On emptiness, burnout, and dread

I fear being empty of creativity and curiosity. For me, this is the root of procrastination. If I never finish the work that truly matters, I won’t have to face the angels and demons deep within myself. So, I stay on the surface. I fill my days with easy wins. I become the rock that eternally skips on the surface of the water, praying that I never lose momentum so I don’t sink into the depths of the unknown.

The longer I hold out, the deeper the emptiness becomes, resulting in burnout. I don’t believe burnout results from working too hard, having too many interests, dreams, or creative projects. It happens because I’m spending too much time avoiding the calling, the intuition, and the visions of my soul. Burnout is a spiritual issue; I’m deaf to the whispers and the shouts that emerge from the unknown within.

The longer I fear the emptiness within, the stronger the fear becomes. Avoiding the unknown because I’m afraid of discovering my “True Self” (as written about by Richard Rohr) magnifies the perception and magnitude of the emptiness. Hard decisions that matter long after I am gone become the decaying echoes of a long-forgotten note.

As the echoes fade into silence, the monster of dread emerges and devours my life. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

While the journey from emptiness to dread passes through the land of burnout, it is not my destiny. I can choose a different path. I can choose to walk through fear into the unknown. I can enter into the emptiness. I can see what lives on the other side of silent whispers. I can see that the void is not a monster but a sanctuary—a healing place.

Ideas Short and Sweet

An outlet for your doubt

I’ve been thinking about doubt. Not because I’m wrestling with it, but because I’m wondering how I was able to work through it. I’m finally on the other side of a long season where doubt, insecurity, and a healthy dose of imposter syndrome gripped my soul. And it feels great.

For me, I’m learning that I need an outlet to express my doubt. A “doubt-let,” if you will. It initially took shape in my journal as I wrote down quotes and thoughts every morning. Then I started writing again, for no other reason than to get things out of my head. The result has been increasing confidence. Not to mention strengthening my creative process and deepening my imagination in my side projects and client work.

When doubt enters your mind, what do you do?

How do you respond?

Ideas Reflections Thoughts

A New Story of Collaboration

Tonight I’m participating in a workshop led by my friend, Diane Gibbs, in which the participants answer the question, “What makes a great collaboration for you?”

At first glance, my answer reveals an old story that finds its roots in events that happened decades ago: “I don’t collaborate. I’m not a good collaborator. I’m not a team player. I’ve been burned too many times. I’m destined to be alone in my efforts.”

But as I sat with this question, I thought about my clients, side projects, and relationships. The more I sat in silence and listened to the quiet truth buried beneath the noisy lies, I heard it, a new story of collaboration.

So what makes a great collaboration? When the partnership is a true partnership, when each of us has a role that strengthens the other, and most importantly when we are clear on why we are collaborating.

I can’t help but think about Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, in this context. However, you don’t have to “start with why.” As long as you define the why together, the roles can sing in harmony.

Like most students, I hated group projects in school. But as an instructor, I saw the value in them. Instead of blindly expecting groups to figure out what true partnerships looked and worked like, I guided them. There was an equality of effort across everyone involved. Even the weakest team member played a vital role, allowing the team to produce more substantial work.

Roles can be tricky, especially for people who have various strengths, talents, interests, and passions. That is where the “what” and the “how” enter the collaborative dance.

As a creative entrepreneur and guide, my clients often hire me in one of two capacities. The first way is when someone wants to create something—a video, a podcast, an email newsletter, a book—and they know what they want to say. They need help to best package those thoughts into a compelling, insightful, and sometimes entertaining product. The second way is equally interesting. They know how they want to show up in the world, their creative identity is firm, but they don’t know what to say.

My collaborations soar when I am fluid between the “what” and the “how.” There will be overlapping actions between the “what” and “how” throughout the creative process. But when I play to my strengths within the relationship and allow my collaborative partner to do the same, we create great work.

Finally, as we work with the understanding of what our “why” is, it becomes our guiding light as we move forward in the darkness of doubt, the fog of fear, and the blinding sun of success.


How do I feel about listener statistics?

My podcast host recently made a change to listener statistics to include partial listens, in addition to full listens. If I so desire, I can go down the rabbit hole of seeing how many partial listens were in the first few seconds, 25%, 50%, or 75-99%.

For the data-obsessed, like myself, this is fantastic information. I can make some highly educated guesses about where people lost interest and whether or not I am producing compelling enough episodes that people want to finish.

The fascinating thing about listener statistics, whether total or partial, is the story I end up telling myself about what these numbers mean.
When the numbers are what I deem “positive,” my self-talk gives me a metaphorical pat on the back. When they skew in the negative direction, the story quickly shifts to a tragedy. “I suck and people finally realize it,” I whisper to myself.

