Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.

The Muse Vs. The Practice

We’ve all had those moments where we can work effortlessly. Where it “comes.” Our creative output is remarkable. The Muse visits. They happen. It’s a thing.

We’re right to embrace those days. We’re right to feel proud and good of being in the flow and producing something great. Emrace anything that helps.

The beginner, though, believes these bursts are the new normal.  We chase the dragon. We use bizarre incantations to recreate conditions which led to the muse’s visit and to “feel it” before we start our work. To require every word to be a masterpiece. That’s the mark of a beginner.

Soon we learn that The Muse isn’t a reliable business partner. It even gets biblical: “Oh, Muse, Oh Muse, why hast thou forsaken me”

Our movies romanticize The Muse. We believe that we should wait on the muse and then produce breathtaking work. We retell the tales that support the “muse” theory. Lady Gaga said that she wrote Poker Face in about 10 minutes. Sly Stallone wrote Rocky in 3 and a half days. Shakespeare In Love was basically about finding our muse.

Even science isn’t immune: Newton had to wait on an apple to fall from the tree. Doc Brown had to get bonked on the head to unlock the secrets of the Flux capacator.

We chase that dragon because we remember when it worked. When everything worked out and we lived in the flow. But that can’t happen, at least not all the time. So we get despondent. “It used to be so easy,” we say. We don’t realize that we were merely lucky. 

So, a little at a time our output suffers. We don’t go on a workout because we don’t “feel it.” We don’t keep up with our promises to ourselves. We insist on perfect conditions for our output. We may say that we only require a weeken. Or other perfect conditions.

But if The Muse is famously fickle, then why do we rely on that to chase our dreams? Why not deliver consistently no matter what?

The opposite of the Muse is The Practice. It’s our daily habit. Showing up with intention. Respecting ourselves enough to develop the habits we need to deliver the work we want. We have to understand that every day can’t be a personal best. We know over time we’ll go more miles. When we respect our talent enough, we develop the habits to support it.

The Practice isn’t sexy. The movies always gloss over it with a montage. Our hero is writing, training, making deals. Moving up the ladder. But that’s really where the magic happens. During the times that we “gloss over.”

We don’t need to wait on The Muse to text us “You Up?”

We’re faithful to The Practice. Married to the work we mean to do. In sickness and in health, which, over time, produces a richer life than The Muse ever can. Because it’s a reliable companion.

The Practice is what we do daily. It’s all the other things that we sacrifice to pursue our vocation, talents and dreams. It’s making #onemorecall with Jeb Blount. It’s writing 1,000 words every day, like Srini. It’s making space for Deep Work. It’s my wife going to the gym, every morning, and getting good enough and strong enough to put in more time.

The Practice makes us better. After spending time in The Practice, we later learn that The Practice and The Muse can even coexist. When the Muse comes, the possibilities are even richer because we’ve raised our whole game. So when we get a lucky opportunity, we’re ready to capitalize on it.

We can seek The Muse.

But we can trust the Practice.

That Old Familiar Fear

For the last year, I’ve been winding down Simplifilm. I’ve got this idea about what I did right, which was getting clients for agencies.

I love to sell, I love to hunt and I love to help.

So I put a little site together with the intentions of launching something on Monday. At Simplifilm I was never particularly intentional about building the business. I never had KPIs in place.

“Sell more,” I thought, “It’ll all be fine.”

The way that it worked out hurt. I lost interest in selling an endless amount of forgettable work to forgettable clients for reasons unknown.

Last week I settled up the business at Simplifilm. I’m free to start the new gig.

And I have that familiar fear: what if it doesn’t work?

Daily Operating System: A Theory To Practice

Days have gotten away from me, and I’ve not accomplished enough in 2018. My decision velocity is sluggish, as has been the output/throughput. For those of you nice people like David Gibbons that are telling me I’m too hard on myself, I say to you “meh.” I’m not, trust me, I’m not.

Time Freedom is a great thing, but it requires a really intense commitment. Listening to The SoloPreneur hour has helped me dial that idea in. I want to be free to go by about 2:30 or 3pm in the afternoon, Allan Branch style.

I have to use a schedule because that is how I work.

I know it can work because I watched my beautiful wife do it. I’ve watched my wife as she’s doubled her salary, lost 70# and become the best version of herself ever. Her schedule is rigorous (not for sissies) and she runs a tough schedule.

I got similar goals, man. It’s time to party.  “Playtime” is ended.

There are several things that I need to be able to do. In my current incarnation, I’m going to be a “solopreneur.” For at least a year I’m going to go from project to project helping small agencies add about a million in profitable revenue.

