New Year, New Work: How to Share Your Mission

NewYear-NewWork

2015 is upon us, and I’m pretty excited about it. One of the aspects of this year I’m more excited about than ever is the ability to teach and share skills.

As weird as this sounds, I think there’s a shortage of curated blog development resources on the web today. Sure, you can Google “How to Start a Blog” and come back with 1 BILLION results (it’s true), but that can be overwhelming!

But every month I get a few questions from readers, friends, and family about how to start a blog. Why?

Because we’ve built trust together, and I’m honored by it. I want to help. It’s easier to learn from someone you know than the top hit on Google, which is why so many courses and guides are on Google to begin with! Kinda like the chicken or the egg, right?

For the entirety of 2015, I’ll be sending out an email course for people who want to build a blog with a mission. There will be two lessons per month, leaving plenty of time for the actual practice of writing and content creation!

If you’d like to be a part of this, I need to ask that you sign up for the course to show you’re interested. I know there are plenty of active bloggers and writers in this community who have moved passed the startup stage, or aren’t looking for blog teaching at all!

So if you’d like to be a part of this course, simply click the link and then enter your email at the bottom of the page.

MattRagland.com/Build-A-Mission-Minded-Blog

2015-launch

If you’re just waiting for my next post, thanks for your patience. Lots of exciting and anxious moments in life these days, and I’m looking forward to sharing the lessons with you.

Thanks again for the trust and encouragement each of you provide by showing up, I pray that each of you are enjoying a great start to 2015!

Daily Rituals: Writing Your Own Story

DeathtoStock_Wired3

I am finally reading Daily Rituals, Mason Currey’s wonderful collection of the rituals and practices of history’s greatest creative minds. My initial thought was that I am drinking far too little and am not odd enough to be successful, but that’s besides the point.

I also began thinking about what may be written of me. If think of myself as successful writer in the future, what would my day look like? How would I arrange my time and tasks? This is an interesting prompt, and helped clarify how I like to work, even if what I need to be working on isn’t as clear.

I encourage you to write your own daily rituals, it will help bring your work back to purpose and clarity when you’re adrift.

Matt Ragland (b. 1983)

Ragland feels writing in the morning is best, and strives to wake around 5:30 am. “I enjoy waking up, shuffling around the house with my dog, brewing the coffee, making eggs for Morgan. It’s vital to have time to think through the activities of the day before they rush upon you”. His wife Morgan is a nurse, and they often wake at the same time to enjoy the first cup of coffee together before she went to her shift. If she’s not working that day, he wakes up around 6:30 am.

But once these activities pass, Ragland feels a pressing desire to begin. If he is on a specific project or book, he will write 500–1000 words in this first dash. This takes an hour or so, depending on the level of what he calls “mental groaning”. If he is between projects, he will choose a prompt and begin there.

Around 8:00 am, the first dash of writing completed, he sets to making breakfast and another cup of coffee. Healthy eating is important to Ragland, he feels good food fuels good writing. His first meal is not a meal at all, but a smoothie. This concoction includes almond milk, protein powder, kale and/or spinach, frozen bananas, and fruit. Once he downs the drink it’s back to work “running digital errands”.

After a period of errand running and housekeeping, Ragland may feel himself becoming dull. This signals the time for exercise, something else he feels is necessary to creative success. “A lean body results in a sharp mind, unless you become obsessive about your look and not your work”. He rotates his disciplines between running, cycling, and weight training.

After exercise, Ragland enjoys his first real meal of the day, brunch. It consists of eggs, a veggie or bean patty, with bacon or sausage thrown in. He tells friends the inclusion of bacon is in direct correlation to the success of his books. When they are selling, he can buy bacon. When sales slow, it meant he needed to publish something new so he can once again include bacon.

Once he finishes brunch, he settles back in to writing, battling for another dash of 500–1000 words.

The absolute minimum for the day is 1,500 words, even if it’s garbage. Writing is an all-out war on my lazy side.

By this time his dog is restless and demanding a walk, so they walk the neighborhood while he listens to an audiobook or podcast.

I find it difficult to work based on a definitive schedule, and try to pay attention to my energy so I’m not burnt out by noon. The difficulty is discerning between low creative energy and outright laziness or procrastination.

