Are you playing the long game when it comes to doing your great work? Do your actions today reflect that?
Michael Bungay-Stanier and I were having a planning call for a call we’re going to be hosting soon, and one of the things that we talked about for a good bit was the challenge of doing great work sustainably. This came up because I know Michael’s been doing a lot traveling around the world, and I commented that I’ve watched my friends and influencers do that and that I don’t think it’s my path because I’m concerned about how sustainable it is for me.
It turns out, though, that it’s probably not sustainable for anyone. Take Gary Vaynerchuck, for instance, who’s the epitome of passion and doing something all the way. In the video below, you’ll see him comment that the way he’s been crushing it is making him lose his edge:
That’s Gary V. He’s extroverted and high-energy to the max, so imagine what it would be like for the rest of we tried to run that race with our particular DNAs.
Gary V’s an extreme, you might say, yet at the same time, the issues of launch fatigue aren’t as removed from this as you’d think. If the game is about bigger, faster, more, and Right Now!, a foreseeable consequence is burnout.
In another recent conversation with Pam, I expressed that “an abundance of good things you can’t manage is still an abundance of things you can’t manage.” For what it’s worth, I was talking about my situation, not hers, but a lot of our conversations have been about how we can share our gifts with the world an effective, resonant way.
And then there’s Seth talking about the danger of premature shipment. A different but complementary worry to “just because it’s easy to ship doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push yourself” is that people will misunderstand that there’s a difference between pushing quality and pushing quantity.
We all know that part of what separates those who do great work and those who don’t is the ability of the former to say No. Sometimes No means Not Now – in which case the question is about sequencing and pacing. Sometimes they say No because whatever they’re doing doesn’t need to be bigger, faster, and more – it just needs to be what it is, but higher quality.
What I’m hoping is that more and more of us will say No because we recognize that we have what we need and what we have is quite good, and, even if we got more, it’d start to reach a point of diminishing returns. As I’ve said before, sometimes the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, especially when you’re already exhausted, depleted, and overdue for an ebb you keep forcing yourself out of.
It takes a lot of self-trust and confidence to know in your bones that saying No is not a sign of you being weak, scared, and lazy but instead a sign that you know what your resources are and that the whole point is to use them over time. Doing great work over the course of a lifetime looks dramatically different than crushing it for a season and it requires a different mindset…perhaps a mindset much more like this one by my brother-teacher Mark Silver:
I’m in this for the long haul, and I’ve got some fun practicing to do. How about you?
Cath Duncan says
I’m totally all over this, Charlie! I so easily get caught up in doing and find the “creating spaces,” “slowing down and reflecting” and looking way out into the future and considering sustainability” parts really tough sometimes. So thanks for the reminder.
Working with a client who’s struggling with burnout the other day, this topic obviously came up and since she’s a foodie, I turned to food for some metaphors.
When we over-fill our plates, it’s like we’re at the buffet and we grab all the different types of yummy foods because we want it all, because we’re thinking it’s better value for money if we eat more, and many other reasons. But we all know that feeling when we’ve eaten too much… it’s not good. And then many of us have even eaten dessert on top of an already-full stomach. And compare that dessert experience to eating dessert when you’re not full. Eating is so much more enjoyable when you eat gently and mindfully and when you stop when you’re full. I think life’s a lot like that too.
I love the food metaphor, RH! I also liked that you mention that you tailor your metaphors to your clients – I know someone else who does that, too. ;p
Life is a lot like that, and, funnily enough, one of Gary’s main points was “eat the damned lemon pie.”
Pamela Slim says
Excellent reflection Charlie, I couldn’t agree more! But you knew that, since we talk about this every day. 🙂
I was really fascinated to see the video from Gary V., followed soon after by an email from Chris Brogan about how he is re-evaluating his workload and slowing down the pace of his life and work.
I really admire Gary and Chris and love their work. I have wondered how they keep the pace knowing that they have small children and spouses at home. There have been times when I beat myself up a little bit for not pushing as hard as they have, to obviously better business results (more revenue, bigger lists, bestseller status on the NYT lists).
But after reading that this grueling pace is too much for them, I feel better.
I really like the idea of focusing on quality not quantity. Strengthen what you already do. Ahhh. Feels better already.
Ah, sis, one of the reasons we love you so is because you’ve managed to do a lot AND be a loving mom, wife, and people-cultivator.
Tyler Tervooren says
I love Cath’s food metaphor. That is perfect. Eating great food, just like doing great work, is best experienced over a long, leisurely course.
It’s so important to push yourself, but it’s even more important to know why you’re pushing and where it’s taking you.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there.”
Or, perhaps, “if you don’t know where the road ends, you’ll always be walking it.” ;p
Isabel Parlett says
Every time I set targets, I need to stop and ask if this I am overreaching and pushing and forcing, or moving in a way that has some space and sustainable rhythm to it.
That said, I do work with clients who are on the other end of the spectrum, who aren’t doing enough to get out there and give something to the the world. Who need, as Seth Godin says, to sprint for a while.
