The first person I ever interviewed was a librarian with Tourette’s Syndrome named Josh Hanagarne. After the interview, he said, “Don’t underestimate what this is going to do for you.” I didn’t make much of it and kept reaching out to different bloggers.
A few months later Sid Savara sent me an email that changed my life:
I think you should go full speed ahead on the blogger interviews — and really dedicate yourself to it. I think you should go after the big fish too for it. You’ve got solid content, I think at this point you should go after like David Risley, John Chow, Leo Babauta, Yara Stark etc. I may be wrong but I think they’d be very open to it. I can put you in touch with two guys (Chris Garrett and Michael Martine) who are absolutely leaders in the field of growing your blog and put in a good word for you if you’d like (15K+ and 8K+ subscribers if I remember right). I can’t promise anything, but I think your interviews are solid and they would go for it.
There is one thing I’d suggest before I do that though. This is just my personal opinion, but I think your interview series would be extremely successful if you made a completely separate blog for it. I think your personal development writing and the other people’s guest posts are good, but the interview series — man! That is the stuff that really sets your blog apart. Your content is unique, but it’s hard to grow a personal development audience, it really takes time. I think you’ve got a huge opportunity with those interviews though — nobody I know of is doing in-depth audio interviews like you as frequently as you — and for me personally, I like the style of your interviews. I really think that is your comparative advantage
A couple of hours later I sent him a mock-up of a web site and said: “Is this what you had in mind?” It was sometime this week, 10 years ago we announced the podcast to the world.
These are the most important things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Follow Your Curiosity
The Unmistakable Creative started as a weekly series called interviews with up and coming bloggers. Most people said podcasts were dead at the time. If I’d followed a trend instead of my curiosity, I never would have started or stuck with the podcast.
Personal curiosity is the filter for every creative decision I make. It determines podcast guest selection, books to read, and projects I choose. With creative work, nothing is guaranteed and anything is possible. If you follow your curiosity, at least you’ll always work on something that interests you.
2. Everything Takes Longer Than You Think
Because we can go from idea to execution faster than at any time in history, people expect to succeed just as quickly. If you’re not willing to put at least a year of time into creating something, don’t expect to succeed. The only viable long term strategy to build anything is to focus on mastery instead of metrics.
And mastering your craft is a lifetime commitment. It took almost 5 years before I reached an inflection point. But even after writing a WSJ best-seller, my old mentor Greg said this.
“It’s important for you to remember you’re just at the beginning of the arch of your body at work.”
3. Remain a Student for Life
Despite more than 700 interviews and 10 years of practice, I still believe I’m very much a student of the interview. When you remain a student, you retain your curiosity. And when you retain your curiosity, you expand your capacity for taking creative risks.
After years of learning how to do interviews, I’m teaching myself how to put together audio stories like The Life-Changing Magic of Meeting people in person and dabbling in documentary films.
4. Compare Less and Create More
Comparison, envy, anxiety, and self-obsession are unfortunate byproducts of social media. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, we start to measure our self worth against the artificial pecking order of vanity metrics.
In his TED talk, Joseph Gordon-Levitt said that seeking attention made him unhappy. And paying attention brought him a great deal of joy. Comparison causes us to seek attention, while creation causes us to pay attention.
5. Parts of It will Suck
As you grow, you will outgrow people in your life. And inevitably, you’ll lose friends. This is the most painful aspect of navigating the geography of a creative life. You start out thinking you’ll never burn a single bridge. But life in the arts is messy. And anybody who has had a degree of commercial success will tell you this.
6. It Never Gets Easier
Until we get to our destination, we believe there’s some mythical date in the future when:
- Our ducks are in a row
- The stars are aligned
- We won’t have any problems
You have to be willing to go far past where the average person quits. And there are dark chapters in every hero’s journey. After the most successful year of my career, I had the worst year of my life. Behind closed doors, I’ve cried, been filled with self-doubt, and even thought about quitting.
But as Greg Hartle told me “your problems never go away. what changes is your capacity to handle them.” Instead, you have a much bigger set of problems.” As your capacity to handle problems increases so does your ability to take on more ambitious projects.
