Tag Archives: Austin Kleon

The Perfect Amount of Death

Comic by Tyson Cole.

Comic by Tyson Cole.

Austin Kleon starts every day by reading obituaries.

Not to be morbid.

Not to obsess about death.

Not to channel sadness.

But to celebrate life. To focus on the present. To live every moment.

Kleon is the author of Show Your Work!, which I loved, and Steal Like an Artist which will be the next book I read when it arrives today or tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking about the need to be aware of our mortality for a long time. I’ve written on the topic several times.

But Kleon really got me thinking about this.

We don’t have to be excessively morbid or sad or whatever about death. I’m not trying to be edgy or dark. I’m just stating a fact disguised as an opinion: We’re all going to die. We’re dead. A death sentence. All of us. Everyone we know and love and everyone we don’t know.

It doesn’t have to be so big and scary. And even if it is, we should use it as a tool right now.

It can be the perfect reminder to live.

The perfect amount of death.

The Infertility Plague

What if there were no more kids? No more babies? Like in P.D. James’ The Children of Men.

Seth Godin asks better questions than any journalist I’ve ever seen. That guy would have been an amazing reporter or television guy if he wanted to be. And he asked that one the other day.

Godin fires wisdom and thought-provoking commentary to my inbox multiple times per day. I feel guilty quoting the same guys over and over again, but hell. He’s the best for a reason.

He wrote his No more kids? post a couple days ago, and I think it applies to this “perfect amount of death” idea quite nicely.

“What if, in some sort of sci-fi solar flare cataclysm, it was impossible for humans to have more kids? No more babies.

How would we treat the last generation? Would we say to the youngest student on Earth, “sorry the school is really run-down and crowded and poorly staffed, but we don’t want to invest in you?” Would we let the last generation grow up in poverty, or would we do everything we could to ensure that this one last time, we did it right?

To make the example a bit more banal, what if your organization discovered that it would never have another new customer? That the customers you’ve got now are the last ones you will ever have… Would you treat them differently? 

Sometimes, when it seems like there’s an endless parade of prospects walking by, it’s easy to discount this particular person.

No new prospects, no more new web visitors, no more untouched email lists… And far more dramatically, no more new students, no more chances to open doors, inspire genius or create connection.

I wonder what happens when we treat children and customers like maybe, just maybe, they’re the last chance we get to do it right.” – Seth Godin

We Can’t Forget to Live

We all have the right to spend our time any way we choose.

My way is not necessarily more right or wrong than anyone else’s. In fact, it’s a certainty my way is more wrong in many instances.

All you have to do is look around you. At all of the wasted life and opportunity.

I’m not denigrating other people’s choices. But most people aren’t happy about them. It seems to me that most people regret the way their lives turned out, at least in some respects.

But what if we were permanently mindful of the fragility of it all?

What if there were no more kids?

What if there were no new friends?

What if we all had our Countdown to Death™ watches ticking away on our wrists?

You still choosing the huge wedding over world travel?

You still choosing the mortgage over financial freedom?

You still choosing the cubicle over things that fill your soul with joy and inspiration?

The perfect amount of death will remind us to do that, I think.

To not be afraid. And to not be sad.

Just an effective daily reminder.

To kiss the girl.

To laugh more.

To dance when it sounds good.

To take the leap.

To speak up.

To run faster than the dream so you can make it your life.

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Play ‘Til the Ninth Inning

Be a closer.  Image courtesy of blog.fantasysp.com

Be a closer.
Image courtesy of blog.fantasysp.com

Two horrible things happened to me after turning 30.

I lost my job.

And I lost my family.

In both instances, the cuts were deep. I’ve never known rejection like either of those incidents.

To be sure, your wife leaving and deciding to love someone else makes you feel pretty worthless.

And generally speaking, divorce is about a million times worse than unemployment.

But this is also true: I have never felt like more of a loser than when I was laid off from my job.

The Job Hunt

The local job market wasn’t exactly clamoring for laid-off newspaper reporters.

Finding work as a reporter would have been even more difficult than what I was facing at age 30: Reinventing myself.

