Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Seth Godin and My Friend Liam

By Steven Pressfield | Published: June 18, 2014

About six weeks ago, Seth Godin (Tribes, Linchpin, Squidoo, The Icarus Deception, HugDug.com) ran an announcement on his blog. He invited 15 people to apply to spend a week with him this summer in a seminar for young artists and entrepreneurs. Tuition free.

Seth

My first thought when I read this was, “Wow, what a generous offer! Is Seth a great guy or what?”

My second thought was, “What a life-changer this could be for a young person who was ready to profit from the experience.”

A few days later I was talking to my young friend Liam Bowler. “Did you see that announcement on Seth Godin’s blog?” he said. “I just sent in my application.”

[Spoiler alert: the period for applications is over; Liam didn't get in.]

I got to thinking about Seth’s seminar. Why did it sound so exciting to me? Why did I imagine it would be such a game-changer for the participants? Why was I rooting so hard for Liam to be chosen?

The content of the seminar, I knew, would be strictly secondary. It wouldn’t matter whether the group focused on marketing or creativity or whether the Rangers stood a chance against the Kings in the Stanley Cup finals. Seth could conduct the event in Mandarin Chinese and it would still be great.

What would count for the participants would be one thing only: that they would get to work with Seth.

That would be everything.

They’d get to see how Seth’s mind works, what kind of questions he asks, what his attitude is toward problems and toward opportunities; how he takes his tea, what he thinks is funny, how he steams noodles for lunch, what he does when he’s stuck.

This kind of in-person exposure is priceless.

Why?

Because it shows each participant, perhaps for the first time in his or her life, that there is such a thing as a person like Seth.

Yes, there is a guy who, when he has a great idea, runs with it without asking anyone’s permission but his own.

Yes, there is a guy who has terrible ideas and does the exact same thing.

(By definition, a terrible Seth-idea is a great idea seven years ahead of its time.)

Yes, there is someone who sees around corners. Who thinks in ways your Biz School profs never imagined. And yes, he’s just a normal human being like you and me.

Here are Seth’s primary principles, as I understand them:

Liam

1. Don’t wait to be picked. Pick yourself.

2. Go for the weird. Pursue what you love, no matter how marginal or seemingly uncommercial.

3. Be resourceful. Use every bit of leverage you can think of—people, ideas, funding sources.

4. Be brave. Seth has two phrases that he uses about ventures he’s about to launch: “This might not work” and “This might work.” These are the only possible outcomes. Why worry?

5. Ship.

I consider Seth a friend, even though we’ve only spent a few hours together all told. You get it fast with Seth because he embodies the principles he teaches. That’s why watching him make a phone call is worth more than a semester at Harvard. You will never make a phone call the same way again.

But back to Liam.

Liam didn’t get picked. He will not be among the lucky fifteen this summer.

But wait, isn’t Seth’s first principle, “Don’t wait to be picked?”

Liam gets it. He is already talking about “the Big Seth in my mind.” In other words, everything that he (or anyone) might learn by being up close and personal with Seth, he already knows.

We don’t really need to attend Seth’s seminar, wonderful as it will be.

What we would have come away with, we can come away with on our own.

We all understand the stuff that Seth embodies. We know we have to be bold. We know we must embrace our own weirdness, that we have to think like professionals at the same time that we’re kicking down doors and taking names. We know we have to thrash and sweat, and we know we have to deliver.

All that’s in our wiring already.

What spending a week with Seth does is it gives us permission to be like Seth. To do the same stuff he does, only do it for ourselves.

“So why,” Liam says, “can’t I perform that process myself? No reason at all. I can.”

There it is. Liam has just applied in his own heart and been accepted.

Seth would approve.

P.S. Below is the text of Seth’s original May 28th announcement:

What’s on your agenda (a summer seminar)

If you’re about to leap, working on something important and generous, perhaps it makes sense to come to my office for a week this summer.

I’m hosting a seminar for 15 people in late July. You can find out all the details right here.

It’s for people early in their career, people with a proven track record of standing up and picking themselves, of doing work that matters. Tuition is free.

Applications are due right away.

If you know someone who might benefit from this, please let them know.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

29 Responses to “Seth Godin and My Friend Liam”

  1. Shawn Coyne
    June 18, 2014 at 4:37 am

    Steve,
    Funny thing…

    I applied to be part of Seth’s THE DOMINO PROJECT four years ago.

