The Age of The Impresario: Opening Doors For People Who Open Doors For People

“But what if this book fails?” I asked.

Without blinking. “Write another one.”

I was one of them.

If you’re familiar with Godin’s work you’re entitled to think, “Wow, what an opportunity.” An opportunity indeed — but what I wasn’t expecting was how this opportunity would turn into an life-changing obligation in how I would lead my life. On the train ride home one thought refused to leave my head:

There’s no turning back.

How can one person fundamentally alter your worldview, open your eyes to the possibilities that exist, and motivate you to pursue your Must, not Should.

Well, when you’re 23, lost, broke, and failing college, you’ll listen to someone who has lead a remarkable career and writes about the kind of change that you know is happening but is difficult to communicate.

Poke The Box and Linchpin fell on my lap around the time my best friend helped me set up my first blog because I was unstimulated by traditional education. Then I read the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Then Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Letters From a Stoic by Seneca.

Franz Kafka said, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” Those books reigned down on me, split me open, and sent me down a path of self-awareness, self-education, self-mastery and ruthless change. A year later I read over 100 books.

I shared 9 unforgettable lessons from the seminar — the 20 of us also wrote and shipped an eBook in 80 minutes — but the core lesson that Seth taught us was this:

Weave together resources and opportunities and put on a show.

That’s what impresarios have always done. It’s a mid-18th century Italian term that’s synonymous to a connector. Here is an empty space, here are some actors, over there are some musicians, and look, some costumes—go, make something happen, because, you know, who knows what might happen!

Learning to find purpose and joy in doing things that might not work wasn’t a one-time endeavor but adopted as a lifelong attitude.

What made it possible in the 18th century is what still makes it possible today: the ability to see the opportunities in front us, the courage to connect, and above all, to ship and do it again and again. An impresario is an artist and an artist is an impresario.

This isn’t about learning to fund a concert or opera (which you can still do, and, in essence, is what an impresario is all about). The modern impresario, however, is about making a ruckus, organizing a tribe, utilizing privileges to build assets, creating movements, and doing work that matters. Impresarios don’t wait for permission, they take it. They don’t seek opportunities, they create them.

My favorite passage that identifies this cultural and economical change was said in The Icarus Deception [emphasis mine]:

“Louis C.K. has famously proven that he doesn’t need the tyranny of the booker — he booked himself. Marc Maron didn’t wait to be cast on Saturday Night Live — he started his own podcast and earned a million listeners. Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission, authority, and safety that come from a publisher or a talk-show host or even a blogger who says, ‘I pick you.’ Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you — that Prince Charming has chosen another house in his search for Cinderella — then you can actually get to work. The myth that the CEO is going to discover you and nurture you and ask you to join her for lunch is just that, a Hollywood myth. Once you understand that there are problems waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the mission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.”

It has been a little over two years since that seminar, and of course a lot has changed for all of us. I self-published a book on self-education called Connect the Dots. In early 2014, I started writing for 99u and have written essays on topics like self-awareness and the importance of philosophy in an artist’s life. Around the Fall, a dream came true: I joined Help Scout, a phenomenal team building a fantastic product. I’m about to graduate college. I lead the #500WED Challenge for Lift in December. I feel immensely blessed for everything that has been happening, how all the patience and hard work is not just paying off but shaping me into the person I want to become. As Debbie Millman once fabulously said, “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.”

What are the other impresarios up to? Probably changing the world, duh.

I keep in touch with a few, but I wanted to know how everyone was doing.

So I put together 4 simple questions:

What are you up to?

How did the seminar change you?

What did you believe back then but changed your mind?

What advice would you give to young impresarios?

While I wasn’t able to get all 20 responses, I did manage to get enough to commit to writing this. It’s important we reflect and digest our experiences, but it’s even more rewarding to share it to help others.

To start the Impresario Series, meet Seth Godin, the man who taught me to leap and not look back, who didn’t give me a map but a compass that has ushered me into exploring the unknown with great enthusiasm.

“I guess this is why I’m so evangelical about our ability to choose ourselves, and why I’m so mystified by those who willingly give up the privilege in exchange for something that feels like safety. I can’t imagine how empty it would be to choose a life focused on selfish needs and the lack of love that this entails. A life built around merely making a profit, or avoiding things that might go wrong, and making sure to be off the hook at every turn. What a chance we have then, to bring love to our work life, to our creative lives, to the community we choose to embrace. What an opportunity to experience, as viscerally as we dare, the feeling of this might not work, of ever closer connections to people that mean something to us and most of all, of making a difference, of choosing to matter.”

Go. Make something happen.

My new book just came out last week. Check it out at

I broke every rule I could find in making it.

I found far deeper reservoirs of hope and passion and guts in a new generation than I ever expected. It pushed me to go a lot deeper.

