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.

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?

Short and Sweet Thoughts

Motivation and Momentum

I am a fan of making to-do lists each day. Sometimes I put so much on the list that I get overwhelmed and psych myself out to the point where it’s a struggle to get anything done.

One thing I have learned is that there is a certain amount of momentum needed to get creative work done. It can be a matter of a few minutes of sitting down without any distractions and starting a task in order to feel properly motivated. From this point, the task picks up momentum and is one step closer to completion.

Short and Sweet Thoughts

Are You Willing to Suck?

I’ve been working on a new project and there is a strong desire to make the launch perfect. While I am pushing to make the product the best that it can be—based upon my current skills and abilities—I also realize that perfection is not possible. I can only make it as good as I am able to today.

Could the temptation of perfection be summarized as a desire to bank on tomorrow’s abilities today without any idea of what those abilities will be?

I can make assumptions that I will be better in the future at what I do. As I look back over my career, I am a much better filmmaker today than when I started 16 years ago. I can only assume that my work will get better in the future. But the only way for that to happen is to consistently ask myself an important question, “Am I willing to suck?”

While I have released a lot of work in the past two years, from podcasts and videos to newsletters and blog posts, I also have not released work because I didn’t want to suck.

If I never release the product, I can keep working on my abilities, pour them into the project allowing it to improve. Or I can just answer the question—”am I willing to suck?”—with a resounding yes and press the Publish button.


Reinventing the Wheel

This morning I was pondering social media, data leaks, websites, and what the future holds for the internet.

With social media, I’ve been thinking about the Delete Facebook movement and the role Twitter plays in our society. Will I delete my Facebook account? Will I say no thanks to Twitter? What value do I get from social media that I don’t get anywhere else?

I have a lot of friends who get a ton of value from Facebook. But for myself, I am spending less and less time on the site. Not because my data has most likely been taken without my permission, but because I don’t care about 99% of what is shared on the site. Because I don’t contribute to the conversation, it is a platform of ads, opinions, and sensationalistic “thinking.” If this is how I feel, why do I stay?

I get a lot more value from Twitter. It is still a platform of discovery and connection for me. I have taken the time to curate a diverse list of people to follow. I learn about film, technology, coffee, art, animation, cinematography, design, podcasts, and so much more. Sure there are the things that drive me crazy about the platform and as those things increase in scope and intensity, I ask myself the same question as Facebook: why do I stay?

Perhaps I stay because I get the illusion of connection? Maybe it’s because there is the fear of missing out on something important? It’s most likely because I am addicted to the sensational rush of getting likes, hearts, and comments. I stay because the alternative seems more difficult. If I leave social media, how will people stay connected with me? How will I share what I think? How will I get the word out about a new project without social media?

As I think about these questions, I am led to even deeper questions: Am I willing to invest the time to reinvent the wheel? Am I willing to take the time and effort to create a system of thought and promotion that I control and maintain? Am I willing?

What does reinventing the wheel look like?

Instead of passively consuming information fed to me by algorithms, I will actively search based upon my needs and curiosity. Sure, searching still requires algorithms and tools created by others, but I initiate the process according to my terms. Perhaps this desire to control my information consumption will lead me to create my own automated tools of curation? While these tools may never be used by others, the process of learning and applying knowledge obtained through research and continual application has endless possibilities.

Instead of broadcasting superficial thoughts and ideas into a platform I have no control over, I will create content on my blog or website with increased intentionality, purpose, and depth. It will take more time and effort to write 500 words over 280 characters. Less people will discover and read what I have to say. But as I write and think without the distractions inherently built into the mechanisms of social media platforms, I can feel a difference in my own internal sense of satisfaction. My vocabulary changes. I am more thoughtful. My expectations are also different. While writing this post, I know that I may never get feedback or hear how it impacted someone. I am okay with that. Compare that to the feeling of rejection and sadness when something I write on social media doesn’t get likes, shares, retweets, or comments.

Instead of embracing the message of unlimited possibilities, I will allow personal and systemic limitations to define my work. When I first discovered the internet, it was magical. You could do so much with so little. The same holds true today. You can do so much with so little. You can even do so much more with today’s technology than in the past. But what we lack today is the imagination and inventiveness that came with the limitations of the past. In everything I do, I am striving to allow limitations to enter the picture: time, attention, ability, desires, motivations, purpose, and economic considerations.

So, is reinventing the wheel a good thing? A bad thing? Is it okay to stay on social media? Is it okay to leave? It ultimately comes down to how your choices impact your life and the lives of others. Don’t leave it up to someone else to decide what you should do.


One Day

Years ago I made a list of 40 things I wanted to do before my 40th birthday. When I made the list, I thought it was completely feasible to do everything on my list. I believed that I could do everything on the list. But each day I looked at the list, I applied a blanket thought to each item: “one day.”

Some people truly mean “one day.” When a friend of mine says it, I believe it. But when I say it, I know I’m lying to myself. I know I’m full of shit. I know I have no intention of doing it today, tomorrow, or a year from now.

When I say “one day,” I’m often following it up with an excuse of what I have to do today.

I need to learn to change “one day” to “today.”

If I want to run a marathon, that very well is a “one day” statement, but you don’t generally wake up and run a marathon. You have to work up to it. That means you start walking, jogging, or trotting today.

If you act today, every day, the effort and work compounds and your “one day” becomes real.

Short and Sweet Thoughts

Working Through The Melancholy

Today was one of those days.

I didn’t want to get out of bed.

I was feeling the deep depression that comes when multiple events start compounding in my soul: From the state of the world and my finances, to fighting to stay on my diet and an overwhelming sense that I do not have control of my life.

But as I worked through the day, it got progressively better. I got out of bed. I tried to meet with a client, but the internet decided not to work. I worked on a design, which directly impacted my evening lecture. I prepped my taxes and wrote the checks. Then I drove to class.

I was feeling pretty low by the time I got to class. But then I saw the work that my students were creating. I listened to their excitement. I chuckled at the student who fell asleep. I fought the urge to slam a book on the desk to wake him up. I helped teams learn more about working together. I made up some words.

As I interacted with others, I was able to get out of my head and listen. I wasn’t worried about tomorrow. I wasn’t worried at all. I was present.

Perhaps that is the best way for me to work through my melancholy: be present.

Short and Sweet Thoughts

The Worst Case Scenario

I thought I would start the blank page with a little clickbait: The Worst Case Scenario! I think about how much mental energy it takes to imagine all of the horrible things that could happen. I let the depression sink in; the melancholy of destruction.

Then I think about dog smiles, the smell of dryer sheets in the garage, the sounds of Metallica and Neal Morse, the way freshly cut grass smells, the taste of chai tea, the way my wife lightly touches my back to say hello, my dad’s voicemails replacing words in a song with poop, the joy of reading, the love of writing, smiling at strangers, and the smell of cooking meat on a barbecue. I think about that damn blue turtle shell in Mario Kart and the way my wife and I spend time talking about dreams and ambitions while we play. I wonder how other people find happiness and joy in the midst of sorrow.

I spend time thinking about the best case scenario. It’s not because I want to be ignorant to what is going on. It’s because there has to be a better use of my energy and strength. I’m not trying to manifest something. I’m just trying to stay grounded in hope and peace.