When COVID hit, Kyle Fackrell, had to hit pause on the musical he was creating. Thankfully, this gave him space to make Space Race, the hit musical series now available on YouTube.
Space Race is literally a one man show where Kyle did all the writing, composing, singing, acting, and editing. If you haven’t seen it yet, you are missing out. In this conversation, Kyle discusses his creative process, reveals how Space Race came about, and shares how constraints unlock creativity.
This interview is available on YouTube and as a podcast.
The most important story you will ever tell is the story you tell yourself.
I’ll say that again, the most important story you will ever tell is the story you tell yourself.
One of my professors, Curtis Lebaron, shared this with our class many years ago. I didn’t fully know what he meant at the time, and I’d like to explore it further today.
The stories we tell ourselves start at a young age. We love labels. Our society loves labels. In high school we label people as jocks, or we label people as nerds. When I was in high school there was a group that dressed in all black. We called them goths. Not sure if that’s still a thing.
Why do we label? Labels make it very easy to categorize things. Labels make a complex world appear simple. Labels allow us to tell easy stories. But labels can be very dangerous. We know the danger of applying inappropriate labels to groups of individuals–we call these stereotypes–but have you stopped to think about the danger of the labels you apply to yourself? Have you thought about the story you tell yourself about who you are?
I’ll share a personal example. Throughout most of my life, I have told myself the story that I am not creative. I was never fond of drawing or painting. Art class never was fun. Part of the reason is that I’m color blind. In 2nd grade I had a very traumatic experience where I was made fun of by my teacher and classmates for being color blind. In front of my class I shared a picture of my “green frog” but I had colored it brown. Everyone laughed at me.
I told myself: I am color blind. I don’t like art or drawing . Therefore, I am not creative. That story, which was repeated regularly, turned into a fixed mindset towards all things creative. Whenever an assignment in school came up that required creativity, I shied away from it. I told myself, I’m just not a creative person. That’s not me.
This story stayed with me until I joined LinkedIn on the compensation team. I had a few projects I was leading and my manager pushed me hard to be creative. I still remember when he used that word. It was like fingernails running down a chalkboard. I didn’t tell him, but in that moment I thought, oh no, that’s not me.
My manager and I had several conversations on the topic of creativity. I decided to give it a try, so I read a lot of articles and a couple books on the topic. My favorite book was Steal Like an Artist from Austin Kleon. I highly recommend this book and it helped shift my perspective on what creativity is and super practical ways we can be more creative.
As time went on, I changed that story. By trying to act in a way that was creative, and by telling myself that I can be creative, a virtuous cycle was forming. I was becoming more creative. The change didn’t happen overnight but I made consistent progress.
Over the next year, I wrote a book–something I had never done before– learned to edit video, learned how to market a book, and developed several other skills.
Back to LinkedIn–I later left the compensation team to join another group that was highly analytical. We were working on a large data integrity initiative and my team was tasked with coming up with a creative way of making it stick. One person in the group said–I’m not creative. You’re the creative one. What should we do? I was tempted to say that I’m not that creative either but I owned it. I had been labeled as someone who was creative, which was in line with the person I was trying to become, and I wasn’t about to ruin that.
The lesson for me was that if you don’t like the story you’re telling yourself, you can change it. As I wrap up that example, I’m tempted to add that I still don’t feel like I’m very creative but I’m not going to say that. I can be creative and the more I work at it, the more creative I will be.
This example focuses solely on creativity, but the stories we tell ourselves can cover anything. You might be upset with your spouse because he was rude to you or didn’t clean up his messes for the last few days. Another person might have the same experience but tell themselves a story about how her spouse has been working hard at his job, has gone out of his way to cook a nice meal for you, and is tired and needs some comforting.
Here’s the challenge for this episode — start to notice the story you’re telling yourself about everything. Your boss was late again to your 1:1. Does that really mean she doesn’t care about you? Your colleague has been dragging their feet on a project. Does that really mean they are incompetent
When you catch yourself in this way of thinking, pause —- then say, the story I’m telling myself is ______. What’s a different story I could tell?
Stories are incredibly powerful. They shape how we view the world and how we view ourselves. Always remember that we have the power to rewrite our stories. We have the power to change.
The days of going to school, getting a degree, and being done with your learning at graduation are long gone. If you’re banking on what you learned in high school or college to carry you throughout your career, you’re in for a rude awakening.
The workplace is more dynamic than ever and new technology is accelerating that change. To thrive in today’s world of work we must constantly learn and constantly grow.
So, what do we do? In this episode, I share three concrete ways you can make learning a competitive advantage in your career. I also share the future of The Not Your Parents’ Workplace Show including why I’m going to hit pause on YouTube and why I’m doubling down on the podcast.
I first read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton in 2014, having previously studied the lives of his contemporaries, specifically, George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. I had a glimpse into his life and how many historians remembered him, but Chernow’s account totally opened my eyes.
This man was far more than the first treasury secretary of the United States. His accomplishments include:
Supporting Washington as his chief staff aide during the American Revolution and commanding three battalions during the decisive battle of Yorktown
Architecting the Federalist Papers which played a pivotal role in defending and ratifying the U.S. Constitution (he wrote 51 of the 85 essays)
Founding a national bank and building the financial system that established the country’s credit
Creating the U.S. Coast Guard and the New York Post
Born in Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean, Hamilton’s father left him when he was a boy. Not long after, his mother died of yellow fever and his cousin, who was entrusted to watch over him, committed suicide. Without a doubt, of all the founding fathers, Hamilton’s rise to power is by far the most improbable.
