One of the biggest and earliest blogging successes, especially in the field of personal development, was uber-blogger Steve Pavlina. Today I’m thrilled to share with you my interview with Steve on a variety of topics we’re both interested in — from motivation to passion to daily routines to staying positive and more.
Steve has just published a book that I’m sure will be an instant best-seller: Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth. Give it a look — Steve’s writings on personal development never fail to be insightful and interesting.
In this interview, Steve has been very generous in sharing a pretty deep look into his personal life and philosophy. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I have!
Leo: What are the 4-5 most important things in your life — the things you love to do and are passionate about?
Steve Pavlina: Here are some of the things Iâ€™m most passionate about:
- Learning â€“ I love new experiences. Never having tried something is reason enough for me to want to dive in and experience it. Sometimes this means learning from books, blogs, audio programs, or workshops. Other times it involves personal experimentation. Usually I do a mix of both. I especially love being a total beginner in a field thatâ€™s new to me because I learn rapidly at that stage. I have a wide variety of interests, and Iâ€™m curious about everything. For example, I trained in martial arts (Tae Kwon Do and Kempo), learned to juggle, tried polyphasic sleep for 5-1/2 months, became a raw foodist, and did lots of other fascinating things.
- Connecting â€“ I love connecting with people all over the world, especially people who are very growth-oriented. I usually prefer to bypass small talk and have fun, lively, and/or deep discussions. I love talking to people until I can look in their eyes and see a part of myself looking back at me. I believe that weâ€™re all cells in the larger body of humanity and that no one is truly separate from anyone else.
- Expressing Ideas â€“ I love creatively expressing ideas through writing, blogging, speaking, podcasting, and more. The specific media I use isnâ€™t important. I just enjoy the artistry of turning intangible ideas into some form of tangible expression. To me this feels like Iâ€™m sharing a piece of myself with the world.
- Helping People Grow â€“ I love when I can help someone achieve a new â€œahaâ€ breakthrough in their level of awareness. Perhaps the most frequent is when someone tells me one of my articles helped them quit an unfulfilling job to courageously pursue a more fulfilling career. Itâ€™s so wonderful to know that the work Iâ€™m doing is making a real difference in peopleâ€™s lives and that Iâ€™m not just writing for myself alone. When I first started blogging, I didnâ€™t expect that the feedback I received would affect me so deeply, but it really gets to me on an emotional level. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to make the world a little bit better.
- Being Courageous â€“ I love doing things that scare me. Iâ€™m not talking about physical risks like crocodile wrestling. Iâ€™m referring to the much more pervasive challenge of accepting myself as I am and expressing myself fully. In kindergarten I was the shy kid who played by himself in the sandbox, and I could never look people in the eye when I talked to them. At a young age, I learned that it wasnâ€™t safe for me to express myself. I grew up with a lot of sadness and repressed anger. Later I realized that Iâ€™d die with many regrets if I allowed fear to dictate what I would and wouldnâ€™t do. So I made a commitment to live by the mantra, â€œWhatever I fear, I must face.â€ If I feel trepidatious about something, I interpret my fear as a flashing green arrow pointing toward a new growth experience. Iâ€™ve learned that whenever I turn and face my fears, they gradually dissolve, and with each fear that is overcome, I feel a little more present and alive. So I make a deliberate habit of identifying things that make me feel anxious or fearful, and then I push myself to go out and do them. Iâ€™ve come a long way since that shy kindergartener, but there is always more healing to be done.
Leo: As a high-profile blogger, you have not only a lot of fans but also a lot of critics. How do you remain positive and motivated in the face of criticism and negative attacks?
Steve: It depends on the nature of the criticism. If the criticism doesnâ€™t have any real substance to it, like if someone says, â€œYouâ€™re a freakâ€ or â€œI hate you,â€ it really has no effect on me. I just hit the delete key and move on. Sometimes Iâ€™ll visualize sending â€œlove energyâ€ to the person. I donâ€™t hold anything against such people. I simply conclude they arenâ€™t a match for my message.
