He was right, it could’ve been written by anyone

This isn’t my best work. Nor is it my worst. Few will ever read it. I hope my sons will find this when I’m long gone and get a glimpse into dad’s mind. At three months old, they haven’t learned to read yet, but I’m sure they will soon!

Taken by me with a Canon Rebel SL1 — flowers from our backyard garden.

I am secretly envious of Hugh Howey, who writes novels while sailing the seven seas. For a long time I’ve been fascinated by kites and sailboats. Something in the magic of harnessing the wind. In 8th grade geometry class we built kites. Mine was the only one who had a chance of flying, but there was no wind that day. I guess I got more into it than the other students. In 10th grade I went canoeing down the Colorado river with my Boy Scout troop. My favorite part was erecting sails on our canoes to race down the river. Taylor, my canoe partner, and I erected 2 sails, because why not?

I deeply enjoy writing. It gets me out of bed in the morning. I can write when I’m exhausted. When I lie awake in the middle of the night, I write in my head. When I commute to work, I write in my head. Writing is a gift, too great to go unused.

My love for writing gives me an odd email addiction. To me, oddly, responding to email is exciting. I used to write these sweeping, visionary emails. When I re-read them I feel like they were written by someone else. This happens often. With amazement I re-read my prior work. I wrote that?!? No way.

I realized that email wasn’t the best place for that stuff. To solve this problem, I set up an internal WordPress site. I didn’t ask for permission to create my own platform. I’ve published thousands of words there. But, I failed to attract new contributors. I guess I’m the oddball, an engineer at heart who also likes writing. I’m still seeking blog contributors. Tell your story! There is always something great happening, and only a few people know about it.

At engineering school the most dreaded required course was engineering ethics. The primary reason was the multiple writing assignments. However, I now feel like the lessons learned are some of the most useful. I am grateful for choosing a teacher’s assistant who held us accountable. The final project was a massive group paper, some hundreds of words. When dividing the work over several weeks, it wasn’t so bad at all. My student group undoubtably improved writing skills by the end of the quarter, because we all put in the hard work.

In the beginning it feels like every project improves in writing quality. But, there are diminishing returns. Quick inititial growth quickly becomes slow undetectable growth. You can’t be the only source of feedback anymore. You need peer feedback to show you how to improve.

I’m proud of myself for taking a leap of faith. I sent an email to an admired writer. I asked if I could write a guest post. He said “NO, but I have this other thing you can join”. I learned in the moment the stupid secret of life: if you want something, just ask. He had a Medium publication with 15,000 followers. The plan was to have a group of content producers write content. The group would vote to select the best content each week.

The stupid secret of life: if you want something, just ask.

The group never got off the ground (yet). Hoping to inspire others, I shared the first draft. It wasn’t good enough, and it was never published. But, in return I got something incredibly valuable: honest feedback. My admired writer told me there was nothing unique about my work, nothing stand-out. He was right, it could’ve been written by anyone. There was no personal touch.

This is the entire post:

This year, choose to be proactive

When my wife is pissed off it almost always comes down to one root cause: I’m not being proactive. Ive re-learned this proactivity lesson many times the hard way. Stephen Covey’s first highly effective habit is ‘be proactive’. It’s the foundation of the next 6 habits. Proactivity affects every important aspect of life: health, wealth, love, and happiness.

The opposite of proactive is reactive. Being reactive is lazy and unfulfilling. Most people live their life reactively, going with the flow, not living intentionally. According to Adams and Anderson, in Mastering Leadership, about 70% of adults never reach creative levels of consciousness, they get stuck in reactive mental models. Reactives go around reacting to stimuli constantly, obsessively checking social media and email, never making progress towards their most important goals. The reactive person is one who waits; waiting for a signal for what to do next, never owning their own agenda.

How proactivity impacts health 

As the adage says: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. How many people wait to go the dentist until it’s too late, they already need a root canal? That’s reactive. Flossing your teeth is proactive. The proactive patient goes to the doctor annually, excercise regularly, and flosses daily. As a result, they love a longer, healthier life.

How proactivity impacts wealth

The proactive business person under promises and over delivers. He provides the product or service before the client has to ask. He does not run his business by primarily reacting to competitors. He operates by the old adage: ‘under promise, over deliver.’

