Someone Will Save You Today Cover

Someone Will Save You Today

If his mom hadn’t called him about the suicide book he’d ordered from the library, Tim Ferriss might not be here today. Thankfully, most of us will never need such a chance encounter or staged intervention. Why is that?

Why don’t we all require literal life-saving, given we all fight the same existential battles? I have a theory: You’re already being saved. It just happens differently than you imagine, and you don’t realize it does.

Every day, tiny parachutes protect you from falling. You don’t know who made them. You don’t see them on your back. All you know is you’re okay, and that’s the part that matters.

When I was 13, I felt angry. I don’t know at who or why. Every morning, I listened to Linkin Park. It was soothing to hear another man yell at the top of his lungs. One day, my anger just…went away. Did Linkin Park save me? I think it did. Not in a dramatic, literal way, but with countless tiny parachutes — one song, three minutes at a time.

Right now, something is saving you too. Maybe it’s a song. Maybe it’s a joke. Maybe it’s a friend listening to your troubles. We can’t always see it, but, all through our lives, a stream of invisible, helping hands carries us. Microscopic sparks of salvation, sprinkled like stardust across our days. It is thanks to this stardust that we don’t need a more radical and tragic kind of saving.

Art is salvation. Kindness is salvation. So are joy, laughter, and motion. Whoever bestows them upon us is our savior; whoever makes us laugh, smile, or calm down becomes a helping hand.

We too are a hand carrying others. We’re all doing our part, even if we don’t notice. It’s a magnificent contradiction: When it comes to the big things in life, no one will come and save you. You are your own light. You must be. No one will make you rich, happy, healthy, or fulfilled. That torch only you can bear.

At the same time, you are constantly being saved. Every day, billions of humans send trillions of ripples across the universe. Some of them will always reach you. Some of them will carry you forward.

Saving is for all of us, and yet saving, like everything, is part of the great balance. Every day, we’re both the savior and the saved.

By the time you rest your head on your pillow tonight, you will have been saved. You’ll also have saved someone else. Neither of you will know who did it. Neither will have seen the other pull it off.

All you’ll know is you’re okay — and that’s the part that matters.

Don't Forget Your Light Today Cover

Don’t Forget Your Light Today

The Drink of Despair is an ingenuity of evil. Parching whoever drinks it until they’re desperate for water, this nasty potion will nearly kill its consumer. Naturally, it must be drunk to be overcome — and dark wizards use it to protect their important belongings.

When it comes to dark wizards, Lord Voldemort is the poster child rather than the exception, and so, in one of the series most tragic moments, Harry Potter must feed his headmaster and mentor, Albus Dumbledore, the nefarious concoction. The pair succeeds in sipping the cup, but their victory is short-lived: What they hoped to acquire is no longer there, and they now find themselves weak and defenseless — surrounded by, of all things, water.

It’s a trap, of course. An army of Inferi — spellbound corpses — is hiding beneath the surface. Inside the dark lake of what on any other day would be a welcome source of refreshment, they’ve been waiting to “welcome” the two intruders all along — and drown them.

Since Dumbledore is too frail to fight and Harry isn’t quite strong enough, the inevitable happens: The boy trips, the Inferi grab, and into the depths he goes. Just as it seems Harry’s number is up, with the last blink of his eyes, he spots a flash of red. It cuts through the darkness above. Warmth fills the water, and a second later, he can no longer feel the Inferis’ grasp.

Harry swims to the surface. When he pokes his head out of the water, he can see but one thing: Fire. Raging, burning, darkness-crushing fire.

A pale Dumbledore stands in a tornado of light. Wielding his wand like a lasso, the all-powerful magician directs the fire from its center, raining wave after wave of scorching inferno upon their opponents. Harry manages to reunite with his savior, and, together, they fend off the attack.

The boy can consider himself lucky: Dumbledore brought his light today — and it made all the difference.

I’m dancing with my demons
I’m hanging off the edge
Storm clouds gather beneath me
Waves break above my head

I’m not sure he ever saw the Harry Potter scene, but given these lyrics, Chester Bennington from Linkin Park may as well have been in it. Nobody Can Save Me is the first song on their album One More Light, the last record to feature Chester as lead singer before he died by suicide.