Sometimes when Iâ€™m in a silly mood, Iâ€™ll offer up a light-hearted response. For example, if I receive a long-winded, Bible-quoting email explaining why Iâ€™m going to hell for writing an article on psychic development, I might reply, â€œMy wife is a psychic medium, and she says Iâ€™m definitely not going to hell. Do you claim to be more psychic than she is?â€ When I receive criticism thatâ€™s wholly incongruent with my personal experience, I simply donâ€™t take it seriously. I just accept that the critic and I are presently incompatible in a certain area and let it go. Itâ€™s like if someone calls you an idiot, and you know youâ€™re very intelligent, their words are just going to bounce off of you. At best you may give them an eye roll, but youâ€™re certainly not going to lose any sleep over it.
On the other hand, if the critical feedback has an emotional impact on me, like if I start feeling angry or defensive, then I know itâ€™s likely that the criticism has an element of truth to it. When that happens, Iâ€™ll usually take some time to turn within and explore my reaction. My favorite method is to write about it in my journal. I might also discuss it with someone to get a more objective opinion. Why am I having this emotional reaction? Is there any validity to the criticism? Is this an opportunity for me to grow? What can I learn from this? How can I improve? Sometimes it takes me a long time and multiple exposures to a similar criticism before I can see the truth of it. We all have our blind spots.
There have been many times when I received criticism that got to me. Sometimes it was just an isolated email from a single person. I worked to discover the truth of my reaction and had an epiphany. Although this isnâ€™t easy, especially when everything is happening in public, itâ€™s been very helpful for me over the years. I think itâ€™s helped me to become more authentic and connected in my writing. Iâ€™ve learned to communicate more from my heart and not be so stuck in my head all the time. Iâ€™ve learned the importance of sharing my failure stories and not just my successes. Some of my biggest breakthroughs have come from consciously processing criticism that got to me.
When I receive criticism, I try to interpret it as a message of caring. If people criticize me, it means they care about me; otherwise they wouldnâ€™t bother communicating with me at all. The critics want me to succeed. Itâ€™s no secret that Iâ€™m in a position to influence a lot of people on daily basis. That isnâ€™t going to end anytime soon; in fact, my influence will likely continue to expand. So a lot of people want to ensure that Iâ€™m delivering the best messages I can. If I screw up, I have the potential to do more harm than good. I know that.
I feel very responsible to the people I serve, so I think itâ€™s a good idea to make sure I consider the opinions of people who disagree with me. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s wise for me to summarily tune them out and assume that I can do no wrong.
Itâ€™s not easy being a public figure, even if itâ€™s mostly online, but the benefit is that this path can accelerate oneâ€™s growth tremendously. Perhaps the most important lesson Iâ€™ve learned from critical feedback is that itâ€™s okay for me to screw up, learn from it, and keep going. It just means Iâ€™m human. I can do no better than my best. I discovered that I can help more people when I shun the guru label, forget about trying to be perfect, and just be a caring friend and guide to my readers. When I keep myself in that state, I know Iâ€™m on the right path, and even if I get critical feedback, it doesnâ€™t get to me. But when I slip away from being authentic and lose my sense of connectedness, thatâ€™s when criticism begins to affect me and helps to bring me back to my heart.
When it comes to criticism, my goal isnâ€™t to remain upbeat and positive all the time. Itâ€™s more important for me to stay authentic, connected, and caring. Sometimes that requires allowing critical feedback to affect me, so I can process it and learn from it. If I disregard negative feedback by trying to pump myself back up again without honoring my true feelings, I miss out on important growth lessons, and my readers miss out as well.
Leo: Many people would like to make positive changes in their lives, but feel overwhelmed and don’t know where or how to start. What would you recommend as a first step or two towards a series of positive life changes?
Steve: I wrote a whole article in answer to that question in 2006 called â€œWhere to Begin Your Path of Personal Growth.â€ That article outlines several practical approaches for getting started.
