40 Things I Love

Photo by Ksenia Kudelkina

I’m late to the game here, but I was so inspired by Jon Carl Lewis post, “40 Things I Love as well as Tre L. Loadholt’s post, 40: “These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things,” that I decided to take up the challenge and list forty things I love, in no particular order and with a minimum (I hope) of thought.

  1. Alex (my wife): She was born on the day I was baptized, so there’s some seriously weird voodoo going on there, at least.
  2. Rory (my daughter): I mean, she’s my female mini-me. My little sage. And she drives me crazy. Which is good for me.
  3. The rest of my friends and family (no, I will not list all of you).
  4. Coffee: The dark old-school stuff. Not the newfangled hipster kind. I want bold and burnt, not orangey and raisiney. (This is not me macho-signaling. On the contrary, it’s because I put a lot of cream and sugar in my brew and actually want to taste the coffee.)
  5. Oatly oat milk: I used to buy cartons of it in bulk, but now it’s not available to non-commercial customers. So I mostly go with Trader Joe’s soy creamer, which is delicious but isn’t very healthy.
  6. German beer: Preferably bock beer or Oktoberfest. We live in an old German neighborhood in Chicago, so I’m in German-beer heaven.
  7. Open fires of any size: From a candle to a bonfire, doesn’t matter.
  8. Cabin porn: My Instagram feed is full of the work of cabin pornographers. I wish I could be one myself. Gotta figure out that business model.
  9. Books about hygge: Yes, the hygge craze these last few years has got me good.
  10. Contrast: Warm inside spaces with cold weather outside: Or cool inside spaces with hot weather inside.
  11. Early American Hymns: It’s one of the things I love so much about our particular Lutheran church. Chamber music and early American hymns. Just puts me there.
  12. Bach Sonatas: Especially via Chris Thile on mandolin.
  13. A certain subset of modern bluegrass musicians: including, but not partial to all musicians in the following bands — some of whom overlap: Punch Brothers, Hawktail, I’m With Her Band, Nickel Creek, Crooked Still, and The Wailin Jennys.
  14. Traditional Liturgy: Candles. Robes. Incense. Scripture. Stained glass. Bowing. Kneeling. Bread. Wine. It’s a tradition that’s in my bones. Brings me home every time.
  15. Good conversations: If you talk about sports or politics, you’ll be talking to yourself.
  16. Sarcasm: If done well.
  17. Mountain lakes: I prefer these to oceans because I like to be able to see the other side. Again, I like contrast and the mountains and smooth water bring it in a big way. Tahoe is my favorite and closest to my heart.
  18. Learning new things: Because there never is enough.
  19. Being wrong: Because this is the only way I actually learn.
  20. Being right: Because it feels so good, yeeeah!
  21. Ireland: Perfect climate. Great pubs. Fantastic storytellers. Kind people. History. Ahhhh…
  22. Pubs with no TV’s: Again, Ireland.
  23. Playing golf with friends: Walking, not riding in carts. Golf was my first life, and it’s fading from my current one, but it’s still a part of me.
  24. Hiking: Alex and I used to hike a lot when we lived in Nevada. And then we had Rory. For the first year or two, we could throw her in the hiking backpack. But then she got too big to fit but too small to walk for more than 20 feet without complaining. She’s almost big enough to start hiking, so I hope to be back at it soon.
  25. Skiing: I learned at age 37 and am not very good, but I love it.
  26. Writing: Obviously.
  27. Reading: Mostly non-fiction. But this year, I’m FORCING myself to read fiction consistently. Nothing helps my writing more than reading fiction.
  28. Good sermons: I used to like sermons that made me feel awesome, but these days, I love sermons that make me feel small (but that make me see how awesome God is).
  29. The audacity of humanity: kindness, courage, and compassion that’s beyond human reason is God in motion.
  30. Jesus: Of course. But a different Jesus than a lot of Christians in America worship (I write about this A LOT, so I won’t explain here).
  31. Chicago: Stormy, husky, brawling — this is the city of big shoulders. Classy. Hard-working. Big-hearted. Architecturally astute. Well-planned. I could go on. This place where I live is incredible.
  32. Lake Tahoe: It’s still home to me. Driving around that lake never gets old. Swimming in it never fails to cleanse the soul. And there is no sky like the sky above Lake Tahoe.
  33. Lutheran Theology: Luther was a maniacal genius and I love him for what he did with the gospels focusing on grace through faith rather than works. I’m not crazy about some of his personal opinions, but this is where I exercise my faith in the grace he spoke of by knowing he is a flawed, forgiven human — perfect in his imperfection.
  34. Cubs home game days: Not that I watch sports. I only know two of the players' names (one happens to live down the street from me). And the games are super expensive. But there’s something about Wrigley Field and the buzz of a Cubs game day that I love being around (we live 1.5 miles from the park).
  35. Family gatherings: I have a (very) small family, but my wife has a big family out in the suburbs that I love hanging out with. Even though it makes me a bit neurotic to have dinner with that many people, I always wanted a big family and it’s nice to have been brought into one through her.
  36. Laughing: I mean, right?
  37. Crying: Even better. And something straight, white, cisgender males don’t allow themselves to do nearly enough. I learned that you can only cry when you feel safe. And they produce healthy cleansing hormones in the body. So unlike many of our fathers may have suggested, tears are good news.
  38. Good stories: Again, Ireland. The Irish tell the best stories, hands down. I can’t stand it when people’s eyes dart away when I’m telling a story, so it’s something I’m constantly working on. I can write one, but speaking one is a different — well — story.
  39. Poetry: It shows me that I can be loose with my words. Writing poetry is extremely therapeutic. You can let the words take over and do their own thing. Reading a good poet reveals the color and richness available in the human language.
  40. Hot springs: When we lived in the Sierras, we had access to a number of natural, inhabitable hot springs. There’s nothing like sitting in a bath of mother nature’s bubbling brew surrounded by snow and staring up at that wide sky.