    I didn’t get picked. Spent a lot of time being really clever on my application too. Real bummer.

    Then you and I had been working on a project that we thought Seth would love for THE DOMINO PROJECT. We called him and pitched it.

    He didn’t pick that one either…

    So instead we published it ourselves and it’s one of our bestselling titles. It wasn’t for Seth, but it was for 40,000 other people and climbing… Interesting…

    But we still wanted to work with Seth, so you wrote DO THIS!. I edited and we submitted yet again to Seth.

    He loved it, but tweaked it to perfection and retitled it as DO THE WORK.

    Not being picked turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered (it gave us the nudge to figure out why) and it was the kick that started Black Irish Books.

    Liam has the perfect attitude. Seth can’t pick everyone or everything. And neither can you.

    Thanks Seth!

    Shawn

    • June 18, 2014 at 3:06 pm

      Love it. Thanks, Shawn!

  2. June 18, 2014 at 4:39 am

    I liked “Applications are due right away.”

  3. June 18, 2014 at 5:12 am

    I’m blown away by seeing this in my feed this morning. Gosh, guys. Thanks.

    The worst part of these programs, for sure, is turning down Liam and thousands of talented people precisely like him. I can’t figure out a way around this, though.

    I was a bit surprised at #3, because I think I do the opposite, in service of my rule that part of the goal of an infinite game is to get to keep playing. If you burn your bridges (your relationships and your assets) for THIS idea, well, then you don’t get to work on THAT idea next year, do you?

    And, while I’m squirming a bit at how nice this post is, I think the real win for people who take my classes isn’t my lunch or seeing me, it’s seeing each other. It’s when you realize that people totally unlike you in just about every way are each making progress, each in a different way. That round robin of progress starts to accelerate…

    It’s been five years since my first one, and each group I’ve worked with remains in touch, not just with each other, but in many cases, with the other groups too. Mostly, I just show up.

    Thanks, Steve and Shawn for running your own master classes, for letting us watch from across the aether as you work things out, make a ruckus and raise the bar for all of us.

    PS Shawn, if I was running Domino again, you’d be first on my list.

    • June 18, 2014 at 7:22 am

      Great inspiration and encouragement to start the day- thanks! People are doing good work and your support and Seth’s advice help us all along, especially like the idea of the “round robin of progress.” Let’s keep it going.

  4. June 18, 2014 at 5:41 am

    Thank you Mr. Pressfield – yet another great post. I too applied for the Agenda Session and was one thousands to miss the cut.

    I thought your post was fantastic because you’re absolutely right. The outcomes from the week would be less about the progress of the project you’re working on and more about the siphoning of skillsets from Mr. Godin and the people around you.

    What I realize though, is that when you put the time in, do the work and ship a lot you have opportunities to find great mentors and develop great networks. Even if those mentors only speak to you through the pages of books or blogs like this, to start.

    Do I wish I was part of the 15? Of course.
    Does it matter that I wasn’t selected? Not a bit.

    Thank you for reinforcing that belief for me.

    And Mr Godin, if you see this, you can expect a stronger application from me next time the opportunity arrises. And if something comes up and you need a last minute substitute, I’d love to be your guy.

  5. Mary Doyle
    June 18, 2014 at 5:45 am

    Wow, a party on Wednesday morning – everybody showed up for this one! Thanks for a great post.

  6. June 18, 2014 at 6:03 am

    This hit home. The entire article and especially “Liam has just applied in his own heart and been accepted. #Bravo Liam. #Bravo Steven. #Bravo Seth

  7. June 18, 2014 at 6:18 am

    The best training in the world begins when we pick ourselves.

    I don’t know if it gets any easier, but when we pick ourselves once, we remember what that feeling is like for the next time we have to choose.

    Cheers to seeking mentorship, and picking ourselves. Great post Steve!

  8. June 18, 2014 at 6:30 am

    LOVE this, Steve. Liam became a winner the moment he risked himself and applied for Seth’s seminar, regardless of the outcome. I think Seth would agree. Each NO takes us one step closer to that YES.

  9. June 18, 2014 at 6:35 am

    Thanks to my friend Les Dossey for pointing me to this article. Good stuff. Stories like these help folks like myself continue on despite the challenge. Thanks for the great read!

    • June 18, 2014 at 7:40 am

      Right on Alex. I know you got this.