I did the only things I could. I made my résumé the best it could be. I tapped into my local network. And I started doing the work I wanted to do in my new professional life.

Without realizing it, I chose myself.

I caught a few breaks, and I started a freelance business creating marketing content for several companies and organizations.

But I did something more important than that.

I showed tenacity and sticktoitiveness.

A company for which I wanted to work invited me to interview for an opening in their advertising department.

But I didn’t get an offer.

The head of human resources liked me, though, and kept fighting for interviews.

One day, I showed up for one of the company’s job fairs. I met with another department head for a writing position.

But I didn’t get an offer.

I was invited to interview with a third department. Internet marketing.

It went well. But the other two had also.

No offer.

Days turned into weeks. And weeks turned into months.

I kept looking for opportunities. I was making money freelancing. And I still qualified for unemployment benefits during the weeks when I didn’t earn as much as my benefits were worth.

The clock was ticking on unemployment, though. The benefits were a couple weeks away from running dry.

Things were about to get really dicey.

One sunny afternoon, I was downtown attending a chamber of commerce luncheon to hear a speaker.

So, I didn’t get the phone call.

Back in my car, I listened to the voice mail.

It was the HR lady who liked me, asking me to call back. She had a job offer for me. For more money than I’d ever made before. She hoped I was still interested and available.

I’d never tasted victory so sweet.

I got ballsy and asked for more money anyway. (You should ALWAYS ask for more.)

And I got it. Two years worth of raises with one simple question.

Play ‘til the ninth inning.

I’m just finishing up the fantastic Austin Kleon book Show Your Work! which I mentioned yesterday. Everyone participating in the creative process should read it.

Near the end, Kleon tells an anecdote about one time he and a co-worker returned to their office building from lunch to find no parking spaces available. They circled and circled and circled the lot. Both were ready to give up, but just then a spot opened up, and they pulled in.

Kleon’s co-worker looked at him and said “You gotta play till the ninth inning, man.”

Kleon never forgot it.

And I hope I never will either.

Never Say Die

You don’t have to be a Goonie to appreciate what it means to have a never-quit attitude.

It’s impossible for me to think about this without thinking about my marriage.

I had spent a long time doing all of the wrong things.

And then my father-in-law died and everything turned to shit.

Shortly thereafter, I was in the guest room.

The guest room is an interesting place when it’s located directly below the bedroom you want to be in.

Because you stare at the ceiling. Because you hear her footsteps. Because there’s no running away from all that truth piled up on your chest while you’re trying to catch your breath.

And that’s when it started.

It was the 7th inning stretch.

I was tired. Exhausted. But I wasn’t quitting.

I cried.

I thought.

I prayed.

I read books.

I grew.

I was about to lose everything. I could feel it. But I was holding on.

The guest room is where I learned that love is a choice.

The guest room is where I learned that you have to give more than you take.

The guest room is where l became a different person. Where I turned into the kind of man that is going to play through the ninth inning.

And now I’m left with only questions. Questions that will go forever unanswered.

Now I’m back sleeping where I wanted to be. But the footsteps echoing into the guest room below are my own.

And no one is around to listen to them.

She’s gone.

Maybe she thinks about this stuff sometimes. Maybe she doesn’t.

But here’s the one thing I’m sure of.

The man she left was the best version of himself she ever knew.

And I’ll never stop believing that if she would have been willing to play just one more inning, we could have avoided everything crashing and burning.

Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore.

It probably doesn’t.

But the idea matters.

Because there are a bunch of other guys in guest rooms. On couches. Sleeping at their parents’ houses. All over the world.

Relationships in limbo.

Everyone’s hurting. Hurting so bad that quitting looks like an attractive option. Most people are going to quit. Because it’s the decision requiring the least amount of effort. The least amount of pride swallowing. The least amount of choosing love.

Everyone wants to fall in love. Few of us want to choose it when it’s inconvenient.

I have truckloads of regret over my marital missteps. But I sleep at night because of how I played toward the end of the game.

Maybe you’ll climb that mountain.

Maybe you’ll get that job.