7. Who You Become is More Valuable Than What You Get
The success of my self-published book eventually led to a book deal with a publisher. But my traditionally published books haven’t been nearly as successful. I usually forget that I once made the WSJ Best-Seller List.
For a long time, I felt like a failure because of this. But, I realized that writing books taught me how to:
- Translate ideas into output
- Finishing things I start
- Navigate ambiguity
And much more. Writing two books with a publisher gave me skills that I can transfer to every other part of my life.
8. Draw a Non-Negotiable line in the Sand
I’m notorious for doing things like cutting podcast interviews in the middle, turning down “famous guests” and asking guests to do second takes. It doesn’t always go over well.
A famous author’s assistant said he would provide more value in 45 minutes than all other guests shared in an hour. He didn’t. And I’ve said no to everyone who wouldn’t give me an hour since then.
My own publisher tried to test my line in the sand. They told me one of their authors didn’t have an hour. So, I wished them good luck and said I’d have to pass on a Pulitzer winning author. 20 minutes later I got an email saying they found the time.
I’ve held this line so strong that if Oprah wouldn’t give me an hour, I’d pass.
9. Play The Infinite Game
Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards. — Maria Popova, Brainpickings
Nothing you accomplish will permanently alter your self-image. And the satisfaction from external achievement doesn’t last that long. There are few moments I hate more than submitting a final manuscript.
In those moments, I feel empty. The thing that has given me a life of intention, meaning and purpose for 18 months is over. The only antidote to this I know of is to start something else.
It’s creating for an audience of one, not reaching an audience of millions, that leads to sustainable satisfaction. The reward of being commercially successful with creative work is that you get to keep doing it.
10. Have Fun
This seems so obvious. But it’s easy to lose sight of this as you achieve bigger things. One of my favorite stories from Neil Gaiman’s book Make Good Art, is about a conversation he had with Stephen King.
Gaiman was at the heights of his career. Stephen King said to him “enjoy this” And I’ve forgotten this a bit too often.
When you have fun, your work is a privilege. When you don’t, it feels like an obligation.
To say my life hasn’t gone according to plan would be putting it lightly. I’ve taken the scenic route through life and my career. It hasn’t always been easy. But it’s never been uninteresting. And that I supposed that’s a life well-lived.
Making the Unmistakable Creative my life’s work was due to a series of serendipitous events (aka fortunate accidents). But most didn’t seem fortunate on the surface:
- Graduating into two economic recession
- Getting fired from every job I’ve had
- Spending 8 years living at my parent’s house
In the movie, Meet Joe Black, Anthony Hopkins gives a speech at his birthday. He says “65 years don’t they go by in the blink of an eye.”
My hair is greyer but my mind is a bit sharper, and body a bit slower.
My brain feels like an encyclopedia filled with life lessons from interviews, letters from listeners, moments of despair and others of joy. When Dr Tara Swart said, “when people upload their consciousness to the internet, yours is the kind of brain we’ll want.” That made me smile.
And when I struggle to find hope in the dark, I always remember the wise words of Unmistakable Creative guest Ananta Ripa Ajmera
There’s always darkness before light.
So, I wake up every morning, watch the sunrise, witness how true this is, put pen to paper, and continue my obsessive quest to find people who are good at unusual things.
A debt of gratitude
Without the hundreds of guests who shared their wisdom and thousands of listeners, we would not be here. Nothing of great significance happens without the help of other people.
Stephanie Frerich bet on me for my first book deal.
lisadimona is the best literary agent an author could ask for.
Nicola Korzenko invested in our vision for what we could ultimately become.
Joseph Logan has been a friend and mentor
Mars Dorian is the definition of Unmistakable. I’ve made a career out of one word because of him.
Brian Koehn kept us from going out of business.
Milena is one of the best hiring decisions I’ve ever made.
As I joke, I don’t really know anything. I’ve just curated the wisdom of people who are far smarter :).
Have you lost touch with your creative capacity?
I’ve put together a list of interviews with artists, authors, and entrepreneurs to help you regain your creative confidence and make your ideas happen. Just click here.