This issue’s guest is Todd Henry.
Todd is known as author of 4 books, speaker and host of his own podcast, ‘The Accidental Creative’.
YBKBS: However, I came across him with his third book, ‘Die Empty’. To me it was a gift that was handed to me at exactly the right time and put me on the path that I am right now. A relative, exactly the same age as me, 39 years old, suddenly passed away without warning. It hit me and the family very hard and it was in that book that I found words of inspiration, comfort and a sign post to what I should do next.
So Todd, please tell us the story behind writing the book, ‘Die Empty’.
Todd: So my first book was called The Accidental Creative and it was really about sort of organising your world so that you can have better ideas more consistently. I spend a lot of my time working with creative professionals and helping them be better at what they do.
And then I realised there are significant number of people that I was working with who were very organised and they were getting a lot done but they sort of felt like they weren’t necessarily doing the right things. They were making a lot of progress but maybe in the wrong direction and so I just really thought you know there needs to be a book.
That’s not just about getting a lot done but making sure that you’re putting the work that’s inside of you and that maybe gets pushed to the bottom in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life.
We live in an age where we have endless opportunity. And in this opportunity we can interact with people, to engage, to reach people that we never could have imagined reaching 10 years ago. And with that endless opportunity, sometimes we end up chasing things that are expedient things that make sense, but aren’t necessarily reflective of our deeper passions and callings in our life. And so I really wanted to write a book that helped people identify some of those deeper passions and callings and help them put them out in the world in the way that they could be of benefit to other people. The whole story about ‘Die Empty’ actually came out of a meeting. I guess it was about 16 years ago now and we were in the middle of a project that was a pretty big, substantial and a risky project. The person leading the meeting sensed that some of us in the room were a little bit nervous…maybe about this thing that we were doing and out of the blue, he just said, “What do you think is the most valuable land in the world?”
We threw out a bunch of guesses like oil fields of the Middle East; your gold mines in South Africa, places in Manhattan, and then the person leading the meeting said, “You’re all wrong…” and then quoting the late Myles Munroe, said, “…I believe the most valuable land of the world is the graveyard. Because in the graveyard there are buried all of unwritten novels, all of the unexecuted ideas, all of the unreconciled relationships, all of the things that people carried with them their entire life and they said, “Yeah someday I’m going to get around to that…someday.”
They thought, “I’m actually going to act on that idea…” and they pushed it and pushed it into the future to one day. They reach the book end of their life and all of that value is buried with them dead in the ground because they didn’t make an effort on the daily basis to put it out into the world, where it can be of use to others.”
It’s why it’s the most valuable in the world because all of that value is buried with them and that struck me in a really profound way. I went back to my office and I wrote ‘Die Empty’ on my wall of my office, and it really became the defining ethic of my life for a number of years and then 10 years later who would have known I would get to write a book that sort of had that as the central theme but you know?
I think really if we just embrace this ethic of listen to the gifts that are inside of you…the ideas that you have… the things that are being called out of you…which by the way, “What calling is our calling?” I believe it’s something being called out of us in response to our environment. So whatever that is, it’s not for you. Your body of work is not for you. It’s for other people.
You know, your body of work isn’t about, “Look how great I am.” It’s in service of other people and we need everyone to be faithful to what’s being called out of them. And so that was sort of the essence of the book ‘Die Empty’ is. Are you really putting the stuff into the world that’s inside of you or are you allowing the forces of mediocrity to cause you to settle in prematurely and to optimise prematurely?
YBKBS: I just I love the whole premise is that some of the best ideas, possibly the world has never seen and I mean never seen, are in graveyards. It’s one of those things that when I talk to clients about, asking them what’s stopping you from doing this or what stopping you from doing that? Look nobody ever lies on their deathbed saying “I wish I hadn’t”, they are all in their deathbed and saying “I wish I had…”
If you live with an element of urgency in your own life and in your business, it’s amazing what can happen isn’t it?
Todd: It absolutely is. It changes the way that you frame up your days and by the way, to be really clear that when we talk about this concept of ‘die empty’, I’m not talking about collapsing over the ‘Finish Line’ every day completely spent; this is not leave it all on the field talk. I mean that’s just not you now…there has to be a portfolio in your life.
And also when I talk about this, I’m not talking about your work or business. The biggest part of their body of work is going to be their family. It’s going to be a social initiative that they’re involved in financially or in terms of their time and their energy. It’s going to be something other than their job now. Their job is important because our jobs are where we spend a huge chunk of our lives. And so how you approach your work. Your job is significant because it speaks a lot about who you are and what you value. How you bring yourself to your job, especially when you don’t really like your job and how you bring yourself to your job matters a whole lot because your body of work isn’t just what you do.
It’s also how you do it. It’s how you approach it. But for many people I think it’s important o recognise that your body of work is comprised of every place in your life where you add value or didn’t previously exist.
So with your family how you build into your children or how you build into your spouse or to your loved one that is significant. It is work to choose to build into someone instead of tearing them down. It is work to do that because all of our instincts want to say “I’m going to take what’s mine.”
All of our instincts want us to have transactional relationships. So we have to choose willingly to add value in areas of our life where we want to claim value at the end of our lives. We’re going to be remembered for what we gave not what we took right?
