrying around in your head that you’d like to turn into reality?

Great! Now, that you’ve identified those, we are are getting somewhere. Here comes the tough part. Who would want what you’ve got to offer? What’s their story? What are their hopes, fears, dreams, goals, needs, wants, etc.? What makes them tick? And, other important questions, like: Are they abel to pay for your idea? and Are they willing to pay for your idea?

Cool. If you answered yes to those, then, it’s time to start figuring out how to make them paying customers. But before you start spilling your candy in their lobby, let’s figure out how you can add value to their lives aside from your product. How can you become irreplaceable to them? What valuable tips, free advice, and attention can you provide them by virtue of your online storefront?

These are important steps, and they each need the proper attention should you like to see your business idea succeed. With the proper attention to detail and enough grit, your idea will sell itself.

So, you know what you can offer, and who you’re offering it to. Fantastic! You’ve validated your business, because you know your target demographic is not only able, but willing to pay for your product. Now, what do you say to them?

This is the imperative part. You are trying to become the go-to expert in your particular field. When you’re hunting for new customers, it’s important to take a rifle-approach, not use a shotgun. You don’t go yelling at every Tom, Dick, and Harry about your product. You speak to Tom like Tom needs to be spoken to. You woo Dick. You sweet talk Harry. You make them each feel seen.

You cater to the differences among your target audience. You make them feel like you get them, because, you do. You’re  business soul mates. If you want them to be your customers, you can’t just have things to offer them. You need to welcome them into your life and make them know you care. Give them attention. Understand their needs, and provide them with the resources to meet those.

So, how does this all happen?

Use your words, of course! As you are building your website and developing your marketing strategy, you are thinking about Tom. You are thinking about Dick. AND, let’s not forget about Harry. Each of them is important. You are crafting your message to them and making it not only accessible once they are on your site, but you are making yours site easy to find. You are using keywords and discussing topics that they find relevant. You are making the pages navigable. And, you’re providing opportunity to collect their email addresses, so you remain in control. You want to do this so you can keep them interested. It’s like asking someone for their phone number, you want to keep the ball in your court.

But why is it important?

At the heart of every business, there should be at least one important fundamental understanding: You’ve got to make money. Not just to keep the lights on, but you’ve got to make money, otherwise, your ideas can’t infiltrate the world and make it a better place. And to do this, you need customers. Paying customers. Preferably, these customers keep coming back for more, too, because what you’re offering them is so great and so important to them they’ve got to have more. (It’s kind of like slingin’ crack, except, the good kind, like, the kind that doesn’t kill anyone or make them an addict.)

Thanks, again, to technology, the cost of acquiring these new customers is diminishing. It’s what an MBA-type or economics would call, “Diminishing Marginal Cost of Customer Acquisition” or some other super-fancy jargon. But, let’s make it a habit of purging that type of talk from our lingo. We want to use words that empower our customers. We don’t want to tell them how smart we are. We want to show them how valuable we can be to them.

You can do all of this through your website, through integration of Google Analytics, and email marketing software. Here’s how: Build your website (as we discussed earlier) for your audience. Make it navigable, and use the world that will make them feel relevant. Earn their email address by showing them something of value. You will be monitoring how customers find your page and how they behave once they arrive through Google Analytics. You will be using email software to continue providing value to them long after they click away from your site.

Sound easy enough, right? I think so, too. So, let’s set to work on it together as we turn our ideas into reality. I’m going to keep learning more and modifying my answers as I develop more insight, and I hope that you’re going to begin answering some of those questions for yourself.

Let’s go change the world together. It’s simple. Now, let’s go to work.


Because I don’t want to steal all of Ash’s thunder, I kept this piece semi-vague. If you’d like to learn more, visit her site. It’s phenomenal. It’s called The Middle Finger Project. I will continue to share my insights from her course, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts,” as I trek through it. If you’d like to learn along with me, you can find her course here.

Sentiment Sells.

Take-Home Message: We all like to feel special, connected, seen, relevant, and important. Accomplish this with your business, and never work another day.

Writer’s Note: These are my personal reflections upon completing Chapter 8 of Ash Ambirge’s You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts.

