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Welcome back.

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Hi, and welcome back to regular writing. 🙂

I just spent probably three months finishing up my third book with Portfolio/Penguin. It was damn stressful but I’m glad we pushed ourselves. It’ll be out in October.

I’ve pretty much figured out that I can’t write several things at once, at least while caring about all of them. While this blog goes on, I love it and want to pour everything into it. While I have a book going, I suffer like hell to make it as good as I can. I probably lost a year of my life working on the Flinch, but it was worth it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

About two years ago I was in Paris, renting a little apartment in the 16th arrondissement and reading Hélène Cixous, considered by some to be the best living writer in the French language. She said that all good writing needed to involve some little kind of death. I would say the same for any kind of valuable work.

If you aren’t dying for it, it’s bullshit. If you die with any life left in you, you’ve wasted it. You should die entirely empty and spent. That’s my view.

If there is anything I could wish upon you, that is it. I wish for you the ability to find work worth dying for, worth going to prison for, worth suffering for. It isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.

The problem with finding work to do that is at that level is that you literally avoid it. You will do anything to quit. You may even avoid finding it on purpose.

Just recently I thought up an idea so big that it did two things. One, it was such a big, ambitious idea that it made me terrified of failure. Second, it is so big and ambitious that it makes everything else feel small.

Both of these things, by themselves, aren’t problems. The problem is that the idea is one of those ideas that’s “just so crazy it might work.”

Do you have work like this? Where are you right now? What are you trying to be? Can I help? Please let me know.

* Filed by at 2:10 pm under random, taking action


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40 Responses to “Welcome back.”

  1. remy porter Says:

    I’ve never experienced that sort of feeling. Everything I do, regardless of the challenges they present, is because doing them is better than not doing them. Since I’m doing them anyway, I might as well enjoy them.

    I have a large mine full of interesting and ambitious ideas. Not one of them has ever been so exciting that I felt compelled to work on them. I like to give them away to others. Maybe someday someone else will do something with them.

  2. Michael Says:

    I’m glad to see you writing here again. I enjoy your writing for a few reasons and one of them being you are like the older brother putting me in my place with wisdom you’ve attained that I continually seek.

    I have been working toward getting to medical school and it feels like i am trying to swim up a waterfall. Chances are very slim for me but its what i’m willing to die for, I want it that badly. So on swimming I will go.

  3. Kyle Reed Says:

    Glad to have you back.

    I have a job that literally takes years off my life, but I love what I do. It is a challenge each and every day.

    But I also want to write and speak. I started the journey shortly after reading flinch (it helped motivate me to finish) but much like you were saying, sometimes you have to step away from something you love to finish the other thing.

    I am trying to figure out how to do both.

  4. Kyle LaFontaine Says:

    Glad you’re back to regular writing, man. I’m excited to read your latest work.

    I’ve been thinking about this sort of idea for about a year now. I’m currently in a major transition period and I’m using it to get a fresh start on many aspects of my life, especially work because I’m re-inventing my career path. This process is really about discovering what kind of work I would die for, the type of work with a big picture so large that there is seemingly no end to it.

    I love the point you made about avoiding it. I agree because I have found that the most fulfilling work I have done has also felt the most threatening.

    The question I’m trying to answer now is; How do you know when you are avoiding work because it is right, or avoiding it because it is wrong?

  5. Stu McLaren Says:

    Julien,

    Love the quote “If you die with any life left in you, you’ve wasted it. You should die entirely empty and spent.”

    BTW – You still doing your blog+quote+tweeting contest thingy?

    RE: Writing Book – Any tips fresh in your mind because I’m about to go into the “writing cave” myself?

  6. Collin Ferry Says:

    Glad you’re back Julien! I can’t wait to see the result of your suffering 🙂

  7. Lynne Says:

    I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say I’m *dying* for what I do, but I’m definitely doing what I’m meant to do, it challenges me every day and I love it. So I could die happy knowing I listened to my intuition and stopped doing the bullshit I absolutely *would not* die for and that was killing me inside. Welcome back, it’s good to see you writing again!

  8. Marc Ensign Says:

    After college I had wanted to play bass on Broadway. I was told I was too young, too old, not good enough, too good, I didn’t have enough experience, I didn’t know enough people, I didn’t stand a chance, etc. I never gave up. Like you said, I was willing to die for it. I went to the different theaters between shows on weekends and took the musicians out to dinner. I would talk the stage hands into letting me come before the show and practice on stage hoping someone would hear me. I got a job as a writer and started writing articles about each of the musicians I wanted to replace. I even helped one guy move into a new apartment. When all was said and done, I only received one restraining order but eventually someone gave me a chance.