Afternoons are open for meetings and collaboration, something Ragland actively seeks. “I’m an extrovert, if I don’t have anyone to perform around I become uninspired”. But after lunch he will always try to take a short nap, never more than 30 minutes. Upon rising, he will perform a few progressions of yoga to “shake himself back up”, along with more coffee.

If there are no meetings, the afternoons filled with reading, sketching, and other disciplines. These related disciplines include wood working, playing music, tuning bicycles, and cooking. Some are integral to the “business of writing”, and some exist only to fill the creative well. Throughout life, Ragland has believed in the power of relative creativity.

By taking your mind off the primary discipline for a while, solutions and ideas will present themselves in a curious fashion.

Ragland’s primary creative struggle in life is a lack of focus. He often says the challenge is not a lack of ideas, but the discipline to choose one and execute it. He will often spend months working on several small projects, then reflect and see little progress on any of them. These are the only times he falls to anxiety and stress, regretting he had not chosen one idea and seen it through to completion. This lack of focus could also extend to a loss of motivation to exercise, eat well, even romance!

A loss of clarity and purpose exposes all the worst traits in my life.

To fight the urge to divert his attention, he will make to-do lists and have Morgan or a friend check them off. This includes showing progress of his work, and he discovered the shame of disappointing them is motivation enough.

Morgan arrives home at 7:30 pm, and dinner will be ready or in progress. They enjoy cooking together and often share a drink before, during, and after the meal. Following dinner they tidy up the house and catch up on the events of the day. On days Morgan does not work, she helps him focus on work, often reading and editing his writing. They also share many meals with friends, and note how important a strong and caring community is in their lives.

During the week, they always try to be in bed by 10:00 pm, either reading or watching an episode of their favorite shows. Ragland prefers reading, believing it sets his mind at ease, and results in a better night’s sleep.

On sleeping, Ragland also has a sleep ritual he follows, which Morgan calls Matt’s Five Rules of Falling Asleep. He defined the rules after she shared her troubles falling asleep. He replied it was easy, you just follow these five rules.

1. Lay down
2. Close your eyes
3. Be still
4. Take deep breaths
5. Fall asleep

When Morgan told him they didn’t work, and she still wasn’t falling asleep easily, he replied “Of course they work, you’re just not following rule five!”

photo credit: deathtostockphoto.com

Grant Baldwin shows us that Who You are is More Important than What You Do

workshop1Today is episode 30 of the Story Signals podcast, and I’m so glad to welcome Grant Baldwin.

Grant is a speaker, writer and podcaster who helps people find and do the work they love. His main speaking gigs include grade school and college students, educator groups, and churches. His message of the intentional pursuit of meaningful, important work is one we all need to hear.

I had a great time speaking with Grant. We have a lot of common ground in our childhood, educational development, and experience transitioning to independent work. With his speaking and podcasting background, it was a very smooth conversation, and one I didn’t have to edit much (thanks Grant)!

There are several aspects of this show I think you’ll glean wisdom from. Here are several that stood out to me.

Episode Standouts

  • When you transition from a steady job (and paycheck) to independent work, plus the balance of frustration and excitement which accompanies it.
  • How to better communicate your goals and desires.
  • Effective ways to deconstruct big goals in to daily and weekly action steps.
  • Why the unplanned moments in our life are big chances to chine.
  • Why who you are is more important than what you do.

Ready to Listen?

Favorite Quote

Grant-Baldwin

 Click to tweet that: “Who You are is More Important than What You Do”

 Resources and Connect with Grant!

Quick Question for You!

If yo don’t care about the preamble, skip to the next header.

To my dismay, it’s been almost a month since the last Story Signals episode. I love doing this show, it’s the most fun I have online. But there are two aspects of the show’s setup that make it difficult to put out a weekly show (at least for me). Both are self-inflicted, by the way.

One, I try and always have a guest on the show. It’s more fun for me, and I believe it’s a better experience for you, the listener. Instead of always listening to me, you get the expertise of the guest, keeping the show diverse and fresh. The drawback is scheduling interviews can be tough. If creating time to sit and record a 30 minute solo show is tough, now add in another person’s schedule! For example, this interview with Grant was scheduled 4 weeks in advance!

