Pain vs discomfort – two very different things.

Egypt Dec 2010 Akassia Swiss Resort 082
Halan was known as a lazy fish. A very, very lazy fish.

But then one day she floated idly into the gulfstream. The water was different, new, chilled. Exhilarating. Suddenly she wanted to explore, to move and to struggle, to find new places and push against the current.

On her first day she swam for fifteen miles against the current. At the end of her day, she found that her fins were weak. Her tail was aching. Her gills were gulping. She was completely exhausted.

The next day she tried feebly to swim against the current again but it felt like pushing through mercury. Every scale cried to stop and she listened. She ate, rested and she floated for a few days until she was ready to swim on.

For weeks she swam into ever-new territories. Her fins ached every day, and then a bit less, and eventually she could swim with no ill effects.

Proud of her new non-lazy self, she pondered the next challenge. What, she wondered, was up there?

And Halan swam up to the surface and out into the air.

Sudden knifing pain in her gills! Desperate flapping of her fins as they tried to get purchase! Blindness and dizziness and vertigo and woe!

Halan splashed back down into the water where she could breathe and move and see. Halan had gained no small measure of stubbornness in her months of traveling against the current, and she was determined to try again.

Blindness, suffocation, horrible flailing and panic! Aieeee!

Halan tried a third time to the same result. At this point common sense ruled and she tried to swim through the air no more.

Halan is smarter than many people.

The moral of the story

The very delightful Alison Gresik and I were having a conversation about this guest article I wrote on how I deliberately abandoned comfort in order to lead an interesting life, and she asked a very smart question:

You talk about embracing discomfort, but you also talk about how great work doesn’t need to be painful. What’s the difference between pain and discomfort?

To me, Halan demonstrates the difference:

Swimming against the current causes discomfort. (And awesomeness.)

Swimming into the air causes pain. (And no awesomeness.)

Doing hard and amazing and important work requires effort: moving against resistance, stretching old skills and growing new muscles. This effort is uncomfortable, like your thighs on the day after a workout. That discomfort is a sign that you’re improving.

Doing the wrong work causes pain: the effort is unnatural and forces you into damaging positions. This is painful, like your tailbone the day after you slipped on the stairs. (Get well soon, Abby!) This pain is a sign that you’re doing the wrong thing.

So, in short:

Pushing harder into discomfort makes you grow stronger.

Pushing harder into pain makes you grow weaker.

Here are the aforementioned glorious Alison’s thoughts on the subject. (She wrote a story too. And it’s a good’un.)

What are your thoughts on whether pain is always bad, discomfort always good, and if fish are more awesome than frogs? Tell us a tale in the comments!

If you’re looking to expand into more discomfort with your business, DIY Magnificence will provide the gulfstream to swim against.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Matlock-Photo

You are not the idol of permission

There is a beautiful island in the tropics. It has bountiful greenness, warm gentle breezes, and sands whiter than hope. It is the kind of island that you suspect of being a Photoshop job, even as you feel the sand between your toes.

In this land of peace and plenty there is little strife and minimal uncertainty: the nuts are plentiful, the chickens lively, and there is enough of everything to go around. But there are times – human nature is what it is – that people need to make hard decisions.

Should I choose Palu or Manu?

Is it better to kayak to the next island to barter my breadfruit?

Should I plant up high, or closer to the river?

Whenever these decisions arose, the people of the island would journey to the Wise One.

The Wise One had been an elder for many times many years, wisely guiding the people of the island into good decisions. The Wise One had negotiated treaties with the outer islands, saved the people of the island from sickness, and kept arguments from ugliness.

Nowadays the Wise One no longer lived with the other people of the island. She was very old and lived quietly in the mountains, but still her wisdom was available.

And so the people of the island would travel up the mountain, ask their question and wait for the Wise One’s judgement. Every person on the island felt the comforting surety as the Wise One guided their decisions.

Everyone, that is, except Nela.

“Nela,” the people of the island would say, “Have you asked the Wise One whether this is the best season to harvest?”

“No. I know that this is the best season. I do not need anyone else to tell me.”

“Shame upon you, Nela!” they would cry. “Have you no respect?”

And then the people of the island would say, “Nela, have you asked the Wise One about which woman you will attract?”