Over the years my admiration for him only grew as I watched Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical and studied more of his life. A few months back, I decided to tackle his biography once more. The biggest lesson from reading this book, at least as it came to a close, is that of discretion.
Hamilton was a genius. Full stop. Yet, despite being a genius, or maybe because of it, he didn’t know when to keep silent. He spoke his mind at all times and this came back to hurt him on countless occasions.
In a letter to his son, sent days before his fatal duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton wrote that he had “prepared for you a thesis on discretion. You may need it.” Here’s a portion of the letter.
“A prudent silence will frequently be taken for wisdom and a sentence or two cautiously thrown in will sometimes gain the palm of knowledge, while a man well informed but indescreet and unreserved will not uncommonly talk himself out of all consideration and weight.”
To quote Chernow, “This…sounds like the confessions of a man who had never learned to be discreet himself.” It’s been said that all advice is autobiographical, and Hamilton must have been talking to himself in a way, reflecting on times where his indiscretion had harmed him.
The dictionary provides two definitions of discretion:
The quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information
The freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation
One can argue that had Hamilton shown more discretion throughout his life, had he behaved or spoken in a way that avoided causing offense to others, he wouldn’t have left behind such a long list of impressive accomplishments. Possibly, but a few moments of discretion could have spared him the hatred of many, and likely would have saved his life.
And what of Aaron Burr, the man who shot and killed Hamilton in their infamous duel? Burr was the antithesis of Hamilton. He rarely revealed how he felt on a given topic. He had the well-earned reputation of doing whatever was politically expedient. Burr was hard to read and many struggled to know where he stood.
Yet, as odd as it sounds, Burr ultimately paid a price for having too much discretion. Years of concealing how he felt and striving to be all things to all people took a toll. He finally reached the point where he couldn’t hide his true feelings towards Hamilton anymore and he lashed out. He had let his anger and hatred for Hamilton fester until he reached a boiling point and couldn’t hold back any longer.
Despite being the Vice President of the United States, Burr unleashed his rage and challenged Hamilton to a duel. He felt that Hamilton had defamed his character and had sought to destroy his political career. While he had plenty to lose from going after Hamilton, there was no turning back. Burr’s rage had consumed him.
Ironically, it was Hamilton’s death, rather than Hamilton’s verbal assaults, that led to Burr’s political undoing. After the fatal duel, Burr’s career was never the same. Facing potential murder charges, he fled to the South. He later faced treason charges for conspiring to plan the secession of several western states. So, he moved to Europe and didn’t return to New York until after his acquittal. His professional and personal life remained in tatters until his death in 1836.
It’s easy to point out the foibles of leaders who lived 200+ years ago. It’s harder to take those learnings and apply them to our lives to further our own development.
I invite you to consider the role discretion plays in your life. Are you like Hamilton, committed to speaking your mind at all times regardless of the occasion? Or are you more like Burr, constantly concealing your feelings, unwilling to share what you genuinely think until you reach a breaking point?
Much later in his life, reflecting on the duel, Burr remarked, “I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.” Had he been willing to confront Hamilton earlier, had he been a little more indiscreet, they likely could have settled their differences peacefully and without violence. Conversely, had Hamilton been a little more discreet, had he effectively discerned when to maintain silence, his life likely wouldn’t have been taken at age 47.
The world certainly was wide enough for Hamilton and Burr.
As we move forward in our careers, I hope the lesson of these two men stay fresh. Discretion truly is an art.
Too often we avoid having difficult conversations because we tell ourselves it’s just not worth the effort. Nothing will change.
We tell ourselves that our manager or whoever’s involved doesn’t care about us and that there’s no point in speaking up. Often it’s easier, and quite frankly safer, to believe these things rather than to take action.
While no one likes having difficult conversations, when we avoid them, we trade short term discomfort for long term dysfunction.
In this episode, I share why it’s critical to have hard conversations, a framework for guiding these discussions, and three tips that will ensure you’re successful in having them.
Anger is something we all feel at times but left unchecked it can cause irreparable damage to important relationships and harm our career. I’ve found that a simple tool—what I call an “unsent angry letter”—can help prevent raw emotion from getting the best of us.
Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and countless others have mastered the art of the unsent angry letter. Doing so allowed them to act deliberately and consciously rather than out of frustration or anger.
In this episode, I share why you need to master the unsent angry letter and how doing so will help you become more effective in all aspects of your life.
As a reminder, the Not Your Parents’ Workplace Show is now available as a podcast.
The most popular career advice out there is that you should follow your passion.
“Do what you’re most passionate about!”
“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!
You hear it all the time. While well-intended, I’ve found this to be the worst career advice that’s out there. In this week’s episode, I’ll explore why you shouldn’t obsess over finding your passion, and discuss three practical things to do instead.
5 years ago I published Not Your Parents’ Workplace. In the book, I wrote about the challenges I faced in 2008 when I had a front-row seat to the largest bankruptcy in US history. Given today’s economic environment and career challenges, I’m kicking off a YouTube series where I’ll share lessons I wrote about in the book as well as lessons I’ve learned since.
I don’t know about you, but for much of this COVID period, I’ve been in survival mode, learning on the fly how to cope with this new reality. But recently, I was challenged to look at things from a different perspective.
Rather than merely survive during this period, what if it were possible to truly thrive? What if it were possible in one year to look back and say that we experienced more personal growth and were more productive during this time than any other?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to believe that, while difficult, holding a new perspective is possible. In this video, I share 3 daily practices for thriving during COVID-19 and any other challenging period.