Two, I’m over-committed right now in my professional life. I drive the bus at 6:30am, go to UPS, head to coach, and then get home at 5:30pm. I’m not complaining, it just doesn’t leave much time for interviews.

Ok, here’s the question…

Want more? Stay in the Story Signals community!

Thanks for checking out this episode of Story Signals. If you’d like to be notified when a new episode is available, here’s the ultimate list of resources to get started. After, there are 2 easy ways to stay involved and keep listening.

  1. If you think Story Signals is deserving, leave a 5 star rating on iTunes or Stitcher. Click here for iTunes, and click “View in iTunes” – “Reviews & Ratings” – “Write a Review” (see the screenshots). For Stitcher, click here.

  2. Share with a friend! I would be very appreciate of your recommendations to family, friends, and social networks. If you mention me, @MattRagland, or @StorySignals on Twitter, I’ll be sure and retweet the share! Just share StorySignals.com – StorySignals.com/itunes – StorySignals.com/stitcher.

Ross Hagan Helps Us Peel Back the Layers of Our Story

Our guest this week on Story Signals is Ross Hagan, the Director of Story for Whiteboard. Based in St. Elmo, TN (just outside of Chattanooga), Ross and Whiteboard have worked with an impressive collection of companies, including Google and Catalyst Conference.

In our conversation, Ross shares a bit of the process he takes people through to peel back the layers of their stories. What I found interesting was how insecure some companies were about their story! Consumed with feelings of not being cool enough or interesting to buyers, and how they changed their focus and ended up being a more compelling brand.

Ross-Hagan

The reason I found this interesting is that we do the same thing as individuals! We trick ourselves in to thinking we don’t have value, aren’t cool enough or interesting. The lessons Ross shares are applicable to our own lives, families, and communities. He also had the courage to share some of his own struggles, and the mantra that keeps him focused and centered on his work.

Ready to Listen?

Resources

Connect with Ross

Want more? Stay in the Story Signals community!

Thanks for checking out this episode of Story Signals. If you’d like to be notified when a new episode is available, here’s the ultimate list of resources to get started. After, there are 2 easy ways to stay involved and keep listening.

  1. If you think Story Signals is deserving, leave a 5 star rating on iTunes or Stitcher. Click here for iTunes, and click “View in iTunes” – “Reviews & Ratings” – “Write a Review” (see the screenshots). For Stitcher, click here.

  2. Share with a friend! I would be very appreciate of your recommendations to family, friends, and social networks. If you mention me, @MattRagland, or @StorySignals on Twitter, I’ll be sure and retweet the share! Just share StorySignals.com – StorySignals.com/itunes – StorySignals.com/stitcher.

The Art & Practice of Transformation

This week on Story Signals, I’m sharing one of the most powerful short stories I’ve ever heard. It’s about the process of transformation, and the role plays in our lives. I first heard the story in Aravaipa Canyon, a remote area in Arizona. I was there for a men’s retreat, and the weaver shared this story with us. I’ll never forget it, and I wanted to share the story with you.

Transform

 

Once upon a time in a far and distant place, on a high mountain, a gentle rain began to fall. At first it was hushed and quiet, trickling down the granite slopes. But gradually it increased in strength, as rivulets ran over the rocks and down the gnarled and twisted trees that grew there. Soon it was pouring as swift currents of dark water flowed together into the beginnings of a stream.

The stream flowed on down the mountainside, through valleys, past forests, down cascading falls. Until at last it found itself far from its source in the distant mountain, at the edge of a great and vast desert. Having crossed every other barrier in its way, the stream fully expected to cross this as well. But as fast as its waves splashed into the desert, that fast did they disappear into the sands.

Before long, the stream heard a voice whispering from the desert itself saying, “The wind crosses the desert, so can the stream.”

“Yes, but the wind can fly!” cried out the stream, as it kept dashing itself into the desert sand.

“You’ll never get across that way,” the desert whispered once again. “You’ll have to let the wind carry you.”

“But how?” cried out the stream.

“You have to let the wind absorb you.”

Well, the stream wasn’t able to accept that. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It didn’t want to lose its individuality, abandon its own identity. And besides, if once it gave itself to the winds, could it ever be sure of becoming a stream again?