  10. Patti
    June 18, 2014 at 6:52 am

    Not sure who Seth Godin is….but I surely know who you (Mr. Pressfield) are (thank you Mastin Kipp) and it would be a dream come true for you to hold a workshop such as this…I’ll be watching my email for such an opportunity :) great tribute and honor to Seth….will read his blog and find out more about him…already appears to be a stand-up guy. Best to you.

  11. Garry
    June 18, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Brilliant post Steve – lifted my day, – thanks friend.

  12. June 18, 2014 at 7:18 am

    At a Linchpin launch event a few years back someone asked Seth a question about his process (When do you wake up in the morning? When do you write/post? Etc.) His response stuck with me.

    “I can’t draw you a map”

    In Linchpin I believe he says something to the effect of “if there were a map, there would be no art”.

    I find it hard to reconcile this with the desire to see how Seth takes a phone call, what kind of questions he asks, or even how he cooks his noodles.

    Congrats to the people who were selected! I hope they can focus on learning/understanding that there is such a thing as a person like Seth without trying to mimic exactly what he does and hoping for the same results. I know that’s something I always struggle with.

  13. June 18, 2014 at 7:32 am

    Dear Steve,
    Two of my favorite writers on one blog. Outstanding. There are a few underlying principles from “Turning Pro”, “Do the Work”, and this blog that I’ve been trying to wrestle into fidelity in my own mind. I’ll try here.

    Maybe it has been written on these pages, or I’m making stuff up–but below the surface of ‘pick yourself’ is a deeper principle.

    1. You’re exactly where you need to be. Before we can begin an arduous path, we must come to some level of acceptance with who/where we are in the moment. We can either accept ourselves and choose to do the hard work of eating correctly, allowing the natural time for the body to find its own weight–or we can cheat it all and do a lipo-suction or gastro-bypass. The later two are an admission that one is unable to accept themselves in the present moment. This must be wrestled with (for me) daily, sometimes minute by minute.

    In ‘Turning Pro’ you mention ‘who I need to become’. I like this, it aligns with my belief that there is no there there. We are in a constant state of growth (or decay) until we pass.

    2. Fear and discomfort are the places we should seek, not pleasure or leisure. I battle this daily. For some reason I have this deep held belief that someday, everything will be easy. There is a spectrum of hunger–starving to satiety. We need to stay in the middle–just a little hungry. When we’re starving we make risky, poor decisions. I’ll risk the pit of asps to get the apple. When we’re satiated, we’d rather sleep. The world, and Resistance want us asleep. GEN Stan McCrystal only eats one meal a day. He stays hungry. When we’re a little hungry, we are alert. We see opportunities in the seams. We calculate risk appropriately. We are most alive.

    The Brafman brothers write in “Click” that the first element of connection or ‘quick-set intimacy’ is to demonstrate vulnerability. Brene Brown talks about this in her books and TED talks. I prefer ‘exposed’ (sounds a bit more masculine to me…), but this is what we get in your blog and your non-fiction books.

    I think this is what the greatest lesson those lucky 15 may get. I don’t know Seth from Adam, but I imagine that in the week with him he will demonstrate humility and some vulnerability. That he still feels nervous starting something new, that it is scary, and the actualized life is learning to find some level of comfort with the discomfort of exposure.

    This place is part of my meditation and renewal every Mon/Wed/Fri and I thank you for it.
    bsn

  14. June 18, 2014 at 8:39 am

    So awesome!!! Seth wrote me 3 years ago to ‘make something happen, Tine’ and I am and am having more fun than ever these days. Your post about the self organizing universe was priceless Steve!! (well, all your posts are ;)

  15. June 18, 2014 at 9:57 am

    “Always be shipping.” That’s something I try to remind myself of every day. There’s days when I have so much momentum and days where it’s hard. I get lost doing this, doing that. I lose focus. I suppose we all do.

    Still, every day, I work on showing up and doing my best work.

  16. June 18, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks for the great article about Seth. I have known Seth for going on 10 years and have been inspired so much by his work. Over the years when I have been stuck, I think WWSD? That is “What Would Seth Do.” And it gives me motivation to take chances and be creative.

  17. June 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I didn’t apply because I will be in Ireland and Italy all of July (darn!) but I will certainly try my hand next year if Seth repeats this generous offer. I have devoured both Seth’s and Steven’s works and they never fail to pick me up. They are good people doing good work.

    For anyone who is interested, Eric Maisel is also a great resource for tackling the sticky issue of how to be creative in this crazy world. Another great resource.