The song is upbeat, the lyrics encouraging. Walking on the edge between light and dark, it reminds us to bring our sunshine — to conjure our ring of fire:

If only I can save me now
I’m holding up a light
Chasing out the darkness inside
And I don’t wanna let you down
But only I can save me

Chester struggled with depression all his life. One day, he simply forgot his light. Having listened to him since I was 13, I’m glad he brought it for so long.

We all have a light. We are One More Light. That’s what Chester taught me. The light is deep inside ourselves, and only we may ignite it.

Been searching somewhere out there
For what’s been missing right here

It’s a beautiful gift he left for us. Thank you, Chester. One More Light. Don’t forget.

“Home,” the candle in our bathroom reads. “No matter when and where, it is a safe place. Whatever happened, it is a warm harbor.”

When I see the flame flickering in the glass, I remember: Home is where the light is — and the light is something we carry.

Wherever you go, let there be light. Hold it every day, be it a tiny spark on your shoulder or a wall of fire against the dark.

As long as you bring it, there will always be light. Put it in your pocket. Let it do its thing. But remember to take it with you.

Don’t forget your light today. It might make all the difference.

The 2 Stages of a Successful Creative Career Cover

The 2 Stages of a Successful Creative Career

I’ve been writing for five and a half years, and, so far, I’ve only seen two constants in writers, Youtubers, freelancers, and any other creative types who succeeded on a big scale: consistency and experimentation.

Usually, one follows the other, and people who fail get stuck on climbing either the first or the second step of this metaphorical ladder. As a corollary, I haven’t seen anyone do both and completely fail in the long run.

Consistency and experimentation are the two stages of a thriving creative career.

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4 Tips to Improve All Your Writing Cover

4 Tips to Improve All Your Writing

Three years ago, I shared four writing tips. I found them through trial and error. That was hard but made them easy for you to pick up. Three years later, I have four more tips. Like the others, they’ll improve all your future writing.

Don’t Hedge Your Bets, But…

Writing is thinking. The only way to write is to think. Therefore, we want to know what you think, not that you think. It’s obvious. You could not have taken any other path to get here. Spare us the real-time transcripts.

“I think,” “I suggest,” “in my opinion,” throw them out the window. Say what you want to say. Don’t just think, believe in what you conclude.


“Writing improves your thinking. I suggest you write daily.”


“Writing improves your thinking. Write daily.”

…Acknowledge That You Don’t Know Everything

Rick Rubin says, “The best art divides the audience.” While divisive art works, it’s not the only kind that does. You don’t need a slew of euphoric comments and hate-mail to know what you made is valuable.

Sometimes, the best feedback is no feedback. Sometimes, we want to just nod and think, “Yes!” to ourselves. So as much as you shouldn’t hedge your bets grammatically, acknowledge your faults contextually. This may look like an exception to the above, but it’s actually possible to do both at the same time. Believe in what you say, just don’t say you know everything.


“Writing daily is for everyone.”


“Writing daily may not be for everyone, but if you try it, you might find it’s for you — and that’s all that matters.”

Don’t Write Words — Write Music

Gary Provost, a famous American writer, once demonstrated how to balance parataxis and hypotaxis. Without knowing what they are, you’ll understand.

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say, “Listen to this, it is important.”

Aaron Sorkin says dialog is music. It’s not just dialog. All writing is music. Here’s a colored version of the above. Can you see the rainbow? Write rainbows. Vary your sentence length. Give us short, long, then more of the one and less of the other, until you flip it all around.


“I am a writer. I write daily. It is good for me. It helps me think. It is the best.”


“I am a writer. I write daily. Writing helps me think, and thinking is good for me.”

English Has 171,476 words — Use Them

There are 171,476 words in the English language. In our daily lives, we use 3,000 of them — less than 2%. That’s a shame for our conversations, but for our writing, it’s an outright disgrace.

Since the ‘60s, the average pop song has become nearly 20% more repetitive, and the top 10 have the least verbal variety. Express yourself, they say, but that requires having the words to do so. You can find them for free in a thesaurus. 171,476 words. Use them.


“I am a writer. I write daily. Writing helps me think, and thinking is good for me.”


“I am a writer. I do it daily. The craft helps me think, and contemplation is good for me.”

It takes a long time to find short tips — and even the best of them only pay off after a while. Thirty seconds to implement one tip, eight hours to execute 1,000, and much longer still to discover your own.

