Lil Wayne & Stephen King on Work Ethic

Stephen King knows a thing or two about writing. And about discipline. And about pretty much anything that has to do with being successful with your art. Well guess what, Lil Wayne knows a thing or two as well. In this episode we uncover all the reasons why he can serve as a role model for any artist, creator, or entrepreneur.

Music by:

Ben Murray-Smith

Sources Referenced:

Stephen King article “Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully – in Ten Minutes”

Stephen King On Writing

Lil Wayne video “Words of Advice”

Lil Wayne track “You Hate Me You Love Me”

Drake video on His and Lil Wayne’s Writing Process

What all creators should learn from Monet’s process

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Can a painting really be worth $80 Million dollars?

It boggles my mind, but in 2008, a painting of Water Lillies by Claude Monet was sold at auction for $80 Million Dollars. Claude Monet had been dead for over 70 years at that point, but even while he was alive–his paintings were in high demand and selling for large amounts.

The man’s fame was only superseded by his skill.

We’ve all grown up hearing the name Monet, mostly in books and movies for me, but I didn’t really become interested in his work until I saw another of his water lilly paintings on display at The Met. Now, I’m no art connoisseur, but seeing his painting in real life made an impression on me, even though I can’t explain why.

So I did a little bit of research on the artist. I wanted to know what all the hype was about, and what made his art so valuable.

What I found was a useful lesson in how to become a true professional at your art. I think anyone who builds things or creates art should incorporate some of it into their own process. I’d like to share these insights with you.

Now, for those of you not familiar with Monet, his best known works are of outdoorsy things. He got paid so well for his art that he was able to buy a huge estate in the North of France. He had a staff of gardeners that would make his gardens nice and pretty. He would import flower seeds from all over the world so that his garden looked like no other garden in the area. And no, this isn’t my first point, the key to great art isn’t having a better manor than the Joneses.

My first point is that Monet became a master through the concept of hyperfocus. Those water lillies in the painting that sold for $80 Million, he painted those water lillies over 90 times. For a span of 20 years, from 1899 to 1919, he made 90 separate paintings of the water lillies. You would think the guy would get bored of painting the same thing over and over, or that the public would get tired of seeing them, but no, this all made him more popular. He painted lots of other things over this time, but it would never be a one-off.

His focus on one subject over dozens of paintings allowed him to start seeing details no one else could see. It’s almost like the X-ray powers that Superman has in the comics. His paintings rose to a whole nother level because of the hyper-focus.

Now I ask you, what small part of your craft are you half-assing? Are you taking the time to repeat and deconstruct your process like a boxer jabbing hundreds of times a day just to find the perfect striking angle?

Another important factor in Monet’s popularity was how he embraced his style. Yes, he painted works about nature, and he did everything over and over. But he did this for a stylistic purpose even more than for mere practice. He would paint the same subject from different angles each time, and at different stages over the day. It would become its own study in the passing of time.

The critics LOVED him for this.

And he became the most popular of the painters labeled Impressionists. He was proud to be a member of this group. Proof that style and substance don’t need to cancel each other out.

As it was noted in his Wikipedia entry: “He began to think in terms of colours and shapes rather than scenes and objects. He used bright colours in dabs and dashes and squiggles of paint. Having rejected the academic teachings of Gleyre’s studio, he freed himself from theory, saying “I like to paint as a bird sings.””

But let’s not forget, although this approach was considered ‘going against the grain’ at this time, It doesn’t mean he couldn’t work within the rules. This man studied in Paris, he learned the “rules” of painting, and then he proceeded to smash those rules.

That’s the third thing I wanted to point out about his process. Being a trendsetter doesn’t excuse you from studying the rules. Creating something new means breaking the rules through boldness, not through ignorance. The message gets lost in translation if your art is simply covering up laziness, as opposed to showing off your need to rebel. Laziness isn’t sexy, rebelliousness is.

If it’s not yet clear to you, becoming great at whatever you do, is not an easy thing. For Monet, this required him to hyperfocus on a single subject over years and years.

