Deep Creative Focus, the Long Haul … and, Yes, David Bowie

What does it mean to live an amazing life? Why put the time in to get great at something? And how can we keep having fun for the long haul?

Last week David Bowie died, leaving a lot of us shocked and saddened — and leaving all kinds of “What David Bowie can Teach Us” posts and podcasts.

This isn’t that. But it is a set of musings that Bowie’s death (and life) sparked me to think about.

In this 15-minute episode, I talk about:

  • How to prepare for your “overnight success”
  • My pink permission slip for making yourself great
  • The role that weird, deep projects can play in an amazing life
  • Finding the balance between working deeply and playing deeply
  • Train wrecks, publicity, and legacy
  • My favorite virtue (some consider it a vice)

The Show Notes

Sonia Simone: Hello, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me yet, I’m a co-founder and the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital.

I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.

So, I record these a little under a week before we publish, and the big thing that happened this week is that David Bowie died. It shocked and saddened a lot of us on social media, it was pretty much the only thing anyone talked about on Monday in my feeds.

There will be a lot of “What David Bowie can Teach Us” posts, I think because he tried so many different things that he had many, many opportunities to influence and become beloved by so many people. So there’s a lesson there, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about.

I’m not going to do a “What Bowie can Teach Us” podcast today, but his life did spark some thoughts for me, so instead of walking through all the ways he did it, I’m going off on my own and talking about something that didn’t get covered ten million times — which is the value of continuing to show up, to stay engaged and creative for the long haul.

The multi-year overnight success

Many of you are well familiar with the phenomenon that what looks like “overnight success” virtually always has roots in many years of preparation.

You may be in the middle of that preparation time, which is an incredibly tough time on the psyche. You’re working hard, your family or significant other might be wondering why you are spending all of this time on this “pipe dream” thing, whether it’s a podcast or a website or a business or a book, or whatever it might be.

One of the most valuable things you can do is to surround yourself with support and encouragement during this time. It’s nice to have a supportive family, but it isn’t fair to ask them to do all the heavy lifting here.

Find other people who do what you do — write or record or make music or make a business, whatever it is. Create those supportive friendships, and keep working on them and creating new relationships. You’re going to need it, you really will.

No one can give you a guarantee. I can’t give you some kind of warranty that guarantees you’ll get the results you intend to from this time of your life, this time of preparation and getting really good at what you do, and putting the work in.

But I can give you one of my pink permission slips to continue to make yourself better — because something awesome is going to come out of it. I don’t know what it is, and you don’t either.

The value of doing “non-commercial” deep work

My lovely, smart friend Victoria Labalme studied with Marcel Marceau. She worked incredibly hard. Does she make a living now as a mime? No, I guess somewhat ironically, she makes a great living as an elite speaking coach.

But the visual expression she can put into a talk, the way she can communicate beyond what she’s doing with her voice, is incredible.

She didn’t know where that work was going to go, but she knew it had value — and it has been part of what’s added up to become this amazing life.

Plus, as my friend and Personal MBA writer Josh Kaufman says about writing books, “It’s valuable because it’s hard.”

By the way, both of those people are folks you should know more about — I’ll see if I can entice Josh here to talk about the Personal MBA, because it was vastly influential on me. And Victoria is doing a speaking workshop in Los Angeles in late February that I’m going to — if you give talks and want to work on doing that at a much higher level, I think she might have room. Plus you and I can hang out. 🙂 is where to go to see if there are any spots left in that workshop.

Finding the balance

What this is all about is finding that balance — on the one hand, putting the work in because it’s hard and because you want to get tremendously good and because it matters, and just because it’s satisfying to really master something instead of staying on the surface the way most people do.

And on the other hand, staying open and sensitive to the potential for doing Your Thing in a new way, a different way, experimentation, exploration, reinvention. Play.

Obviously, going back to Bowie, what he was known for was reinvention. But paired with reinvention is working your ass off toward mastery, so that when you reinvent yourself, it’s not just some kind of train wreck attraction stunt, which is where a lot of celebrities these days settle.

Train wrecks, publicity, and legacy

What is Kim Kardashian masterful at? I have no idea.

If she’s paying her dues, if she’s working to master something at a truly exceptional level, an elite level, other than self-promotion, she hides that. This may or may not be fair, but from what she puts out there, she’s today’s poster child for being famous for being famous.

As opposed to her husband, who’s kind of a tool a lot of the time, at least in his public persona, but Kanye West is a masterful musician and he’s put the work in to really create transformative work. His level of craft and inventiveness are genuinely at an elite level. You might like his work or not like it, but you can’t dismiss it.

By the way, I happen to suspect they’re probably both very smart. Who knows, I don’t know these people. This isn’t praising or putting them down, it’s just an observation from the outside on what legacies I think they’re likely to leave. Since they happen to be very famous and married, it invites that comparison between the two.

It’s not about being nice, or likable. I happen to think being nice is underrated, and I recommend it. Emotional intelligence is a useful thing to develop. It comes in handy plus it makes you a better person.

But this isn’t about that. It’s about being both deeply dedicated and deeply playful. It’s about being a pro and being an artist. They’re not mutually exclusive, at all — quite the opposite — but sometimes our culture makes it feel that way.

The virtue of stubbornness

Going back to Bowie, although there are a lot of things I admire about him, it might be the stubbornness that I respect the most.

He kept showing up. He kept reinventing himself. He kept working on that knife-edge of balance between mastery and play. He kept things uncomfortable.

If he’d stopped at Ziggy Stardust, he’d have enduring fans, but it would be a somewhat shallow success. It would be a moment in time, a sliver of rock and roll history.

Some of his creative experiments weren’t terribly successful, commercially or with critics. That didn’t really seem to matter. He just kept working.

Many of you have seen some lovely photos taken of him just a few days before his death, by his photographer Jimmy King. They don’t look like a man who’s given up. They don’t look like a man who can count the hours before his death. He looks like he’s having fun.

That’s what I would wish for you, and for myself. Keep showing up, keep working on something that challenges you, and keep having fun right up until the final moments. That’s a life well lived. It’s certainly my aspiration, and I hope that both you and I can live up to it.