Do the Work

Lately, people think I've got a plan. They believe I'm executing a carefully crafted playbook. I host two podcasts. I write a blog. I do a lot of interviews and speak at a lot of events. I'm working on a book.

I have no idea what I'm doing.

No one is more surprised by the traction my work is getting than I am. So, when people ask me "How do you find blog readers," or "How can I get more podcast listeners," I don't know what to say. It's as much a mystery to me today as it's ever been.

I don't think anybody knows what they're doing. All the people we think of as successful or influential, as far as I can tell, are mystified at how their work finds an audience.

This mystery is not absolute, because I can track the changes in my life to some specific changes in behavior, and I've noticed these behaviors are common to everyone I know whose work has scale.

1. What you do today beats what you might do tomorrow.

We humans are natural dreamers, and we like to plan out a path that will give us the most reward for the least effort. We work on and refine ideas in our heads endlessly. We imagine our book, or our podcast, or our hit record.

Stop doing that.

There's nothing wrong with dreaming, but people can't hear your dreams. You have to wrestle your dreams from the ether and into form. You have to sit down and type, or record, or sculpt.

You'll hate a lot of what you make. The first fruits will look and smell funny. That's ok. Your failure to produce something you like is exactly what teaches you to make something that you do like.

So dream, dream big, but work on turning those dreams into a work every single day. Don't talk about writing, or read about writing. Write.

2. Make what you need.

Despite all the myriad media options today, there is something you wish existed that does not. Some different sound in music, or some discussion or story. You want to read a story about two computers that fall in love but can't have babies. You want to hear a song that features an accordion/banjo backing tracks.

On a deeper level than taste, what's missing in the world? What story is untold? What downtrodden community needs a hand?

Congratulations, it's your job to make the thing you want. No one else will. You may find that when you build a daily discipline of making things, more ideas come to you. Write them down–you may miss them later.

3. Talk about what you love and what breaks your heart.

Forget marketability. Don't look at the trends. What makes you tick? What wakes you up? What turns you on?

That's what your work should be about. The more specific the better. I love neuroscience and Jesus, so I talk about those things a lot. I like the poetry of cosmology. It doesn't matter how weird it is–the more I love it the more people respond to it.

One of the most popular episodes of The Liturgists Podcast is about an obscure theory of human consciousness. That episode gets passed around like candy, and I've met some amazing people because of it.

4. Give it all you've got.

This is the big one. You have to want it–and I don't mean acclaim, or popularity. You have to need this work to come to life. It has to be life or death. It has to be on your mind as you fall asleep and there when you wake up.

Everyone wants to make an impact, but few are willing to pay the price. I constantly turn down invitations from good friends to do fun things. I don't watch television. I get up early and stay up late.

I do the work. Every day.

That means I miss out on a lot. I have a full time job, and I'm married with kids. So, that means I have to cut almost everything in my life that isn't The Work. I am part of community, and that community fills me with the essential essence I need to keep going.

But, I am 100% committed to The Work. If you call me and want to hang out, I usually can't. I have work to do. I can't relax until I've done the work that day. I give myself the seventh day to rest, but otherwise it's go time.

That doesn't mean I'm busy. Quite the contrary, I've cut almost all the “busy work” from my life. When it's time to work, I unplug. Texts, calls, and emails can wait. Many don't require a response at all. Others need a response: “no.” Getting more done, ironically, actually means doing less. I'm not talking about working yourself into exhaustion, or doing it all. I'm talking about letting go of everything you have to in order to have the time and energy to do the work that matters.

Guess what? There is no more peaceful sleep than the sleep that comes with getting it done. When you know you wrestled ideas from the ether and put them into form, that you are singing your part on the great chorus of life, you sleep like an old dog in front of a fire.

Are you ready to put it out there? To make what you need? To tell the world about what you love, and what breaks your heart? Can you do the work today, and not put it off to tomorrow? Are you willing to give up whatever it takes to make your ideas into real work?

The audience will show up the day you stop caring if they do. Make the work you have to make, and then it will work for you.

If you'd like to get started, read The War of Art. More than anything else, this book taught me how to get the work done.

photo credit: Artist via photopin (license)