What interning for Seth Godin taught me

Originally Published on PaidtoExist.com, Jonathan Mead’s killer site. This is one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve ever done. I’ve revisited a lot of these concepts again recently, and heard a lot of them at BrandCampU and CreativeMornings with Seth Godin at The New School in New York City. I think this self-discovery is far more important than anything hanging out with celebrities taught me.


The day was pretty much as epic as it could be.

It was the end of another beautiful July in New York, and I was sitting in the office of Seth Godin with 19 other students for the first of a 3-day seminar. We were selected to join Seth and discuss education, marketing, and “unleashing your inner impresario.”

While there are not nearly enough words to express how it felt sitting in a room with someone as amazing as Seth, there are certainly enough for me to recall how I got there.

One year ago, I would have murdered someone for the opportunity to pick Seth’s brain for 72 hours.

One year ago, I needed his insight more than I did on that fine July afternoon.

And still, one year ago, I would have never even tried.

Why is that?

Why am I willing to admit to an audience of go-getters that I was thisclose to passing up the opportunity of a lifetime?

The truth is… I woke up one week before that and almost didn’t submit the application or the minute-long video. In fact, it seemed easier to believe that out of the hundreds of people that would apply, it would be only my application that was neither seen, noticed, or selected.

Can you relate to that feeling?

How many times have you stopped yourself from going after something that was very important to you?

It was on that faithful day when I made a shocking discovery about myself and most of the people I had known throughout my life:

We do not know how to choose ourselves.

Let me explain.

From the moment we are born, until the moment we no longer exist, we are chosen for everything. We are selected to attend school, we are selected for our extracurricular activities, and we usually are greatly influenced in the things we believe we select for ourselves, like the majors we take in college and the jobs we compete with one another for after college.

Have you ever wondered why it’s natural for people to sacrifice the things they really want in return for something that’s not nearly as rewarding or life-altering?

We are not built to make decisions, let alone the tough ones. Entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, consultants and small business owners face these kinds of real-life obstacles on a daily basis. That’s on-the-job training. That’s survival at its fittest.

We are not afforded the same luxuries in our lives, unfortunately. We are able to delay our feelings, our needs, and our passions simply because the world does not understand or cannot immediately monetize them.

Why aren’t the rest of us motivated in a way that allows us to make real decisions?

It’s because we aren’t raised to be: do’ers, thinkers or impresarios. We are raised to seek out the validation of others, to be “tapped,” so to speak, and without that, we feel directionless.

When was the last time that you were allowed to put your development and your needs first at your 9-to-5? I’m pretty sure the answer to that is “rarely” or “never.”

When is the last time you gave your life a performance review? I’m also pretty sure that the answer to that question is “rarely” or “never.”

Is it any wonder why we’re so afraid to start a new project, to join a friend in a promising new business venture or even, to choose to create meaningful work that lasts longer than a 40-hour workweek?

In the words of the enigmatic Lady Gaga, “We were born this way!”

Fear is good

When I left my corporate law gig in 2009 to write full-time, even though it was what I knew I always wanted, I had spent so long working for someone else — accomplishing their goals and trying to affect their bottom line — that I was frozen.

Real power, the kind of power that can directly influence us for the better, is rarely in our hands, and for the first time ever I had full control over my own destiny.

And I had no idea what to do with it.

I had spent so long living that way that I could not bear to carry the enormous weight of making choices for myself.

It’s inevitable that your true self, your inner impresario, will speak up. It’s the little voice inside you growing louder, demanding freedom and a way of life that does not conform to the conventional. When we finally listen to that voice, it’s usually not as loud as the voice of fear.

I challenge you, right now, to change the way you’ve thought about fear. Fears and excuses are two very good buddies.

When we allow people to have control of our destiny, to tell us emphatically NO when we want something, there are two important things happen:

  1. The person becomes a gatekeeper of why we cannot accomplish something — “I didn’t take that writing class after work because my boss said I couldn’t leave early.”
  2. The gatekeeper graduates to a symbol of failure — “Last time I tried to take a class, my boss said no, so I’m not even going to try.”

Our entire lives can be reduced to being a follower. All of our ideas and creativity have been reduced by formal education and institutions that tell us how to take orders and not shake up the status quo. Our ideas are thrown against figurative walls to “see what sticks.”

Today you can create a world where there are no gatekeepers. From this moment forward, there can be two kinds of people: those you know and those you want to know. From this moment forward, there can be all of the reasons why people think you should not do something, and all of the reasons why you do.


Stop waiting for approval! It’s your life, and you don’t need to permission to live it! The fact that you are reading this right now proves that you want to change. And I’m telling you that you can.


You can enforce creativity in your own life, you can be paid to exist, and you can be the person who people want to be when they grow up.

So, what’s next?

Here is the quickest way to change how you perceive opportunity:

  • Make a List. List all of the things you want to do that you didn’t because of someone else in the last year.
  • Identify and Reverse the No. Every time you encountered the “No” that stopped you, imagine a “Yes” instead and identify your next steps. Is it less possible or more possible?
  • Be Your Own Gatekeeper. If there’s someone who you need in order for you to act, determine WHY you need them and how you can provide yourself with that power. More often than not, it’s the validation you need, not the person. Do you want to publish a book? Self-publish. Want to speak at TED? Look for local TEDx conferences to apply to.

Everything is possible when you start creating your own opportunities.

So now that you know this, what are you going to do about it?

photo courtesy of Wonder Al.

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