Being Awesome, Fear, Grit, Uncategorized

We Have Lots to Fear in the Woods, and That’s Awesome

Fear can be a proxy for when you are going to do something great.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell started to rekindle their friendship as they worked together; preparing to face a magician of seemingly insurmountable skill. Mr. Norrell’s hands shook as he tried to conjure enough magic to save England. Jonathan Strange clasped his hands around Mr. Norrell’s and said,

“My hands trembled like that in the peninsula and after Waterloo. Sometimes it was a sign that I was afraid. Sometimes a sign that I was doing great magic. The two things go together.”


We often stand on the precipice of greatness, but balk at the task because fear rips our confidence to shreds. I know that in high school, I had a streak of not turning in homework. It wasn’t because I didn’t know what I was doing, it was the fear that somehow my confidence was misplaced. Maybe I was wrong about the correctness of my work? It wasn’t an outward sign that I was off-base or incorrect. No, it was coming from inside.

The Startup Bros put together a list of 21 ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome. But fear goes beyond that. It’s isn’t just “high achieving individuals”. Fear can also consume the novice, the role-jumper, the expert dipping their toes into something different.


I’ve never heard it explained as well as Vince Vaughn did on The Tim Ferriss Show. I have a newfound respect for Vince Vaughn after listening to this episode for many reasons, but especially one line at 1:37:07.

“How much of it is the woods we’ve created, versus the actual path to the destination.”

It’s simple and astute. How much of my fear was distractions and obstructions that I was placing myself? How much of it was the actual task of getting to my goal? Looking back I can clearly say that it was all self-made.

But in the moment, it’s hard to discern the two.


There we are, about to do something amazing, and the fear creeps in. The woods spring up around our path ahead, and our hands start to tremble.

Just like the process for leading a productive brainstorm, we need every action to be purposeful. So let’s repurpose a strategy from “Getting More”, a fantastic book on negotiation by Stuart Diamond. In Chapter 6, Diamond discusses a process for negotiating and dealing with emotional situations. We’re going to use pieces from that, but make it more about dealing with the fear from inside ourselves.

  1. Recognize when you are acting against your goals
    • Stop, breathe, and reflect. Are these fears stopping you from doing what you want to do?
  2. Find the cause of your fear.
    • Go through the five why exercise with yourself. Keep asking yourself why you are afraid until you find the root.
  3. Avoid using extreme statements.
    • “Life or death”, “Never”, “Always”… don’t use them if you can. Dial down the drama. Don’t initiate the “fight or flight” response unless absolutely necessary.
  4. Correct erroneous facts.
    • Is there anything you are fearing because of a misunderstanding? An error in logic? Try to math this one out. Give your fear a percentage of probability (but only AFTER dialing down the drama).
  5. Write down possible actions you can take.
    • When you’ve done all you can to prepare for success, it gets easier to make the jump. Also realize, you may not be able to do absolutely EVERYTHING.
  6. Tell your fear to shut it.
    • You got to the root, you’ve kept the drama to a realistic level, you’ve corrected errors and done all you can. Now it’s time to tell fear to “hold my drink and watch this”. 
  7. Go forth and be awesome.
    • Press start and be the “fantastic you” that you want to be. The world needs you to be awesome.

You will still feel fear. It’s inevitable. We can’t eliminate it entirely. But now you have a plan of attack, and the ability to realize that sometimes your “woods of fear” is a sign you are about do some great magic on your path to awesome.

Being Awesome, Failure, Going Forth, Grit, Motivation, Theme Park of You

In Pursuit of Happy Little Accidents

beingnew (1)I remember watching Bob Ross paint his happy trees and powerful mountains and just being in awe of his calmness and lack of fear of “happy little accidents”. When I painted “accidents” usually involved large splotches of the wrong color paint. They didn’t qualify as “happy” or “little”. Bob Ross just made it seem so easy as he pulled palm tree branches out of a single line of black paint.

Recently I learned the picture he painted on television was not the first time he painted it. Bob regularly painted the scene once before, which was kept off-screen as a reference. Now honestly, the difference in the level of skill between Bob Ross and I was huge, but I was at another disadvantage.

I was comparing my first try to his second. 

There is a ton of learning that happens between tries. Lines become smoother, decisions are easier, and you have better command of the paint on the brush. And this is something we do all the time. We compare our beginnings to the middles of others.

“Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” – Jake the Dog

You’ve got to give yourself permission to fail, to not be good at something. At one point, all experts struggled with the basics. There was a time when Albert Einstein didn’t know his ABC’s. As Laozi said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, and often that first step is more of a stumble. And that’s ok. We’re chasing something new, something better. We don’t have to be perfect at it yet; we’re learning.

dunningkrugerAs we learn, we’re a bad judge of our own skill. It starts with the “I can paint that!” bravado of someone who’s never painted, an over-estimation of abilities that is part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Beyond that peak is a deep valley of doubting your own ability. This is where the Impostor Syndrome lives and it can shake you off the pursuit of learning something new. This is the where most of the beginning to middle comparison happens, and when it is the most damaging.

You have to remember that you are learning and maybe you haven’t mastered it yet. But the key word is “yet“. You determine your own finish line. You can even determine your own starting line. Instead of wishing that you had learned something earlier in life, get started! Now is better than tomorrow.

Just from the act of trying something new we have the ability to practice the beginner’s mind (Shoshin). Without years of practice or knowledge, our eyes are untainted with preconceptions or the “ways things have always been done”. If we let ourselves be openminded, we can see the forest AND the trees, instead of only one in lieu of the other. This is a time when we might find new ways hidden from the experts, when we might challenge even the most foundational tenets, when we might ask “Well why not?”.

Get out there. Start painting trees on your landscape. They may not be the best trees but you’ve got the power of “yet”. And always welcome happy little accidents on your journey to learning something new.


Being Awesome, Going Forth, Grit, Motivation

The Three-Sided Coin

SPOILER ALERT: All coins have three sides.

I learned something that I already knew but never knew when I read the book, “Make the Big Time Where You Are“, by legendary football coach, Frosty Westering. He called attention to the often-overlooked, magical third side of any and all coins.

A coin is nothing more than a squashed cylinder. It has two circular faces we call heads and tails, but it also has some thickness that becomes the third side. THE EDGE! Coach Westering would use the analogy of the coin to explain how the edge is used to go from “doing your best” to “being the best”, but we’re going to borrow it for a slightly different purpose.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.36.41 PMImagine you and your brother are flipping a coin to see who gets the last dinner roll. Picking heads, you’ve predetermined that one side of the coin is success, while the other is embarrassing failure. As it floats in the sky, moving slowly through its parabolic arch, you salivate thinking about the melted butter on that last roll. And in this moment, the coin becomes kind of like Schrödinger’s cat’s coin, existing in a state of heads and tails at the same time. Both success and failure.

But let’s remove more variables here and not flip the coin in the air. You and your brother decide to stand the coin on its edge, and when it falls, whomever’s side is up, they get the roll.

The coin balances on its edge like an Olympic gymnast on the balance beam, and it sits. Here we are, like with the coin flying through the air, perched between success and failure, and it all rests on the edge.

There are all kinds of things you can do when the coin is resting on the edge to encourage it to fall your way. You could blow on it, tap the table, try to create some distinct movement in your favor. But why?

When the coin is on its edge, there is still a chance for victory.

Life, my friends, is a coin on the edge. You are constantly between success and failure everyday and the worst thing we can do is sit idly by and watch others take our dinner rolls.

Well not today buster. 

learnThis is just like the prototype that we want to test with our early adopters. Every prototype (no matter how ugly, how duct-taped together, or how functionality barren) has a chance of success. You’re setting your success metrics early and you know if you epically fail, at least you’re failing forward and learning. You let your prototypes live on the edge of the coin, why not you?

If you felt you had control over your success, wouldn’t you tap the table, scoot your chair, do anything you could to create enough movement to have the coin fall in your favor? Yes you would. So stop feeling like success or failure is written in the stars, or the deal of a deck of cards. Life is a coin on the edge, and you have to power to make it fall your way.

Go forth and be edgy!

Being Awesome, Flow, Grit, Motivation

Motivation for the Goldilocks Zone

I have never met anyone that didn’t have at least one quote that spoke to them deeply. I was lucky enough to be raised in a community of football coaches, so you could say that I have been marinating in motivational mantras my entire life. One that has been with me for as long as I can remember is one I attribute to my dad, a football coach. He may have not been the first person to say it, but I can close my eyes and see it hanging, clear as day, on the wall near his office.