    It’s a completely different frame of mind than just loving what you do. I can’t quite explain it other than to say you’ll know it when you get there. I hadn’t actually felt like that for a while…until recently with what I’m doing now.

  9. Tsahi Levent-Levi Says:

    I recently moved from one job to another, taking the comfort of working in a large company instead of heading towards being a freelancer.
    While I am not sure about the path I have taken, I am trying to immerse myself with the challenges of my company and offer creative directions to move forward.
    At the same time, I am also putting a lot of effort in two other areas, which might in the future become huge and consume me.
    I am not sure about the actual mix and focus I should give these things… and then balance it with family time 🙂

  10. Mitchell Roth Says:

    Hi Julien,

    Yes, I do understand what you are talking about. I do have an idea that is just too outlandish. I haven’t been able to wrap my head around it yet. I’m certainly not ready to try to put it down here yet.

    I will be done working this weekend — I’m quitting my full-time job. This will give me the freedom to sit down and concentrate on the path I’ll create to pursue the big idea.

    So if you’re wondering where I’m at — I’m at the brink of freedom to follow my passions. Certainly joyfear I’m feeling now.

    I wish I knew if you could help. Maybe somewhere down the line.

    Thanks,
    Mitch

  11. Momekh Says:

    Two things one ought to be doing: Work towards something worth dying for. Or keep looking. True?

    And I am trying to test myself. Doing things I’ve never done before. Find newer, bigger audiences. Learn. Experiment. Be the scientist. “Never take off the lab coat!”. I am from Lahore (that’s not near Kinshasa 😛 ) and you’ve already helped. Keep doin what you doin.

  12. Brett Henley Says:

    Yes sir, I do.

    It’s sucked the last 17 months of my life into this hellish vortex of struggle, joy, more struggle and just about any emotion along the full spectrum.

    Balancing what I need to focus all of my energy into and all the other ideas I want/feel compelled to work on – well you know how that goes. But if it wasn’t worth it, why bother?

    Glad to have you back at the wheel, and congrats on finishing the book.

    One of these days in the pretty near future, I’ll have one of those finished as well.

    Now, back to my personal hell.

  13. Ross Says:

    Great to see you back. I have two points to make, the bigger more importaint one first:

    90% of my best ideas & decisions have started off being labeled(usually by me) as completely crazy. One of the best lessons I’ve learned is to not discount something just because “it sounds nuts”.

    Two personal examples of mine:
    “Just how far can I ride my bike?” – This resulted in me realising I can bike anywhere I need to be, got rid of my car and I bike everywhere, rain or shine. This sounds crazy especially leaving out all the trials and tribulations of the transition to the bike as my main form of transformation, but I had to take the leap somewhere.

    “Do I really need to use shampoo, conditioner, & soap or can I just use water?” The body does just fine showering with just water. The only time I’m dirty is after a 60 mile bike ride(see above), which is the exact same way I was after a 60 mile ride regardless of which brand of chemical cleaner I used that morning. I know this sounds crazy, it did to me too before I tried it. It’s how I live now. But don’t believe me or any other crazy person on the internet, try it for your self.

    The second point I have is regarding death. I think the main point Julien is trying to make is that if you are doing something you deem worth dying for, you are in the right direction. It doesn’t necessarily have to kill you. But if your life stopped right now and you were forced to look at yourself from the perspective that this is the end, would you be accepting of the direction you were headed in and the person you are right now?

  14. xaero Says:

    I have to finish 2 IT-related projects but I’m feeling stuck & too lazy. I know I have to but I can’t get “over” myself & be much more focused than I’m now…

  15. Ryan Says:

    I quit my job to move to a place I love to become an entrepreneur. It wasn’t the most thought out plan, nothings really happening with my company (yet I hope), but I AM HAPPY. I really need to figure out how to give my all now – like, really…my dying all.