    Thanks, both of you, for always showing up on your blogs. You don’t know that a little gal here in the west is sometimes greatly healed by your words. :)

  18. June 18, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    That would be a cool opportunity and you’re absolutely right!

  19. June 18, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Wow, really good to read this. Thank you, Steven. I love how powerful it can be to have someone name your own story back to you, like you just did for me, now.

    And thank you all who gave kudos. Right back at you, amigos!

  20. June 18, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    I devour Seth Godin books the minute that come out–you’re right, they are priceless…a week with him would be equally. Its the essence of “apprenticeship”– not only do you learn how he practices his craft, you get to see how he lives life.

    So I’m wondering when Mr. Steven Pressfield will have an event like this… and where I can sign up.

  21. Lucia
    June 19, 2014 at 12:43 am

    Perhaps someone could tell me where this is from, this quote which I read years ago as a caption for a black and white photograph, a portrait of an old blues singer:

    “I figured if one womens can do it, then two womens can do it.”

    Why a model is everything – to begin the imagining…

  22. Barry
    June 19, 2014 at 5:17 am

    I’ve been thinking about one part of this post for a while. Thinking, how do I “consciously” or at least “metaphorically” ‘kick ass and take names’. It feels like those are the inner resources I have to call upon to do that at this point.

    Now I have the answer to the how… “..have to think like professionals at the same time that we’re kicking down doors and taking names.”
    – combined with Seth’s comment —
    “in service of my rule that part of the goal of an infinite game is to get to keep playing. If you burn your bridges (your relationships and your assets) for THIS idea, well, then you don’t get to work on THAT idea next year, do you?”

    As I read in one of Seth’s posts a year or two ago, it’s about being a “sophisticate” by acting the part and doing the work at the level of a pro.

    I can “metaphorically” kick ass and take names by professionally doing the work and engaging and re-engaging as many relationships and assets as I can until it, or a better version of it, happens.

    Thank you for Writing Wednesdays. I look forward to them every week…knowing the writing and posts will be full of wisdom and inspiration.

  23. June 19, 2014 at 11:29 am

    As one who was picked and then drove over 4,000 miles for the first Linchpin Session in NYC, I can say from experience that being “picked” is a magical feeling.

    But then, even when you want nothing more than stay in bed with the covers over your head feeling sorry for yourself, Seth becomes the angel on your shoulder who whispers in your ear “Get up. Move forward. Poke the box.”

    Slapping and crying “go away” doesn’t work. Thank goodness.

  24. June 19, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I JUST GOT IN!!!!!

    (Actually, I gave myself permission to ‘just do it’.)

    Thanks Steve for the reminder that I’m still in charge even if I missed the deadline.

    – Mike

  25. June 19, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Great blog in so many ways, it’s true, but still something bothers me.

    Any report that’s 100 percent complimentary and congratulatory without the slightest hint of reservation makes me wonder what’s really going on behind the scenes.

    Does this make me an avowed cynic or skeptic? Sorry if you believe that, but it’s not true.

    Actually, I’m a confirmed fan of both Steven Pressfield and Seth Godin.

    Nevertheless, I would prefer straightforward heartfelt critiques rather than reports that sound like press releases.

    I’m very happy now to read that Mike’s enthusiastic persistence paid off, and I now also congratulate both Mike for such determination and Seth for accepting him.

    Their actions prove what really counts: our actions mean much more than our words. And with apologies to Helen of Troy, our actions also mean much more than our pictures or words.

    Best possible wishes to everyone creative on the entire Planet Earth.

  26. June 19, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    Shawn and Steve,

    Great blog in so many ways, it’s true, but still something bothers me.

    Any report that’s 100 percent complimentary and congratulatory without the slightest hint of reservation makes me wonder what’s really going on behind the scenes.

    Does this make me an avowed cynic or skeptic? Sorry if you believe that, but it’s not true.

    Actually, I’m a confirmed fan of both Steven Pressfield and Seth Godin, and I heartily congratulate Mike for his persistence and Seth for his perception.

    I happily drink to you both with beer, wine, gin, vodka, rum, whisky, or plain healthy natural fruit juice or spring water.

    Nevertheless, I would prefer straightforward heartfelt critiques rather than reports that sound like press releases and don’t do yourselves justice.

    I can’t believe, for all your modesty, you’re not aware that you and others like you are changing the world for the better.

    Alan