Nobody’s going to say “Boy that person was a great consumer…”
They’re going to remember us for the value that we contributed to the people around us. The way we built into other people and their opinions. People I believe firmly to the core of my being there are people that none of us have ever, ever, ever, ever heard of who have built the most magnificent bodies of work because of the way they approach their life and they did not die a rich person.
They didn’t die with their name on the building.
They didn’t die with a social movement named after them.
They didn’t but they loved their neighbourhood.
Todd: They were great citizens. They built into their children their children are contributing citizens. They love their spouse or their loved one and they died knowing that they have spent themselves in the meaningful way and there are people whose names all of us can recite, you know off the top of our head who are very well known who has done a lot of really impressive things to the outside world, but have left a wake of destruction in their path and their body of work is a little pile of dirt compared to the body of work that this other person, we’ve never heard of has built because they were faithful to what was being called out of them.
It was about what they gave not about what they took and so I think for all of us listening we just have to ask what is being called out of me and how can I be faithful to that today?
How can I build a little Delta today that’s going to make a difference and that little Delta over time. It’s going to add up into something substantial. Gretchen Rubin said, “What you do everyday, matters more than what you do once in a while.”
And I think that’s a great observation. It’s the little things we do every day that ultimately build our body of work not those big acts of the will that we occasionally engage in.
YBKBS: It’s a really interesting point because recently I’ve noticed on social media that there seems to be a lot of people that are promoting themselves as a personality. For doing nothing. They’ve become the type of people that will ask ‘what time do you go to the toilet?’ or ‘what do you prefer tea or coffee?’ and they confuse the social media fame with actual engagement, giving value and leaving value every single day. Do you agree?
Todd: Oh, I completely agree. I mean there was a time when being a celebrity meant you’re being celebrated for something you did. I thought about it before he died… Neil Armstrong lived not far down the road from us where we live.
And you know, I just remember I would see him on occasion. I would see him, in the most odd places like a grocery store around the neighbourhood or something. I’d be like that was the first man on the moon, like rightly famous…
YBKBS: I’m guessing he was quiet unassuming? If you didn’t know who it was, you would never know who it was?
Todd: Yeah, but the thing is, I feel like we’re missing the point. We’ve come to believe that being known is the point, rather than being known for something.
What is the thing that you are doing?
What do you known for?
What is the value you’re producing?
How are you contributing to society?
And let’s face it, you know almost all of the people that we consider, quote, unquote social media famous today are all going to be forgotten in three years. Or five years and there’s really nothing in their wake now.
But what are we teaching our children about what it means to be a contributing citizen?
What are we teaching our children about what it means to be successful in our culture? I am personally far more content doing my work every single day, producing value every single day, knowing that hearing from you Marc that a book I wrote…I mean, I actually wrote it in like 2011 or 2012 had a profound impact on you. Those kinds of stories are just incredibly moving to me because that’s the entire reason like I was writing that book, and how that would impact your life.
People asking wether you like tea or coffee is like going up to Stephen King and asking what software he uses to write his books? What kind of pen do you use when you write?
As if it’s about the tool or as if it’s about this thing where there’s been this sort of whole thing about morning routines and this whole thing about like how you spend your day. And really the most important thing is are you putting your butt in the seat and doing the work every day, you know, are you committing yourself to sitting down and doing the work when it’s hard? When it’s raining outside? When it’s sunny outside and you want to go do something fun if you like? Are you putting your butt in the seat and doing the work?
YBKBS: What you’ve said is, are you sat down and are you doing the work that will give value to your customers to your clients to society? To the community? And guess what? The money kind of takes care of itself after that?
Todd: Yeah. I think that if many people spend their life chasing success because they don’t have a solid definition of what of what success will look like, so they just keep chasing something different. They keep running away from what they have and chasing something else because they think something else is going to make them happy. Something else is going to make them happy and they don’t have a clear definition of what greatness looks like.
So for some people maybe greatness looks like listen, “I’m really great at making money and the more money I make I can be more generous. So I’m going to make as much money as I can because I know that when I make as much money as I can to be able to give away a lot more money and that’s just my gifting and that’s what I’m going to do.” And that’s great. Nothing wrong with that for some people.
What it becomes is, “I’m just going to crank out work day after day, and I know I’m never going to be celebrated, but the body of work on building is substantial because it’s impacting lives.” Great! That’s fantastic!
But I think this cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all thing, is because everybody’s looking for the formula. But I think this cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all thing, is because everybody’s looking for the formula.
There is no formula. There’s no formula for you. And that’s the maddening thing to a lot of people. They want to buy into some kind of formula that’s going to make them ‘XYZ’ and all the formulas that you see are basically somebody else, backward engineering how they got to where they are, but it may or may not work for you.
And so I think it’s just really important that that we can learn from best practices for sure. It’s really important that we understand that we can see patterns spot patterns.
We can learn from the stories of other people for sure. But if you’re looking for a formula that all you have to do is just basically do ‘XYZ’ and you’re going to end up with what you want…it’s not going to happen until you put your butt in the seat and you do the work and take risks; you make yourself vulnerable; you put yourself out there; you begin doing things that are necessary in order to listen.
Seth Godin loves to say, “All the easy stuff has been done.” And I agree with that. Like all the easy stuff has been done. We don’t pay people for the easy stuff anymore.
If it’s easy, then it’s probably not that valuable. You have to train yourself to take risks and do the hard stuff because the hard stuff is what’s valuable.