Have discipline. Believe. Be transparent. Write music, and use your words.

I’ll see you in three years.

Your Only Job Is to Let Yourself Be Good Enough Cover

Your Only Job Is to Let Yourself Be Good Enough

You know that Coldplay song, Viva La Vida? The one with the strings and choir that tells the story of a fallen king:

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning, I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I’ve always wondered why it’s such an upbeat song. Why it’s called “long live life” when it’s about someone who’s lost everything they had in theirs. Well, Chris Martin, lead singer of the band, once explained the title.

When he was in Mexico, he went to a museum, and, in there, he saw the last painting Frida Kahlo ever made. It’s called Viva La Vida.

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The Only Way to Find Success Is to Relentlessly Forgive Yourself Cover

The Only Way to Find Success Is to Relentlessly Forgive Yourself

Last week, my sister came to visit. It was awesome. We saw Mike Shinoda, got ice cream, and tried lots of great food. I love her and I’m glad we hung out.

But for some reason, whenever I go to an event, a friend stops by, or the week is just generally slow, I still feel like I should get as much done as I usually do. Like I should create the same output, regardless of the time I take off.

That’s impossible, of course. But it creates guilt and that guilt is the real problem. Guilt is a useful emotion. As opposed to shame, it makes us want to step up. To rectify what we did wrong.

But when it comes to being productive, there’s nothing to rectify. It’s not like a crooked picture you can just push back into place. Your life is continuous and each moment is a small dot on a long line. Work is such a big part of that line that it’s impossible to see how each dot shapes it day-to-day, week-to-week, often even year-to-year. Unlike other things we feel guilty about, you can’t just go back to the café, pay the bill you forgot, and reset the karma balance to zero. Because there’s always more work.

And so it may feel like focusing for one hour in the evening makes up for a bad day, but who wants to spend their entire life salvaging leftover scraps of time? That’s a surefire recipe for unhappiness. The solution lies on a higher level.

Who’s to say it was a bad day in the first place? Maybe you needed rest. Maybe you were affected by something in your subconscious. Why can’t we suspend that judgment altogether? Jim Carrey has a great metaphor for our moods:

“I have sadness and joy and elation and satisfaction and gratitude beyond belief, but all of it is weather. And it just spins around the planet.”

Shame, guilt, regret, these are also just weather phenomena. External conditions that’ll sometimes swing by your planet.

Of course, it’s hard to constantly practice this non-judgment in advance. To go into each experience without attachment or expectation. We’re human, after all. We fail. We let things get to us. And so we need to learn to pick ourselves back up. To realize when we’re complaining about the weather and stop.

The only way to do this over and over again, to keep moving forward no matter what happens, is to relentlessly forgive yourself. Forever and for everything. You won’t always do it immediately, but try to do it eventually.

Note that forgiving yourself is not about letting yourself off the hook. It’s not an excuse to not learn from your mistakes. It won’t guarantee it either, but without forgiveness, you can’t learn anything. Because regret is in the way. You must say: “Okay, that’s done, how will I move on and what will I change?”

This applies to all kinds of emotional weather you’ll experience, but when it comes to productivity, to using your time well, it’s especially important. Only forgiveness can remove the friction of guilt. The nagging that prevents you from picking up the pen again. From continuing to just do things.

We all have different definitions of success and that’s a good thing. For some, it’s raising their kids to exceed their own accomplishments. For others, it’s fighting for a cause or using art to change how we think. And some just want to live quietly and enjoy the little things.

But no matter what end work serves in your life, you’ll never do enough of it if you constantly kick yourself.

Forgiveness is the only way.

Why don’t we talk about this? When we’re looking for ways to move on, why do we encourage everything from resting to trying hard to having a purpose to proving someone wrong, but not loving yourself when all of these fail?

I don’t know. Maybe, it makes us feel like frauds. To say “alright, let’s move on,” when others had to pay stricter consequences. Maybe, forgiveness isn’t sexy enough. Not a compelling reason to continue. Or, maybe, it’s the hardest of them all to believe in. To actually mean it when you think it. Or say it.

I’d put my money on that last one.