The desert replied that the stream could continue to flow into the sand, and that one day it might even produce a swamp there on the desert’s edge. But it would never cross the desert so long as it remained a stream.

“Why can’t I remain the same stream that I am?” cried out the water.

And the desert answered, ever so wisely, “You never can remain what you are. Either you become a swamp or you give yourself to the winds.”

The stream was silent for a long time, listening to certain echoes deep within itself, remembering parts of itself having been held in the arms of the wind before. And then slowly, the stream raised its vapors into the welcoming arms of the wind and was borne upward and over the desert in great white clouds.

As it passed beyond the mountains on the desert’s far side, there it began to fall as a gentle rain. At first it was hushed and quiet, trickling down the granite slopes. But gradually it increased in strength, as rivulets ran over the rocks and down the gnarled and twisted trees that grew there. And soon it was pouring, as swift currents of dark water flowed once again into the beginning of a stream.

– Story told by Belden Lane. 


I try to avoid over explaining stories, but there’s one part that moves me more than any other.

“Why can’t I remain the same stream that I am?”

How often I want to remain the same person I’ve become. I put a lot of work and effort in to this identity, this work, this status. If I give it up, how I can be sure I’ll ever get it back? This happens with companies too. A product or service made us famous, and instead of continuing to move forward, with or without it, we stagnate.

We Become A Swamp

I encourage you to reach out to a trusted friend or family member, and get out of the swamp. There are wonderful things for you in the world, but you have to keep moving. We have to be willing to risk who we are, to reveal who we are meant to be.

Want more? Stay in the Story Signals community!

Thanks for checking out this episode of Story Signals. If you’d like to be notified when a new episode is available, here’s the ultimate list of resources to get started. After, there are 2 easy ways to stay involved and keep listening.

  1. If you think Story Signals is deserving, leave a 5 star rating on iTunes or Stitcher. Click here for iTunes, and click “View in iTunes” – “Reviews & Ratings” – “Write a Review” (see the screenshots). For Stitcher, click here.

  2. Share with a friend! I would be very appreciate of your recommendations to family, friends, and social networks. If you mention me, @MattRagland, or @StorySignals on Twitter, I’ll be sure and retweet the share! Just share StorySignals.com – StorySignals.com/itunes – StorySignals.com/stitcher.

How Quests Give Purpose to our Stories (plus a big giveaway!)

Have you ever been on a quest?

Maybe it’s been a while since you thought of life in those terms. As kids, we think of everyday occurrences as quests and adventures. When I was young, my friends and I would build forts, chop down trees, ride to Wal-Mart, and other short-term quests. We knew what to do and set our minds to the task.

When I was 9, I ran away from home. The journey didn’t last long, maybe two hours. I lacked provisions, a map, and a clear goal of what I was doing. I was 9. I hurried home in time for dinner, and all was well. I don’t know if my mom even noticed I had set off to see the world, and only saw a new part of the neighborhood.

That memory triggers a scene in the Hobbit, where Bilbo is struggling to decide on leaving his cozy hobbit hole. Gandalf looks down at him and says,

Hobbit-1

Chris Guillebeau is a person who knows about quests. In the past ten years, he has visited every country in the world, all 193! On the journey, he learned countless lessons on what drives purpose and meaning.

Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to Chris share those lessons and stories from his quest. In his new book The Happiness of Pursuit (win this book here), he shares the essential elements of quest.

elements

The front door exists in our hearts and minds too. We stand out on the porch and wonder what’s out in the wild. Adventure, struggle, conflict, success, and utter failure. We don’t know what to expect outside, so we turn and go back in to what’s comfortable.

The quest sticks with us though, it won’t be quiet on our porch. Tell it to go away, and keeps returning. It finds the loose window and wiggles back in. The quest has chosen you, and will not allow you to forget it.

chooses

If I don’t at least try, I will always regret it – Chris Guillebeau

All meaningful quests are like this. There is an element of failure. But that doesn’t mean we stay on the porch. It reminds me of another favorite Hobbit quote. We’re in the same scene, covering the same question of whether Bilbo answers the call to adventure.

