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Trail

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This time, right now, is probably one of the biggest opportunities you will ever have in your whole life.

This isn’t just hyperbole or cliche (though it’s also both). In reality, huge things are emerging today that you have access to at almost no cost. If you get your hands on them, they’ll let you transform your world in a way that’s unprecedented.

This can happen, if you want it to happen. Just a fact.

I got an email the other day from a guy who I’ve been talking with for a while. He told me his blog wasn’t going well, and he needed traction and wanted to know how to build his “permission asset,” etc. To gather email addresses. To develop an audience.

And I looked at my mailing list on Breather and thought “There is no blog so good that it can gather this many emails so fast. No blog is even half as interesting as a real fucking thing that you are actually making. Something you invent. Nothing.”

Another way of saying this is: There is no social media expert even half as interesting as an actual entrepreneur. Even a failing one.

It’s true. It’s about skin in the game. It’s about the story. And the story of “this huge thing happened, and then… I talked about it!!!” — is just not that exciting.

So I got a comment on my blog from someone a few months back. I don’t remember where it came from but it said: “Julien, you’re just a talker. You haven’t actually done any of this stuff before, ever. Why should we trust you? How do we know you’re steering us right?” Etc.

This guy was right.

It’s not that I was a phoney, exactly. But I was a talker— a very good one, actually. I was one for a very long time. As time went on (and I wrote the post linked above three years ago), I became conscious of it. Though, in fact, I have made millions of dollars for clients, and though I never really talked about it, I had never really made something big myself.

So when I had this idea, I thought, “My God, I could really put myself into this. This is something.” This is one year ago.

And this is a time where you realize, and you encounter, potential failure — not just private failure, but public failure. And it’s daunting. You can’t always stand up to it. It hurts– even in the abstract. So you don’t want to do it.

I was lucky though. I had written a short book about it– a book that actually called my future self out, saying: “Listen, you fucking wuss. Take the hard path. Do it. To do anything else would be to make a choice unworthy of you. Do the right thing.” So I did.

And the hard road, indeed, is hard. It just is. But I had to go, and I went, and here I am, mid-way through.

In a way it reminds me of walking the Camino de Santiago a few years ago with Helen. When you start, ok, there’s no problem, but when you’re on the path, you’re like holy shit! – and that’s when you get tested. The testing is, in fact, impossible to predict or understand while you are on the sidelines. And that is a good thing.

It’s a good thing because it divides people, actually. Of course, there is always the “we are all good people and everyone deserves respect” thing. So in that way, people are not divided. But they are in the “I have willingly sought out potential embarrassment and downside for myself in exchange for…” something. Glory, self-respect, whatever it is. The ability to go out and assume risk is important. It’s vital, actually.

A friend of mine, Chris Guillebeau, was talking at Le Web as well on the day after I launched Breather there. He said to the audience to “seek out a quest.” By that, I think he means, “go get something bigger than yourself.”

Chris is right, but the problem is that we feel so minuscule in the world today, because it is so large and ineffable. Julian Assange expressed this in an essay several years ago on this blog, saying prophetically, “I believe I have found a way to have an impact on the whole world– but just because you haven’t yet, it doesn’t mean you should quit. Keep going.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

Meanwhile, the easiest thing is still to lay back and not do much. But it is an error to do so unless it’s deliberately intended for recuperation. In Paris last week I got run over by a rollerblader (yes, really), and fucked up my elbow. So I don’t plan on going rock climbing any time soon, but if you are anything else but injured, you probably need to be doing more.

But what are you going to do more of? Well, exactly. It’s hard to know. But this is what I mean about opportunity.

Things are unfolding now. 3D printing. Drones. Internet of Things technology. Things people do in their spare time. The social media subway is gone, and you probably didn’t catch it, and that’s ok. There is something else coming. So what you need is just to stay on the edge.

And this is the thing about the edge. It’s hard to imagine from far away. You can’t guess about it unless you’ve seen it. It’s hard to imagine from Omaha— you have to be damn good to do it.

I was in San Francisco a few months back, mid-way through raising the $1.5mm we got for our company, and I met this dude from Montreal. And I start saying something like “oh you know how Uber lets you reserve a black car with your phone,” and he’s like, “uh,” and it’s clear he has no idea what I’m talking about.