It’s good to practice non-judgment. It helps me a lot every time I succeed. But often, I don’t. And then I’m wrestling with myself for forgiveness. I’d much rather learn to consistently win that second battle. The first one isn’t lost, but I know I’ll never reach perfection. Forgiveness, however, is always available.

It’s as if the healthiest option is right in front of us, but we’re too blind or stubborn to use it. Too scared to allow ourselves to move on. Well, I don’t know you, but here’s permission to forgive yourself. I hope you’ll exercise it. It’s time. Have courage. Move on. Turn the page. And don’t look back.

Maybe, life is not about finding the straightest path to success. Or the simplest. Or even the smoothest. Maybe, it’s about finding one, just one, that allows you to get there at all. But that requires letting go of our old beliefs.

Mike Shinoda is a lead member of Linkin Park. On his current record, he’s processing the loss of his best friend and band mate of 20 years. Imagine how much forgiveness that takes. It’s got sad songs, angry songs, desperate songs, helpless songs. But there’s also one that’s light. Optimistic. Forgiving.

Maybe, in our own quest for being kinder to ourselves, all we have to do is act on its lyrics:

And they’ll tell you I don’t care anymore
And I hope you’ll know that’s a lie
’Cause I’ve found what I have been waiting for
But to get there means crossing a line
So I’m crossing a line

Will Smith: The Semantics of Success Cover

Will Smith: The Semantics of Success

In the summer of 1985, the king of Philadelphia’s DJ scene threw down at a house party. That night, his hype man was missing. You know, the dude shouting around, getting folks excited, and prompting chants. Luckily, a local MC lived just down the street and offered to fill in.

The name of that MC was Will Smith. He and DJ Jazzy Jeff instantly hit it off. So much, in fact, that Jeff sent his former sidekick packing and the two joined forces. Less than a year later, they dropped their debut single “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble” just in time to take the 1986 prom season by storm and allow Will to graduate high school as a rap star. Jeff recalls:

“Once Will and I made a record, we killed Philly’s hip-hop and ballroom scene. Nobody wanted two turntables. Now they wanted one turntable, a drum machine and some guy rapping. It wasn’t about Philly anymore. It was about conquering the world.”

And conquer the world they did.

Changing the Game

As sudden megastars often do, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince broke through because they reinvented the game they were playing. First, they redefined what makes a cool party. Then, they updated the meaning of the word ‘rap.’

With their light-hearted, comedic, curse-free songs like “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime,” the duo took rap to an upper middle class, even prep school level and made it fashionable. So fashionable, in fact, that Will and Jeff received not one, but two Grammys for ‘Best Rap Performance’ in 1989 and 1991 — a category that didn’t exist before they first won it.

And even though the two eventually split up and went their separate ways, none of these developments are entirely accidental. This tendency to reimagine things is part of Will Smith’s identity. It’s who he is. He may have started as an MC juggling words, but, as it turns out, it’s not just his music career that’s built on semantics.

A Dedication to Linguistics

What’s the one thing all rappers love? Language. And while it’s right at the intersection of what both they and actors need to succeed, almost no one seems able to make the jump. There is no shortage of rap stars attempting to act, but next to Will, only Mark Wahlberg made it to the majors.

Maybe it’s because no actor other than Will makes it as clear that he is a man of words. His characters are often outspoken, almost blubbering, and they’re always full of clever lines. Like Alex Hitchens, Will’s character in Hitch.

“Never lie, steal, cheat, or drink. But if you must lie, lie in the arms of the one you love. If you must steal, steal away from bad company. If you must cheat, cheat death. And if you must drink, drink in the moments that take your breath away.”

In his own life, he loves to learn new words

“In this film, I read an interesting quote. Siddhartha Gautama — the Buddha — he said that ‘good people have to get out of the bed every day and try to empty the ocean with a ladle.’ I knew that was profound and I paused for a second and I said ‘alright, what the hell is a ladle?’ So then I touched it on my iPad and ‘oh, it’s like a big spoon.’ A big spoon, okay. So like a soup spoon. So trying to empty the ocean with a soup spoon, you know, as the the mentality of how you wake up every day to try to do good in the world.”

…connect existing ones…

“Loss is bound to joy. Pain and suffering are bound to joy. Being able to survive something is actually a big part of being able to find that next wave of joy.”