“No. I know which woman I desire, and I have already told her so. I do not need anyone else to tell me this.”

“Shame upon you, Nela!” they would cry. “You are a fool, to ignore the Wise One so!”

(But Nela seemed to do as well as the other people of the island, for all of that.)

On the day of the Day Eclipse, the Wise One died.

Wailing and moaning and afrightened, the people of the island gathered together. “We are doomed now the Wise One is gone! How will we know what to choose? Oh woe upon us, woe…”

And Nela shouted, “Be silent! We will go on just as we have done and we will receive as much bounty and we will not fail. The Wise One was truly great, but her greatness was in the way she taught us no longer to need her! She taught us of her healing so we would not sicken. She taught us how to be fair, to be firm, and to treat with those who would do us harm. She taught us the lore of growing things so that we could bring forth food!

“I have never needed to climb the mountain to see whether my decisions were correct, because I had already learned wisdom from the Wise One! AND SO HAD YOU. Every time you toiled up that mountain it was to check with the Wise One whether the decisions you had already thought out were correct. And they always were! You did not seek her wisdom – you already had it. You only wished her permission to do what you had already decided.

“The Wise One is dead, and never again will you receive her permission. But her wisdom lives in you, and so you will make do without it.

Tell me, people of the island, what should we do now?”

And the people of the island answered him that they should make a great celebration for the death of the Wise One. And they did so.

And when the Great Winds came, they knew what to do. And they did so.

And when they tried to make Nela the newest Wise One… he chased them away with a sharp stick.

Human nature is what it is.

The moral of the story

Smartness attracts worshippers.

If you aren’t careful, you will end up with a group of people who love your work, implement your advice… and come back to you to put the stamp of approval on everything they do.

If you set yourself up as the idol of permission, they will keep returning to YOU for validation.


It adds a fuckload of extra work, gets frustrating quickly, and limits the soul growth of your cultists. And lord help you if you cut off the supply – they will chase you around the earth to get that warm satisfying approval back.

When you are in a position of authority, the goal is to help people uncover the permission in themselves – to find their own instincts and trust them, to make their own rules for what is right. Then they leave to go do their own amazing work, leaving you the psychic space to attract and serve new people.

Oh crap, I’ve accidentally set myself up as the idol of permission. What do I do?

1. Start gently answering every frantic, “What should I DO!?!” email with “What do you think you should do?”

2. Write more “Here is the overall process” articles and less “Here is what you need to do, step by step” articles.

3. Make yourself less available – put a time delay in answering your emails so they can’t get an immediate fix and have to deal with it by themselves.

4. Stop giving people permission. Start helping people to find the permission in their pocket.

5. Worst comes to worst, fake your own death.

What do you have to add to the de-idol list? Add your bit in the comments.

How do I deliver smartness without setting myself up as an idol? Learn more by signing up to Mo’Cash, Mo’Joy, the weekly newsletter for awesome people.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Individuo

27 communication templates every business needs

Ampelmann gingerbread
Barof is the God of Gingerbread. At this time he is slumping moodily at the bar of The Broken Divinity, moodily regarding the mind-twisting selection of bottles behind the bar and drinking a celestrial wine spritzer with a peach-of-immortality garnish.

Gharine, God of Clouds, strides in through the crowd. (If you were expecting the goddess of clouds to be a wispy and ethereal being you will be disappointed. She has the sturdy calves and thick shoulders of a woman who can comfortably carry an entire side of beef through a snowstorm.)

Gharine sits next to the piteous melt of Barof and slaps him heartily on the back. (It’s lucky he’s a god, that would have snapped a mortal clean in two.) She booms, “What’s up, goodbuddy?”

He sighs through five different languages. “It’s the gingerbread, of course. I’m having all sorts of problems.”

“Like what?”

“Firstly, it’s taking me far too long to make the horsies come out right. They’ve got so many damn legs. Thin thin legs! One tiny mistake and poof! three-legged horsie.

And that’s not to mention the damn octopi. If I do their legs thin enough to look right then they burn. Do them thick enough to survive the oven and they look crap.

Half my men look cross-eyed due to raisin-wrangling issues.