Now… What’s your fav-40?

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Only those with ears to hear

Photo by Monika Kozub

If you’re a teacher of any sort, it can be frustrating that not everyone gets everything you’re teaching in exactly the way you intend it to land.

People don’t hear things they’re not ready to hear.

If the change you’re seeking to make hasn’t already happened inside of them — if even in some small way — they’ll be like teflon to your idea.

So why do it? Why do the hard work and undergo the vulnerable act of teaching and sharing if you’re only getting across to people who are already on the way towards where you want them to go? Won’t they get there anyway?

Because they need you to say it...

All they have now is a whisper on the inside. They need a proclamation that comes from outside of them to complete the loop and make the change they seek to make (and sooner than later is better, so you may as well teach them now).

Be the needed voice to those whose ears are ready to hear it.

Everyone else will have to wait.


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Why I miss old-school blogging

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I remember way back in 2010 (I know, so long ago) when I found the world of blogging. I was working as a golf professional at the time in Reno, NV absolutely hating my career. After some time on the clock searching for other career paths, I found a blog written by a bespectacled bald gentleman named Seth Godin whose written voice immediately captured my attention.

His posts were short and his headlines were — well, short. They were more like asides or post-it-sized notes than they were editorials.

Each one spoke to me...

Drip by drip, one day at a time, Seth convinced me that I could open up this thing called the internet and write directly to whoever might be paying attention at the time — someone who was into the same weird things as I was.

I fell in love with the art form (yes, I said it) of blogging…

Here are some headlines from the blogs I was following back in the day…

From Julien Smith’s blog, InOverYourHead.net — and this was a really popular blog at the time:

  • The Myth / The Reality
  • Tent
  • Guts

From Seth’s Blog — yes, one of the most popular blogs in history:

  • Form and function
  • Skinnier
  • First, make rice

Fast-forward eight or nine years and the blogging world has changed. A lot. Most popular blogs boast headlines (names not shared to protect the innocent) such as:

  • 7 Ways To Be Happy Right Now
  • 32 Things That’ll Make You Say, “Well, There Goes All My Money”
  • I Was Labeled The High School ‘Slut.’ It Affected My Whole Life

Even personal blogs carry headlines like…

  • 10 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book
  • What to Do When You Feel Like a Fake (and Why a Shadow Career is Necessary)
  • HOW TO MAKE 1 MILLION DOLLARS ONLINE (EVEN IF YOU’RE BROKE).

Sure, the old-school blogs I harken back to have hosted clickbait-ish headlines, OCCASIONALLY. But nothing like what the tabloid-laden blog world looks like today.

So what gives? Why the drastic change in tone?

I say it’s because we’re human. We humans want more. We want bigger. More mass appeal. More eyeballs on our stuff.

So we write for new eyes instead of for the eyes that are already paying attention. We write for Google bots instead of human hearts.

I’ve been guilty of this, to some degree. I’ve always tried REALLY hard not to use clickbait headlines. I’ve always tried to keep my voice towards those in my small circle at the time I hit publish.

But there’s no denying that I’ve hosted my writing on a platform that’s meant for broadcasting to new people. And it’s been great. I really owe a lot of the fact that I’m still writing to you today to Medium.

I’m at a place where I want some more of that old-school blogging magic back.

I just want to open up the internet and write a small, personal, heartfelt note to you, dear reader, without worrying about the page views or trending topics.

This is the art of blogging. Not the modern tabloidish kind of blogging, but the kind that the magic of the internet has afforded us. The kind of blogging that’s intended to be small and personal, not epic and bombastic. The kind that whispers to the insiders, not the kind that shouts from the rooftops.

Yes, there’s a time and a place for broadcasting. New eyes are important. Absolutely.

But as messengers, we can’t abandon the eyes we have before us at the moment (yes, I’m talking about the folks on your email list). And we — the ones who are currently enrolled — we already like you. We don’t need you to yell at us, shock us, or try to impress us anymore.

Just talk to us.

I want blogging to be weird again. I want to keep things brief and casual. I want to use insider baseball.

Just some things I’m considering these days.

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Your greatest hits will never get old

“person playing piano” by Gregory Hayes on Unsplash

Billy Joel was playing at Wrigley Field the other night. I could hear him outside my window.

