The 2018 Word of the Year

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Way too much potential gets wasted not because of some huge barrier but because of a thin little screen. And that's a damn shame.

Think about those moments when you yearn to create your best work, whatever that might mean to you -- a new company, a side project, a pitch, a show, whatever. The very idea of what that work means to you can consume you. And when you don't get it out into the world, it can feel like you're suffocating.

So why don't you get that breath of fresh air? Why do you sit with that awful feeling? A mental barrier stands in your way. In your mind, it's this thick, brick wall, made up of all kinds of immovable stuff. Bosses. Politics. Precedents. Resources.

In those moments, we turn externally. We look for best practices, or even cheats or hacks. We read blog posts, listen to podcasts, and hunt for that next inspiring guru. And yes, we ask our smart friend for her opinion over coffee. Again.

But what if we applied a little pressure up against that wall? I think then we'd learn the truth: There's no wall at all. It's just a thin little screen. In reality, all that separates great work from average is that fleeting moment where they make the decision to do something simple yet powerful:

Try.

Trying to Drive the Quad

As a kid, I had two friends down the street who were brothers, and both were more daring than me. Their family owned a few ATVs that we called "the quads," and every so often, I'd get to sit on the back of a quad as we drove into the woods towards a circular dirt track we called The Pits.

This trail was full of sharp turns, surprise branches hanging down or sticking up, and a few boulders covered in dirt and moss -- excellent ramps for use by daring brothers on quads, to the horror of one timid friend who everyone still called Jason.

Each and every time we’d ride the quads, I’d pretend I was super excited to drive one myself, then find a way to “settle” for riding on the back of my friend’s as everyone else took turns driving their own. You see, while I loved playing sports as a kid, my sport of choice was basketball, a game where even the lightest slap on the wrist was forbidden. So hurtling at top speed towards a boulder in between two trees? Hard pass.

Every single time, I refused to drive my own quad.

Except this one time.

This one time, I hemmed and hawed as usual, but for some reason, that internal agony felt too great. So I made up my mind: I would try driving my own quad. Immediately, I felt more confident. More excited. More handsome. No longer would someone else drive me forward. I would be the hero of this story. I was Quadman. I was Harry Quadder, the Boy Who Revved!

I was Jason. And I was ready.

I grabbed a helmet, crammed it tightly onto my head, and marched towards a quad. I mean, sure, the one I chose was the smallest of the three -- the one typically reserved for my friends' younger brother. And sure, he was four or five years our junior, which is a million years in Little Kid Time. But the fact remained: I was gonna drive that thing real good.

I eased onto the cushion. I gripped the handle. I nodded towards my friends. I stared at the track ahead. I hit the gas! And I … drove straight into a tree.

Yep.

However! 

I'd never felt so successful in my life!

I'd maxed out at maybe 3 miles per hour, drove maybe 4 seconds, and immediately needed everyone's help to yank the quad back onto the track. But oh, the glory! VICTORY WAS MINE! A million pounds was suddenly lifted off my shoulders. I could breathe again, after all that suffocating over wanting to do it -- but never actually trying to do it.

I took off my helmet, and I Breakfast Clubbed my way outta there...

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Trying Is the Biggest Barrier, Not Succeeding

One moment less than a second long can change everything. When you finally decide to try, everything seems to get better. Years later, in 2014, I remember feeling the same way I did as a little kid, agonizing over not quads but podcasts. Afters months of sitting with that stifled feeling, wishing I could gulp some air, I finally agreed to create a show for my friend's nonprofit.

In total, I produced just three episodes before he left the organization and I decided to end the program. (Here's the first episode. Here's the third.) And yes, three episodes isn't that many. Neither is three miles per hour. But what I’m trying to say, as loudly and directly as I possibly can, is this: The barrier standing in your way is a flimsy little screen, nothing more. It's that fleeting moment where you decide to try. That's all it is.

The barrier isn't "convincing my boss." It's not "finding the time." It's not "getting promoted" or "finding more resources" or "securing a cofounder" or anything swirling in your mind right now. It's deciding to try. Or better yet, it's deciding to be the kind of person who tries.

People who try shrug their shoulders when their attempt doesn't work. They'll just keep trying, getting better each time they do.

People who try aren't seeking success so much as the path towards success. They'll keep trying different things until they feel they've found it, then they'll try their way forward.

People who try push past that barrier between average and exceptional work, not because they possess a secret but because they've made a choice. 

Deciding to NOT try can last forever. Deciding to try takes but a moment.

So, in 2018, what will it be? Will you let someone else drive yet again, or will you get in the driver seat? I'm not asking you to reach top speed or do crazy tricks -- just to get in the driver seat this one time.

I'm not asking you to build a huge business or wildly successful project. I'm not asking you to convince everyone around you or become a master craftsman. I'm not asking you to stare down an industry full of commodity work and build something exceptional.

I'm asking you to try.

Posted on January 1, 2018 and filed under IDEAS.