And I went in today anyway, because I am an artist, but I wasn’t in the best of moods and every single piece I made came out hilly. Every single one!”

“Wow, that sure does suck, goodbuddy. Not having any compromises in your ingredients?”

“No, everything there is fine.”

“The weights and measures are accurate?”

“Yep, got ’em double-checked yesterday.”

“Your cookie cutters still sharp?”

“What? I don’t use cookie cutters.”

Gharine stares disbelievingly. “You don’t? Are you deranged?”

Barof huffs, “Pay attention. I am an artist. I don’t use… [in tones of deepest loathing] a template. I make every single piece by hand, of course!”

“Holy me, you are deranged. Look buddy, you know I’ve been in clouds forever, literally.”

“Yes, that’s why I’ve always enjoyed your company. You’re an artist, too.”

“Yeah, and for that whole time I’ve been reusing the same four basic cloud types in different combinations.”

Barof gasps and grabs the bar. “What? But the variety! Herringbone striations, puffy pillows, sunset wisps, ominous thunderheads!”

Gharine grins widely. “Cirrus. Cumulus. Nimbus. Stratus. That’s it. I do ’em all with templates.”

It took five shots of ambrosia for Barof to calm down from that revelation, but the gingerbread improved dramatically soon after.

The moral of the story

Communication templates (like cookie cutters) are awesome, and you should use them.

Many people resist, thinking that they suck the spontaneity from your messages, but they don’t have to. Used well they can make your communications more personal, more profound, more effective, and less likely to lead to long and apologetic “What I meant was” conversations.

Your templates can be abstract and high-level: an affiliate offer might be laid out in sections, like [High-level summary] [What’s in it for them] [More details] [Who I am] [Call to action] [Polite wrap-up].

Or your templates can be very very comprehensive: a scratch file with the phrases and sentences you use in different situations, or a pre-formatted email response you can use by clicking three buttons and adding a Dear So-and-So line.

Here are the must-haves to ponder.

When emotions are high.

Oooh, you are sooooo mad.

Must. Bite. Tongue. And. Send. Email. To. Jerkface. Diplomatically.

What could go wrong? Oh, yeah. Everything. Good thing you have some words all written and ready to go so you don’t have to unclench your fists enough to write much.

Things like:

  • ending a working relationship
  • requesting major changes to submitted work
  • dealing with a breach of confidential information
  • resolving supplier issues
  • responding to a negative review

Example: Hello [Angry Dude], thank you for sharing your thoughts about [Product]. I’m very sorry you had a less-than-great experience. If you would like to discuss this with me further, please send me an email at [address] and I’ll do my best to make amends. Regards, [Me].

When energy is low.

One of the most important lessons I have learned from being a creative sprinter is: write the sales page first. Because trying to write it at the end, when you are completely exhausted, doesn’t work terribly well.

The same idea applies to the rest of your marketing and communication. Create templates for anything that you’re likely to write when you’re not at your best.

Such as:

  • appointment reschedules
  • follow-ups after a big draining project
  • thank-yous for ditto
  • email auto-replies

Example: I’ve been bitten by the dreadful lurgy and I won’t be looking at my email at all today. If there’s anything urgent, please call [Someone Else] on [Phone number].

When money is involved.

Money makes people crazy. I’ve happily worked on the phones in high-stress tech environments with no issues, but there’s one area I would have fought a wolverine (snickity snickt) to avoid… accounts. I would have fought the entire Australian SAS to avoid making calls in collections. (Shudder.)

I repeat: money makes people crazy. A good mix of fairness and firmness is hard to summon when you really need your client to pay you today so the car doesn’t get repossessed. But if you write it well before it’s needed, while you’re still calm, it won’t come out wrong.

This includes:

  • following-up outstanding accounts
  • asking for donations
  • asking for more time to pay someone else’s account
  • quoting on a large project
  • querying a charge on an invoice

Example: This amazing service runs entirely on donations from the public. If you want to contribute to keeping the [Thingy] doing [The amazing thing it does], please click [here] to donate. Thank you!

When consistency matters.

If people are coming to you for a repeated experience, they have expectations about what that experience will be like. A template allows you to keep the big stuff consistent, while still being able to add delightful touches of your own personality elsewhere.