Maybe you’ll save your family.

Or maybe you won’t.

But if you can muster up the strength and courage to play ‘til the ninth?

You’ll walk tall no matter what.

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The Vampire Test

Image courtesy of fanpop.com

Image courtesy of fanpop.com

Pablo Picasso was a vampire.

The famed artist had a talent and reputation for sucking energy from the people he spent time with, then using that energy back in his studio to paint all those famous images I don’t like (except for The Old Guitarist. That painting is rad).

I didn’t know this about Picasso. Austin Kleon taught me in his awesome new book Show Your Work! where he wrote that he learned it by reading John Richardson’s biography A Life of Picasso.

Picasso was a taker. And, wrote Kleon, most people would deal with it because they liked hanging out with a famous guy.

But one man was unwilling to tolerate Picasso’s energy-draining behavior—a sculptor named Constantin Brancusi.

“Brancusi hailed from the Carpathian Mountains, and he knew a vampire when he saw one,” Kleon wrote. “He was not going to have his energy or the fruits of his energy juiced by Picasso, so he refused to have anything to do with him.

“Brancusi practiced what I call The Vampire Test.”

But the Blood Tastes Good

Right?

It feels so good to get.

Love. Attention. Sex. Money. Help. Whatever.

We crave these things on a case-by-case basis. I had to stop reading Kleon’s book at that point. I really wanted to think about this. Because it made me nervous.

Am I a vampire?

Two things happened after my wife left:

  1. I reached out to people and latched onto friends and family members because I needed them. But then I went into a reclusive cocoon and disconnected (not permanently!) with so many of those people who were there for me during those preliminary freak-out moments.
  2. I started writing here. And used you. Because so many of you give, give, give.

You read. You care. You provide feedback.

More often than not, it’s the nicest stuff anyone has ever said to me not counting my mom and grandma who are both inexplicably kind and loving to me.

But what do I give you?

There are dozens of you who peek in on what I’m saying here. You read. You “like.” You comment.

You invest.

You give.

You give more than I give. Because I’m such a self-centered person sometimes. You need to know that I feel it. That I know it. The inequity. I know you give more to me than I give to you.

That, sometimes, my behavior amounts to me sucking your blood.

I do it for the same reasons we don’t pick up the phone enough to call our friends and family members. For the same reasons we have those conversations with people over and over again: “We should talk more! Let’s go have a drink sometime! I just get so busy! You know how it is!” And we all nod our heads, because we all do know how it is.

But it doesn’t have to be. We can choose to give more.

I’m such a wretched communicator with people, which is so stupid because I always feel better WHEN I’m connected to others.

And I always feel better when I give more than I take.

Give More Than You Take

I love this idea. I say it a lot. Usually, I’m thinking about it in the context of a marriage as I still spend every day nearly a full year later thinking about all the ways I did marriage wrong.

Give more than you take.

It applies to all of our friendships. It applies to charity. It applies to the energy we give to our families. Our employers. Our various commitments and extracurricular activities and hobbies and passions.

Give more than you take.

You want to make your relationship work with the person you love?

This idea alone can save you. But it will always take both parties.

One half of the couple can grow as an individual learning to give more than he or she takes. But that’s not enough for marriage.

If both partners can give more than they take?

Spend a lifetime out-giving one another?

That’s what the baseline ingredients for Forever look like.

Let the Right Ones In

“It’s a simple way to know who you should let in and out of your life,” Kleon wrote of The Vampire Test. “If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire.”

He continued.

“Of course, The Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.

“Vampires cannot be cured. Should you find yourself in the presence of a vampire, be like Brancusi, and banish it from your life forever.”

James Altucher practices this very same philosophy—surrounding himself with people who lift him up and make him feel loved, and distancing himself from people who do the opposite.

It has been life changing, he said.

I do not want to be a vampire in your life. And I pray that I am not.

I hope you will think about incorporating The Vampire Test, and spending more time with people and doing things that make your life better, and spending less time with people and doing things that make it worse.

Even if one of those things is me. Because you deserve happiness.

And to achieve it we must only let the right ones in.

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