You're embarking on something big. Where do you start?
A few days ago, I got a cold email from a budding creative. We get a good amount of emails from folks who’d like to “pick our brains” about something. The challenge is to try to help without taking too much time away from our main mission.
She stood out though. She made the email personal. She made me really want to help in some way.
Her email started with:
That’s a good start. I don’t quite know what I’ve done to deserve such praise, but her intro makes me want to read on.
What do you say to that? She’s clearly passionate. But she also sounds really green. Not just green in her career, but green in pursuing stuff that matters. Green in life.
And the problem was, I just didn’t have an answer for her. At least not yet.
So instead of dispensing advice, I asked her to elaborate. What was stopping her from just starting on something?
I had to think back to the way things really evolved. How did I go from hobbyist photographer, to professional photographer, to cinematographer, to director, to educator, to marketer, to multiple-entrepreneur? Had it all been part of my “master plan?”
If I’m being honest with myself, there was no master plan. I scrapped that back in pre-med when I stopped following a path “prescribed” to me by my elders. I actually wish I could say that my current situation is all part of a pre-planned destination because I believe so strongly in living life proactively, not reactively. But there are some opportunities that you can’t NOT react to, and that’s exactly what happened. But I made my own luck. Those opportunities didn’t avail themselves because of some magical destiny. It was a mindset of approaching life’s twists and turns with open arms and chasing the milestones that mattered most.
Thinking about this brought me full circle back to Meg’s email. I realized it’s not about tackling this seemingly insurmountable thing. And I also don’t think it’s about being “successful,” whatever that means.
I remembered a book I read recently called Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath. He talks about the undeniable benefits of focusing your energy on your strengths, instead of working on your weaknesses. But the kicker is in how he defines “strengths.” A strength is not just something you’re good at. It’s something that fires you up and fulfills you.
And with that, I had my response to Meg, and to anyone else who is intimidated by the journey ahead:
My best recommendation is to start with your favorite thing. That might be shooting. It might be connecting with people and learning their stories. It might be the theory of storytelling. Do some research and figure out what you THINK you’ll enjoy most. You don’t need to know for sure yet — that’ll come on its own. And then get started on the thing that excites you most.
The more you love it, the more you’ll want to get good at it. And the better you get at it, the more you’ll realize what the next steps need to be in the other aspects of storytelling.
It’s a big, overwhelming endeavor if you think of it that way. But if you break it down into just the pieces you love, it’s a passion that propels itself.
For everyone else who isn’t Meg, and who has a different passion they’re striving for, start by defining the building blocks of that passion.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to start your own business. If your strength is connecting with people, you’ll be happy to know that being an entrepreneur is all about meaningful connection. So start there. Learn from everyone you can, go to meet-ups, share your story, ask about others’ stories, offer to help them with their goals, and be a pillar of support. You’ll come away so far ahead of the game, you won’t know what hit you.
Or maybe numbers are your thing. Well do I have news for you… entrepreneurship has a place for you too. If your strength is in spreadsheets, figures, and analysis, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Whatever your endeavor, be it storytelling, entrepreneurship, learning a new language, climbing that tall mountain over there… the key is to start with your strengths. Identify the part you think you’d be best at and love the most, and get going. You’ll start to identify the next steps in your journey much easier once you take the first few (passionate) ones.