Last Friday, Seth Godin visited MailChimp HQ to talk about art making and the lizard brain. Afterward, I slinked over to ask his advice on how to resolve present opportunities (like your day job) with creative ambitions. He said, “It’s really not that hard to be a writer, or a filmmaker. You can write on Saturdays, or make films on Sundays.”
“What if you do that already?”
“Are you showing people your work?” he asked. I blushed and shook my head. “Make a PDF of one of your stories and send it to 50 friends.” He looked at me for a long moment until I realized he was done talking. I felt like I was going to vomit and faint at the same time. So that’s what resistance feels like? Holy shit.
As I walked back to my desk, it dawned on me that Seth was right. Secretly perfecting sentences late into the night might be satisfying, but I’d never know whether a story was any good until I could see how people were (or weren’t) reacting to it.
Of course, recognizing what to do next and actually doing it are two different things and there’s a danger zone between them; It’s the place where the lizard brain tries to convince you to bury your realization, to go back to not knowing what to do next, to continue working in isolation. As I passed through the halls of MailChimp, a place where creativity is a guiding principle and I’m surrounded by smart, insightful co-workers, I thought there could be no better place to be vulnerable. If I didn’t throw my hat over the fence right then I would spend another three years believing I didn’t know what to do.
I relayed the story of Seth’s directive to my co-workers. I told my boss. I even went so far as to suggest adding them all to the list of 50 friends. They smiled and listened graciously. Then, something unexpected happened. The fear fled and nervous anticipation took its place. Just sharing the idea of sharing my work made me feel excited about doing something that had terrified me just moments earlier.
I may not be ready to send out a short story just yet (that moment of truth is on its way), but I wanted to start by sharing this story with you. Sometimes it feels like you need someone like Seth to help you figure out what to do next, but the reality is you probably already know: it’s the simple thing you could do today, the most direct route to rejection, the thought that makes your heart beat faster or the idea that comes to you in the shower when you can’t do anything about it. It’s also the thing most easily forgotten if you don’t protect it from the lizard brain by immediately making it real, by saying it out loud, by sharing it with 50 friends.
If you’d like to be one of the 50 people I share my new short story with, let me know. I’d be delighted to have you.