Usually I suggest that you begin with your physical body. The main reason is that you can start taking action in this area immediately. Make your next meal a very healthy one. Make a point of exercising today. If you install and maintain good health habits, this will benefit you in all other areas of your life too. Youâ€™ll have more energy and vitality to make bigger changes. The very first day you eat healthier food and exercise, youâ€™ll notice an immediate positive shift in your mood and motivation.
Whenever I feel like my life is getting out of control, I return to my body. How can I improve my diet? How can I improve my exercise habits? This is an easy area to identify specific changes I can start making right away.
Even if I found myself broke and homeless, Iâ€™d make it a top priority to maintain my physical health. Iâ€™d seek out the healthiest food I could afford, and Iâ€™d make a point of exercising daily. This would keep me feeling good emotionally and physically, so Iâ€™d have the energy to tackle other areas of life like my finances.
As you improve your health, itâ€™s important not to compare yourself to other people. Tune in to your feelings to determine whether or not youâ€™re living up to your potential, and donâ€™t worry about whoâ€™s supposedly ahead of you or behind you.
Leo: You must get a lot of emails and phone calls and other communication — how do you keep from being overwhelmed? What’s your system for staying on top of things without having to do email or communicate all the time?
Steve: One thing that helped me a lot was creating several email reply templates. I use MS-Outlook for email, and I have a few different signatures I use to reply to most emails. This works well and saves me a lot of time because the vast majority of my incoming email falls into a handful of patterns such as feedback, advice questions, business offers, etc.
The most common form of email I receive is positive feedback. For that I respond with a simple thank-you template. If I have time, I may personalize the response a little. Most people seem to appreciate an acknowledgement that I actually read their email, so when someone takes the time to give me detailed feedback, at the very least I like to reply with a basic thank you.
The second most common form of email I receive is a request for personal advice. People share a problem with me and ask for help in solving it. I love to help out when I can, so sometimes Iâ€™ll set aside time to reply to these kinds of emails. If I can provide a meaningful answer in a sentence or two, such as by referring the person to a relevant article or podcast, Iâ€™ll often do that. But if it would require a great deal of thought and/or typing, or if Iâ€™m short on time, Iâ€™ll reply with a template that refers people to the discussion forums. This works well because people can still get good answers to their questions. I donâ€™t feel bad when I canâ€™t offer personal advice because our online community is very helpful and supportive, and we have an awesome group of moderators. A lot of people that I refer to the forums actually do follow through and post their questions, and they often get 20 or more replies, especially if theyâ€™re faced with a tough decision. So I really have to thank our forum community for pitching in to help so many people. Itâ€™s amazing what a difference it can make in peopleâ€™s lives just to know that there are other people who care.
The third most common form of email I receive is a direct request. Thereâ€™s a lot of variation here, but the general pattern is that the person wants me to take some kind of action, like requesting reprint permission for an article, inviting me to lunch, asking me to review their book on my blog, etc. Since I receive far more requests than I can possibly accept, I have to decline most of them. For that I use a basic â€œreject offerâ€ template. Itâ€™s just a few sentences explaining that I appreciate the offer but that I donâ€™t have the capacity to give it fair consideration. The final words in that template are â€œHope you understand.â€ These are the toughest emails to process because I often have to make snap judgments. If I were to follow up on every request I receive in order to make a fair assessment, Iâ€™d probably have to devote 20 hours a week to this activity alone. So I have to trust my intuition as much as possible. When I reject such requests, I want to be as polite as possible, but I also canâ€™t afford to get into a long-winded explanation of specifically why I wonâ€™t pursue the offer. If I provide specific reasons, then too often that leads to a cycle of time-consuming follow-up emails as the other person attempts to counter my objections. So in most cases I have to reply with a firm but non-specific no, even if I donâ€™t fully understand the details of the offer. If Iâ€™ve said no to an offer and the person follows up to try to persuade me otherwise, I normally decline to reply. I simply canâ€™t take the time to pursue any opportunities except those that give me a strong positive intuitive hit. Fortunately, this approach has worked very well for me.