  16. Lisa Says:

    I can completely relate! I am am ’emerging artist’. After spending many years away from even doodling on a sticky note, spending much of my time working hard laborious jobs, getting married, moving to a whole new country and having two small children, I finally picked up the paintbrush again!
    My husband must have thought I was crazy when I picked up a monstrous canvas and piles of magazines and started a very time consuming collage. I finished that collage and there was that little death that occurs when an idea comes full circle……that collage won a viewers choice award…….life again, new idea. This cycle has repeated itself time and time again, like an unborn creature rolling around in my brain cavity, laboriously entering the world…..and dying, just for the cycle to begin again.
    The ideas are crazy, but they work. My pieces take over 100 hours to complete, crazy, but it works……
    My well of ideas is still full, may it never dry up……I may not go to jail for it, I may not die for it, however it keeps me out of jail and in the end it may be the death of me:)

  17. FJR Says:

    One great contribution your blog makes is that you are a rare model of throwing yourself heart and soul into the big, driving, authentic-for-you thing. Many people, in contrast, make a worship of doing little, safe, incremental things.
    I find it hard to write this, but I absolutely am the type who puts her heart and soul into things that to her are worth dying for. Always. I have been trying to learn, though, how to avoid actually dying young from the sort of imbalance this disposition may bring.

  18. Christine Says:

    About two years ago I was in Paris, renting a little apartment in the 16th arrondissement and reading Hélène Cixous, considered by some to be the best living writer in the French language. She said that all good writing needed to involve some little kind of death.
    – I would agree completely. And am green with envy over your stay in the 16th arrondissement. I can’t write about an event until I’ve let it go, well, I can, but it isn’t any good until I’ve processed it so completely that it’s dead to me.
    – Good luck with your idea that just might work, they’re the best kind!

  19. Tony D Says:

    Hi Julien. I was wondering when you would return. I’m actually working on my first book as well. I’ve been chipping away at it nearly every day for the last four months. I’m halfway through the second draft, and even though I could publish it now on my blog, I’m going to re-write a third, and possibly a fourth.

    It’s a hell of a lot of work to write a good book. But dedicating a year to a project is nothing compared to the lifetime return it could bring you.

  20. Hugo Melo Says:

    “If you die with any life left in you, you’ve wasted it. You should die entirely empty and spent.”

    I just came off of a 6h writing spree for a magazine I’m launching in a month. This quote instantly recharged me.

  21. Cindy La Ferle Says:

    I love your writing and your ideas. Can’t wait to read your new book, and glad to see you back. Congrats!

  22. verna Says:

    First of all don’t joke about going to prison for something. My live in (for the last 30 years) is in prison and we get him out, and they take him back in. It is no picnic and if anyone knew how awful and how hard it was, they would not blithely joke around about it. I understand your point but maybe not the best comparison.

    As for a job I would die for? I do not know what it is. I have asked myself hundreds of times daily for years, and I never knew, and never desired anything all that much. I never asked for much, and I should have asked for everything with more on the side, but evidently a trip to the circus oddly enough, put me off greed permanently. It was a weird conclusion for a 5 year old to come to, but it stuck.

    I make new jobs in between going to crappy ones. I work now with a friend who started as an employer. Now we are both broke and he is chasing his dream of being a concert pianist. At least he has a dream, but he is still paying off what he owes me for last year.

    I have never been “qualified” for jobs I knew I could do with one eye closed, but no one would give them to me because I was short, a woman, too young and now too old, and the list goes on. I have to find a place to get the money, yes, I said it, because without it, I will be on the street, and no, I am not willing to die for that.

    Still, I enjoy that you make a living by telling people what they should do. Is there an armchair involved? If so, I’m in.

  23. Susan Cooper Says:

    You pose and interesting view. One subscribe to. It is called ultimate passion for something. I am dyslectic and have always thought that this disability would prevent me form ever expressing my self in words. Against all odds I am now blogging and my blog is growing. This is partly because of my stories and partly because of my art.

    How can you help? Keep encouraging myself and other to push the envelop to find your inner voice and go for it.

    Come visit sometime and give me your thoughts about what and how I write.

    :-), Susan

  24. Susan Cooper Says:

    You pose an interesting view. One I subscribe to. It’s called ultimate passion for something. I am dyslectic and have always thought that this disability would prevent me from ever expressing myself in words. Against all odds I am now blogging and my blog is growing. This is partly because of my stories and partly because of my art.

    How can you help? Keep encouraging myself and others to push the envelop to find your inner voice and go for it.

    Come visit sometime and give me your thoughts about what and how I write.