I love this comment, Isabel, in that a good bit of my coaching work is about catalyzing people into being more active. There are ebbs and flows, and sometimes we need to make space for a flow, y’know?
Eric Schiller says
I’m glad the sustainability argument is coming out in regards to those who are traveling and ‘shipping’ just for the sake of it. I believe we need to move beyond just doing things, and actually have a long-term plan for how the existing things we are doing are going to improve the conditions of this planet. In the last few weeks I’ve seen some very positive moves in the right direction, but many of the “cool kids” as referenced in the recent guest post are holding out.
I’m sensing those tremors of change, too, Eric, and thanks for pointing them out. Part of the challenge of long-term visioning is that it’s not as “sexy” as the shorter-term stuff; it’s for the very same reason that we don’t hear about the number of schools, hospitals, and markets being built in Iraq. While those things matter incredibly, they’re not attention-grabbing. Of course, the other part is that long-term visioning requires patience, and we all know how short of a supply there is of that.
We do need more examples of patience, sustainability, and holistic impact so that people understand that this stuff isn’t just theoretical. I’m hoping you’ll be one, too.
Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist says
A movement of slower online business people would fit in with my life, but I don’t see it coming so soon. The whole model of “out-hustling” one another has only just hit mainstream blogging and will be pursued for time to come, especially through hungry newcomers.
Anyway, the web is big, so in my opinion, everybody can go at his own pace. I certainly will.
I’m glad to hear you’ll move at your own pace, Fabian! At the same time that the “out-hustling” has become mainstream, I’m seeing a collaborative business models taking root, too. The former is much more flashy and attention-getting, so we might see more of it, but, as you say, the web is big, and there are already alternatives that are being actualized.
Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist says
Hehe, you and Jonathan did a collabo I like a lot, and you’re right, there is a trend here, too. Enough space for all the fishes in the pond!
Jackie Lee says
This is a great post. I was just having a conversation with my accountability partner about pushing through vs. following your inspiration. I find I can work much more sustainably, longer and better when I am following my inspiration and not what I think I “should” be doing because someone else is dong it, or has told me I need to be doing it.
I think when we start “shoulding” ourselves is when it’s really easy to fall into burnout. Because then you’re doing it for someone else, and not yourself, and probably for reasons that aren’t led by inspiration.
Great point about inspiration, Jackie. There’s a big difference in harnessing what’s there and forcing something to be there, and there’s a lot of popular advice about the forcing.
Tony Ruiz says
I remember when Gary V came out with this video on his blog and around the same time Chris Brogan came out with something similar. It shows that once you take the plunge and your brand is picking up (almost like a snowball effect) you have to find a way to step back and focus on quality. Great lesson to be learned from Gary and Chris.
Yep, I’ve been very fortunate to have things pick up for me in different ways over the last 9 months, and each time, it’s also brought with it the challenge of slowing down to assess new conditions and responses. Tipping points like that don’t come uniformly, though, so it’s easy not to see them until it’s later than you’d like it to be. Watching others enables us to have a chance of seeing a bit further down the road than we currently are and, to use Michael’s framework, change the ending of the story.
Jennifer Louden says
I feel like jumping up and down and saying “I’ve been telling you so for 18 years” but that would be ugly. 🙂 What’s interesting is how the Internet has made us so much more quick to compare our results, efforts and sales, and how that can speed up our burnout. Everybody is human and everybody needs down time and sometimes long periods of it, to keep being creative and productive.
Jump away, Jen – and you know I feel the same way, too. Aristotle and Lao Tzu said it, too. It seems that it’s just one of those lessons we have to learn over and over and over again.
Then I’ll say it, Jen – *jumping up and down* Jen (and others) have been telling you so for years!
I am so pleased you wrote this, Charlie. I think it’s an important message for the people who follow you.
I was just in a discussion with some other women recently and we were talking about the proliferation of a certain juvenile, masculine energy in many online circles (among men and women). One of them commented about a guy she interacted with by saying “If he had spoken any language other than Gary V, I would have had a lot more respect for him.” This is the language of Crushing It, and World Domination and even, maybe, Epic Shit. 😉
Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but when that is all there is it lacks depth and humanity. All yin and no yang does not equal wholeness.
This is why I love Danielle Laporte, and Jen Louden and Mark Silver – they have a lovely, mature, feminine energy (that is a compliment to Mark) that is essential and is too often missing in online conversations.
To repeat a comment I left on Mark’s site the other day – you are calling out the feminine. Hallelujah.
I love what you’re saying here, Lianne, and there’s an inherent connotation of violence in Crushing It and World Domination that I’ve always had to temper internally. Of course, I think Epic Shit lacks that nature because it’s not exclusionary, but we all have our pet ideas, no? ;p
I prefer to think that comfort, peace, sustainability, and compassion, as well as discomfort, violence, depletion, and dominance, are basic virtues and vices of sentient beings rather than manifestations of a gendered reality, though. If observation will be theory-laden no matter what we do, better to have a theory that allows us to see people as unique beings first rather than people as members of a normative group. (Of course, you could just be saying that there are elements that are part of all of us, regardless of our chromosomal makeup, in which case, set aside the schema-tweaking. 🙂 )
(Of course, you could just be saying that there are elements that are part of all of us, regardless of our chromosomal makeup, in which case, set aside the schema-tweaking.”