Probably 80-90% of my email can be handled with just these three templates. So I donâ€™t need a monstrous list of templates to keep my email load reasonable. When Iâ€™m pressed for time, I can generally process my daily email in 15-30 minutes. If I have more time to spend on it, I may do so, but itâ€™s nice knowing that I donâ€™t have to.
Worst case, when I get overwhelmed, I just skim the incoming emails and donâ€™t reply unless I feel itâ€™s essential to do so.
Whenever I process my email, I ALWAYS empty my inbox completely. I never let anything sit in my inbox. If I donâ€™t have time to reply to an email that requires a detailed response, Iâ€™ll move it to an email folder labeled @Incubate. Every few days I empty that incubation folder, either by responding, by accepting that Iâ€™m not going to be able to respond, or by adding an item to my to-do list to follow up when I have time to do so (usually with a deadline).
I donâ€™t use an assistant, but the process Iâ€™ve created makes it reasonable for me to handle everything myself, at least for now. If I donâ€™t have time to give everyone a personal reply, thatâ€™s just something I have to accept. Itâ€™s one of the consequences of having a high-traffic website.
Leo: What’s your daily routine like?
Steve: My usual routine starts with getting up at 5 a.m. I shave and then head to the gym to exercise. When Iâ€™m doing weight training, Iâ€™ll usually eat a piece of fruit like an apple or a banana in the car (to keep my blood sugar up), but I normally donâ€™t eat when Iâ€™m doing cardio workouts. Once every week or two, I play disc golf with friends at one of the public courses in Vegas instead of going to the gym.
After exercising I return home, shower, and get dressed, and Erin heads off to the gym when I get back. We share a single car, which usually works fine since we both work from home. I supervise our kids, Emily (8) and Kyle (5), who normally get dressed and make breakfast on their own. Often I get a head start on my work during this time (between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.) by doing some writing or processing communication. Erin returns home from the gym, showers, and gets dressed.
Around 8:30 a.m., Erin takes the kids to school (our son is in kindergarten, and our daughter is in third grade), and I make my breakfast. A typical breakfast for me is a one-liter green smoothie (4 bananas, 3 oz spinach, 1 cup water or ice, and maybe some maca, cacao, goji berries, and/or mesquite powder in a blender). It takes just a few minutes to make.
I take my smoothie to my home office and sip it while I work. Erin gets home around that time, eats breakfast, and heads to her home office to get started on her work. She often does her first client call at 10 a.m.
In the morning I start working down my to-do list. Lately Iâ€™ve been checking my email more frequently throughout the day because I get a lot of emails from my book publisher, and I want to give those a fast turnaround. But this is an unusual situation because weâ€™re in the midst of my book launch. Normally I can get by with checking email only once or twice a day.
The nature of my work varies from day to day. I may write new articles, work on a speech, tweak my website, process communication, record a podcast, write a newsletter, participate in the discussion forums, or just explore my own growth. Many days I donâ€™t do what most people would consider work. For example, I might spend a day reading, connecting with online friends, listening to an audio program, and then watching an educational DVD. That could be a whole workday for me. I receive tons of free info products in the mail, so I always have a large volume of material to explore. In an average week, I probably spend 30-40% of my â€œworkingâ€ hours soaking up new input (i.e. learning and discussing rather than doing). That may sound like a lot, but it works for me. Itâ€™s one reason that in four years of active blogging, including writing a book, Iâ€™ve never experienced writerâ€™s block. Writerâ€™s diarrhea would be more accurate. ïŠ
I used to meditate each morning, but I rarely do that now. After switching my diet to 100% raw, I feel so mentally clear that meditating doesnâ€™t do much for me anymore. Sometimes it feels like a step backward.