…and writes a mission statement every year. Basically, whenever he’s in front of an audience — live or on screen — he plays jumprope with semantic lines.

“Confucius said one time: ‘He who says he can and he who says he can’t are both usually right.’”

— In his NAACP Image Award acceptance speech

But Will Smith’s dedication to linguistics goes even beyond all that. If you look at his chronology of films, you’ll see that almost every single one is an attempt to reformulate either its own genre or a fundamental aspect of human life.

Independence Day took the scale of the word ‘disaster’ to a new level. I, Robot made us question what it means to be ‘human.’ Hancock broke the mold of the ‘superhero’ genre. Sometimes, the word at the heart of the movie is obvious, even makes the title, like in The Pursuit of Happyness or Focus. Sometimes, it’s a little harder to find. I Am Legend, for example, wasn’t as much about ‘death’ as it was about ‘loneliness.’ The word for Seven Pounds was ‘sacrifice.’ But even when it’s hidden, it’s always there.

And while this is representative of the insane work ethic he openly claims to have, Will Smith’s commitment to connotation runs deeper still.


Words to Mend Our Mental Health

Besides giving new meaning to old words and using them to wow audiences, Will also draws linguistic lines to sort out the biggest mess we all face: the one in our own head. For example, while he realized very early that he had a lot of talent, he also knew it would not get him anywhere without skill.

“The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, that want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”

What’s more, clear distinctions allow him to deal with even the strongest of headwinds in the industry.

“My wife and I were just having this conversation and we were going to the dictionary for prejudice versus racism. Everybody’s prejudiced. Everybody’s prejudiced. Everybody has their life experiences that make them prefer one thing over another. But there’s a connotation in racism of superiority. That you feel that your race, generally, just based on your race, is superior. And I have to say, I live with constant prejudice, but racism is actually rare.”

Beyond picking better sides, such demarcation lines also give you the freedom to pick no side.

“I was just having a debate with a friend of mine and we got stuck on the difference between fault and responsibility. She kept talking about how something was somebody’s fault. It somebody’s fault! And I was like, it really don’t matter whose fault it is that something is broken if it’s your responsibility to fix it. Fault and responsibility do not go together. It sucks, but they don’t.

Taking responsibility, accepting responsibility is not an admission of guilt. You’re not admitting that you’re at fault. Taking responsibility is a recognition of the power that you seize when you stop blaming people. It’s not like you’re letting somebody who wronged you off the hook. Taking responsibility is an act of emotional self-defense. Taking responsibility is taking your power back.”

If you put fault on one side and guilt on another, responsibility ends up in the middle. This allows you to stay in your lane, the lane that’s not just the most useful to deal with the situation, but that even leads to feeling peaceful, rather than powerless and angry.

But the most fascinating word Will Smith gets real granular about is fear.

A Safe Space in Language

If anyone’s ever taken Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quote about the only thing worth fearing being fear itself to heart, it’s Will Smith. It’s easily the word he’s built the most synonym-fences around. There’s fear as motivation…

“I live in complete terror. Everything about this business and what I’ve been trying to build and what I’ve been trying to do with my life keeps me in terror. I am deeply motivated by fear.”

…fear vs. failure…

“It’s always a little bit frustrating to me when people have a negative relationship with failure. Failure is a massive part of being able to be successful. You have to get comfortable with failure. You have to actually seek failure. Failure is where all of the lessons are.”

…and even the fear of his own power. On the first day of ninth grade, he provoked a kid into knocking him out with a combination lock, which led to said kid being arrested and expelled.

“I was laying in my bed that night and I was just feeling like sh*t, and I had the recognition that I had caused this kid to throw his life away. He was kicked out of school and I never knew what happened to him, but I have a sense that it didn’t go well beyond there. And I felt a deep sense of regret and a deep sense that I had caused an emotion in a person that made them do that. And that feeling of regret turned into a sort of a fear of how much power I had. I was like ‘everything I say and do has that kind of effect on other human beings?’ And in that moment I decided that I would never walk into a room and do anything other than inspire and uplift and enlighten people.”

In addition to motivation, failure, power, and regret, Will has contrasted fear with danger, humility, loss, and even death. What he’s done here is build a safe space in language, with pillars holding off fear on all sides. Whenever he’s afraid, he can withdraw to that space, look around, and figure out which of the pillars fear is hiding behind this time. Is he afraid the movie will flop? That the next success might go to his head? That he might die? Whatever the reason, he can then replace the word ‘fear’ with another one and attack the problem from a new angle, one from which it may be easier to pass.