Let’s do a quick experiment.

Tell me about the first time you fell in love. Think about how you felt. What did the object of your affections say or do to make you feel the way you did? How did you respond? Contemplate on that for a moment.

I recently reflected on one of my own personal love stories: with writing (See For The Love of Words). I became enamored, nay consumed in my love affair with words and written language as a means of reaffirming my identity. It allowed me to discover things about myself–and it still does each time I make love with the words. It makes me feel relevant in this great big world.

Now, your experience with your loved one, or “soul mate,” if you’ve found him/her, is likely a much more passionate affair. It probably reaches much more deeply into your soul, reaffirming your identity, bringing out the best in you, and complementing your worldview in a way that brings you immense delight.

What else?

Now, imagine if you could develop a business model that made someone feel all of those things.


This is a good marketing example of a simple product whose message captures this concept.


The goal of this thought experiment is to think about this individual whom would be the likely consumer of your product or idea. It’s to think about the characteristics your product or service can offer to reaffirm what he or she already knows about himself or herself, and saturating this product or service with that message.

Business, after all, does not exist simply to provide things people need. It’s about giving people what they want, when they want it, where they want it, and at a price they can afford. But, it’s still deeper than that, too. It’s about providing something that does more than its intended use. It’s about adding value to lives.

So, when you can identify this individual, your intended consumer, and find out what makes him or her tick, you can begin to feel out what things reaffirm his or her identity. In so doing, you create the opportunity to add new, meaningful value to their lives through your product or service.

Once you’ve done this, you no longer have to sell anything. You merely have to be the friend who introduces two perfectly compatible people, and then let the magic happen on its own.

Business is about people. But not all people, it’s about finding THE people, the ones who can benefit most from what you’re offering and crafting the entire business to make them feel seen, relevant, important, and whole.

Here are the questions Ash posed which spurred my thoughts on these matters:

And so I ask you now: Who’s your business soulmate? Who’s the person doing the searching? What are their unique perspectives, ideas, and opinions as it relates to your thing? And, most importantly, what will you say to them that they’ll hear?– Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

So, who is your business soulmate?

Free the Hostages. Or Else.

Take-Home Message: If you are not pursuing your valuable idea, you are keeping your standard of living and the worlds’ lower than it has to be. Become the hero in your own story.

What if I told you I know your dirty little secret? What if I told you I knew how many hostages you’re holding right now? I know how you’re keeping them quiet. I know why nobody’s going to do anything about it.

So, what’s your number? Is it one? Two? Maybe more. How many dependents do you have? How many people do you interact with each day? How many neighbors, relatives or friends do you see regularly? Think about everywhere you frequent.

Now, think about the grocery store where you shop. Think if it wasn’t there. How much further would you have to drive? What about your favorite barbershop/salon, what if the stylist you always visit wasn’t there, where would you go, instead?

I want to paint a picture for you about what your standard of living would look like if someone else had not taken a risk, however small, to open their business in proximity to you. Your life would at least be different, right? I think so.

I think about where I would eat if the restaurants I frequently patron weren’t nearby. I think about how much more I would rely on Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and (God forbid it) USPS to deliver the things I might need in lieu of the entrepreneurs in my area.

And when I think about that, I also think about my portion of the exchange I take part in on a regular basis. I’m not talking specifically about the exchange of my money for someone else’s labor or service, though. I’m talking about the exchange that happens when someone else offers their service that makes my life better, and being able to only offer them money or a “thank you,” as payment. Something is missing. Where’s the value I’m creating, in return, for them?

This is what I mean when I ask how many people are you holding hostage. It’s a question I asked myself last week when I got my haircut. It’s a question I asked myself yesterday when I went to the coffee shop. It’s a question I asked myself today when I ate lunch. Where is the value I’m creating in return for all of the benefits to my lifestyle others have contributed around me?

So, when I ask you how many hostages you’re holding, I’d like you to take a moment and reflect on your own standard of living. Reflect, too, on all the people whose lives could and would be better if you turned one of your ideas into reality. Who would be stopping by your store to pick up one of the latest products you were offering? How would this change their lives? How could their standards of living be improved?