As a late morning snack, Iâ€™ll typically eat some raw nuts or some fresh fruit. For lunch I often start with a quart of fresh-squeezed green juice. A typical blend would include carrots, celery, cucumber, kale, parsley, dandelion greens, fennel, ginger, and lime. When I want it sweeter, Iâ€™ll include an apple and/or beet. Eventually Iâ€™ll make juices with fewer ingredients, but for now I like making concoctions with a variety of greens. After drinking the juice, Iâ€™ll wait about 20 minutes and then eat something solid like a salad or some fresh fruit.
Usually I prefer to do mentally challenging work (like writing) in the morning and lighter work (like communication or inbox processing) in the afternoon. But this is another habit that has shifted along with my dietary change. I dislike excessive routine, so I like to mix things up now that I donâ€™t have to worry so much about managing my alertness levels.
In the late afternoon, I pick up the kids from school. The exact time varies between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. They both participate in an after-school program (and they seem to enjoy it), so I have the flexibility to pick them up any time between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. The round trip is only 10 minutes.
Sometimes Iâ€™ll return to my office and keep working while my kids do their homework. I usually try to have dinner around 7 or 8 p.m., but I donâ€™t always succeed. For dinner I usually have a big salad followed by another green smoothie. I eat a lot of greens every day.
After dinner I try to shift out of work mode and into personal life mode. Thatâ€™s often hard for me because the line between my work life and personal life is pretty thin, and my work is so enjoyable that itâ€™s easy to get addicted to it.
How I spend my evenings varies. Some nights I have a Toastmasters meeting. Other nights Iâ€™ll spend time with Erin or take a dip in the Jacuzzi. Sometimes Iâ€™ll read a book or watch a movie. Other times Iâ€™ll go out and do something fun. And other times I may take a long walk or run some errands.
I usually get to bed around 10 or 10:30 p.m. and fall asleep within minutes. Sometimes Iâ€™ll listen to a guided meditation session first, but I donâ€™t do that as often as I used to, another casualty of my dietary shift.
Erin and I donâ€™t have to do much home maintenance because we have a housekeeper, gardener, and a pool guy. In addition to keeping the house really clean, our housekeeper does our dishes and laundry, takes out the trash, and organizes the kidsâ€™ rooms. Sheâ€™s awesome. Before we hired her, our home was constantly dirty because neither Erin nor I could justify spending time on housework. But now our home becomes more organized every week, including the garage. I love when I go out to run errands and return to find my office cleaner than when I left it. I was initially resistant about hiring people to help us because my parents were always do-it-yourselfers, but Iâ€™m glad I made the leap. Obviously itâ€™s a better use of my time to be writing new articles that will help thousands of people instead of doing my laundry and helping only myself. Same goes for Erin.
On weekends I normally do little or no work, so I can spend time with my family and do more growth exploration like trying new raw food recipes. We often go out to breakfast on Saturday or Sunday. This month was unusual because the past two weekends I went to conferences (Raw Spirit Festival in Sedona and Blog World Expo in Vegas). The weekend after next Iâ€™ll be speaking in Tampa at the I Can Do It! conference. I imagine Iâ€™ll end up traveling a lot more next year, since my book will likely open the door to more speaking engagements.
I used to be really anal about maintaining a tight daily routine, but now I donâ€™t worry about how Iâ€™m spending every minute. Today itâ€™s more important that I get the big picture elements right. Consequently, I rely on my intuition more than my left-brain these days. My circumstances change too rapidly, so I no longer have time to make key decisions analytically. Thereâ€™s too much new input coming into my life every day, and itâ€™s way too much to attempt to analyze. So I have to trust my intuition when making decisions, or Iâ€™d never be able to get anything done. Fortunately Iâ€™ve found that my intuition works incredibly well. Itâ€™s when I donâ€™t trust it that I run into trouble.
Leo: How do you stay motivated? Are there times when your motivation drops, and in those cases, how do you keep from quitting?
Steve: Iâ€™ve noticed an interesting pattern where my focus seems to shift between two primary activities: (1) helping people grow, and (2) working on my own growth. I rarely experience sustained balance between the two â€“ normally my focus is heavily slanted toward one side or the other.