Piano Man. Uptown girl. She’s Always a Woman. All the hits.

And he was rocking out — he wasn’t phoning it in. Which made me think…

Billy Joel has been singing the same songs for almost 50 years ( the album, Piano Man was released in 1973). How many shows has he played between then and now?

And not just big shows — how many weddings has he played for celebrities and royalty every year? How many nieces and nephews have had ‘uncle Billy’ play at their birthday parties?

This goes for all the pop artists from the 60’s and 70’s. They get up on stage time after time, decade after decade, and play the same handful of songs over and over again.

The audience could care less about the new stuff. Those songs are just distractions. In fact, the audience gets a little annoyed when they hear a song they haven’t heard before. They paid for the hits and they want to hear them, damn it.

And so Billy Joel has to play Piano Man at Wrigley Field in the summer of 2018 just as enthusiastically as he did in the winter of ‘73.

What does this mean to people like me who create content for others? A couple things…

Listen to your audience to find your groove

As someone who creates content publicly (though to a muuuuuuch smaller audience than Joel), it was testament to this fact…

If you strike a chord with your audience, they’ll never get sick of you saying the same thing over and over again.

For example, Seth Godin has been saying the same thing over and over again for decades as well. It goes like this (it was the tagline on his site until recently), ‘Go. Start something.’ That’s it. On repeat. Keynote after keynote; bestseller after bestseller; blog after daily blog — for decades.

Maybe you’ve taken the time and emotional effort to build a body of work, either via your YouTube channel, blog, books, podcasts, or what have you.

And maybe something took off. You had no idea. This thing you lobbed out there went absolutely bonkers. This is insane — you’ve gone viral (or at least micro-viral).

One of the first pitfalls that can come up is the thought that you have to switch it up. It’s easy to fear that people always want new stuff from you. That they’ll think you’re unoriginal for beating that same drum again.

But you have to flip that notion on its head.

Your hit sets the groundwork for a deeper groove to be laid in the minds and hearts of your audience.

This is just the start. People obviously want more. Which can lead us to a certain kind of existential pitfall…

“This is great, but who I am is so much more than that”

I know what you’re thinking because I’ve been there. Your hit is kinda surface-level stuff in your mind, right?

You’re telling yourself that you’re way deeper and more complex than those Top-40-esque hits of yours (as much as you love them). And maybe you are.

I mean, my #1 hit is a post I wrote almost three years ago after one year of daily blogging…

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“But I’m not one of these people who just blog about blogging,” I told myself. “My passion is writing about faith and spirituality, not just blogging for bloggers!”

That’s when my adult self stepped in…

“Stop it, Jonas. You are a blogger and people like that about you. Yes, you’re more than that, but own it!”

(Okay, enough self-dialogue. I had to get that out.)

We can’t discount the responses of our audience. If you’re doing your art for a living — or at least, you’d like to — your main job is to serve them, not to navel-gaze.

I’m sure James Taylor knows his creative depths go far deeper than Fire and Rain, but that doesn’t stop him from giving his audience what they want (48 years later!).

Sure, you have absolute creative license to reinvent yourself. I’ve done it a couple times. And each time, it hurt like hell. I remember wishing I was more like Billy Joel (in hindsight) and could suck it up and play an awesome Uptown Girl for the 9,000th time.

Because, here’s the thing…

Your audience has zero responsibility to continue liking you.

It’s harsh, but it’s true. As an audience member of yours, all it takes is one click to unsubscribe from your world forever.

Listen, you’re an artist. Sometimes, you have to make bold moves. I applaud you for it. Just understand the reality of the possible repercussions and proceed accordingly. If the bottom falls out and everyone leaves, go ahead and be pissed, but you have to enjoy rebuilding from the rubble. And your second structure might appeal to an entirely different subset of people than your first one.

Here’s one way to introduce your newer, more heartfelt stuff to your audience…

Sneak your new stuff in, drip by drip

What smart artists who have hits seem to do is this… They keep feeding their audience their hits (ex: their new song sounds a lot like their old songs with different words) and they sneak their new stuff into the background.

They’ve given their audience what they want. They’ve made them feel justified for showing up. And now, here’s a new thing I’ve been working really hard on that I think you’ll really like.

Test the waters and see if your audience bites — even a little bit. If so, put more and more in until a larger portion of your work resembles your more heartfelt ‘interesting’ stuff.

Take John Mayer for example. I like John Mayer. His songs are like bubble gum: tasty for a few minutes and then they lose their flavor and you move on with your day. No biggie.

But then he came out with his Paradise Valley album. I was blown away. It wasn’t quite a 180 — maybe a 90 or a 60 — but he was speaking my language. Others, I’m sure, hated it. But that was a risk Mayer took. If it was worth it to him, he could have kept going on that trajectory full-bore thus alienating his old fans while gathering a new audience of acoustic bluegrassy geeks like me.

This isn’t the first time he’s jumped into other lanes. He did it with his Where The Light Is: Live in Los Angeles album which appealed more to blues fans than his typical contemporary crowd.