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back
Bilbo: Can you promise that I’ll come back?
Gandalf: No. But if you do, you will not be the same

middleThe journey we go on transforms us. Chris points out the start and end of a quest are just a small par of the journey, and everything in the middle is what transforms us!

Undertaking a quest is more than stories to share. I begin because I know it has the power to change me. Everyone wants to change the world, and there is honor in that hope.

But to change the world I must begin by changing myself. And to do that I have to step outside the door and allow the journey to transform my life. There is pain, struggle, happiness, and hope. Without a clear goal and purpose, it’s difficult to find the strength to continue. A calling greater than my own little plans drives the quest, and incredible people step in and help when all seems lost.

At the culmination of the quest, there is still more to do. There is a community of people in your life that need to hear your story. The gift (and responsibility) you bear is sharing the experience with others. Support their quests, give advice and support when they lose sight. Keep their eyes fixed on the goal.

This is what Chris and countless other people doing with their life’s work. They have a profound impact on my story and the ways I share it. I want to share their wisdom with you, and so I’m giving away seven of the best books on crafting your life’s story.

Here’s how you win the giveaway:

Click this link to visit the giveaway page

This free giveaway is a little different. Instead of hiding this contest and hoping you’re one of ten people to register, sharing the link will increase your chance of winning! You will receive a personal “lucky link” to share on social media or with your own email list. For each person that signs up through your link, you will be entered three more times!

Sound good? Click here to enter

The Books

book-giveaway2

1. The Happiness of Pursuit, by Chris Guillebeau

Why it helps us: See above. 100% worth your time.

2. Wrecked, by Jeff Goins

Why it helps us: A key point in our journey is being out of what is comfortable and normal. It’s when life is uncomfortable and abnormal when we have the greatest opportunity to grow. Jeff shows us the stories that wreck us are the stories which shape us.

3. Packing Light, by Allison Vesterfelt

Why it helps us: A lot of times, we feel stuck by our choices. Ways we live, jobs we take, things we buy. It’s easy to throw our hands in the air and believe we can’t make a change. The quest is too big and audacious. Allison was in this place several years ago, feeling the weight of choices keeping her down. Then she embarked on her own quest of visiting all 50 states. It’s a marvelous read on how we can steadily cut away the things in life that control us.

4. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller

Why it helps us: Donald wrote this several years after his best-selling memoir, Blue Like Jazz. He was stuck after success, after a quest had been fulfilled. He wasn’t living the kind of story he wrote about. He embarked on his own quest, to cycle across the United States. This quest, combined with the process of turning Blue Like Jazz in to a movie, showed him the elements of powerful stories, and how they could be applied in all our lives.

5. Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown

Why it helps us: The messy, dirty, vulnerable parts of our story are often the most difficult to share. We feel pressure to keep up appearances and show everything is fine. Brene helps us peel back the layers of shame to tell the full story of who we really are. She states that becoming more vulnerable is the best way to create whole-hearted families and communities.

6. The Alchemist, by Paulo Cohello

Why it helps us: This short parable follows the journey of a young man on a quest. Along the way, he finds wealth, poverty, friends, enemies, love, and heartbreak. In the end, he learns how each experience and sacrifice has led to him fulfilling his personal legend. Also the most recommended book from guests of the Story Signals podcast.

7. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

Why it helps us: A short little book on overcoming the internal resistance which plagues us all. Pressfield focuses on the creative process, but there are many lessons in this book for any goal you wish to achieve. Another book I hear shared and recommended as a must-read.

Ready to enter? Click here

The contest runs from Monday, September 22 at 7:00 am EST to Sunday, September 28 at 11:45 pm EST. You must live in the United States or Canada to win (sorry, shipping overseas is too much). You must be 21 and up to win. Full rules can be found on the giveaway page.

David Molnar teaches us the responsibility of telling your story (and how to take awesome pictures with your iPhone!)

David Molnar is a photographer, author, and most importantly, Story Signals guest! I’m so pleased David is on the show this week, he shares deep wisdom and great advice for our listeners.

I really enjoyed talking to David, it really was like two friends having a conversation over coffee, and we had just met! We cover these topics, to name a few:

  • The first rule of being a good photographer – Listen!
  • David’s early mistakes and struggles, and how he pulled himself out of them.
  • The car accident that changed his life.
  • How he takes clients through the process of discovering what they really want.