When I focus intently on helping people grow such as by doing a lot of blogging or communicating, eventually I start feeling a little burned out. At that point I know itâ€™s time to shift to working on my own growth for a while. I have to drop out of teacher mode and enter student mode. I pull back from working so much, and I draw my energy inward. I pick a topic that interests me, and I start reading about it and exploring it. Maybe Iâ€™ll go to a seminar or workshop. Maybe Iâ€™ll join an online community and start connecting with new people. Maybe Iâ€™ll buy several new books on the subject and read them all in a week.
Pretty soon I feel the urge â€“ a sense of inner pressure â€“ to shift from student mode back to teacher mode. I feel the desire to share what Iâ€™m learning with others. By expressing my lessons in some tangible form, I take my learning to a new level, and I also create value for others. This is the basic strategy behind my work. I go out and have interesting learning experiences, and then I turn around and share what I learn with others.
Sometimes these modes can last for a day or two. Other times theyâ€™ll last for weeks.
Thereâ€™s no sharp division between learning and teaching. At any given time, I experience a blend of both modes, but one mode is usually felt more strongly than the other.
Presently I can see that Iâ€™m in the flow of shifting from student mode back to teacher mode. For the past several weeks, Iâ€™ve been doing a lot of learning, including going to two conferences in the last two weekends. Now Iâ€™m going through an expansion period where I feel ready to do a lot more sharing and connecting with people.
I like to think of learning and growing as my in-breath and blogging and teaching as my out-breath. I constantly cycle back and forth.
I should add that thereâ€™s a third mode where I just need some rest and downtime, but that doesnâ€™t usually last too long, maybe a day or two at most. If I spend too long in this state, I feel pressure from both sides. Itâ€™s like Iâ€™ve stopped breathing altogether. For instance, I like traveling when it means Iâ€™ll have a learning and growth experience, and I also like traveling when I get to reach out and help other people grow, but I dislike going on vacation just to be passively entertained. I canâ€™t seem to take a vacation focused on pure downtime and relaxation without becoming very impatient.
Iâ€™ve learned to trust the flow between student and teacher modes. The worst thing I can do is push myself to keep writing when I feel drawn to study something new. Equally bad is to hold myself back from expressing ideas when I feel motivated to share.
When I honor the flow of these different modes, I usually feel driven to action. Sometimes that means Iâ€™m mainly motivated to teach; other times it means Iâ€™m mainly motivated to learn. Neither mode is better than the other. They actually complement each other wonderfully.
When I start feeling de-motivated, thatâ€™s my signal that itâ€™s time to switch gears. If I resist that signal or try to push thought it, it only makes me feel lazy and uninspired. Itâ€™s like trying to exhale or inhale beyond the point of discomfort. But when I honor this signal, I feel a fresh injection of excitement and energy.
Leo: You have a book coming out that explores human growth, you’re an A-list blogger, and you’re pretty much the definition of a success story. What was the turning point in your life that started you on the road to success, and what key thing did you learn at that point that changed your life?
The way I see it, success isnâ€™t about money or reputation or possessions or anything like that. Success is a decision. Thatâ€™s all. Success is deciding what you really, truly want and committing yourself to getting it. If youâ€™re making progress toward your desires, youâ€™re successful.
Most people never get clear about what they want. Even if they set goals, the goals are often socially conditioned, not consciously chosen. Obviously youâ€™re not going to succeed if you donâ€™t listen to and accept your own desires, especially the desires that run afoul of social conventions. So not connecting with your true desires is mistake #1.
The second mistake is when people hold the mindset that they can achieve only the first half of this process, but the second half is beyond their direct control. They may identify what they want, but then they â€œhopeâ€ theyâ€™ll achieve it. Meanwhile, any halfway logical person can predict itâ€™s never going to happen because thereâ€™s no motion or momentum in the right direction. An example is the guy who says heâ€™s going to start his own business, but he keeps going to work at an unfulfilling job. Weeks pass, and there are no visible signs of progress. If there are no visible signs of progress, itâ€™s fair to say that no progress is being made.