For all the benefits of mastering language, mastering your fears may be the most important one. But even that pales in comparison to one other thing.


Your Entry in the Dictionary

One of the few patterns Will Smith didn’t break is that of the unexpected, 21-year-old, millionaire rapper being an expected, 22-year old, broke rapper. But even after the IRS took all his stuff, he remembered that the words ‘rich’ and ‘famous’ usually go together. So he leveraged one into getting the other back. That’s why the show was called The ‘Fresh Prince’ of Bel-Air. It made use of the name he’d already established for himself. Semantics.

From 2008 to 2012, he had a rough patch and didn’t star in any movies. Eventually, he realized he needed a new definition of the word ‘acting.’

“I’ve always been really product-oriented. I want to win. When I do something, I want to win. I have a daughter and she really shifted my focus from product to people. It took a couple of years, but as soon as I’d gotten knocked off product and started shifting to people, the whole world opened up for me again. And acting opened up in a whole new way. To not go into day one of a movie, trying to figure out what everybody has to do so we win. I fell in love and then I couldn’t imagine what else I could do that could add so much to my life, other than acting.”

There’s one last, big lesson in that: all the definitions in the world don’t help if you don’t know who you are.

The Semantics of Success

When I look at Will Smith’s progression throughout the years, it seems to me his attention spotlight really has shifted inward. His mission statement has remained the same for the last few years. It’s ‘Improve Lives.’ And what better person to start with than oneself?

“In retrospect I’ve realized I had hit a ceiling in my talent. I had a great run that I thought was fantastic and I realized that I had done everything that I could do with the ‘me’ that I had. I really dived into me and then all of a sudden it was like ‘oh!’ and I found the connection. Your work can never really be better than you are. Your work can’t be deeper than you are.”

I think the work he’s done post-2012 reflects that. He seems happier, much less focused on outcomes, like box office numbers, and more fearless than ever. The themes of the movies he chooses are even more powerful. Themes like ‘truth’ in Concussion and ‘home’ in Bright. As with words, not every film has to hit its mark perfectly to mean something.

Lately, he also started a Youtube channel, posts Instagram stories, and documents his life in the occasional vlog. Finally, there’s new music on the horizon. I think it’s no coincidence that after 30 years, Will Smith is coming full circle, right back to rapping. Because he never really stopped. He’s on the same journey he started way back when. My guess is it’ll remain his true purpose to the day he dies. A mission to redefine himself.

A mission to reinvent the meaning behind the words ‘Will Smith.’

How To Survive as a Writer Cover

How To Survive as a Writer

Being a writer is hard. In an interview, storytelling legend and screenwriting teacher to the stars, Robert McKee, explains:

“Your job as a writer is to make sense out of life. Comic or tragic and anything in between, but you have to make sense out of life. You understand what that means? Making sense out of life? And this is why most people can’t do it. Because they can’t make sense out of life, let alone make sense out of life and then express it in writing.”

As writers, it’s our duty to live in our heads. And there’s no place more enticing, more exciting, yet at the same time more dangerous and more terrifying than the human mind. Time and again, we have to venture into this place from which some never make it back. Whatever we bring home we have to process, to shape, to form. Until somehow, something worth saying emerges, which often never happens. And so we have to go back.

For the times we do go “oh, that’s interesting,” we then have to chisel an arrow out of the marble block of messy information. An arrow loaded with emotion, dipped in reason, and wrapped in gold. Because otherwise, it’ll never land in the reader’s heart. And at the end of it?

After all the turmoil, the struggle, and the pain, the best we can do is fire the arrow into a sea of dark faces. Because even if we don’t play for the applause, in the end, our fate lies in the hands of the audience. Always. So the best we can do is show up, shoot, and pray.

See What I Did There?

If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance that whatever advice I was going to share next, you’d listen. You might not take it, but at least, you’d consider it. Why? Because from the first line, you empathized with me. I’m a writer too. You get that. You agree that it’s hard. You get me. And I get you. Empathy is the single most valuable reaction you can trigger in a reader.