Here’s what has to go in my schedule in order for me to win the days:

  • Morning Ritual: Something built to get me centered and focused that gets me going mind and body. A 30-minute start to the day. A little “miracle morning” a little “Own the day.”
  • Core 4: The 4 main inputs I need to do daily live the life I want. Focused hours. “Reps.” This is a theory, that 4 focused hours can change your life and get most of your work done and gone.
  • Themed Days: We want to do things in batches. We want to have themes so that we get some economy of scale and don’t spend all of our time in transition.
  • Client Work: About 40-50% of my working time should be delivering value to my clients.
  • Family Time: This is important. Being able to do things with my family is critical.
  • Administrative Time: Dealing with taxes, gov’t agencies, cleaning your office and payroll is a part of what it means to be a solopreneur. We can’t yet delegate everything to a system or person (though we will.)
  • System Review Let’s set aside some time to look at our systems, and ensure that they are working well.
  • Margins (i.e. places for failover, rest, and recovery.) Both time and money.  I need some tools to manage this stuff.
  • Boundaries, Tools and Tactics Using things like Freedom and Google Calendar to manage this stuff.
  • Ending The Day I feel often like my days are endless. That I always leave each day with more on the hook.
  • Getting Back On Track: Rules to get back on track if something weird happens (Like today, I woke up to a flooded toilet, what to do about legitimate urgent interruptions).

I’ll be putting things up and linking up as I finished the posts. I need to have rules in place so I don’t have to fret over decisions and so things can become habits.

At First, You’re Writing For Yourself

I’m starting something new after spending a long time on Simplifilm.

I’ve got:

  • No following
  • No Audience
  • A network I’ve worn out.
  • Bad work habits.

This isn’t me saying “poor me,” I’ve started things from nothing before – and an assessment of where I’m at is so necessary.

I read from Russell Brunson (who I wrote off as a Tony Robbins type) that when you’re starting, you’re writing for yourself. I’ll add that it’s gotta be enough at first.

We’re writing to clarify ideas, build the habits, and solidify who we are. That’s where it starts. That’s the fountainhead and foundation. And so, if nothing happens, something’s still happening. You’re getting better.

Stephen King said the first million words are just practice. He’s probably right.

So, then this is where it starts. For myself.  To practice, to get better and to build.

And I gotta be OK with that for a while to go on the pat that I’m meaning to go on.

Mental Toughness, Part I.

I’ve been running again for about a week now. A few weeks ago I learned that I had a fractured elbow, and a bone spur.  Fractured may be overstating it a bit, but there are fractures there, and it’s grown spurs to try to ‘reach out,’ for the tendon.

This kept me from playing racquetball, a sport I really dig, and was using to get cardio and fitness.  It was at least partially caused by racquetball.  I was going to get surgery, but my Doctor noted that it was healing, and that it was “on the line,” so he decided to see if it would heal.  I’ve healed some more.

Early on though, any little jostle would “set it off” and I’d be in sort of bad pain for 3-4 hours and then it would dull and go away.  While waiting for the next appointment, it got a little better, and then the healing began, and now it’s more fine than not. Except when I do certain motions (like remove a belt).

It got better over time, I don’t know how long it took.  I didn’t do much for fear of aggravating it. This meant that I was out of shape pretty quickly.  Not that my “fitness” was ever perfected, but I lost cardio strength.

And mental strength.

About 10 days ago I started running again. I measured out a 3.4 mile loop from my house.

One left turn and a few right turns.

When I started – 10 days ago – I literally couldn’t run a mile straight through.  My feet would hurt, my legs, oh, I am breathing heavy.  All of that.

Now? I’m not in shape. But I can run 2.4 miles again.  I’ll probably be able to push it to 3.4.  Nothing hurts that much.  I have a little foot soreness towards the end. But just a little.

I’m crushing the goals, and telling myself simultaneously that I’m “taking it easy.”  All a mental game.

The changes cannot be physiological after 10 days. They are mental. Mentally, I believed I’d get faster, and so I did. It took less time than I thought. I figured it would be a month before I’d be able to run a mile straight through, but I did 3.4 miles last night.

So mental toughness is a thing.
It’s the thing I have to develop this year at the highest level possible.

Boundaries and Consequences And Children

When we see our flaws in our children, it’s a heartbreak.

When I was young, I wanted to find the end of the line. I wanted to know what was permanent. It was a hard thing for me.

I chased them, and society kept me safe. My parents sure tried, but I wound up being persistent. I’d always eventually able to wear them down and skirt the consequences with some token good behavior. My parole would come quickly.