So I tell him. No big deal. But the next thing out of my mouth, because this guy has an agency he’s trying to start, is “how can you try and make things for clients if you don’t even know what the present looks like?” You can’t! The future is not accessible to those that don’t understand the present. Not technology-wise, anyway. (Feel free to prove me wrong.)

Anyway, a long time ago Ryan Holiday and I realized we got confused for each other a lot. But I don’t think that’s going to happen much anymore, which is just as well, because I think he’s probably better than me. I am no longer “in marketing,” although I know about marketing. I can tell you about Twitter, if you really want, but I am not a Twitter guy, nor a social media guy, just the way, a few years ago, I became “no longer a podcasting guy.” I still have lots of friends in that business, and they are doing great work.

But I, personally, have moved on. I am rebuilding myself in another image.

When was the last time you did so? Do you remember when you last shed your skin?

Anyway, I wish you luck with what you are working on. Let’s keep fighting the good fight. I’m rooting for you.

* Filed by at 3:31 pm under projects


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19 Responses to “Trail”

  1. Rico Compagnie Says:

    My project is actually a personal project. A quest for self-improvement. I was the shy guy. After 21 years I’ve finally managed to get out my comfort zone and experience fear and failures. I’m now 22 years old. A lot changed in less than a year.

    But the game’s not over. I’m contantly trying to improve myself. I’m very excited what the future will bring.

  2. Ian Robinson Says:

    Good timing with this one. I was just delaying doing the work that needs to happen. Breather looks fascinating. I’m eagerly awaiting the response to my invite request. 🙂

  3. Karen Friend Smith Says:

    Thanks for these words from the trenches. As a lifelong entrepreneur I’ve been in the trenches & shed my skin many times.

    It’s almost comfortable.
    but it’s not.
    It’s exhilarating.
    It’s a must.
    But it’s also exhausting and irritating.

    Still I can think of nothing I would rather do. It’s who i am.

    So I keep my fingers crossed. Knowing I could totally fail at any second, but hopeful that I’ll make it around that next corner.

    It always helps to hear someone cheering from the sidelines, but even more so from someone running the race. Keep your megaphone as you run. Hopefully we can cheer you on through your rough patches as well.

    We all need to cheer for each other when we have those highs. When we know we’ve made an impact. When we’ve helped something shift.

    Cheers to everyone here. Keep going.

    Congrats on Breather Julien. I could sure use one. 🙂
    but not today
    there is work to be done.

  4. Graeme Says:

    So true. Little has felt as satisfying as realizing I can work for myself, and make books, and people will buy those books, and no one will stop me from doing any of this. Little has felt as panic inducing as worrying that I’ve wasted my time, and no one will buy anything.

    You’re making something much bigger. I imagine the corresponding ups, and downs, are larger. Kudos, for trying to make a dent in the universe. Stick with it.

  5. Philip Luca Says:

    Julien
    I remember you taking about this about a year ago when we visited you in Montreal. It’s awesome to see it’s alive.
    Keep innovating and keep writing. Your perspective is so refreshing and incredibly motivating.

  6. Andrea Hedley Says:

    Ahhhhh…..

    Thank you.

    I shed my skin this year and my new one is just growing in, so I often feel cold, sun burnt, exposed or like some new strange creature altogether. It’s fucking terrifying! But invigorating and exciting too!

    And how that fear of public failure haunts me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for commenting on this and for helping me push myself. You words are always like water to me – refreshing and help me find the courage to take just one more step…

  7. Jackie Lea Shelley Says:

    Your stuff is always a kick in the pants, in a good way. I rarely really agree with you, but I really admire you, and am not one to argue with success.

    Would you please stop visiting SF and not looking me up? Seriously, you’re worse than Chris Guillebeau… :p at least let me buy you a cup of tea, next time. I’m not exactly hard to locate 🙂 and it’s long overdue that we meet.

  8. Justin Says:

    I love the move to a bricks and mortar business from online when everyone else is going the other way.

    and how fucking nice is the breather website!!

    it’s relaxing just to scroll down and watch the nav change. (it’s mildly sad that I just wrote that but it’s true.)

  9. Ed Says:

    This post comes at perfect time. Ive hit a snag in my personal project that’s not on the edge, but got thrown over the cliff into the abyss. It was actually birthed after reading the “How to Tell if you’re doing your life’s work”. I’m also making a pretty big geographical move in the next month. I’ve been taking more risks than ever before as well that its second nature at this point. The problem (is it really one though?) is that when your out here on the edge you can get in some dangerous situations. That’s the fun of it though I guess. It’s also turned me into a misanthrope of some sorts as Ive realized how lazy and plain old boring the average person can be. However, the mental fortitude and strength that it builds is priceless.