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned in the past year can be summarized in one word: alternatives. I could rant now about opportunity cost and foregone preferences, but I won’t. Let’s focus on the positive alternatives. After all, it’s the lack of these that holds the world hostage.

So, what positive alternatives do some of the ideas you’ve been contemplating hold? What are you working on that’s better than what the world already has? What’s your secret ingredient? What angle do you have that no one else does?

The answer is simple. It’s you. You are unique. You have your own background, story, experiences, and ideas. Without you, the product or idea you’ve been thinking of or you’re going to think of next could never come into existence the way that it has or will by your mind.

“Because there are people out there looking for you—your people—who need you to be you, and do things exactly how you would do them. (And will ultimately pay you to do them your way.) They need your experience. Your skills. Your stories. Your thoughts. Your visions. Your advice. Your opinion. Your recommendations. Your ideas. Your expertise. Your knowledge. Your fuck-ups. They need you. No matter what you’re selling, YOU are the main product.” –Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

So, when I ask you how many hostages you’ve taken, what I’m really asking is what kind of value could you add to your life if you pursued one of these ideas, made it a reality, and offered it to the world? By refusing to follow your dream, ambition, and vision for a better world you are effectively holding yourself hostage.

You’re holding your family hostage. You’re holding your neighbors, relatives, and friends hostage, too. You’re holding everyone in the world hostage, too, whose standard of living would be better off through your creative idea.

You’re holding them all hostage to the status quo. You’re holding them hostage to the “way things are, and the way they’ve been” mentality. You are the one holding them all hostage, though, because you are the only one who sees the world the way you do, and therefore, the only one who can imagine, design, create, and implement YOUR idea the way you could.

Now, I’m not condemning you for this. Neither am I attempting to say you should feel obligated to do this for others. You shouldn’t. I don’t like altruism. What I do like, though, is the idea of man as the hero in his own story. i.e. You are the hero in your own story. You’re the one living your life, after all. So, don’t make yourself out to be a villain by keeping your idea locked away, forever untested.

You have the ability to test out your own vision on the world if you’ll just try it. Just give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen? You could fail. That’s it. No shame in that. Plus, there’s something about taking that risk that will change you in the process.

It will yield confidence, self-assurance, and alertness. You’ll become sensitive to the needs, wants, and behaviors of others as you begin not only to look at them as acquaintances, friends, or family, but also as customers or potential customers. You’ll begin to care about bettering their lives through your labor.

You’ll come to appreciate the risk others have taken, too, in their own enterprises. You’ll begin to witness the whole world as a series of exchanges, not just the kind where money is traded for stuff, but where creativity and labor are transformed into value for others.

But, sadly, you’ll begin to see others who abuse this, too. And when you do, it will reinforce your drive to make the world better. It will make you want to accept your fate as the hero in your life. So, what’s stopping you?

Do you really want to make the world a better place? Good. Set the hostages free.

For the Love of Words

Take-Home Message: Writing moves me. Writing composes my love affair with words.

Writer’s Note: I dedicate this piece to addressing the first questions submitted on the Ask Me page. Here are those questions: What is your process or procedure for writing?  Do you begin with an outline in mind?  Do you sit in front of a blank screen and wait for inspiration?  Do you have goals as far as length?  Do you edit as you go?

It would be unfair to attempt to answer these questions without first telling you the greatest love story of my life. I enjoyed learning and using new words from a young age, but the manifestation of my love for these words did not take root until a few years down the road. I always crushed on them, but I played hard to get. When I fell, though…well, the rest is just history. Here’s my story.

There are two important details from this story. The first being that as a tike Webster’s Dictionary was my favorite book. I filled notebook after notebook with words I found as I scoured through it on numerous evenings throughout my childhood. (I still have many of these sacred symbols of our love, too.)

The second aspect sets the tone for the rest of the story. It happened in eighth grade English class. I had a teacher with whom I did not see eye-to-eye (go figure). Nearly every day of the year, she wrote a prompt on the board at the front of the classroom and told us to get to work. I felt like both these assignments and being forced to stay locked up in a room with someone who I felt was failing at her job were both complete wastes of my time. I was wrong on both accounts. Boy, was I blindsided.