I remember in school going to great lengths to feed my shock fix. Heckling the girls basketball team to the point where their opposing coach started coming into the stands. Getting a crowd of football spectators to chant “Fifty-Six has Bitch Tits,” at a Mid-Major college. It was fun for a moment. But the energy I spent on it, man?

In seventh grade, planted a rumor on the electronic scrolling message board (for a fundraiser if I recall). Civilized society doesn’t care. The Overton window didn’t then do anything. I remember how much of myself was spent on petty rebellions, tilting at windmills.

I played the part of Rebel. Because that was easier and more instant than excellence. And it got attention, and there were really no consequences. And the rebellion was harmless, no threat to the machine I raged against.

It took more and more to shock people. And it was taxing to try.

It was so boring.  The obvious dick joke. The joke that got a laugh once but was stale to me. The rote reactions.

My kid was looking for the wall. He popped off at school and said some profoundly stupid things. He earned his trouble. I remember when I was his age, there’d be an uncomfortable day, and then it would blow over. I’d learn little to nothing. The lecture would end, and I figured out all I had to do was fake some contrition to make the talking stop.

This was to alleviate boredom. To find stimulation.  To get some sort of fix. Because that was quicker than doing the work to earn one. Snark is like that. It’s easier to make a shitbird remark about someone’s family picture than to take your own.

So I gotta figure out how to impart a lesson. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let my kid follow those footsteps, but I’ll also be damned if I don’t understand his point.

Some Music

A few simple songs I used to dig at some point in my life and have lost touch with for a time:

2 Kool 2 B 4gotten – Lucinda Williams

2 Cool 2 Care – Anna Burch

Everlong – Foo Fighters

Heartspark Dollarsign – Everclear

Please Send The Letter – Alison Krauss & Robert Plant

The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion – Black Crowes

The Promise & Peril of Social Media.

I came to the Web when it was new. It was asynchronous. It was anonymous. It was decentralized. It was truly amazing. It had the “wild west” vibe. You could become someone different.

More specifically: you could transform yourself into someone different. You could become the future-self. Bit by bit by trying on new identities and trading ideas at a higher velocity. The early days of the web led so many people to really contribute.

And there was a lot of great writing. My friends from college wrote longform-ish essays on a lot of topics. I never believed it would collapse and consolidate down to one giant corporation.

But Facebook was ruthless. And they won the war by both skill and ruthlessness. It landed on our actual identities (for the most part). Our friends gradually joined the web to see the pictures of grandkids. We became ourselves.

And the content changed. Nuance was lost. We started our apparently neverending political debate. Someone was wrong on the internet after all. We had to fix it. Nuanced thoughts went to the comments sections.

Because Facebook was engineered for Facebook, not for us. It was designed for a lot of low value micro-interactions. To get the ALERT to pop up, and to keep the debate raging inside of us. All of that benefited Facebook and helped us get together. That was a good thing.

But, the “bad” thing is that we don’t have time for the Deep Work. We have adapted our behavior for Facebook because that’s the system of record for our social interactions. It’s where we live, as it were. And so we adapt to that. By wanting to be “Facebook Popular,” instead of really great, we win in the short term.

We lose in the long term. We don’t have the chance to do the work that matters, because we’re explaining the nuances of our political positions, or the highlight films of our lives. We are stuck in this loop because it’s designed to trap us. We mock our cats when they chase an uncatchable laser pointer, yet here we are.

We waste time arguing if Trump or Hillary is worse. Then we have to come up with increasingly preposterous ideas just to get the same dopamine fix. We wind up abandoning the truth and accepting and spreading idiotic ideas like Pizzagate just because addictions always require escalation.

Facebook’s not the binary choice that Cal Newport and John Mayer make it out to be. Facebook is useful when we set up boundaries. We can distribute, connect and spread our message using its platform. We can reach people. There is some truth to some of their mission, the Arab Spring gave us some hope for a connected world.

But we have to make the time to have a message. We have to protect and defend ourselves, and develop our ideas. This is what Facebook threatens. Doing the work and developing. Writing – even when nobody is reading yet.

My friend Srini talks about an hour a day. He’s right, of course. Protecting our hour is important…because that’s the real source of our value and power to contribute. Making

When you are intentional about your own time…and your use of Social, you can contribute and deliver more than you would otherwise. You can build value and then share it.

But only if you protect it and act deliberately about it. I mean to do that as rapidly as possible over the coming months. To spend more time on my own apps, on purpose, and less time consuming content on Facebook. I’m guessing that you’ll see more of me in a lot of ways that matter.

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