In order to succeed in life, you have to make two decisions. First, you must decide what you really want. You have to get in touch with your truest, deepest desires, reaching the point where youâ€™re able to tune out anyone who would reject you for wanting what you want. Desire must be all the reason you need. Secondly, you must decide that you and you alone will make it happen no matter what.
The second decision is critically important, but itâ€™s one that a lot of people miss. Itâ€™s not enough just to set a goal. You have to actually decide that youâ€™re going to be the one to create it â€“ yes, you personally.
One of the major turning points in my life occurred when I finally grasped these two elements of success. It was late 1998, and Iâ€™d been running my computer games business for several years. Iâ€™d taken $20K cash and turned it into $150K in a little over four years. Not bad, eh? The only problem was that it was $150K of debt. Whoops.
I thought I knew what I wanted, but I was wrong. I used to visualize my new game on the shelves of the local software store. I imagined that it would be a hit and get great reviews. That didnâ€™t work at all. The truth was I didnâ€™t really care about any of those things, not really. Those were the goals society said that someone in my position should want, but they didnâ€™t represent what I truly wanted. What I really wanted was to create something fresh and new that people would enjoy. I just wanted to express my creativity and share it with people. I didnâ€™t care how well the game sold, whether it was on the shelves in a nice box, or what the game reviewers thought about it. So the first step was that I had to rid myself of all the false desires and get in touch with my true feelings.
My second problem is that I was looking to some external entity to give me what I wanted. Specifically I was looking for a publisher to provide the funding and support I thought I needed to make a decent game and get it released to the public. I assumed that was just how that games business worked. Everyone else seemed to be doing it that way. But every deal I attempted kept falling apart. That was incredibly frustrating.
Eventually I realized that by looking to someone else to give me what I wanted, I was denying responsibility for creating it myself. I thought I was committed, but I really wasnâ€™t. I was using third parties as an excuse to hold back. That way I didnâ€™t really have to put myself on the line 100%.
So I stopped looking to publishers to give me what I wanted, and I declined to renew my contract with the agent who was lining up those deals. I had a major epiphany and said to myself, â€œIâ€™m just going to make a game. I donâ€™t care if it sells. Iâ€™m just going to create something new and unique. Screw everything else. If I go broke doing this, so be it. But Iâ€™m going to finish this one game no matter what.â€
I had virtually no income at the time, and shortly after making this commitment, Erin and I got kicked out of our apartment because we fell behind in our rent. I had to do C++ tutoring on the side while Erin did some web consulting. Weâ€™d often end each month with less than $100 total. We cut our expenses to the bone and lived very frugally. We barely scraped by, but somehow we managed.
By taking total 100% responsibility for the outcome, I was able to create a game I was proud of within six months. The gameâ€™s budget was nearly zero. A local musician agreed to compose the game music in exchange for credit, and an artist worked for royalties only. I handled the design, programming, and sound effects. Fortunately I designed the game so it didnâ€™t require a lot of assets. I released the game as shareware and started selling it online in 1999. It sold well and eventually led to a financial turnaround, and my game business finally became profitable. But during the time I was developing that game, I still had to declare bankruptcy because my creditors were unwilling to wait. Almost of all my debt was from unsecured credit cards, and none of those companies cared that I was on a path that might turn things around. I was just a number to them.
Because I assumed total responsibility for completing that game, it didnâ€™t matter that I had no money, few resources, and a mountain of debt. I focused all my energy on my goal, a goal that I truly desired. I stopped making excuses. I finally understood the difference between wanting success and choosing success. Wanting it wasnâ€™t enough. If I only wanted to succeed, Iâ€™d have failed.