However, John Mayer keeps playing Your Body is a Wonderland just as he has for 20 years (damn, I’m old — I bought his first hit CD when it came out).

In closing, notice your hits. Embrace them. Learn from them. And know you will resent them (but they truly are blessings if handled the right way).

Move forward accordingly.

Why I don’t incessantly quote the Bible

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Some people in this faith section of the content universe use Bible verses like they’re back in style, but I don’t. To be honest, I’ve felt a little insecure about it. Kind of like an impostor. But after sitting down and writing out a list of reasons why, it made me feel better about it.

Here’s why I don’t use many Bible verses in my writing…

  1. God never stopped talking through us.
    As epic as the Bible is — and as central as it is to the Christian faith — I don’t believe that God stopped writing through us 2000 years ago. Quoting Charles Bukowski is fun. And Roald Dahl. And Richard Rohr. Inspired words are inspired words. Period. I’m all for the centrality of the Good Book, but I just can’t limit my sources to only that.
  2. I’m more of a contemplative Christian than a Biblical one. 
    At least at this point. Yes, I want to learn more about the Bible, but what I like to focus on is the Christ, not so much the Jesus. The Christ is the thing that boomed with the big bang as Richard Rohr would say. We all are begotten of the father with the same loving, creative, grace-propelling source code.
  3. I’ll be honest, I lack experience.
    Context is key when it comes to the Bible. Without historical context, any Bible verse falls short. In order to explain the historical context of such verses, one must have more time to study and be more proficient than I currently am. This is something I’m working on, but for now, I’m no Biblical scholar. Just a layman offering his whimsical ramblings on a dailyish basis.
  4. As far as I know, it is not a mortal sin to talk about God without using Bible verses.
    I think I’m in the clear…
  5. It’s not always appropriate.
    Sometimes, throwing in a Bible verse fits. But more often than not (especially when it comes to sharing personal testimonies as I do), it’s kinda like, “Ah, man, why’d you have to throw that in there?” No need…
  6. When the Bible turns into a weapon, people get hurt.
    This is when the Bible turns into a law book (kinda what Jesus was against). Like slamming the final gavel down in a way that says, ”It even says so in the Bible — WHAT NOW?!” I just don’t like that vibe.

Maybe these will help you get out there and start sharing your words about faith without being an esteemed theologian first.

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Your superpowers are often found in the middle of your insecurities

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

I’m easily confused. I’ve always been a bit ‘slow’. When I was a kid, I was often labeled in my progress reports as ‘absent minded’ (and I quote).

Sometimes, when I’m caught up in my thoughts, this can translate to thinking I’m dumb.

But when I diffuse from that thought, I can see how being an easily confused person has made me a decent writer (if I do say so myself). Because here’s the thing…

I don’t — can’t — put anything down on the page until it’s either super clear to me, strikes a strong emotional chord, or makes me laugh. Because if I don’t get it (and there’s a lot I don’t get), it isn’t making it out there for your eyes. And I think that’s been of benefit to me in this crazy writing life.

The key point for today:

If you could step outside of your personal thinking around your insecurities, you might just find your superpower in the middle of your self-doubt.

One of my greatest creative assets has come from one of my most deepest insecurities. My self-dialogue (without me even knowing it) was, “Damn, why am I so slow?” Or, “Why can’t I stay awake during this class?” Now it’s, “This sh*t doesn’t make any sense — how can it be more clear?” Or, “This sh*t is boring, let’s make it more bold.”

It’s worth at least a look under the hood to see what you’re making up about yourself (or have accepted as reality from others).

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It’s a lot like collecting sticks

Photo by Débora Rousse on Unsplash

My daughter is a born collector. We can’t walk the dog around the block without her filling her pockets (and mine) up with twigs, sticks, and rocks. By the time we get back home, you’d think we were foraging kindling for an endless winter (I mean, we do live in Chicago).

We stack the sticks and twigs on our front porch where the ‘stick family’ lives. That pile is bonfire-ready at this point. Rocks end up in the pot below the porch (yes, the ‘rock family’).

These things she collects don’t mean much to others. Rocks — who cares? Sticks — kick ‘em outta the way. But to her, these things are wonderful.

Not all of them, mind you. She carefully examines each one before that decisive moment where she either keeps it or discards it. Rory is a curator (and very wabi-sabi at that — I like her style).

As a writer, you must be a collector and curator of words.

If you’re truly a writer, you can’t read a word that jumps out at you without repeating it several times (some of you may even have a notebook — digital or paper — that you keep a storehouse of words and phrases in).

You have no idea where — or if — you’ll use them. Some of them, you don’t even know what they mean. All you know is that you love them. They made you feel something and you have to hang on to them — just in case.

Then, it happens… The wondrous moment when you’re writing and one falls out of your mind and onto the page.

Plop… Just like that. 
Perfect.

Maybe it’s a peculiar word. You might even have to look it up. When you do, you’re shocked by how well it fits. How much color and depth and shading it provides to the piece.

And then you’ll go. Living your life while keeping that word family robustly stocked with wonderful, whimsical new additions.