Love always finds us when we’re not looking for it, though, I think. I chose to undertake each assignment from a place of contempt. I’d ask myself, how can I earn an A without actually writing about the prompt? This is where I learned about flirting and foreplay–to brainstorm a while before spilling my guts on the paper, and to do so without caution. 

It was at this point, though, that I began to develop feelings for my craft. It wasn’t actually ever contempt at all, but the humble beginnings of a romance. And a strange romance it was indeed. I wrote about the most bizarre things in order to touch the prompts as lightly as possible–some might even say deranged.

I wrote about squirrels eating human faces.  I wrote about feral children running the world. I wrote about animals breaking free from city zoos, stampeding, and trampling innocent by-standers. I wrote about school shootings. I wrote about the horrors of war and the evil of bombings. And the list goes on and on… This is where I learned to write without limits. Some might even say that my approach to these assignments turned me into a lunatic of my own merit.

I’ll happily accept these indictments, though, because I pursue writing the same way I pursue all things I love: aggressively. I come on too strong. I vomit words that sound great until they’re out in the open. When that idea comes, I run, not walk.  I sometimes send vibes that I need you (the reader or audience) to love me back, to make me feel wanted, or to give me your undivided attention. I don’t. I’m independent in my creation process.

In fact, if I felt like I had an expectation from you or as if I knew what you wanted, it would entirely transform my writing into something that it’s not. I would stray from the topic, and this knowledge would become an unwanted distraction. Distractions not only slow down my productivity, they flat out irritate me. While writing, I remove all distractions. When I’m wooing the piece I’m writing, if I truly love it, I am absolutely, unabashedly devoted to it and only it.

As for length, I never think about how much will go into a piece of writing until well after it’s over. I begin each new piece as if I’ll love it forever, and I just love it the best I can until it feels like it’s come to an end. Sometimes, the words break up with me and simply stop flowing. Other times, I call it off, because I’ve come to resent what I once found to be beautiful. This is the only time I edit structure.

When this happens, I stop writing completely and I begin back at the beginning with an axe. I read through everything and I delete anything I find ugly, negative, or clashing with the overall arc. Sometimes it’s just to substitute a word. Sometimes it’s whole paragraphs. (It’s like couple’s therapy, really.)

Unless I come to despise the writing, though, I only spell and grammar check. I leave the rest in tact, as is. If I’ve loved the piece all the way through, or I felt like I was genuine in pouring out my soul, then I know there’s nothing that needs to be changed. I know that I left nothing unsaid and that what I said was precisely what I had to let out. It’s all exactly how I would have said it. It’s authentic.

When I find myself uncertain about my feelings for a particular piece, though–and, this happens quite often–I abort the mission. I’ll have one topic in mind and realize she’s not the one for me only a page in. I find myself being a phony in the pursuit of these topics, usually. Hell, sometimes I’ve written half a dozen pages before I’ve even found real inspiration. Usually the inspiration I find at this, is to hit Control A + Delete. It’s fake. Start over. We don’t do fake, here.

Of course, sometimes I feel as if there’s no love left, as if my love for the words has gone stagnant. I can’t find even the slightest spark. It’s these times, when I force myself to work through the struggles, to fight for my love of the words, that the flowers smell the sweetest. This is when writing hurts. This is when I’m the most honest, because I have to write about myself. I have to dump my flaws, pains, sorrows, and feelings into a piece. It becomes personal. It becomes confessional.

But, when I finish those pieces, I feel the best. It’s like making up after a fight. Or embracing the words after they’ve hurt me. That’s when I know how much the words really mean to me, and that my love for the words is real. And the whole romance comes full circle, my love for the words awakens anew, in a different light, and in a later chapter…the words begin to flow once more, effortlessly, and the story goes on.

Ideas’ Lives Matter

Take-Home Message: Don’t add to the infant-mortality rate of newborn ideas. Record these. Hold them dearly. Use them to better your world.