  10. Andy Says:

    just stumbled across breather and you, tonight. feeling inspired. thank you.

  11. Adam Glinglin Says:

    When did you walk the Camino? I did it in 2010, amazing fantastic experience. You did the Frances it sounds like? I’m also here in Montreal. Just stumbled across your stuff via the Bulletproof Executive podcast. Looking forward to reading your book. Cheers.

  12. Tyler Says:

    I’m in the middle of the shedding process myself, from self-educated teenager to business owner and photographer. It’s definitely easier professionally than personally — I’m proud of the work I’m doing but I can feel myself struggling to break free of the bubble of my comfort zone.

    I’ve got these sections of my old skin that are still stuck to me because I still inhabit parts of this old life, but I’m trying to push myself towards the edge in hopes of extricating myself fully. It’s a tough line to walk between bursting out of my comfort zone and flying, versus going too far and making decisions that will hamper my ability to grow. Bold versus foolhardy.

    Thanks for keeping me inspired.

  13. Steve Errey Says:

    Probably my favourite post of yours Julien. The “quest” thing is something I’ve been grappling with over the last year or 18 months, and things are emerging.

    Both in my coaching and in my illness, the only real choice is to trust that the quest means enough to you to continue. The alternative is to either quit, look for something else that’s shiny or engage with half a heart. None of those sound like good options to me.

    Julien, I hope we can stay in touch and I’ll be happy to support you however I can.

  14. James Says:

    it’s relaxing just to scroll down and watch the nav change. (it’s mildly sad that I just wrote that but it’s true.)

    Why is this true? Because for all our talk of bravery we are still just a bunch of molly-coddled westerners who need a ‘breather’. Isn’t ironic that the project itself is about middle-class professionals getting together to do what? Talk!
    Why are our projects so inward -looking? Children are dying of starvation in Africa, Assad is bombing his own people in Syria and all we think about is becoming our own CEO’s or something.
    You will never be personally fulfilled until you realise the pain ‘out there’ is more important – to you.
    Changing from a photographer to an archeologist to a train driver is just lifetime’s worth of distraction. People should be on the streets not creating their own soma.

  15. Tyrome H. Says:

    Great post, Julien! The last time I “shed my skin” as you put it was about a year ago. I was happy with just having a company that served one location and I thought hell, I can do this throughout the state. So a year late, I’m still fighting for it, but I’m working on being the best state wide North Carolina Bail Bondsman that I can be.

  16. Ms. Road less traveled Says:

    Like the post. Keep e doing your shit and stay with it balls deep. There is so much opposition out here but you have to keep it pushin. Love your honesty b/c it can get discouraging when you fail and all eyes are on you

  17. Connie Crosby Says:

    Just back from walking the Camino Frances myself, and can totally relate to your comments about it. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life–physically, mentally and emotionally. The mental discipline involved was probably the hardest part–putting my mind to it, getting up every day at 6 am and walking those 25 km. Putting one foot in front of the other until I reached the day’s destination.

    I’ve always worked hard, and accomplished a lot, but I now want to see what that kind of focus can do in other aspects of my life. I love the idea of seeking out a quest. What is the meaning of our daily work? How can we make it meaningful? Where will that take us?

    It is all there inside each and every one of us. It’s just a matter of bothering to access it.

  18. Neill from GTR Says:

    I think I may have been the guy who asked that question. And if I remember you either called me a douche-bag
    or said it was a douchy question.

    I aks that same question to everyone who earns money by telling other people how to do social media / market
    online etc. Because there is a difference between that and selling products and services in something unrelated.

    All the best with your venture.

  19. Raymond Twodog Says:

    Did you get shiver down your spine or a blast of clean, pure energy in your solar plexus once this post hit the wires? That was my experience and I know you felt it too.

    Thanks for the bone rattling kick in the pants and loving hug.

    My adult son and I have been batting a few ideas back and forth and took action just tonight,only an hour or so prior to reading this message.

    I’m full blooded First Nation (to most USAers: We were here first) and your words ring like silver in accord with the words of our grandfathers of uncountable generations.

    I’m going to double down and hope you do the same. This world needs creative energy in order to survive, let alone prosper .

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