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Independently Wealthy

“A man in a suit jacket tying his tie” by Andrew Worley on Unsplash

I was reading an interview with Irish poet/philosopher/overall badass, David Whyte. The interviewer asked him what people’s reactions are when they ask him what he does. Here’s what he said…

I either say matter of factly, “I’m a poet.” I know that will always lead on, so sometimes I just say, “Oh, I’m independently wealthy.” Which is actually how I feel. That has another kind of accuracy.

I just love that.

“I’m independently wealthy.”

Hell. 
Yes.

This is why Whyte is so insanely creative. Because he carries this consciousness throughout his work and his life.

We’re not talking about dolla-dolla bills here. I’ve known monetarily rich people who live like prisoners. What we’re talking about here is creative freedom.

Creative freedom doesn’t happen when you’re trying to win someone over or gain their approval.

What if you could carry this knowingness with you? How would your life be different? How would your work be different?

Maybe you’d write what you really want to write.

Maybe you’d laugh off those nascent worries.

Maybe you wouldn’t base your entire body of work on that one angry email you got from an anonymous reader.

Maybe you wouldn’t feel the need to pander to them.

Maybe you’d be freer in your word choice without feeling the need to over-explain.

Maybe you’d be more clear and direct.

Maybe you’d just say the damn thing.

Maybe you’d loosen up a bit.

Maybe your inner wealth would reflect the innate inner wealth of others.

Maybe others would really dig that. (Even though, they very well may not — but it doesn’t matter because you’re independently wealthy, remember?)

I know I would.

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How much how-to?

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

I know that the go-to strategy for content these days — especially for creative freelancers — is to teach. To create endless how-to’s on your thing. To see your content as a huge Q&A library.

I want to challenge that right now. (Should be fun, anyways.)

Although I’ve put exactly zero research into this (I’m no marketing scientist by any means), I think that the online closet of how-to is about full. There’s not a lot of room left in that area of the internet. I can go to Skillshare, Udemy, CreativeLive, or a number of others to get a highly produced, cheap (sometimes free) comprehensive lesson plan on how to do virtually anything I want.

A fresh idea for content: Stop teaching how you do the thing and show us what you do with the thing.

Sure, give us some pointers every now and then. But I’d rather see you demonstrate your skill rather than teach it.

Take Casey Neistat for example. He totally could have started his career by posting how-to’s on filmmaking. And he probably would have done well. But, what did he do?

He made awesome videos. Scrappy, DIY (but super well done) stories that chronicled his mundane life (which has gotten less mundane in recent years) told in a way that no one else was telling them.

Now, he’s one of the world’s most sought-after filmmakers in his genre — yes, YouTube vlogging is now a genre, if you haven’t noticed. (And if he were to host a YouTubing class, it would be sold out in seconds.)

Why?

Because he lives his craft. He demonstrates it. Yes, he throws out useful camera reviews and tricks of the trade on occasion. But it’s a small subset of his work.

Tre L. Loadholt is a poet. She’s THE poet of Medium. No one else even comes close. I don’t see her spending time writing endless poetry hacks and how-to’s (thankfully). She’s doing the thing, not just writing about the thing. She’s both artist and expert (well done, Tre).

Demonstrate your skill. Show us your work. And then tell us how to do it. If you want.

Just know that teaching isn’t the only option. What we really want is to see your magic.

That’s what’s going to inspire us.


You can find more of Jonas’ work over at at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily-ish missives and musings at JonasEllison.com

Your part in the creative process is simple (but not easy)

“A person's feet on gray and yellow stairs” by Jake Hills on Unsplash

Let’s talk about creative projects for a moment. Maybe it’s your book, your blog post, your workshop, your sermon, your event…

Wouldn’t it be so great for the entire thing to flash in our minds from start to finish before we took the first step? To be able to see exactly how it’s going to unfold and to be guaranteed of its success before spending an iota of our time or risk on the thing?

Not usually how it works.

Here’s how it does work… We only see the part of it that we can grab on to.

That inkling, that idea, that initial pull. That’s the only area of our work for the moment. Taking the one step into that.

That tiny piece that you can see, you must start there and let destiny handle the rest.

If you want to bring a creative project into the world, your only job is to take the one step that’s lighted in front of you.

To give you a visual, think about entering a dark cave with a headlamp on. And not a very good one. Like, one of those Coleman ones from Target that only lights up about six feet in front of you (hey, better than nothing). Well, if you were really into spelunking (you spelunker, you), you’d have to take a step before the next six feet were revealed to you. And then the next.

That one first step of getting that thing down on paper — just the bit of it you can see right now — that’s your only work. That’s your part.

This post, right here, started as a text to myself that said, “It’s important to know our role in the creative process and not overcomplicate it.” That’s all I had. As I sit here, I started with that and more is unfolding (along with that awesome spelunking metaphor — damn, I’m having way too much fun writing that word — spelunking, spelunking, spelunking…).

This takes faith. Faith means being okay with not knowing exactly how this thing is going to unfold. It’s exercised by knowing your role — your only role — in the creative process: following your curiosity and taking the one single step in front of you.