Where do you record your ideas? Or, do you at all? I find this to be an important practice for me in my own life. For the most part, if I don’t empty the noggin’ every now and then with what I like to call a brain dump, I get all obfuscated and can’t focus on anything.

The ideas start to distract me from everything else I try to work on. They’re like little brain gnomes roaming around in the garden of my mind. So, sort of like that Mucinex commercial, I decided to send the gnomes a-packin’, and started eradicating them. Well, not completely, but I keep a physical notepad and a notepad in the cloud, too, filled with ideas I’ve been working through for years. I get them out of my head to be explored later and free myself up to focus on whatever task is at hand. This has immensely aided in my productivity.

Now, the reason I’m confiding in you about journaling my ideas is because I think it’s one of the most important steps toward freeing yourself. If you want to start a company, or you want to earn some money on the side, or write a book, or even research a topic later, write it down so you don’t forget. As they say, “The sharpest mind is duller than the dullest pencil.” Or however the phrase goes, you get the picture. If you’re not recording your ideas, you are cheating yourself out of your own creativity. It’s like you’re planting the fruit but never picking it.

Stop doing that. Stop doing it now. Write down an idea you had today before you go to bed tonight. Don’t worry about whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea. And then tomorrow, do it again. Keep a notepad by your bed when you sleep. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve awoken in the middle of the night with a story idea or some crazy thought I wanted to keep for later and didn’t have my notepad—or was too lazy to get out of bed to find one. It’s like I burned money every time I did that—even if it was only fiat currency, I could have been on the verge of a breakthrough or something.

More importantly than simply writing down the ideas, though, is developing a practice of revisiting these ideas on occasion, and cultivating them. If it’s a business idea, in particular, fleshing this out some more could be the first step toward breaking the chains that currently are keeping you chained to your cubicle. Your billion-dollar idea isn’t worth the time you took to write it down if you’re never going to take action with it.

The important part is to develop the habit of doing so now, so later, when you have your BIG idea, recording and reflecting on it is already second nature. Even if it’s just an intermediate idea standing between where you are and an even better idea down the road, if you don’t develop the practice of doing it, you might not ever get there.

So, once you have a basket-full of ideas, spend a couple hours some evening working through a few of them. Test them to see if they hold water. If it’s something you want to know about, do a Google search and find some info, or find an online forum and start asking questions. If it’s something you want to do, look at your calendar, or just book the trip.

Since the risk with ideas is minimal or nonexistent, you’re not committing to anything by reflecting on them. But, if it is a business idea, there is a potential huge risk of never exploring the feasibility of this idea being put into practice. Ask yourself, is that a risk you are willing to take?

And, if it’s an idea you’d like to monetize, there are tons of resources available via the internet to find out more details about putting your idea into motion. Or, you could start by writing up a mock business plan. Whatever it is, just get to cranking.

If you’ve refined your idea, and think it’s possible, though, go a step further, and identify if it’s more than just a good idea in theory. Spend some time thinking about if there’s an actual demand for your idea. Figure out if it’s something people want.

Here is a quick litmus test for answering those questions. It’s from Ash Ambrige’s You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts:

Make a chart that addresses these.

  1. What is your idea?
  2. Who does it target? Be specific with the demographic.
  3. Is your idea something your target market would actually want?
  4. If they want it, are they able to buy it?
  5. And finally, if they want it, and they’re able to buy it, are they willing to buy it?

I did this exercise with a couple of my ideas today, and figured out a lot of things through a few minutes of Google research that I hadn’t factored in. It was a helpful practice. It helped me sort through the reality distortion that usually takes place when I become passionate about a new idea I have. That’s important. You can love your idea and think it’s brilliant, but, if it’s A) Impossible to implement; or, B) Nobody is willing to pay for it, then scrap it, or attempt to refine it.

If you don’t ever spend the time recording or reflecting on your ideas, though, you’ll never even make it this far. So, we’ve discussed why you should record your ideas. We’ve discussed  why you should vet your ideas. Now, what are you waiting for? Join me today in living more freely. Grab a notepad and start scribbling away.