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 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.

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?

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.

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.

Reflections Thoughts

Tracing the lineage of influences

What leads us to make decisions about our lives? More personally, why am I the way I am? Who shaped me to become the man I am? As AC/DC shrieked into the universe, “Who made who? Who made you?”

The voices in my head have been loud lately. They’ve been waking me up in the middle of the night, expressing doubts, fears, but also excitement and hope. Amid insomnia, I think about the decisions I’ve been making, the projects I’ve been bringing to life, the people and work speaking into the depth of my soul.

The voices sound a lot like me. They are the manifestations of my dreams and nightmares. But they also sound a lot like the people who have positively and negatively influenced me over the years.

“Who made who? Who made you?” Such a profound question buried in the chorus of a rock anthem.

At my core, I am a DIY enthusiast. Do it yourself. How did I get to be this way?

It was out of necessity to live but also survive. My parents divorced when I was young. I retreated into myself. But then I found Metallica. The music, the band’s spirit, and Hetfield’s larger-than-life personality allowed me to give voice to my anger, pain, and rage. It became the driving influence in my life at a young age.

While learning to play the guitar, I wanted to play like James Hetfield. To channel my rage into the strings and sounds was my ultimate goal. Until it no longer was and a new plan found its way into my soul.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the soul lately. As if I’m awakening to something more profound, at the core of not just myself, but all of us.

These randomly connected thoughts are the voices of influence.

In my early 20s, I traveled to Israel on a church trip. I wanted nothing to do with God, but I was in pain, lost, and adrift. At the start of that year, I had dropped out of college to be in a rock band. I was living on a couch in a strange city, living the dream of my youth. Or so I thought. But my influences were no longer serving me, I was still angry, but the band didn’t need my rage channeled through my guitar.

Eventually, I quit the band and moved home. I woke up one day in Israel, found God, and started a new journey to replace anger with peace. I worked at a church for a season (that’s another epic story for another time). The voices shifted from the sonic anger of Metallica to creative expressions of filmmakers, authors, and entrepreneurs, such as Werner Herzog, Ken Burns, Bill Moyers, and Studs Terkel.

Certainty followed by intense periods of doubt-infused searching for something more meaningful characterizes my journey. It is usually the voices of influence echoing through my head that kick off the pilgrimage.

“Who made who? Who made you?”

Fast forward to today: I’ve been adrift again for several years. I didn’t know it until a recent project revealed how spiritually thirsty I’ve been. While it hasn’t been at the existential level of my early 20s, it was still deeper than I anticipated.

Fortunately, the voices are much different this time, but still in the spirit of “do it yourself.”

A few years ago, the primary influence in my spirit shifted to Neal Morse. My anger and rage became a curiosity and searching for the spiritual. Neal’s music kept me in touch with God while fueling my desire for authentic entrepreneurship in unexpected ways.

I’m hopefully only halfway through my life’s journey. As I continue digging deeper into discovering a more meaningful life, I realize a fundamental lesson: our influences shape us in seen and unforeseeable ways.

Who you allow to influence you not only shapes your actions in a moment. But on a deeper level, they create an internal mythology that gives your actions meaning, ultimately governing the unfolding journey through life.

Don’t like where you are at in life? Examine the voices influencing you today and how your lineage of influences has shaped the guiding mythology of your life.

Reflections Thoughts

21 Lessons I’ve Learned In Business

I’ve had my own business since 2006 and learned many lessons over the years. I thought I’d take a moment and make a list of advice for other creative professionals/entrepreneurs on their own journey. Here are the first 21 things that come to mind:

  1. Figure out who you are and always be yourself in work and life.
  2. Never abandon your values, avoid working for people whose values don’t align with yours, and beware people who either don’t have values or can’t articulate them.
  3. It’s all about serving your customers, clients, and audience.
  4. Learn to have difficult conversations.
  5. A lot of things don’t pay your bills: free work, saying yes when you should say no, being a jerk, and missing your deadlines.
  6. Volunteering is a great place to start, an opportunity for reinvention, and a place to connect with new ideas and people.
  7. Support the people and projects you care about.
  8. Save money.
  9. Avoid debt whenever possible.
  10. Pay your taxes.
  11. Build your network every day.
  12. Passion/side projects are effective ways to create the work you want to be known for.
  13. Working for friends is great until it’s not and you find yourself out of work and with less friends.
  14. Be a resource whether you get paid or not.
  15. Whether you are a generalist or a specialist, don’t waste time wishing you were what you aren’t.
  16. Reject the advice that doesn’t make sense to you, but give yourself the freedom to try it out when it comes back to teach you a lesson later on.
  17. Embrace the cycle of creation: pick an idea, bring it to life, share it, iterate and evolve.
  18. Feedback is neither good nor bad; how you respond to feedback is what matters.
  19. Focus on the people who are paying attention instead of worrying about the people who don’t know you exist.
  20. Spock’s Beard says it all in Crack the Big Sky: “Let’s make stuff we can’t live without.”
  21. Never stop being curious, trying new things, learning and unlearning, and being in a perpetual state of wonder.