Get your epic weekend event out of your head and on paper. Outline it. See it unfold out there, not in your brain.

You might surprise yourself with how it turns out.

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That fire in your belly

Photo by AJ Garcia on Unsplash

In my ministerial training, my mentors tell me about this ‘fire in the belly’ that a good minister must have in order to deliver a good sermon.

(I say that writers have to have this too.)

Can it be taught? I don’t know if it’s a ‘teachable’ thing. I think it’s something that’s ‘conjured’ more than taught.

You have that fire in your belly just like I do. It just might come out at different times than mine.

If the fire in your belly is ignited, you are unstoppable.

You might believe you’ve lost that fire altogether, but I don’t believe it’s possible for your flame to become totally extinguished.

It’s there. 
You might just need a light. 
Realizing this will give you the willingness to receive one.

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Ode to deadlines

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Lately, my life has been the embodiment of what happens when four deadlines converge in the woods (on the same week). Yes, a total cluster f&*k of stress, overwhelm, insecurity, and dread.

The deadline is the scourge of writers around the world, second only to that of the blank page/blinking cursor.

So, yeah… Deadlines have had me down as of late. What makes it worse is that I love my clients. Writing copy for them is a treat. Their businesses, their visions, and the work they do in the world is palpable (and they’re fantastic people to just hang out with — which I get to do). Which means disappointing them is unacceptable.

Playing a role in helping craft their visions is an honor — one I take seriously.

Too seriously, in fact, sometimes.

I caught myself several times this last week in a place of desperation. When writing, I noticed my shoulders tensing up, the scowl on my face intensifying as my fingers hammered the keys, and my breathing becoming shallow and abrupt.

Survival mode... 
Ain’t it hell?

Now, this is not my first rodeo. I’ve been here a time or four. I’ve grown to be able to catch myself doing it. And to tell myself…

It’s not worth it.

No matter the looming deadlines — stress and angst only kill the creative process.

Now, this is our normal, unconscious reaction. If you’re someone with a strong work ethic, you want (and need, if you’re a paid writer) to get it done. In time.

But beyond the function of propelling you into your seat to work, this kind of stress must be left at the door.

See, when you’re writing (or, creating in general, whatever you do) from a place of unconscious tension and fear, you work from a low, stuck, uncreative vibration.

And nothing good comes out of that. You get mentally, spiritually, (and yes, even physically, sometimes) constipated. The words eeeeek out onto the page. Your survival mind is also a fierce critic, so everything is dulled.

Now you’re getting more and more behind deadline and your work is crap because you’ve been writing in a low creative vibration.

Alright — what to do…

First, catch yourself. Notice what’s happening.

Then, stop. Put the pen down (or close your laptop).

Breeeeathe. In through the nose to a count of four and then out through the mouth to the count of four, relaxing your shoulders as you do so. Throw on a pleasant playlist on Spotify. No, not the death metal workout one. This isn’t the time. Grab the Norah Jones one (you know you have one). Hang out here for 10 minutes.

Know that nothing good comes out of this barrel of stress you’re rolling down the mountain in. Step out of the barrel (your ego is dreaming your stress up, so you can defy the laws of reality and step out of the barrel that’s careening off that cliff).

When 10 minutes is up, relax back into your work (don’t jump back into it). Know that this is a privilege. You get to do creative work for a living. You don’t have to test the city’s sewer lines for functionality. Things could be worse.

Your job is to create. You can only do this from a place of openness and enthusiasm. Seeing how detrimental stress is to the creative process can get you to jump to this higher place in a moment (that’s the great thing about the mind — all it takes is a shift in thinking to get there).

Enjoy. Create. Submit. Sleep. And get on with the great work you do in the world.

P.S. My good friend, Tom Kuegler, is throwing an online summit to help you become a full-time writer and blogger. It’s free and I had the fortune of being one of the presenters interviewed in it (along with other incredible bloggers such as Chris Brogan, Tiffany Sun, Tim Denning, and more. Being that it’s online, there’s no need to fly anywhere to attend. You can watch it for free on your couch when it airs (on March 20th). Click here to sign up.

☠️Warning☠️ Full disclosure☠️: That link above is an evil affiliate link. This means that, although the summit is free, should you then go on to buy something from Tom and he gets filthy rich, I might get kicked down a few bucks (at no extra cost to you).

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Drop it on down to anahata

Photo by Morgan McDonald on Unsplash

It’s going to be hard for me not to make this woo-woo #af, so I’ll just say it…

It’s amazing how differently your words come out when you envision them coming out of the center of your chest — your heart area — as opposed to your mouth.

I don’t know a hell of a lot about chakras, but Anahata is a powerful one (not gonna lie, I had to Google ‘name of heart chakra’ to get that).

This is extremely useful in a multitude of ways…

When you have to tell your 4-year old daughter to stop interrupting daddy in the middle of client calls, you sound like less of a jerk when you drop the words on down to anahata (totally going with the chakra lingo here).

When you have to draw a firm boundary with a relative who you really like but is just a liiiittle passive aggressive and enjoys those head games a bit too much, you draw the boundary with compassion when you drop it on down to anahata.

