​An essay

(A Note to Readers: I am honored to see so many of you here, familiar faces and new names. In order to simplify your inbox, I have begun adding a subheading to each post to distinguish between my essays and my events and resource offerings. When I have an event coming soon, I typically write a post that is both an essay and and event promo, and then send out a couple of promo reminders before the next essay drops. It’s always a work in progress over here at The Big At Large, but I hope this makes your emails easier to navigate so you don’t miss any of the content that interests you!)


Now, onto


Back in the early days of programming and robots, there was a fun experiment. The assignment was to write out instructions to teach a robot how to make a peanut butter sandwich, which the teacher would follow to the letter. The robot invariably ended up stabbing an unopened jar of peanut butter with a kitchen knife and then pounding the whole thing like a mallet on an entire loaf of Wonder Bread.

Most of the advice we give ourselves or get from other people is like that. Our egos identify the material trappings of our lives and pasts, assume that present circumstances follow logically from the visible antecedents, and give advice like:

“Host events to get clients. Join clubs to make friends. Spend 30 minutes a day affirming the reality of your vision for your ideal life. Picture your ideal client walking through the door. Imagine yourself with the body you want.” None of that is bad advice, per se, it’s just incomplete. At the other end of the spectrum is the Four Hour Work Week, with step by step guides to get from $17 to that 1969 Camaro SuperSport – all you have to do is fill in all the boxes and you, like Craigslist Joe, can turn a pencil into an apartment building! Again, it’s a perfectly sound protocol, but it doesn’t specify some of the key context.

Either way, instead of ending up with the peanut butter sandwich of your dream business, you spend thousands of dollars and nearly as many hours breaking your back and your mind and your heart, only to find at the end that you have a flattened bag of bread and ruined jar of peanut butter.

In the vast spaces between one client and the next, I stood on the shoulder of giant barren highways suited to the accommodation of semi-trailers four abreast hauling the reeking cargo of self-doubt, and I began to wonder if I’d missed the memo from God, “You weren’t born to be successful in business.” What else could it be, when each movement towards the work of acting as a conduit for the current of healing swept me away into the buoyant clarity of true purpose, and yet each effort I made to bring it to the world felt as if it petered out in stagnant pools? How much harder could I try to force myself onto the world, dragging my chains to costly miracle-worker after costly miracle-worker, only to slouch away again having forged more links.

So finally one day I lay down on the cold rails and surrendered. I dropped all the advice I’d sought, paid, begged, and borrowed for, into the abyss. I sat down with the one true piece of excellent instruction I had received cradled in my arms; “If you love what you do and it’s your purpose in the world, keep doing it like your life depends on it. But if no one is buying it, get a day job, too.”

So I stopped demanding that the world conform to my expectations. And I discovered that if you lie down on enough tracks, eventually you get hit by a train, and your old stories die, and you have a chance to write new ones.

While many people were telling me to “try harder,” the people who could see me were telling me to try softer.

And a funny thing happened; the phone started to ring. And kept ringing. And ringing.

I succeeded at failure. And that was the first train.

So then I started lying down on more tracks, but which tracks to choose? In order to grow, old stories must die, but how to find the trains that will annihilate those stories?

You have to figure out how you make a peanut butter sandwich.

Stay tuned.

What We Do With The Time We're Given