Secondly, it meant he had to essentially pigeonhole himself within a label, then learning to love that label, and to leverage that label.

Then the third thing that helped Monet become the best was that he first mastered the rules, THEN he mastered the ways in which to break them. It doesn’t have the same effect in reverse.

It’s a huge sacrifice, putting all this time into a craft. And speaking of sacrifices, Monet himself realized the huge price to be paid for genius. His wife was suffering from Cancer at the young age of 32, and when the cancer took her life, Monet stood at her deathbed, but instead of crying or grieving like a normal person would, all he could was get to work then and there. He made a painting of his dead wife as she lay there.

Monet confessed to his friend Georges Clemenceau that his need to analyse colours was both the joy and torment of his life.

He explained:
“I one day found myself looking at my beloved wife’s dead face and just systematically noting the colours according to an automatic reflex!”

Now you understand the makings of a master.

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The Emotional Stages of a Project: Pain, Flow, and Bliss

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Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: I know it happens to me.

So you’ve set a goal for yourself to go to the gym today. You’re resolved to not skip out. About half an hour before your workout you start dreading the whole thing. You somehow muster the energy to go.

And once you’re working out, the first 15 minutes are pure pain. Most of this pain is in the form of thinking: you don’t know why you force yourself to work out, you are dreading the cardio you’re gonna do, or dreading how heavy you know the weights will be.

But then something weird happens: after those 15minutes you stop struggling with those inner thoughts, your breath has caught up to this task in front of you, and although you’re still sweating and feeling the burn, your mind and body are both in agreement that this exercise is a necessary evil, hey, might as well try to work together to get through it in one piece.

You’ll have this feeling for a good 30 minutes or so, depending on your level of proficiency with exercising. Then after these 30minutes, when you’re almost at the end of your workout, you start to experience a form of joy. Yes, joy that you know this is gonna end soon, but also joy that you were able to rise to the occasion. Pride in the fact that you are still going at it, and are not as worthless as you were thinking in the beginning.

Go ahead, you’re done for the day, it’s totally normal to smirk at yourself in the mirror on your way to the showers.

This whole process I have just described is a great example of the internal feelings attached to ANY activity or project. And it can be our worst enemy or biggest ally.

As you can tell by the title: I refer to the first emotional stage of a project as Pain, the second is Flow, and the third is Bliss.

Since some of my freelance gigs slowed down, I’ve been driving Uber full time to keep the bills paid , and I noticed that Pain Flow Bliss applies here too. When I start my day it’s just a big ball of Pain. Now don’t get me wrong, the job is pretty sweet: I love meeting new people and learning about the millions of stories New York City has to offer. But Pain Flow and Bliss show up because there’s a goal to the activity each day: to make money. For the first two hours of my driving shift all I feel is anxiety and pain because I keep thinking: “I need to hit X amount of dollars today, but the goal is so far away…” Every little bit of traffic irritates me during these first two hours. It’s a form of Pain.

Then, the next four hours of my shift I’m focused, I’m no longer going through mental anguish, I’ve acquired tunnel vision and my mind is focused on getting to the next traffic light before seeing red. My breathing is strong and steady. This is essentially what the scientist, he has a challenging name, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is what he, that guy, termed as Flow.

Flow happens when we’re fully immersed in a challenging activity. It requires our full attention, but we have a bit of confidence in how to get this activity finished.

Then, towards the end of my shift, it all becomes bliss. I’m usually close to my Dollar goal, and I am ecstatic that I didn’t let the traffic derail me. I feel like I could keep driving for hours and hours. It actually takes effort to STOP accepting new trips. I feel like I could keep working forever! This is the epitome of Bliss.

I argue that Pain Flow Bliss is present if you’re doing something trivial, like mowing your lawn, but also if you’re doing something colossal, like writing a book. And the process has a very predictable time breakdown, let me show you:


Remember I said the first two hours of driving Uber were the painful ones? And the middle four were Flow, then the last two or so were usually blissful. That’s the common thread I’ve found in all the activities I do: the first 25% of the time is spent in Pain, the middle 50% in Flow, and the last 25% in Bliss.

