"Tomorrow is only an unfilled wish, so live and work as if today is all you have."
If today becomes your last day alive, would you be happy with what you’ve accomplished? Has that book “you’ve always wanted to write” been written? Did you use your photography skills to launch your first show? Have you built the prototype for the invention you know could change the world?
If your answer is “no, not yet”, Todd Henry’s book Die Empty will help propel you forward towards achieving the projects or dreams still trapped inside you. Working each day to produce your best work means your masterpiece won’t go with you to your grave. Far from gloomy, the idea of dying empty creates a compelling visual for why working hard towards producing your best work has to start today. It starts now, and who else but you can do it?
“You possess a one-of-a-kind combination of passions, skills and experiences; there is something you bring to your work that no one else could.”
Henry is passionate about helping each of us create the work we only still dream of producing, and with creativity becoming an increasingly needed skill, his tools can develop the competitive advantage you need.
How do we take the first step to greatness?
The Big Idea
Overcome the Demons
"…those who are resilient and bounce back to fight another day recognize that nonfatal failure provides an opportunity to become more self-aware, and to reassess their strategy."
It seems so easy – it’s just in your head! – but many of the themes in Henry’s book focus on keeping the vast range of possible mind games and bad habits out of your way. Are you “busily bored” and working hard on mindless pursuits? Are you afraid to stretch beyond your comfort zone? Are you working a step removed from your dream role rather than diving right in, like being an editor instead of a writer? Henry helps you get real with what’s getting in your way.
Being unwilling to settle for average is key to moving beyond these demons, and there are a number of reasons why you might get stuck. Let’s talk more about how to do this.
Busywork Won't Produce Your Masterpiece
"Empty space wants to be filled, and where there is an absence of purposeful activity and meaningful progress, any activity that brings the ping of immediate productivity will fill the void."
Mindless busywork fills valuable time needed for your best work. Early in the book, Henry defines the three kinds of work that will get you working at your fullest capability:
Mapping – this is “the work before the work”, setting the goals and plans for achieving your objectives.
Making – this is “doing the work” itself and delivering “the most tangible value”.
Meshing – this is “the work between the work”, where nurturing your growth, building your skills, and being curious about new ideas will help you expand your thinking for new work ahead.
What’s important here is to understand that all three elements are needed. As Henry states, Making + Meshing without Mapping means you’ll be a “Drifter”, unclear as to where you’re headed with your work. Similarly, Meshing + Mapping without Making means you’re a “Dreamer” and unable to execute. The goal is to be a Developer, where all three elements are working together in tandem to create the greatest value. Awareness of where you fall short (e.g., Henry mentions his tendency towards “drifting”) can help you refocus your efforts to get the outcomes you seek.
Don't Settle for Mediocrity
"Individuals must make a personal commitment to lifelong personal innovation through skill development, risk-taking, and experimentation in order to avoid stagnation."
Mediocrity is the bane of creative work, but can come disguised in many forms. You may have a “tried and true” blog formula that gets you desirable hit rates but doesn’t provide a format for digging into topics that matter more.
Henry defines his “7 Deadly Sins of Mediocrity”, which include:
Aimlessness – lack of direction
Boredom – lack of passion
Comfort – lack of willingness to “disrupt” or change
Delusion – lack of self-awareness
Ego – lack of a reality check
Fear – lack of courage
Guardedness – lack of nurturing relationships
These can work in combination as well. Take the “Drifter” profile mentioned earlier, and add in boredom and comfort, and it is easy to see how you will struggle to achieve your goals. Use new awareness of the elements that best apply to you, and you’ll quickly figure out what is needed to get you on a new path.
What was interesting too was how Henry’s concepts can be applied in a team setting, particularly for teams who require creativity. Incorporating elements from the book, particularly about recognizing if complacency is creeping in, can help define new levels of growth and success in your organization.
I find Henry’s work compelling – I inhaled both of his books in a matter of days – and Die Empty arrived at a time when I have been working to refocus on my own creative pursuits. I am not surprised that it has made Amazon’s Top 10 list for 2013 and it is definitely in mine. Creativity is a key element to success in the 21st century and you need to nurture your creative and innovative side, or risk being left behind.
The book tackles all of the elements that can get in your way, so the only thing left is to figure out what you want to produce. You, with your marvelous uniqueness and incredible abilities, are the only person who can create your masterpiece. Don’t let anything, least of all mind games, keep you from pursuing the work you have dreamed of creating.
With the urgency that “dying empty” creates, explore new avenues, disrupt the regular patterns in your work and begin to look at ensuring that your best work is what you produce each and every day.
What works for you? How are you working to create your masterpiece so you can “die empty”?