But could there be another way to approach the interpretation of listener statistics?

When the only number I had access to was full listens, I felt compelled to maintain the status quo. The more I looked at and explored the partial listens, the more I noticed a curious feeling emerge: a desire to shake things up and experiment with new creative ideas. Not to prove myself, but to have more fun, express my thoughts more boldly, and see what the show could become.

What story will you tell yourself as you explore the statistics attached to your creative projects?

Reflections Thoughts

What does it mean to listen?

I finished the chapter in See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valarie Kaur about listening. It got me thinking: What does it truly mean to listen?

To not only hear the words being said but to feel the emotions present—and simultaneously hidden—in the infinite moments of our lives.

As a podcaster and documentary filmmaker, asking questions is a fundamental skill that I wield daily. But to excavate the stories and emotions of those before me, I must listen to their words, feelings, and emotions. To what is not being said. To the tension or electricity in the room.

But I must also be present to my body, mind, and spirit. Am I tense or loose? Am I thinking about what needs to be said? Maybe I have entered into the world of judgment, telling myself how much better I am than them or how awful I am in comparison.

What if the most potent form of listening is the suspension of judgment? To stoke curiosity and wonder like a dying fire in the frozen dawn. So we can all come around the fire and find rest.

It’s one thing to listen to someone else, but what about listening to the voice within? The spark of an idea, a thought for a new future, a dream, a direction. Listening to ourselves requires three simple yet challenging actions:

  1. Get quiet.
  2. Discern our voice from the cacophony of noise within and around us.
  3. Pay attention.

I’ll take it one step further: What do you do with what you hear? Could it be that action, actually doing something as a result of what we heard, is the ultimate expression of our listening?

Things That Blow My Mind Thoughts

“Infinite Creative Source”

I find it’s always the simplest phrases that capture my attention, stick in my mind, and drive me deeper into understanding what they could mean.

During my morning reading time, I came across the phrase “infinite creative source” in the book Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision by Ian Roberts. This phrase describes the current of creativity that flows within us, perhaps like a river or electricity.

Some pay attention to it and draw forth from its abundance. Others ignore it because they can’t see it, hear it, feel it, or discern its existence beyond the noise within and around.

As Roberts writes, what we discover when we tap into this “infinite creative source” is the art beyond the “personal stuff” that will resonate with others. Roberts describes this art as a revelation.

What are the revelations that you see, hear, feel, and resonate with as you dip your soul into the “infinite creative source”? How will you allow these revelations to grab hold of your energy and desire to create?

Stories are fundamental to our existence and co-existence on this planet. Our personal stories matter because they are the vessels that draw creativity from the “infinite creative source.” Much like a bucket to a well or an excavator to a patch of earth.

If we don’t know our stories, how will we ever know what is possible?

It is when we know the size and shape of our personal stories—whether small or large—that we can see how little we are in comparison to the massive expanse of the “infinite creative source.”

As I dip my hand into this abundant source of creativity, I feel the rush of movement. I feel humble, small, yet powerful. I close my eyes to listen for the quiet whispers to be unearthed in this space.

My heart races.

What a rush.


A Short Rant on Goals

Goal-setting is a popular topic on social media, in books, and around the virtual and physical watercoolers of the world. It’s akin to Monday morning quarterbacking and critiquing the latest film and how you would make it better than the seasoned professional. In other words, it’s easy to talk about, much more challenging to do for yourself and your team.

Most people evangelize the gospel of S.M.A.R.T. goals. If you haven’t heard of them, S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic (or Relevant), and Timely. Sounds great; a perfect and memorable framework for goal-setting.

I’ve also heard of S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals. I can’t remember what the last two letters are—maybe energy and risk—but all I know is that the E and the R will undoubtedly make your goals “smarter.”

Snarky, I know.

Is there a way to rethink S.M.A.R.T. goals? Perhaps there is. Welcome to my new goal-setting framework. Building upon S.M.A.R.T., I’m adding three additional elements.

First, Awe-inspiring. If a goal isn’t awe-inspiring, why are you doing it? How many goals have you honestly set out of context with what you want to accomplish? By connecting what you want to do to something bigger than yourself, something humbling, something awe-inspiring, you can assess whether the goal is worth the time.

Second, Soul-driven. Intrinsic motivations drive many people—the satisfaction of a job well done, growth, learning—and others find momentum in external validators such as success and money. What if the expression of the deepest parts of yourself drives your goals instead? However, it doesn’t stop at your soul because it could also be the soul of your organization, community, and collective.