    :-), Susan

  25. john b Says:

    I was thinking that about 4 minutes before I read your post. I was thinking about something I really wanted to write that I thought would be very very good, and simultaneously ruminated about how PAIIIINFUL it would be to write it. Not because it was a PAINFUL subject, i.e. not something about loss or trauma or whatever. Seems the closer we get to that core from which our “best stuff” originates, the more buried feelings we awaken.

  26. J Arora Says:

    So glad you’re back to blogging- love this post and looking forward to reading your next book. Any advice for explorers looking for that idea/work worth dying for but struggling with filtering through various options?

  27. Jackie Shelley (@jackinessity) Says:

    Hi Julien, I’m glad you’re back. I really dearly loved the guest piece you worked on with Joshua, also, and didn’t get a chance to say so. I discovered him, and by extension Ryan, because of your blog, and they collectively led me to World Domination Summit last year, for which I am continually powerfully grateful.

    You talk about work worth dying for, worth suffering for. I know what mine is, but have long been at a loss as to why I’ve not been doing it. I seem to be everywhere but where my heart is. It’s reassuring to hear you say that avoidance is normal, but scary, too. Will I ever figure out how to break through that wall? Do you just do it?

    You ask me where I am? Lost. Very lost. Somewhere left of Pluto. You ask, what am I trying to be? Light in the darkness. Can you help? I don’t think you can, or rather, I don’t think you will, though I wish you could and would.

    It helps a little that you are who you are, that you this stuff you do. You already helped me once by putting me in the orbit of some of the right people. I read Trust Agents and I read this blog. I read The Flinch, and I think of things you said in it, from time to time, and have had conversations with some of the smartest people I know about things that you said. So you will help in that way, in that you help inspire me to keep going. You can help me by continuing to provide some of your best insights and inspiration for free, since I can no longer afford to pay for them.

    I just wonder sometimes if I’m not ready to be helped. I feel kind of broken down.

    But your questions touch me today, so I’ll answer you honestly and publicly. This is what I think calls to me. There was an earthquake in Haiti in 2010. I saw this picture in the news shortly after it happened:

    http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.462249!/img/httpImage/image.jpg

    The man in the photo has lost his child. The day I saw the photo, my daughter was nearly the same age as the baby in the photo. I looked at that man and I connected deeply and viscerally with his pain and loss. I made him a silent promise that I would never forget his pain.

    This is what I feel deeply called to do: to lessen anguish and unnecessary suffering in the world. To have, and teach others to have, deep compassion. To see across borders and through race and culture and economics and outright pettiness to our common humanity, and to honor and appreciate it. To comfort those in pain, and to prevent their pain in the first place.

    So please tell me why I spent the day doing anything BUT that?

    I have been doing a little bit. I have been volunteering since April 19 for the site called HopeMob, http://www.hopemob.org. It’s a start.

    But how do I know you’re right? How do I know who to listen to? I’m trying to listen to my heart, but it tells me crazy talk things.

    How can YOU do what YOU do and survive? Does it boil down to “You just do it?”

  28. KN Says:

    You can’t help, can you? Even if we have crazy ideas, the crazy ones that terrify us, the crazy ones that make life exciting and unpredictable and ridiculous and insane and lovely, you can’t help us one bit. I do appreciate the offer, but it’s up to us whether or not we are ready and willing to make that life-changing jump into doing “great work” rather than just “work.” Either way, Julien, your blog posts are wonderful for those who are like-minded, for those who have made the jump to commit their lives to something greater, for those who are on that crazy path but may be questioning “why”?

  29. Doug Eng Says:

    Hi Julien – I just finished a big project started back in November. I wanted to bring awareness to our country being at war. Most people in the US are oblivious to the fact that we are in active combat. My goal was to pay tribute to the men and women who serve our country in the armed forces. I’m an artist and proposed to build a sculpture in a downtown park made of drinking bottles, each filled with a message to the troops. We ended up collecting over 15,000 bottles for all over the city, from schools, churches, and other organizations. Each message was recorded on our website, http://www.messageinabottlejax.com. Promoting the idea and collecting the bottles almost consumed me and my wife. But the real death came when I started the construction. I built 28 panels each containing a unique design with the bottles. It took 64 tubes of silicone caulk to put it all together, and 2 months of 12 hour days, 7 days a week. I glued every bottle. We installed the 170 ft long sculpture in the park on April 30 and it will be up through Memorial Day.