Now, to clarify, I’m using examples of an activity that lasts a couple hours. But the fascinating thing about this concept is that it applies to a project that takes a week, or many weeks, or even years. Think about it like a piece of brocolli, every little stalk is comprised of smaller little stalks that are Juuuust like it. If you look under a microscope, you see this division happens infinitely. With projects, every stage of Pain Flow Bliss is also made up of smaller emotional stages that also feel like mini episodes of pain flow and bliss.

I think this is very useful to know before starting any activity or project, because if you’re aware, then you can learn to let your emotions do their thing, while continuing to push through. We often give up during the Pain phase, and forget that the other 75% of our time will be super-enjoyable.

Even more important, I think Pain Flow Bliss tells the truth about the value of rewards. If we consider bliss being the reward of our efforts, but yet it’s really only a quarter of our time, then it reframes work as its OWN reward. The process is mostly about Flow, NOT about the reward of Bliss. Our life isn’t about the end of the process, it’s about the challenging–yet meaty– middle. The plaque on the wall with your name on it isn’t the purpose of it all, the real purpose is the time spent on earning it. If we wait to live until we’re in the reward zone, we’ll miss out on 75% of our life.

My favorite youtube vlogger, Casey Neistat, learned an important lesson after his early success with his HBO show. He got this big check for the show when HBO bought this series that he made with a home video camera, and then he spent like 3 years where he didn’t release much content. He would start work on a new video, and then be paralyzed by perfectionism. None of these new projects ever got finished, and he would put it away, then start a new one, only to give up due to the pain he was feeling from the pressure of living up to his previous success. What evolved from this was three long years of pain after pain after pain. The moments of Flow were rare, not to mention that he rarely got to experience the Bliss of completion.

After these three years he one day vowed to always finish what he started. Whether the result was shitty or not, going forward every video he started shooting would get posted up on Youtube for the world to see. This type of thinking allowed him to create the Nike video “Make It Count” that has over 20 million views. Now he has 4million subscribers and was named GQs New Media Man of The Year. He started releasing daily vlogs on his Youtube channel, He experiences Bliss every day. Because he finishes.

If we give up during the pain, then we’ll never get to feel the joys of Tunnel Vision, of flow, and later, bliss. We stay in the panic zone, and life becomes one big panic attack.

Pain on top of pain on top of pain sets up a horrible feedback loop. We never get to refill our energy reserves if we don’t get to feel the joy of finishing something. Going forward, I hope to persevere through the pain of the first 25%, I want to live life in the other 75%.

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Seth Godin on the Advantages of Non-Traditional Learning

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Seth Godin joins us in this episode, and we learn from him why the current model of education is broken, and actionable steps to taking charge of our own learning as adults. Along the way we discover why we should be approaching our career as a series of projects, and what skills hold the most value in today’s world.

He also tells us some stories of his clashes with the educational system, the concept behind his intense altMBA program, and how Zig Ziglar impacted his life immensely. To listen on iTunes you can go here.

We are also joined briefly by three graduates of the altMBA program: Bradley Spitzer, Kaci Lambe, and Nikki Layton. They share some of their biggest takeaways from the time spent in the program.

Seth Godin is a big supporter of The Acumen Fund, a great initiative that aims to rid the world of poverty. I made a small donation, if you’d like to join in the giving, please go here.

Here’s a general rundown of the episode:

3:15 Seth talks about why he wrote my favorite of his books, The Dip
3:45 Why we underrate the value of being #1 at what you do
8:05 Why the smartest approach is to build a lifetime of projects, not a career
8:30 A story of how Seth learned that taking responsibility is the best way to create change
11:00 How traditional education is broken
12:00 Why Seth started the altMBA program
14:20 Kaci, Bradley, and Nikki share some experiences regarding the altMBA
19:30 The most valuable skills in today’s topsy-turvy world
20:30 Why you should take charge of the inner narrative you tell yourself, and how to do this
21:00 The impact Zig Ziglar had on Seth Godin

This week’s episode is sponsored by FreshBooks, quick and easy accounting for the non-accountant. Get a free 30-day trial at