  • newsletters
  • articles
  • updates

Example: I use an outline in my newsletter template that says This bit goes here for the different sections. It is awesomesauce and saves me plenty of brainmeat each week. (Which you would know if you were signed up for Mo’Cash, Mo’Joy. Which you are, of course. Right?)

When perceived power isn’t equal.

Writing to the God-Emperor of the Known Universe is a challenging task – he has 25,460 GrammarBots at his command to rend those who do not punctuate his 2,647 titles correctly on the envelope.

Writing to your heroes is less tricky, but still hard. How to mix the hey-you-just-put-your-pants-on-in-the-morning-like-me-right casualness with an awareness that this person can buy and sell East European nations and is probably busy buying Lithuania as we speak dear gods just get to the point… it’s much better to have the format and tone set in advance.

And the more famous you become, the more this works the other way around – much to your continued amazement, probably. Then you have to be careful about being appreciative while still keeping your boundaries.

This includes:

  • interview requests
  • thanking them for being amazing
  • small favours
  • “small” favours – don’t do this, actually
  • special offers

Example: Would you be available on [time in their timezone] to be part of the [Totally Amazing Teleclass] that I’m running? You’ll know the other special guests: [Person they know and respect] and [Other person they know and respect] are both taking part. Each participant will have five minutes to talk about their work and their offerings to an audience of 250 people who are interested in [mutually important topic].

When you’re hellaciously busy.

You have sixteen squillion things to do, and the emails keep on coming in. You’ve successfully triaged most into the “Answer next week” pile, but it’d be rude to leave them unloved for all that time.

It’s be much nicer to have something simple to cut-and-paste in for the non-urgent stuff, like:

Thanks for your email. I’m wrassling with a large slew of new orders so I won’t be answering you in full until after the [date you better keep]. This way I can give you a proper response instead of three hasty words. Cheers, [Me].

Things you are very sick of typing over and over.

Because life is just far too short.


  • opening hours
  • links to your calendar
  • instructions
  • FAQs

Examples: “Empire Records, open ’til midnight, this is Mark… MIDNIGHT!”

What do YOU need to template?

Creative Commons License photo credit: goosmurf

The alchemist, the jester, and the marketer talk bestest people

[90/365] Cruel Present
This is a story that happened before the last one.

The alchemist and I are in her shady cool tent as the sand-laden wind gossips about us viciously to the palm trees. I’m admiring an incredible rug; it smells faintly of cinnamon and diesel oil.

The alchemist smiles in fractals and says Hello there, darlingheart. What’s the hippy haps?

I admit to her that I have gotten a wee bit muddy about who my bestest people are.

Have you written down their qualities?


Well, that is the lack. If you don’t have a concrete list of criteria to measure your bestest people by, then you will always let wishful thinking have far too much influence in your decisions. Many many people can be made to fit, rather like the bloody-footed tale you told once about Cinderella’s stepsisters.

Oh. I need to get very concrete about them, so I can’t cheat?

Metaphorically, yes.

Can we go through it together?

Of course, my dearest. She smiles algebraically.

Right. Hmm. (I roll up my sleeves.) Well, obvious stuff first, I think.

Very well. To quote yourself, what are the core assumptions that someone would need to have to work beautifully with you? What would they need to believe?

Okay. Well, they’d need to believe that cash and joy are equally important parts of your business. And they want to have oodles of both.

Write that down, then.

Obedientally I find a scraped lionskin and a quill of vermillion ink and I write:

My bestest people believe that cash and joy are equally important and want to run businesses that produce squoodles of both.

Good. I like the use of squoodles. What else?

They want to be magnificent, to do magnificent work.

I’m sure you could be a little more poetical.

Yes. Um. How about this?

My bestest people want to BLAZE. They strive for magnificence in every aspect of their work.

Lovely. Anything else?

World-changers! Watch me go!

My bestest people are unashamed world-changers. They know that the world would be worse off without their work.

I like that you included alchemy. But they are not the only ones who seek transformation.

Oh yeah!

My bestest people constantly challenge me to grow in skills, and in soul.

Are they the only beliefs one needs to have to join you?

Yeah, I think so. They need to be moderately open-minded, but I don’t think that needs to be on the list – the narrow-minded tend to see one cussword and flee. What next?