What would you add to the list?


Overcoming (Software) Prejudice

I recently bought a new computer and I needed to setup my web development tools. One of the pitfalls of modern web design is that there are so many open source tools installed through so many different terminal commands. I couldn’t remember which tools were gems, npm, gulp, grunt, git, sass, compass, breakpoint, minify. I’m sure other developers don’t have this problem.

While bemoaning my frustrations to anyone who would listen (mainly myself), I noticed the Dw icon sitting in my dock. “I wonder what the latest Dreamweaver does?” asked a befuddled self, obviously looking for an easy solution. After a spending a few moments reading specs for Dreamweaver 2017, I thought I’d spin it up and take it for a drive.

Several hours later, I had a basic site built using Dreamweaver to transpile my Sass files to CSS and even tried Bourbon and Bourbon Neat (pretty cool grid framework). The Developer tools in Dreamweaver were comparable to what I was using before and I felt that it was time well spent.

The moral of the story

For years I avoided Dreamweaver. In fact, I despised it. I was prejudiced against the software. Somewhere along my web development journey, I labeled the software as inadequate (probably because of the popularity of WYSIWYG tools in the late 1990s and early 2000s). But Adobe kept refining and building up the program into the competitive package of tools it is today.

In rediscovering Dreamweaver and overcoming my software prejudice, I not only have a robust development tool for the websites I build, but also a software package that I know my students can use to design and develop their websites. A win-win situation.

Reflections Short and Sweet

Taking The Time, Doing It Right

When asking questions and seeking answers, I often find myself wanting to rush to the end so that I can move on to what’s next. I’ve done this in every stage of my life; every milestone in some way was rushed. The results weren’t always bad, but the habit was formed.

I know when I am rushing through life. I’m not spending time with friends. I’m not building the dreams I have. I’m toiling in the grind of rushing from moment to moment. It’s exhausting and nothing reveals the point of balance my life rests upon more than when things go wrong. The facade of success I have built crumbles. My mask shifts revealing who I am: a scared man that’s making it up as I go along.

As I reflect upon my desire to rush through life, I remind myself what it is I want. But instead of staying in that place of self reflection, I must weigh it against the needs of my family and community. I must do the things I don’t want to do, because I am able to do them. I may not like them, I may despise them, but I am able. There may be a time when I no longer have to do those things, but today is not that day. I try to rush through them, but the faster I go, the more impatient I get.

When I hit pause, reflect, and allow myself time to breathe—in both the good and in the bad—I realize that I have been shortchanging myself for a long time. My impatience has got the best of me.

It’s time to do it right. To go deeper, in both skills and relationships.

But that takes time. It takes commitment.

It cannot be rush.


What am I going to miss?

As 2016 draws to a close, the hot topic seems to be about social networks and their impact on the world. Recently, I have been toying with leaving Facebook. Not for political reasons or because of a lack of privacy, but because I don’t like how I feel after spending time on the social network. I feel that I have wasted time. I feel that I have seen a side of my acquaintances I didn’t really want to see. I feel further away from my friends.

As I thought about leaving Facebook, I worried about what I was going to miss out on. I worried that people wouldn’t be able to find out about the work I was doing. I worried that the videos I created wouldn’t be sharable anymore. I worried that my friends and I wouldn’t connect anymore.

Then I hit the button. All of those feelings were replaced with logical responses.

What am I going to miss out on? Friends and family will have to connect in new ways through text, phone, or face-to-face. I’ll have to actually go to family events or parties, instead of living vicariously through Facebook, if I want to participate.

How will people found out about my work? Facebook is not the only place to learn about me. I haven’t left social, I have a newsletter, and I have a public email address. Yes, I won’t be found on Facebook, but 99.9% of my work the past 10 years was not discovered there. Only a handful of videos really found an audience on Facebook. But those videos are in multiple places, not just Facebook. I’m okay with that.

Will my friends and I connect anymore? We never really connected on Facebook. Sure we had small conversations, but we didn’t go deep. And that is something that is valuable to me. My friends and I will need to connect in person or on the phone when it’s time.

It’s weird how addicted to Facebook I got. It was hard to say no, to turn it off, to think I was going to miss out on something. Ultimately, I became a junkie, looking for my next fix. Perhaps it is time for me to go to Social Media Anonymous?