    I guess I’m a bit crazy to have done this project. No funding, no help, no fanfare, no tangible reward except for the satisfaction of doing something meaningful to yourself and hopefully to others. I had a lot of time to be by myself building the wall. A lot of time to think about what and why. I didn’t know if it was going to work, if we would get enough bottles, if the design would look like crap, or if the thing would stand up. I had to get permits from the city, insurance, we went all over town promoting the idea and begging for bottles. We had a well-attended opening on May 2 and even got a short segment on the local news. But life goes on for the city and now it’s old news. Onwards to the next project….
    Doug.

  30. megan Says:

    This pokes at every scared, nervous, and excited part of me. Thanks for writing again.

  31. Charlie Grosso Says:

    Dear Julien,

    Welcome back. Its nice to see / hear / read you again. You’ve been missed and I am excited for your new book.

    This morning I woke up and it was just a struggle. Body hurts from all the stress of trying to make it all happen here. This uber ambitious plan of mine, tying all part of my life / career into one. The photography, the writing, the art gallery and everything else. How do you get to be fully the multi-faceted person that you are, successfully, with ease? Sure it would be easier if I just did one thing, but everything informs everything else and the complexity and nuisance that comes w/ it is wel….exciting.

    Body aches and I send out a text to a friend, “if I continue at this rate, I don’t think I will make it to 86 (the projected age of expiration)” Then there you are, in my inbox, waiting to be read. Well….maybe this is the way to go. Maybe I should be burning it at both ends, pushing as hard as I can so that when I do die, at whatever age, there is not an ounce of me left. I have successfully use it all!

    Yes. I do think its worth dying for….what I am trying to create!

    How can you help….I’m not sure yet. But I will let you know. How can I be of service to you?

    Leaning into the Flinch,

    C

  32. Steve Says:

    Julien,

    this post in particular has forced me to write in. I never write in to editors and such, but it’s vibing with me right now. It’s probably because recently an idea came to me, which when I think about it now, HAS made everything else small…my full time job seems miniscule (even though I really enjoy it) and my spare time, which I value greatly is under attack constantly by thoughts of this new idea. But that’s a good thing, right?.
    Long story short, this idea would involve information which I value. This includes posts from your site. Full credit will be given to you and the site. I would like to get into more detail, so if you drop me an email that would be excellent.

    Thanks,
    Steve.

  33. ash Says:

    welcome back..missed your writing 🙂

  34. AJG Says:

    You very kindly sent me a PDF copy of the Flinch, I’ve read it and re-read it, in fact I’ve just re-read it this morning after what was a terrifingly shite evening out with friends. In short I need to get a grip or in my own famous (last words!) ‘MAN UP’ – My husband died 16 months ago and I am scared of my own shadow now, no faith or confidence in my abliities anymore, last night after a very fine meal we went to a party for a friends 50th, I had a panic attack and without thinking left and didn’t tell anyone, managed to get myself home, in short what I am saying is I have the Flinch so deeply engrained in to my being that I don’t know if I can ever get past it, I’m using my Husbands death as a crutch/excuse to limit myself and am struggling to get around this, reading the Flinch, I nod and agree with the things you say but that’s as far as I get – Yeah Julien I need your help.

  35. Peter Paluska Says:

    Die spent! I guess that makes sense. I guess a positive way to express it would be live to the fullest. Tres bien.

  36. Mark Says:

    Hi Julien,

    It seems with just a few stokes of the pen and sharing ‘you’ with folks in this community, you’re having a big impact on some very talented folks in the world.

    How awesome is that?

    I aspire to move people as effectively as you do.

    Thank you.

  37. Zil Says:

    Welcome back! I miss reading your blog!

    From Far Away
    Singapore

  38. Meredith Says:

    Work worth dying for. I hope I’m not wasting my time. I just returned for the summer to a job I’ve had since high school. The ownership has changed and it’s hard seeing changes they’ve made that haven’t improved the place, but actually hurt it. I love the place and I want to see it awesome, but I have no idea how much power I have to make that happen.
    This will be a summer of dying.

  39. Shyam Patel Says:

    There are very specific moment when i felt that way. But i do have one thing which i think worth doing it even though it doesn’t make any sense. I want to make my own plane, right now i have not clue or sense on how to do that but this is the crazy thing i want to do.

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