Third, and finally, sufficient. Sufficiency is my favorite because it implies a limit to the goal. Humility? Perhaps, but it’s a sense that I am enough and the goal is enough for this moment. With sufficiency as the final element of the framework, we can make sure that what we pursue does not overtake us. That we can rest and we can live.

Welcome to the S.M.A.R.T.A.S.S. framework of goal-setting.

Reflections Thoughts

A Time and Space to Listen to Stories

My story. Your story. Our stories. It feels simple to write these words, but it takes an enormous amount of time, energy, and space not only to tell stories but to listen to them.

If we are chronically busy, as most of us are these days, we have to find ways to optimize our time. The first place we cut is telling our personal stories. Next, we trim a little from how we listen to the stories of others. Maybe we fill in the gaps with what we think or fit a lifetime’s worth of intrigue into a 15-minute time block on our calendar.

But if we are out of time, we jump right into the “us” story. The story of the collective. The heroes and villains. The saints and martyrs. The narrative that binds people together.

It is in this awareness that I stop and slow down. Valarie Kaur brings perspective to the time and space necessary to give and receive stories. In her book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, Kaur writes about the power of listening. As she traveled the country to present her film about the treatment of Sikhs in post-9/11 America, she not only shared powerful stories but became a witness to the stories of others. She couldn’t help but listen.

Inspired by Valarie Kaur’s words, I realize that when I tell my story, it creates an opportunity for you to tell your story. When you listen to me, I have a chance to then listen to you. But reciprocity takes time. It requires an intentional and safe space for this conversation to occur. And it doesn’t happen without telling our personal stories and caring to listen when other people share their stories, no matter how long it takes.

Short and Sweet Thoughts

Diving into the world of story

I think of stories in three parts: 1) my story; 2) your story; and 3) our story. I don’t believe we can ever truly get to our collective story without first excavating the story within each of us. What will we find in the deepest parts of ourselves? In the darkest depths of pain, despair, and longing? In the substance of our hopes and dreams?

In Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer, he gives us a glimpse of what the answers to those questions could be: “Go far enough on the inner journey, they all tell us—go past ego toward true self—and you end up not lost in narcissism but returning to the world, bearing more gracefully the responsibilities that come with being human” (p. 73).

This inner journey scares people, so they push aside their own story. They mine the stories of others in order to know how to live. They create a shared narrative for a variety of personal reasons: not wanting to appear selfish, pursuing something larger or more meaningful, or simply believing that every story matters except their own.

My story matters because I learn a valuable lesson about myself: the answer to the question, “Why?” It is in my story that I begin to understand my values, beliefs, and motivations. My sins, biases, fears, and judgments. My strengths and weaknesses.

This story is tremendously valuable because it provides a hook to hang the stories of others upon. When I truly know myself, only then can I let myself go without fear. It is in the deepest of knowing that I can let the worries and anxieties melt away. The noise fades away, leaving the silent wonder within to guide me to finally hear the stories of others.

Reflections Things That Blow My Mind Thoughts

Are you willing to be mocked, misunderstood, and hated?

Good morning, dear reader. My name is Chris, and I am a people pleaser. Chances are, I haven’t met you, and I already have a deep-rooted desire for you to like me because of these words.

And that is a problem.

It’s not only my problem that I deal with daily; it’s a societal problem for one crucial reason: the loud shouts of rights and freedoms are out of balance because there is a group of people who care deeply about many things, but they are afraid to be mocked, misunderstood, and hated for what they believe.

But before I say anything else that might violate my desire to please you, I have a confession to make.

After five years and almost 550 episodes, I got my first anonymous 1-star rating on my podcast. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter. I medicated myself by looking at other podcasts and marveling that my rating was higher. I told myself (and others) that it was okay.

It wasn’t okay. I was really pissed off. My anger didn’t stem from the fact that someone clicked 1-star or provided me with no contextual feedback. Instead, I went down the rabbit trail of finding any possible excuse: was it something I said? A guest that didn’t fit the mold? Too existential and spiritual? Not “career-oriented” enough?

My rage started to rise underneath the surface because the anonymous rater was correct. And I didn’t want to admit it. I deserved a 1-star rating for no other reason than to shake me up.

I’m remembering something about Jesus and spitting out lukewarm food. It’s not hot, it’s not cold, but blah. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially, I fear making people unhappy. But more importantly, I don’t want to be mocked, misunderstood, and hated.

And so I hold back.

Not at an inauthentic level, but just enough that someone noticed. And decided to let me know.

Thank you.