Yes, Charlie, of course these elements are part of all of us. I was describing the energy/feel of the overall online conversation – and as I said above, this energy is put forth by men and women.
Here is something a friend of mine wrote after the Vancouver Olympics that I think may help illuminate what I was saying:
And this ties back to the ideas I suggested in my comment on the Launch Fatigue post. I was trying to move from Launch as a big thrust with lots of energy that doesn’t last very long (we were partly talking about the 24 hour offer, right?) to something that is bigger than that, something that is about connection and poetry. What if your saw your launch as a chance to add beauty and love to the world. What if it was not just a big thrust but also a slow, romantic dance. (you’re seeing the metaphor here, right?)
And how about the same for your life.? Not just pushing, pushing, pushing but also some enchantment, some romancing of your soul?
I think this doesn’t get heard much in the current conversation, which is why I’m so pleased you wrote about it.
True story: “set aside the schema-tweaking” was originally “then I’m singing and dancing with you.” So imagine my surprise when the metaphor you sent back to me was the same I was going to send to you!
That said, yep, we’re in agreement and I love the way you’ve expressed this.
Jennifer Louden says
Lianne, I am quickly becoming a big fan.
The entire on line young macho thing – so don’t get it. But then, I never did. Thanks for compliment!
Mark Silver says
Wow- stay off twitter for a day and look what I miss.
I’m so glad this message is starting to filter through to the men folks. 🙂 Jen has been saying it for 18 years, and many other people have been saying it for a long, long time. I heard even the Buddha said it once. 😉
I definitely have a visceral reaction to messages like ‘crush it.’ On one hand, I want it, like I want five pints of ice cream when I’m feeling out of sorts.
On the other hand, my stomach tightens, and my heart cringes. I know it’s not the way.
Thanks for including my video in the post. I want to make a pitch in favor of Jen Louden’s Satisfaction Finder, whose idea of Conditions of Enoughness has been a wonderful anchor for me recently: http://www.comfortqueen.com/satisfactionfinder/
That concept alone, coming up with conditions of enoughness… what a heart-saver.
Jennifer Louden says
Thanks Mark for the pitch! And for the ribbing, along with Charlie, that I’m like not the only person to talk about rest and mercy and all those things… she says as she sheepishly pats her ego on it’s head.
Kathy Sierra says
Beautiful. I’ve backed way off myself from a wide range of activities otherwise known as “engaging in The Conversation” and self-promotion. When I’m in a roomful of people in my domain (tech) who question my sanity on this point, I like to do a simple test:
“How many of you have read Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” book? Virtually all hands go up. “How many of you have ever seen him speak, followed him, *friended* him?” All hands go down.
Then I give them the reverse test… using a wildly popular/loved blogger/tweeter/presenter you all know, whose superbly and heavily-promoted book still failed.
Not to discount the value in social media for helping us discover what WILL be helpful/useful/meaningful for those who choose to read/follow us, but we should never forget that it’s really not *our* use of social media that makes the difference to the success of what we deliver… it is the social media use of our readers/customers/users. It’s always about what THEY say to one another, and the only true, *sustainable* way to affect that is to deliver something they find meaningful and useful and–for them and those they recommend it to–“worth it”.
When I left Twitter, sure enough — people tweeted, “But how will she ever promote her books now?!” Thankfully, my husband reminded me that we’d sold nearly a million print copies in our series *before* I had a Twitter account, and that I’d written all of my books *before* I even had a blog or had ever spoken at a conference. Again, I’m not dismissing the deep and lasting value of social media–especially for learning what DOES matter for our users–but some of us need to slightly shift or rebalance our perspective on what it’s really about.
Thank you for this post.
Courtney Ramirez says
Another thanks for this post because it echoes something that I’ve been wondering about – how much is too much? how fast is too fast?
The idea that people who aren’t out there pushing to the limit everyday are somehow weak, confused or not living their passion is a dangerous one.
In nature, rest and dormancy is part of the process – yet somehow this has been lost in the new entrepreneur/life coach/big time blogger/lifestyle design set.
Who is to say what is right for one person is right for everyone? I hope that this critical look at this mindset, represented by the book Crush It, is just the start of a change in general in the blogosphere for a more open and honest look at how people can succeed at their own pace and in their own terms.
Andrew Lightheart @alightheart says
In Dan Coyne’s book on talent, one of the common factors he noticed in people who get remarkable in a skill is that they are in it for the long haul – they see what they are doing as a life-long path.
I’m pretty interested in sustainability, as my energy is pretty yin, and, as Mark says, I get pulled into the yang spend-it-beat-it-push-push mentality, but it only leaves me doubting my own way.
Then I read Mark, and Jen, and Havi, and you, and feel more validated and quiet.
Twitter/social media naturally pulls us towards a bright burning. I wonder if there is a way of using it in a sustainable way…
Food for thought. Thanks Charlie.