Try your best, you will be glad you did.

I’m going to wait just a second and let that sink in. Just roll your brain around in that quote for a little bit. On the surface, it speaks to something so simple and sincere. Why wouldn’t you be happy that you gave it your all? Yet, the true power is in what the quote doesn’t say.

It does not have any mention of success or failure. There is no outcome tied to the emotion and why should there be? This has to be one of the paramount philosophies you have to learn when prototyping. You will have failures. You will have successes. Yet how you feel about what you do can not be linked to end result of a tested hypothesis. Both results end in learning, and some would even say that failure teaches you more than success does.

What I am saying is that happiness should hinge on your effort, and effort is something you can control.

Yes, there will be some days that are plain nasty and out to get you. No matter how much mud and muck those days sling onto your path, you got to hike your pants up and give it your all. You can’t let a murky path detour you from giving your best effort. It’s all about grit and you’ve got a ton of it inside you. You may slip and you may fall face first into the muck, but wipe your eyes clear and keep going. At the end of the day, your conscience will tally how much effort you gave. Any left over effort that you didn’t use fades away. There is no roll-over extended effort; you use it or you lose it.

Try your best, you’ll be glad you did.

Notice that it doesn’t say it will be easy either. We have to assume challenge is going to be a part of our daily lives if we want to be really innovative. To innovate is to go against the grain, explore out past the edges… where we’re innovating, there are no roads. We’re ok with that because we’re going to try our best and we’ll be glad that we did.

Here you are, orbiting in your own magical region of awesomeness, with your own idea creatures! And all thanks to trying your best and being glad that you did.
Here you are, orbiting in your own magical region of awesomeness, with your own idea creatures! 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the concept of Flow State. The abridged version says that if the amount of challenge is too low compared to our skill, we’ll get bored. If the amount of challenge is too high compared to our skill, we’ll get frustrated. Yet there is a sweet spot that fluctuates, where our skill encounters just enough challenge. In this Flow State we become deeply engaged. When we try our best, we’re doing all we can to get ourselves in this Goldilocks zone where the challenge isn’t too low or too high. It is just right.

In fact, let’s talk quickly about the Goldilocks Zone. The Science Masters call it the Circumstellar Habitable Zone and it is this Magical Region of Awesome (MRA) amidst all the universal variables. If a planet exists inside that MRA, it is capable of sustaining life. As innovators we are our own little planets, spinning wildly on our axis. Our thoughts and prototypes are our lifeforms; little idea creatures migrating, learning, growing. Don’t be one of those planets where ideas go to die. Try your best to keep that orbital velocity up so that you stay in the MRA, where your idea creatures can prosper and thrive.

Try your best, you’ll be glad you did.

The last thing I want to point out is that the quote doesn’t say anything about any one else. Nope, this is all about you. If you are extrinsically motivated, you may prefer “Try your best, your boss will be glad you did”, but I don’t know your boss. I’m certainly willing to try to get them to add that clause to your contract? But boss approval only lasts so long anyways. Soon the boss will be replaced or another task hits your inbox and your boss will have a fresh set of expectations. Seems to me like you should really be trying to impress the one person who can’t be replaced, who has been with you every day until now, and will be with you every day forward.

You. I’m talking about you.

You know you better than anyone else. Take some time during the day and ask yourself “Am I trying my best? Will I be glad with how I did today?” and then adjust if needed. Even at this, we can’t be perfect. All I am asking you to do is to try your best at trying your best so that you can be glad. Win or lose, validated hypothesis or not, successful innovation or a heap of junk, we must link our happiness to effort. When we’re able to do that, we’re able to extract learning and growth from even the most catastrophic of failures.

Push yourself into that Goldilocks Zone of Innovation, face the challenges and muck with your own brand of grit so that your idea creatures can flourish, and be happy with yourself regardless of the outcome when you give it your all. Try your best, you’ll be glad you did.


  • Think of a particularly difficult task ahead (maybe a prototype that needs testing).
  • What are the epic ways it can fail?
    • Put a square next to each of these.
  • What are the spectacular ways it can succeed?
    • Put a triangle next to each of these.
  • Most importantly, what are all the things you can do before the task? Where can you apply effort? 
    • Put a circle next to these.
  • Turn all circles into smiley faces because when you accomplish these, you will have done all you can and that’s going to make you glad.