We just established how tough a job writing is. Getting your reader to the point where they’d even consider what you have to say next? That’s the dream. In fact, if you can’t trigger empathy in the first paragraph, the first chapter, the first episode, your arrow will never hit its mark.

That’s the real lesson I learned from Robert McKee.

“You have to feel there’s a shared humanity. Without empathy, there’s no involvement. Empathy is so powerful, it builds in long form. Season after season, these people become your friends. You worry about them. You think about them more than you do [about] your friends.”


A Bed in a Corn Field

There’s an old, famous German pop singer. His name is Jürgen Drews. In 1976, he had his big breakthrough with a song entitled ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld’ (‘A Bed In A Corn Field’). It was a cover of the Bellamy Brothers’s ‘Let Your Love Flow.’ Right after the original hit’s five-week #1 run, his German adaptation topped the billboard charts for another eleven weeks. He performed the song all over the place. A star was born.

In the 80s, Drews tried to break through internationally, but never took off. He had a few minor hits, but mostly, people still wanted to hear ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld.’ In 1995, he re-recorded the song, and again, it was a big hit. Since 1999, he’s known as the ‘King of Mallorca,’ German tourists’ #1 party destination with lots of cheap beer, light entertainment, and forgettable events.

Drews still goes there every holiday season, where he performs ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld’ every night. He gets up to $20,000 for as little as 20 minutes of showmanship. And he hates it. He’s 73, on his third wife, and he looks tired.

Jürgen Drews never managed to spark his audience’s empathy.

He built his entire career on one cover song. ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld’ is the only thing we’ll ever remember him for. Jürgen Drews is famous, rich, and successful. But he’s also miserable. Because he couldn’t make sense out of life.

Divide and Prosper

Here are the first lines from some of my latest articles:

None of them are perfect, but all of them offer the reader a chance to empathize. They’re opinions, experiences, quotes. A few of which you may relate to, some of which you might recognize, but all of which you can agree or disagree with.

Rick Rubin says the best art divides the audience. The point is not to hook the most readers possible. The point is to not end like Jürgen Drews.

No Such Thing as Writing

McKee says his seminars are no walk in the park. He wants it that way:

“One of my missions in these lectures is to drive dilettantes out the door. There’s a certain kind of person who would teach a subject like this and pretend anybody can do it. ‘Anybody can do it, all you have to do is some formula,’ and that’s just bullshit. Hardly one person in a hundred can do it, truth be told. And I make that really clear to them. You’re in over your heads. You’ve got no idea how difficult this is. If you love the art in yourself, you will survive.”

To love the art in yourself is to have empathy when you look into the mirror. Because that’s where it starts. An old industry adage says there’s no such thing as writing, just rewriting. What it really means is forgive yourself.

Stephen King once wrote a sports column for his town’s weekly newspaper. When he submitted his first piece, the editor crossed out a few rumors, fixed some facts, and removed most of the adjectives. Then he gave King the best writing advice he ever got:

“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

You can’t make sense out of life in a single story and you certainly can’t do it on the first try. It takes compassion to accept that. If you can’t do that, the best you can hope for is ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld.’

Being a writer is hard. But it beats telling the same story for the rest of your life. Cut yourself some slack. Love the art in yourself. And if you don’t feel empathy in the first line?

Then you rewrite the intro.

How To Achieve More Than You Think You Can Cover

How To Achieve More Than You Think You Can

Justin Timberlake should not be as successful as he is. Looking at it from the outside, little of how his career has progressed seems to make sense.

JT’s not someone you come across in headlines a whole lot, yet he sits on over 160 awards, a 200-million-dollar fortune, and one of the most respected reputations in the history of entertainment. At 36 years old, he’s had a globally successful band, four platinum solo albums, starred in smash hit movies, and is considered a fashion icon.

But that’s not what common sense tells us, is it? Though some caveats have been added to the famous 10,000 hour rule, the message remains the same: you need lots of deliberate practice and years of time to get good at one thing.

So how can someone like Timberlake switch music styles, industries, even to a completely different skill set, like acting, time and time again, yet still succeed?

What part of the picture are we missing?

Learning to Unlearn

Every lesson in life comes at the expense of unlearning another.

When you learn to be confident, you unlearn to be shy. If you react with humility, you have forgotten your ego. When you’re comfortable taking risk, you ignore other’s opinions, and so on.