And yep, it works with writing too…

When you have copy to write and you’re up against a deadline (or four), the words come out with more warmth and resonance when you — you guessed it — drop it on down to anahata.

When you have a piece to write about a controversial subject and you’re terrified of offending people, but you really want to make your point in a strong way — drop it on down.

I mean, might as well, right? You’re going to use the words anyways. Might as well drop ’em on down to the heartspace so they come out in a more powerful way.

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Empty platitudes

I was struck today by a deep insight that I love what I do for a living at the moment. Here’s what lead to that epiphany…

I was scrolling around on Instagram (like ya do) and stumbled into the spirituality section where I found someone who’s images looked interesting enough, headed over to their profile page, thumbed through some of their posts, and here’s what I saw…

Quote-image after quote-image of statements like (and I quote, directly)…

Don’t listen to what other people think.

Be kind.

Do what you love.

Dreams come true.

Have a brave spirit.

Damn it… I’m so. 
Bored. 
Already.

Not that this stuff is bad or harmful or anything of the sort. I’m sure he’s a good guy who’s trying to spread a positive message(?).

It’s just that I so often see the same recycled drivel in the spirituality space that has about as much depth and complexity as a potsticker (with no soy sauce).

Then I start wondering if I’m doing the same thing. Am I caught up in this death loop of empty platitudes and feel-good fluffery that one can easily find themselves in when they have their heads so high in the clouds that they lose consciousness from extreme spiritual boredom?

See, this publication is my space (no, not MySpace — I wish it were that much fun) to explore spirituality and the deeper matters of my life. I give myself the freedom to do that here.

But it’s times like these where I’m SO happy that I have a line of work where I can sit down and work with people who are creating real businesses and projects in the physical world (just so happens that, because I write often about spirituality and such, I attract clients who are more aligned with my values). Where I can obsess over their stuff rather than my own inner wonderings and ponderings for awhile.

It keeps me grounded.

We must stay grounded. And if we find ourselves bored with our writing, we must mix it up and step out of context.

Good writing comes from friction in daily life. In trying new things. In getting out of our own heads so we can take a breath.

It’s something I have to remind myself of often.

Now… Go live your dreams.

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Please, influence us

“Close-up of a black leather saddle on a horse in a barn” by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Seriously. This is a direct order.

If you’re a good person with a good heart and a clear vision forward, jump on that high horse of yours and lead us somewhere awesome.

Do it unabashedly. Shamelessly. Influence us like you’ve never influenced anyone before.

Whatever doubt may be coming up — banish it from your conscious space. Get that Satan behind you and carry us forward.

So many people are lost and drifting and looking for someone/something to plug into. Unfortunately, the ones with darkness on their minds have no qualms about influence.

Better the lost plug into you than them.

Yes, there are those who think you should play small. Many of them are your friends and loved ones. It’s an unconscious thing, really. They just won’t know how to relate to you when you charge ahead.

That’s their problem. Not yours. 
They’ll figure it out. Or they won’t.

We need more people like you taking us somewhere that behooves us. But when you start charging ahead and seeing us riding along behind you, don’t let that shit get to your head in the wrong way. Don’t take a detour down a dark alley and shake us down for all we’re worth.

Remember, we outnumber you. You might get us once, but once enough of us unplug from you, you’re as good as done.

Keep that elevated vision in your soul and that high road in your sights.

We’re right behind ya.

(BTW, this one is for the ladies. Happy National Women’s Day ✊.)

P.S. Did you dig this post? How ‘bout I write you a personalized one? Click here to see how to make this happen.

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Subscribing to a worldview

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Several of my favorite writers have written for the New Yorker. It’s a publication that has long been on my radar, but for years, I’ve consistently put off subscribing to it. This holiday season, however, my wife and I got an offer we couldn’t refuse, so we finally singed on for a short-term subscription.

The first episode came around the first of the year. I chipped away at it every night after putting the kiddo to bed only to see a new issue show up a week later.

But wait…
I wasn’t done with the first week’s issue yet.

This continued week after week as I fell further and further behind before resigning out of frustration. I had no idea that the New Yorker is a WEEKLY publication.

How does the average mortal keep up? How does one have THAT much leisurely reading time? (Or, how do people read so fast?!)

All of this lead me to ponder (like I do)… How does the New Yorker move so many magazines?

Which made me realize…

People don’t just subscribe to a thing if they use it. They subscribe because it helps them tell the story of their worldview and express their identity.

I believe that most people who subscribe to the New Yorker only read about 15% of the words contained inside the New Yorker.

The reason people buy the New Yorker is to have it laying on their coffee tables and bathroom reading baskets so as to showcase to their friends and family how highbrow and sophisticated they are.

It tells their friends and family the thing that they could never say out loud…

“I’m more highbrow than you.”

Take this lesson and prosper from it.

If you express your tribe’s worldview in a bold way, they’ll subscribe to you just so they can tell/show their friends that they’re subscribed to you.

They’ll share your work because it’s a way for them to express their identity and worldview in a more subtle way than just blatantly talking about themselves.

Go boldly in the direction of your shared worldview with your readers.