3d-cover-sm2David was also kind enough to share a few chapters of his ebook with us, for free! To get the book and instantly make your iPhone photos better, head to DavidMolnar.com/StorySignals.

Resources

Thanks for listening to this episode, I’d be grateful if you left a rating/review on iTunes or Stitcher. Have a great week!

20 Books I Wish I’d Read at 20

20books

Yesterday I led a workshop for a group of Vanderbilt students. We talked about story, and how they can use the elements of story in a speaking opportunity they have. It was similar to my presentation at Podcamp Nashville, but with a lot more background and research thrown in. My hope is for them to understand how to build a compelling story that connects with the audience, guides them, and shows a few actionable ways to begin.

If you would like for me to hold a similar workshop for your organization, let’s talk!

During the workshop, I kept referencing books that have been important to me and shaped my story. I received blank stares for each book I referenced. To be fair, I would not have read these books in college. I didn’t read many books I wasn’t assigned, and the ones I did weren’t of the self-help or motivational variety.

At the same time, not many people told me what books they believed would be important in my growth and development. Now 30, I have a list I recommend to people, especially people in their twenties. Those listening (or reading) may not pick up any of the books right away, or for several years! But it’s not the work of the guide to take action (that’s the hero’s task), the guide must present the plan for action. If you’re in your early twenties, here’s the plan.

Daring Greatly – by Brene Brown

To Sell is Human & A Whole New Mind – by Dan Pink

The War of Art – by Steven Pressfield

The Sketchnote Handbook & The Sketchnote Workbook – by Mike Rohde

Tribes & Linchpin – by Seth Godin

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years – by Donald Miller

The Obstacle is the Way – by Ryan Holliday

The Alchemist – by Paulo Coelho

Creativity, Inc – by Ed Catmull

The Personal MBA – by Josh Kaufman

The No Complaining Rule – by Jon Gordon

The 4 Hour Chef – by Tim Ferriss

Steal like an Artist – by Austin Kleon

Presentation Zen – by Garr Reynolds

Rework – by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Bird by Bird – by Anne Lamotte

The Power of Habit – by Charles Duhigg

Brain Rules – John Medina

The Art of Innovation – by Thomas Kelly

The In Between – by Jeff Goins

Have any books to add? Please share in the comments! 

Image credit: Chris @ Shutterhacks

Lessons Learned from NOT getting the Dream Job

Last month, I was a finalist for the platform builder job at HelpScout. I didn’t end up getting the job, I learned so much in the process. I’ll be clear, it was disappointing. I wanted the job, had convinced myself that I was going to get it. It was my dream job, and was going to solve several problems for me. I had written a story before all the characters had their say, and the script flip was almost more than I could bear.

Disappointment is a part of life. How we respond to disappointment, and use it to transform our future, is a key marker in our stories. Look back over your own life. Where and when did you not get something you wanted, only to have it lead to an opportunity or relationship you treasure? Auditing pain is painful, so I often avoid it. But diving in may deliver some of the best lessons I’ve ever learned.

Find yourself

I’ve been all over the professional map the past 18 months. Writer, web designer, brand strategist, coach, teacher, box shipper, sketch artist, adventure guide, fitness guru, and a few other ideas that never took form. That showed in my interview. I believe there’s value to having a diverse skill set, but it was clear I hadn’t focused my skills around a particular focus or niche.

If I was going to give myself advice 18 months ago, it would have been to focus on just one idea. Thinking about how much further along I would have been now is one of the most frustrating parts of this experience. The second best time to decide? Now.

Highlight the unusual

Greg Ciotti (also at SparringMind.com) was brilliant and brutal in his editing process. Seeing my pitch article transform between version one and two was incredible. I remember looking over the two versions and thinking “that first draft sucked”. One of the best pieces of advice he gave me was to highlight the unusual elements of a story, then drill down to show readers why it works. For example, in the first draft of my Backcountry article, I gave equal screen time to live chat and Gearhead features.

Greg went off on me (in the editorial sense), and well-deserved! No one cares about generic live chat features, but Gearheads are a way of connecting with customers I had never seen before. They encourage relationships, collaboration, and eventually, Backcountry’s bottom line.

