Lately, people think I’ve got a plan. They believe I’m executing a carefully crafted playbook. I host two podcasts. I write a blog. I do a lot of interviews and speak at a lot of events. I’m working on a book.
I have no idea what I’m doing.
No one is more surprised by the traction my work is getting than I am. So, when people ask me “How do you find blog readers?” “How can I gain more influence?” or “How can make a deeper impact?” I don’t know what to say. It’s as much a mystery to me today as it’s ever been.
I don’t think anybody knows what they’re doing. All the people we think of as successful or influential, as far as I can tell, are mystified at how their work finds an audience. This mystery is not absolute, because I can track the changes in my life to some specific changes in behavior, and I’ve noticed these behaviors are common to everyone I know whose work has scale.
Here are a few first steps to getting real about achieving your dreams.
1. What You Do Today Beats What You Might Do Tomorrow
We humans are natural dreamers, and we like to plan out a path that will give us the most reward for the least effort. We work on and refine ideas in our heads endlessly. We imagine our book, or our world-changing organization, or our groundbreaking business plan or our hit record.
Stop doing that.
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but people can’t hear your dreams. You have to wrestle your dreams from the ether and into form. You have to sit down and type, or record or sculpt.
You’ll hate a lot of what you make. The first fruits will look and smell funny. That’s OK. Your failure to produce something you like is exactly what teaches you to make something that you do like.
So dream—dream big—but work on turning those dreams into a work every single day. Don’t talk about writing, or read about writing or creating. Write and create.
2. Make What You Need
Despite the myriad media options today, there is something you wish existed that does not. Some different sound in music, or some discussion or story. You want to read a story about two computers that fall in love but can’t have babies. You want to hear a song that features an accordion/banjo backing tracks.
On a deeper level than taste, what’s missing in the world? What story is untold? What downtrodden community needs a hand?
Congratulations, it’s your job to make the thing you want. No one else will. You may find that when you build a daily discipline of making things, more ideas come to you. Write them down—you may miss them later.
3. Talk About What You Love and What Breaks Your Heart
Forget marketability. Don’t look at the trends. What makes you tick? What wakes you up?
That’s what your work should be about. The more specific the better. I love neuroscience and Jesus, so I talk about those things a lot. I like the poetry of cosmology. It doesn’t matter how weird it is—the more I love it, the more people respond to it.
4. Give It EVERYTHING You’ve Got
This is the big one. You have to want it—and I don’t mean just wanting acclaim or popularity. You have to need this work to come to life. It has to be life or death. It has to be on your mind as you fall asleep and there when you wake up.
Everyone wants to make an impact, but few are willing to pay the price. You might have to turn down other good and fun opportunities. You might have to get up early and stay up late.
You’ll have to do the work. Every day.
If you do this right, though, you’ll actually be less busy. You can cut out almost all the “busy work” from your life. When it’s time to work, unplug. Texts, calls and emails can wait. Many don’t require a response at all. Others need a response: “no.”
Getting more done, ironically, actually means doing less. I’m not talking about working yourself into exhaustion, or doing it all. I’m talking about letting go of everything you have to in order to have the time and energy to do the work that matters.
Guess what? There is no more peaceful sleep than the sleep that comes with getting it done. When you know you wrestled ideas from the ether and put them into form, that you are singing your part on the great chorus of life, you sleep like an old dog in front of a fire.
Are you ready to put it out there? To make what you need? To tell the world about what you love, and what breaks your heart? Can you do the work today, and not put it off to tomorrow? Are you willing to give up whatever it takes to make your ideas into real work?
The audience will show up the day you stop caring if they do. Make the work you have to make, and then it will work for you.
This article was originally posted at mikemchargue.com
Mike McHargue is a Christian turned atheist turned follower of Christ. HeÕs a founding member of The Liturgists and is a writes about science and faith at mikemchargue.com. @mikemchargue.