Leaders must be proactive for the organization to survive. Having vision is proactive. Leaders without vision soon find they have no one to lead. Vision is crucial to prevent the business’s disruption and obsoletion.

The proactive employee takes action before the boss has to ask. This employee could even be called an entre-employee, they are so creative. They seize oppprtunities and ask for forgiveness, not permission.

How proactivity impacts love

A reactive husband only brings home flowers when his wife is upset. A proactive husband brings them on a random day just to make his wife feel good. The proactive person is considered thoughtful.

The proactive friend is the one that picks up the phone and calls that long lost friend. They don’t wait for someone to call them.

How proactivity impacts happiness

The top of Maslow’s higherarchy of human needs is “self-actualization: achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities”. I don’t think one can ever be fulfilled without embracing proactivity. Without being proactive you will be stuck in a job you hate, and a number of other incongruent circumstances that detract from you being the best that you can be. You need proactivity to turn what the universe gave you into maximum positive impact.

Personally, I constantly have to remind myself to be proactive. If my wife is pissed off, it’s because I failed to be proactive, even though she points it out as a hundred other screw ups. If I haven’t spoken to my family in weeks, I’m not being proactive to call them. Car ran out of gas? Not proactive. Forgot to pay the cable bill? Not proactive.

Just walk around your house right now, you will find a number of chores that will need to be done later. Do it now if it takes less than 5 minutes. You will thank yourself later.

I love to write on my smartphone. It seems weirdly unconventional, but I think it’s an unfair advantage. It’s advantageous to write with the same device most readers use to read. Most people read on their smartphone these days, and content looks different there. Some writers use very short paragraphs, even 1 sentence long.

I think story telling is extremely important, even for non-fiction. You wouldn’t read bulleted facts, you read for the story. This is human nature. Patrick Lencioni wrote some of the most popular business books on earth, and each one is a parable. Each is a fictional story with lessons. I’ve learned the why of story telling but I haven’t learned the how.

While writing or struggling to write, I’ve faced countless fears. Reading online at places like Medium is depressing for a writer because most of the stories are crap and you fear you are adding more crap to the pile of crap. But you have to draw inspiration from somewhere. Read good books. Read classics.


Here are a few writer’s fears I’ve experienced:

  • No one will discover my work
  • No one wants to read my work
  • My work isn’t good enough
  • My work needs more research
  • A stranger will read my work and pass judgement
  • Someone I know will read my work and pass judgment
  • I’m not a real writer
  • I have done anything notable enough to attract readers
  • I’m going to make spelling mistakes
  • I’m going to use words incorrectly
  • My sentences don’t flow well
  • What I’m writing about isn’t interesting
  • I’m wasting my time
  • The people closest to me don’t understand what I’m trying to achieve
  • I will get sued for publishing this
  • People are going to be pissed off
  • What I’m writing is too controversial
  • My friends will think I’m insane when they read this

In the end these fears don’t really matter. Almost no one will read the story. Fewer will catch your mistakes. If it’s published online you can easily publish a new revision. If it’s print someone will edit your work before sending it to the presses. Strangers cannot judge you because they don’t know who you are. If your friends pass judgment they aren’t great friends.

Caring less about what others say and think about you is a key to success. Tons of investors thought Jeff Bezos’ online bookstore was a bad idea. If he had listened, Amazon.com would just show pictures of a South American rainforest. Publishing content online helps thicken your skin. Self-awareness is critical, and so is a backbone.

Raising your hand is a great way to make new friends. People admire courage, and taking a social risk is courageous. Publishing something online is like raising your hand. You put yourself out there, you make an emotional connection. Weigh the risks, what’s the worst that can happen? You have to take down your post/video/picture.

Second guessing yourself is a way to put on the brakes. It will take much longer to reach your goals. Publishing online is one way to expand your comfort zone. Pushing through your fears allows you to reach closer to your potential. You can spend less time and energy on second guessing yourself and more on creating new work.

Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think! I’m on Twitter @torreyumland and email torrey@torreyumland.com. Follow me on WordPress or Medium. Join my mailing list if you prefer updates by email.

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