Dig in and say the things they wish they could say themselves.


Jonas Ellison is a professional copywriter and interfaith minister-in-training who provides practical and spiritual support to his fellow creative craftspeople. You can find more of his work at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily missives and musings at JonasEllison.com


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Be like the fingers

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A lot of our strife as creatives comes from the flawed notion that we, as individuals, are on our own. That we’re left to dream this stuff up through our isolated individual will.

This is a terrifying inner-state to put ourselves in. And it’s totally unnecessary. (But we’re free to do it.)

This is, in a large part, where spirituality comes into play. It gives me a wider, more expansive view of an intelligent, creative, resilient force that’s underlying my existence — our existence. One that’s pushing up through us wanting to express itself in the form of our lives.

Close your eyes. 
Can you feel it?

Something wants to live and create through you.

In fact, it hurts to not let it.

This is far beyond you or I.

Just like my index finger is a thing, in and of itself, it’s also nothing but an inert piece of blood, bone, and flesh without the greater hand, arm, and body.

If I were to keep going, that body is nothing without the thing that beats its heart, its hair, its fingernails. That thinks through its brain and creates through its spirit and actions.

The finger is nothing on its own. If it could have a free will where it just did its own thing, there would be a problem.

Sometimes, after a few Belgian ales, when I try to play the piano (because, well, Belgian ale), I believe this is the case. My fingers just do what they want. They have a ‘mind of their own’ (in a bad way).

But for those who keep practicing, soon their fingers become more attuned with what the mind is instructing them to do. Before too long, they’re playing Jerry Lee Lewis without even looking at them.

This is when they have a ‘mind of their own’ in a good way. A way that’s aligned with the musician’s spirit.

Wow…

Now, my focus shifts from forcing, manipulating, striving, and fighting to…

Allowing, surrendering, extending, and connecting.

Much better for the work and life I have ahead.

Maybe it is for you as well.

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Purpose over Passion

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First of all, I’m not knocking passion. I think, as a culture, we’re letting extreme rationality overtake passion (but that’s for another post).

I’m talking about you today, though (and me). We’ve been imbued with a more creative nature. Passion isn’t lost on us. This is great, but it can also keep us spinning in circles chasing the proverbial tail of our passion.

It’s really easy to make our driving question…

“What am I passionate about?”

Because today, you really can take something you’re passionate about and turn it into a business or start a movement behind it (at least a small one).

The problem with being fully motivated by passion is that it’s fickle. Our passions shift, often without warning.

One moment, we’re totally into something.
The next, we’re over it.

This is where purpose comes in. Here’s how I see the equation…

Passion + Service = Purpose

Your passions are you-centered. Which is fun.

But purpose exists in relationship. It’s not just you anymore.

Something powerful happens when you bring ‘the other’ into it. When you’re serving a tribe of others (passionately), the stakes are higher. You’re called to a bigger game. You can’t just bail out so easily. You have to stick it out through the dip(s). And when you do move on, you do so with intention and grace.

Purpose keeps our hearts and minds in the game. It sharpens our focus and deepens our resolve.

When it comes to building a body of work that matters, purpose beats passion every day.

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More of you, please

Photo by Paula May on Unsplash

Just a quick reminder…

The world wants more you. (It wants more of everyone, but the only thing you have a hand in… is you.)

So when you’re faced with a creative fear that tells you to mute yourself, round the edges, and take your voice out of the thing, do me a favor.

Do the opposite.

More of you, in service of us — your audience.

We want to hear a real voice. We want to sense a background of fun and play in your work. We want to hear your opinions, as contradictory as they may be. We want to see your journey.

More of what those other people are doing isn’t interesting.

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Be not the hero

Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

We humans are all about the heroic journey. It’s ingrained in us via the ego.

Even if you claim you’re an enlightened being who doesn’t have any ego issues — I’d say you’re feeling pretty heroic right now for having transcended your ego.

(Which begs the question… Have you really? I digress…)

The bottom line is, we like heroes. But more importantly, we like feeling like heroes.

When you go into business for yourself, there’s a heroic element to it (I know there is for me).

You’ve done it! You’re the wo/man. You call the shots. You save the day.

Which is awesome — you deserve it.

But when it comes to your messaging, you have to keep your heroism in check…

I write this for a lot of businesses out there, but more particularly coaches and consultants who’ve gone with the personal brand approach. There are a lot of self-described, photoshopped heroes out there in that world.

But get this…

Good marketing content comes from making your reader the hero while you serve as the mentor.

When people read your copy, they have to feel like the hero — not just see you as one.

If I go to your site and see that you’re spouting off about how awesomely heroic you are, sure, I might be impressed. But I’ll also feel a bit intimidated. Which is great in a late night pub conversation. But not so much in business.

The mentor role is the place to come from in your messaging. If, when people read your words, they feel like the hero in their life’s journey — even in a small way — you’ll connect with them on a deeper level. They’ll see that they might be able to realize their heroic potential with you. They’ll feel safe with you, as they should.

As I grow older, I’m seeing that playing the mentor role is a far more interesting way to be.


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