Tell me the behaviours that inhibit your best work and stop your flow. Then decide if you want the opposite.

Right, okay. Umm… I find it a bit difficult when…

She whipcracks into my ellipses. Do not pule and whine. You have preferences, and you must own them.

Okay, dammit! I, uh, hate having to soft-pedal. So:

My bestest people don’t need a cushion under hard truths. They know that clarity is necessary for greatness, and honesty comes from love.

Do you need that last sentence, or are you justifying yourself?

I don’t know. Hmmm. No, it matters… the first sentence alone says that they’re resilient – and they are – but the second sentences clarifies that their resilience comes from wisdom. The truth still stings, often, but they accept that and don’t shoot the messenger. Or knock out the surgeon.

Excellent. What else disturbs your best work?

I used to think my best work was with people who were still stuck in fear, but I know now that it isn’t. People who can unstuckify themselves get much more amazing stuff done. Right!

My bestest people regard their fears as logistical issues, not roadblocks.

Neatly phrased. She smiles through the unreal numbers.

Thanks! Ooh, and I just thought of another thing that people do right and I always appreciate it when they do…

My bestest people aren’t backward about coming forward. They share their feelings, while always staying responsible for them.

Again, good. But you have forgotten someone.

I have?

Yes. Listen.

From outside I hear the dry sand-laden wind, and… the ringing of tiny bells.

Ohshit! I cry, and open the tent flap. In staggers the jester, her bells muffled with sand but her motley shining as bright as ever. Her hair is a redgold accident in the firework factory and her smile is a tatterdemalion majesty. The jester has seven freckles across her nose and eyes the colour of old Coke bottles.

‘Allo, lovely! she grins. She has a truly improbable number of dimples. Didja forget me?

No! I was just doing rulesy stuff. So yes, actually, I did forget you.

She grins wider; somewhere an angel faints. Well, you know there’s one super-duper important thing to add, babyluv. ME! You’ve done all that tranformational mumbo-jumbo whatsit magoozalah, but what’s the point of alchemy if you’re bored solid?

You’re right. My bad. How’s this?

My bestest people take their work passionately, but not seriously: they bring the funny and love to play.

You’re damn right. Aaaaand?

My bestest people are fast thinkers, fast talkers, and fast to implement.

Heh. The jester and the alchemist hug and compare hair products for a few minutes, along with a recipe that could be a soothing herbal tea or a high-powered demolition charge, or maybe both. (I’m just thrilled that they get along so well.)

Now they turn in eerie unison and speak.

Alchemist: Don’t forget the life water of your business.
Jester: Where’s the fucking cashola, sweetiepants?

Okay. Two parts to this, I think.

My bestest people feel heart-swelling gratitude for our work, and can’t wait to recommend it to other amazing people.


My bestest people respect my time, and feel a giddy thrill when they pay for it.

The jester says Cool beans. I can think of one more, though. Riddle me this: when do you want this all to happen?

Uh… yesterday? Riiiight.

My bestest people are impatient to ROCK IT THE FUCK OUT and take massive inspired action. Right now!

Yeah, baby. The jester gives me a high five and a fist bump, flicks a button on her cuff that starts White Zombie’s track El Phantasmo and the Chicken Run Blast-O-Rama playing at Too Freakin Loud, and back-flips out through the closed tent flaps.

The alchemist smiles exponentially at the disappearing jester and turns back to me.

So what will you do with the people who don’t meet all of these criteria?

Umm… well, I want to save my one-on-one work for the bestest people. But I could still make products for the right people: the ones who work at a slower pace than I do, or aren’t quite ready to do the intense scary stuff. They still have to share the beliefs, but they don’t need to work exactly the same way I do – I proved that with DIY Magnificence.

What will you do with the people you’re currently working with one-on-one work who aren’t your bestest people?

I… don’t know. I have to think about that.

Don’t worry, we’ll dream about it tomorrow night. See you then.

And I wake, to scramble fast enough to write all the criteria before I forget them.

I am profoundly unready for the next dream, but luckily I don’t know it.

Who are your bestest people?

DIY Magnificence is indeed there to help you answer that question for yourself. Check it out.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pasukaru76 (out of town)