That was a very powerful lesson for me. Financially it may have been a low point, but creatively it was a high point. I applied this same strategy when I started blogging in October 2004. I was brand new to blogging and didnâ€™t know how I could turn a blog into a successful business. But I just decided that I was going to succeed. I got in touch with my true desires and did my best to shed the false ones. I just wanted to create a website that would help people grow and that would help support my own path of growth. That was the seed of my true desire, so thatâ€™s what I focused on.
I donâ€™t look to the world to tell me what I can do. I donâ€™t ask permission. I just decide what I want, and I commit myself to making it happen. I donâ€™t wait for a clear path to appear in front of me. I just start moving forward, and I create a path as I go along. I had to learn all of this the hard way.
The irony is that people will offer to help you when they can see that youâ€™re 100% committed, when they can see that youâ€™re going to succeed whether they help you or not. But theyâ€™ll often decline to help you when you seem too needy and uncertain.
Iâ€™ve experienced this from the other side too. When people ask me for help, and I can see they arenâ€™t fully 100% committed to succeeding with or without my help, I have to turn them down. Itâ€™s not a good investment of my time and energy to assist the uncommitted. But when I can see that the other person is eventually going to find a way to succeed whether I help out or not, thatâ€™s when Iâ€™m inclined to offer assistance. I know my efforts will likely do some good and wonâ€™t be wasted.
Because Iâ€™m committed to my path, people are always offering to help me. Seriously, I receive a ridiculous amount of help in any new endeavor I undertake.
For example, when I began experimenting with the raw food diet in January of this year, lots of raw foodists emailed me with advice, suggested recipes, free coaching, video links, ebooks theyâ€™d written, and more. I learned so much from them, and thanks to their help, I was eventually able to transition to a 100% raw diet â€“ not an easy accomplishment for most people. I know that if Iâ€™d been too non-committal, I wouldnâ€™t have received nearly as much help. People helped me partly because they could see that I had a good chance of succeeding even without their help. They knew that if they helped me, theyâ€™d be contributing to my results and not likely wasting their time. They also knew that if they succeeding in helping me, I could turn around and share what I learned with thousands of other people. So because of my long-term commitment to personal growth, Iâ€™ve actually put myself in a good position for receiving help. This makes it a lot harder for me to fail, even when I attempt something new.
Leo: Finally, if you become a best-selling author, will you still talk to us? :)
Steve: What do you mean if??? Donâ€™t you mean when??? I donâ€™t know if I can continue to associate with you, Leo. I mean â€“ câ€™mon. I gotta maintain some standards here. What would people think if I was caught conversing with those crazy bloggers and their deluded followers? Iâ€™d be ostracized from the celebrity dome. After all, money and fame is what itâ€™s all about. You gotta do whatever it takes to get ahead, right? ;)
Seriously though, itâ€™s hard to predict how my life will change as book sales increase. Obviously my blog provides a lot of leverage for promoting the book, and Iâ€™m immensely grateful for the outpouring of support from fellow bloggers in helping to get the word out. I have to expect that my incoming communication volume will continue to increase (itâ€™s been increasing ever since I started blogging), so eventually Iâ€™ll need a more scalable method for handling that. At some point Iâ€™ll likely hire an assistant to help me.
I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll ever want to turn my back on direct communication with the community I aim to serve though. I enjoy connecting with people too much, and I donâ€™t like the idea of isolating myself or limiting myself to communicating only with certain types of people. Direct interaction has been crucial to my success as a blogger, and I donâ€™t see it being any less important as an author. If I disconnect from the people in this wonderful online personal development community, my work will surely suffer. That wouldnâ€™t feel right to me at all.
My intuition tells me that the future will provide opportunities to connect even more, not less. I may need to shift to different forms of communication to handle the increased volume, but that neednâ€™t create a problem of disconnection. Anyone who wants to connect with anyone else can do so simply by tapping into the connection that already exists between us. The truth is that weâ€™re all one. I really believe that. Read Chapter 4 of my book if you have any doubt. ;)
Leo: Thanks, Steve, for the wonderful interview and for so generously sharing with our readers! Check out more from Steve at his blog or buy his new book, Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth.