Die Empty

Summary Written by Alyssa Burkus
"Tomorrow is only an unfilled wish, so live and work as if today is all you have."

- Die Empty, page 215

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."- Die Empty, page 102

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.

Insight #1

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."- Die Empty, page 19

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.

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Insight #2

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."- Die Empty, page 37

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.

Read the book

Get Die Empty on Amazon.

Todd Henry

Todd is the founder and CEO of Accidental Creative, a company that helps creative people and teams generate brilliant ideas. He regularly speaks and consults with companies, both large and small, about how to develop practices and systems that lead to everyday brilliance. Todd’s work has been featured by Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, HBR.org, US News & World Report, and many other major media outlets.

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