Keep your writing crisp & clear

Much of my writing (and speaking) can stray towards conversational. Crisp and clear is better. One way to hack this is by using the Hemingway editor. It helps clear up your writing, looking for adverbs, cluttered sentences, and passive style. Try it out here.

Prove it

One of the downfalls in the relentless quest to deliver content is a lack of proof. Using case studies, research, and user feedback is a tremendous way to differentiate your writing from those who are just sharing an opinion. Back your opinion up with some proof. Another way to use proof is to show how you changed positions over time, in essence debunking your own beliefs. Thinking “because of this, then that” is a good way to begin any project.

Why should I care?

A natural progression of highlighting the unusual, ask yourself why the reader should care about this article. Of course you must know the reader’s needs and struggles by this point. I didn’t know HelpScout’s user profile at this point, and don’t spend enough time thinking about it for my own projects. Whether in your work or side projects, always think about why this matters to your primary reader. It will change the way you create content. You’ll probably create less, but the quality and usefulness will increase.

Know what you’re getting in to

As much as I prepared for the interview (reading every blog post, listening to interviews), I still didn’t know what I was getting in to. When Greg asked me about CRM strategies, I had no answer. This happened a few times during the interviews. While you can’t prep for every answer, it revealed that I didn’t have my head wrapped around the job.

What could I have done? What can you do? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Ask more questions – what do they expect?
  2. Read between the lines – how do people in similar roles accomplish their work? Find out!
  3. Remember IFTTT (if this then that) – more than a useful tool, asking yourself, “if this exists, then I need to produce that” is a helpful way to peel back the layers on what you’re getting yourself in to.

Once you discover these answers, it’s easier to show how you will produce the desired results.

Present your strategies

Looking back, I kick myself for not doing this during the interview. I was reactive, not proactive. I waited to answer questions, and didn’t have any strategies or plans for how I would do the job. As mentioned above, this should have been obvious, since I was applying to a startup that valued autonomy and self-sufficiency. I shoulda-coulda-woulda had a plan, instead I made up answers and smiled a lot.

<blank> won’t solve your problems

I had a whole list of problems I thought this job would solve. Professional status, more money, startup street cred, a fun topic for dinner parties, etc. In a year of starts, stops, and challenges, this job was going to set me on the right track. I was ready to define myself by work again, something I know won’t last.

If you don’t already believe you’re enough before the job/relationship/school is a reality, you’re not going to feel it after either. We must find fulfillment and meaning internally before asking people and organizations to provide it for us externally.

What’s next…

First, HelpScout is publishing my article, which you can read here. It’s a case study on how Backcountry.com (an outdoor adventure retailer) creates an exceptional customer experience. I’ll be grateful if you choose to share it on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Extra points if you tag me in your post (@MattRagland)!

The focus of the next several months will be helping brands tell their story with clarity and purpose. I will also continue to throw myself in to the podcast, it’s not going anywhere! I want to help people and brands define the customer story cycle, moving from interest to contribution.

In a nutshell, I desire to do work that helps people and organizations grow and develop.

A final lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t have to be an independent founder or entrepreneur. I really enjoy being a part of a team and shared purpose.

If you’ve read this article and want me all to yourself, let’s talk. I’m open to opportunities. Email Matt@StorySignals.com, or on twitter @MattRagland.

Ryan Delk of Gumroad teaches us about Authenticity, Creating Value, and Doing Hard Things

This week on Story Signals I’m excited to be speaking with Ryan Delk. Ryan is the head of Growth and Business Development at Gumroad, a payment platform that helps entrepreneurs, artists, and writers share their work with fans. He shares his journey from the University of Florida, to Africa, then Square, and now San Francisco and Gumroad.

We talk about his first entrepreneurial venture in 5th grade, and what he did after a client told him Gumroad looked like an online flea market. What I thought was the most unique piece of advice, Ryan shares how we can set ourselves apart in a job search, whether at startup or established company.

Listen here

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Resources

How Gumroad Works

Connect with Ryan

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Thanks for checking out this episode of Story Signals. If you’d like to be notified when a new episode is available, here’s the ultimate list of resources to get started. After, there are 2 easy ways to stay involved and keep listening.

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