In Chinese philosophy, the idea of yin and yang suggests that life consists entirely of dualities. It is only through the completeness of these dualities that we achieve unity. So no matter how contradictory two sides seem, they’re ultimately connected.

For each new piece of knowledge you acquire, you have to let go of an old one. Foggy clouds of ideas make way for facts, which make way for better facts, only to be replaced by new clouds, and so the cycle continues.

What most of us do when we try to improve is resist this cycle. We want every next answer to be the answer to everything. A different diet, a new sleep schedule, a tweak to your marketing — if only we stick to it, it may last us forever. Of course, nothing ever does.

That’s because the underlying skill of acquiring and abandoning knowledge, the unity, lies in change itself. What you’re really learning is how to unlearn.

Justin Timberlake is a master at it.

The Unimportance of Being Right

There is a famous line in a Walt Whitman poem called Song of Myself:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.”

The next time someone accuses you of being inconsistent, say this line. It’ll instantly take the wind out of their sails, because you can’t argue with someone who accepts being wrong. Especially without making an attempt to defend themselves.

Most people stumble over this idea, because one of our biggest innate desires is to be consistent. Add to that our tendency to spend more time on what we’ve already sunken energy into, and you get a high level of resistance to unlearning.

People like Justin Timberlake, however, practice something cryptocurrency expert Nick Szabo calls quantum thought:

“In law school, they teach a very different way of thinking in that you need to take both the defendants and the plaintiffs side of the issue and run down the arguments as if each one of them is true. They contradict each other, of course, or at least the conclusions, and so I compare this to Schrodinger’s cat — maybe it’s alive, maybe it’s dead. Maybe the defendant’s guilty, maybe they’re not, and you have to keep both of these in your mind at once.”

When Justin went from child actor to boyband singer, from solo artist to actor, from show host to comedian, from R&B to Soul, and from commercial star to voice actor, he was in no way convinced he’d be good at all of those things.

He just managed to hold the possibility of two different truths in his head at the same time. Thanks to this skill, Timberlake is never afraid to be wrong, since he is always free to unlearn one thing for another. He has a frictionless mind.

It’s a mental model he likely acquired at The Mickey Mouse Club.

A Child With a Grown Man’s Work Ethic

Even someone as talented as Justin Timberlake isn’t always right. He bought a golf course for $16 million, only to sell it for $500,000 seven years later, and some of his films were really bad. He works incredibly hard too, which we can’t neglect.

However, all that pales compared to the genius of a child that resides in him, which we often lack. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains:

“There’s a spelling bee and you have to spell the word ‘CAT.’ One student spells it ‘C-A-T.’ The person got it right. The next person spells it ‘K-A-T.’ That’s wrong.

The third person spells it ‘X-Q-W.’ You realize that is marked equally as wrong as the ‘K-A-T,’ when you could argue that ‘K-A-T’ is a better spelling for ‘CAT’ than ‘C-A-T.’ Dictionaries know this, because that’s how they spell it phonetically!

And so we’ve built a system for ourselves where there is an answer and everything else is not the answer, even when some answers are better than others. So our brains are absent the wiring capable of coming up with an original thought.”

As adults, we spend all of our time in this system, so it’s almost impossible not to fall prey to the same thinking. But when we do, when we resist the process of constantly updating our view of the world, we block our own path.

Children aren’t burdened with this problem yet, because they’re still unfamiliar with the idea that “this is how we do things around here.” As Sir Ken Robinson recalls about the time his son was in the nativity play:

“The three boys came in, four-year-olds with tea towels on their heads, and they put these boxes down, and the first boy said, “I bring you gold.” And the second boy said, “I bring you myrrh.” And the third boy said, “Frank sent this.”

What these things have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.”

What we really see when we look at someone of Justin Timberlake’s caliber, is a child with a grown man’s work ethic. Having traversed the long road of unlearning, he reaps the rewards of unencumbered thought: Originality, adaptability, and the courage to exercise both at a second’s notice.

If nobody told you what you can and can’t achieve in a 20-year career, how much would you dare to try?

Chances are you’d act with an open mind and, like Justin Timberlake, embrace the next line in Whitman’s poem:

“I am large, I contain multitudes.”