Whenever I meet a new potential client, I ask, “What’s your story?”
Everyone’s life is impacted or guided by the stories they love; be it characters in movies, lyrics in songs, passages in books or poetry. Actors, directors, writers, and producers are all storytellers, and they all have a unique way of looking at their own lives and narratives. One of my main jobs as a manager is to listen attentively, gather information, and help these people share their experiences in such a way that they can be heard.
When I work with a client, my goal is to invite them to deconstruct and reframe their stories in thoughtful ways. I want them to think about how the stories they love inform their lives, and how what they see, read, hear, and feel inspires them.
Ultimately, I am a keeper of stories. As I get to know clients and understand what drives them, my job is to help them share their inspiration and give them greater control and a greater sense of power over their own narratives, in whatever forms or permutations they take.
Of course, not all of us are fully aware of everything that’s influencing our lives. I’ve been doing a newsletter called The Cream since 2015 which is effectively just a collection of things I’ve seen, read, heard, or felt throughout the year. For me, keeping a diary or a daily is one of the best forms of self-discovery.
I instinctively feel it’s important to write things down, to create records, and to have some sort of log of my days. This daily helps me be more aware of what’s happening in my life, so the important narratives and ideas don’t slip by without notice.
When you see what you’re reading and consuming, you can make the conscious decision to expand your horizons and broaden your thinking on a subject. As a partner in a company, it helps build collaboration and inspiration in a cohesive manner.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, I tried to instill this cataloging instinct at More/Medavoy. I called it “Saw, Read, Heard, Felt, and Helped,” and encouraged Erwin, Stephen, Eric, and Jason to simply jot down things that they, you guessed it, saw, read, heard, felt, and ways they helped.
The more they each enter experiences, the more I come to see the different things that stand out to them and the things that inspire them — I learn about them in a way I couldn’t through our day to day work interactions. I love this exercise, and I think they’ve enjoyed it too. It’s an interesting way to get to know what makes each of us click without having to interrogate one another. Who knows, maybe at some point it evolves into a book and there’s a logical conclusion. It doesn’t matter — the journey is the reward.
My team may not continue this cataloging practice, and that’s fine by me, but recently I felt substantiated in my commitment. That’s what made me think about this blog in the first place.
The other day, I stumbled across Steven Soderbergh’s blog, The Soderblog, which isn’t like any other blog I’ve seen. The Soderblog, in his words, is “An occasional drop of creative detritus from the closet/hard drive of the artist soon to be known as Stephen Soderbergh.” Curiously, it’s not his work he’s dropping onto the blog, it’s the things he’s read, heard, and experienced throughout the year. He’s sharing other people’s work, without comment, just to spread the joy and, I imagine, for his own posterity.
You may notice that the Soderblog looks a lot like The Cream, or More/Medavoy’s Saw, Read, Heard, Felt, and Helped exercise. This, to me, is more than a coincidence; it’s a vote of confidence that this is a legitimate form of self-discovery and sharing.
If one of the most brilliant creators of our time catalogs the creative things he experienced, there must be value, right? We bend over backward to make fortune cookies make sense, there must be something to making note of the creativity that inspires us.
Now, as I think more about why I do The Cream, I realize it’s not simply content for content’s sake. The Cream, The Soderblog, the More/Medavoy exercise are all evolution in motion. Just as evolution is instinctive and natural and those enduring it are totally unawares, this process is the same. It doesn’t need a reason to be.
When I look back on previous editions of The Cream, I’m forced to ask a number of questions:
Did I mark things down from people I admire or those who I don’t?
Did I put down things that were inspiring, frustrating, enraging, or something else entirely?
How do these entries help my goals?
How do these entries change my perspective?
Am I reading things that I already know about or am I retreading old paths?
Am I exploring a diversity of ideas or reinforcing what I already believe?
The answers show life in motion over time. For instance, I’ve recently been reading a lot about the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. Ardern is a 39-year-old woman who has galvanized her people into one of the strongest responses to the coronavirus outbreak in the world. Just a few weeks ago, I was reading constantly about Gavin Newsom and Eric Garcetti, leaders in my own backyard — both of whom have demonstrated great leadership in a crisis. But I know what’s happening in my neighborhood, I live in it. Somehow, I subconsciously wandered across the planet to discover a new leader I knew nothing about and I’ve been endlessly fascinated by her charisma and leadership.
We like to read about what makes us comfortable, but we should be reading about things that make us uncomfortable. Life can be really boring unless you hold yourself accountable and look at things differently.
As you progress in life, it’s easier to get stuck in the same motions. When you’re tracking what you see, read, hear, feel, and how you help, you can see how you’ve changed and you can see how you’ve become stuck in the mud. Then, you can unstick yourself. Over time, you realize you’re glad you kept track and you have these moments and articles and songs to go back to.
Life is about evolution but that’s not to say sentimentality and legacy are important. Right now, we are living history. That’s why it’s the best time to make note of what you’re reading and doing and feeling. To have a scrapbook of what life was like during these months would be a priceless gift to yourself. That’s just one of the reasons, though. The more important point is that it’s a record of accountability that will endlessly contribute to your growth.