I changed my mind about how much leverage people had over their own destinies. Watching people like you and Michelle and Jodi make such passionate commitments is awe inspiring.

That’s easy: Go.

[Get Seth’s new book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and its always your turn.]

“Quitting everything and going to Nepal was the best thing I’ve ever done.” — Michelle Welsch

For over one year, I have worked as a volunteer educator and social worker for a community in Western Nepal. I’ve made it my mission to support education and leadership development. My dedication has had tangible results: the monastic school program has improved structure and student resources, several of my Nepali friends have received scholarships, teachers are blossoming with training and support. I have raised over $20,000 to promote education initiatives through Indiegogo crowd-funding campaigns and am a proud Pollination Project Grant recipient. My service has received mention in the New York Times and significant partnerships have resulted in Matepani’s first dental health clinic (check-ups and treatment sponsored for all), an installed solar system, a class trip (a two-day all-expenses paid learning excursion), painted classrooms, scholarships for teachers’ continued study, appreciation dinners, and an assortment of student parties. And more…

I have received acknowledgement within the local community, been interviewed on Nepali Radio Online and was invited to speak at the Literary Society of Nepal in New York City. Furthermore, with endorsements from the Matepani school board, Kaski District Education Department, Kathmandu District Education office, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Home Affairs, the government of Nepal awarded me a teaching visa and work permit through July 2015. Such endorsements are incredibly difficult to obtain.

Here in Nepal, everything in my life has come together: my work with entrepreneurs, my education and license in social work, my experiences managing and orchestrating both small and large scale events. My next aim is to is to make learning fun and welcoming to all, regardless of background or income level. By combining the comfort of coffee houses (found widely throughout Nepal), and offering services similar to those found in tuition centers, the Learning Cafe will provide an environment that fosters education, leadership and community.

The Learning House will offer:

  • Internship and job placement — An emphasis will be placed on local and national partnerships to encourage in-country job placement and training. A job board will connect the local community with potential employees.
  • Career counseling — Qualified counselors will advise students on available internships and options for continued education.
  • Computer lounge and high-speed internet — In addition to a collection of study resources and books, a comfortable lounge will feature computers and free internet for use.
  • English language training — English language training will be dynamic and creative. Methods found in Western-style schools will focus on conversational and professional use of speech.
  • Group classes and private tutoring — Students will have the option to enroll in classes, form small study groups and receive one-on-one tutoring. Teachers will be selected based upon demonstrated classroom performance, not solely credentials or years served. Qualified volunteers will be welcomed to teach areas of specialty.
  • Entrepreneurship seminars — Regular seminars will teach skills necessary for entrepreneurship: leadership, creativity, management, communication, problem solving, character building, goal setting, public speaking and business fundamentals. These sessions will invite local business leaders and guest speakers and will be open to the community.
  • Tea and coffee house — The cafe will provide a place where students can relax before and after studies, meet new friends and form study groups. Familiar treats and fresh snacks — cakes, momos, roasted potatoes, noodles — will be served alongside delicious coffee and teas.

I’m looking for funding to support this initiative.

My work with Seth gave me much needed confidence, the courage to stand up and stand out, the ability to say, “This is my worth. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you.” Thanks to Seth, I’m able to recognize and OWN my talents and skills and find projects — and people — worthy of such.

I’m not a nonprofit or organization. I’m one person looking to help in whatever way I can. Before my work with Seth, I was looking to get picked: find the job, land the scholarship, be admitted, get accepted. Now I make it happen myself.

I believed I would find a magic bullet, a clear sign pointing me in the direction I was suppose to take. I learned that really that sign is up to me.

I also used to think you needed money to make magic happen in the world. This is false. You lead with your magic, the money will find you — or maybe, you realize you didn’t need it to begin with. Also, small little steps (or “drips,” as Seth might say) add up over time. The drips are enough. Slowly, but surely, the faucet will turn on.

Go. Do. Don’t wait. The life of your dreams is yours for the taking. It’s up to you to decide what it looks like. Grab it.

I’m now a partner in MAKE Digital Group ( and lead the operations and finance department. Beyond MAKE, I still own and run FolioMatch, a portfolio system that connects professionals based on work samples.

I was immediately motivated to continue connecting with others and growing the initial FolioMatch brand. Seth’s words and wisdom (in business it’s those who care the most, who make the most) confirmed what I had always believed: do to others what you would like them to do to you.

When I showed up to Seth’s office for the first time I believed that I would always have good business acquaintances but never be able to truly connect with other entrepreneurs that had been through what I had been through. After listening to Seth speak and getting to know my peers, I realized that the qualities you gain through entrepreneurial failure and success know no specific industry. Being forced to collaborate and share vulnerabilities opened up new pathways of thinking which ultimately led to a more profitable approach to business.

Keep connecting and keep building. Believe in people and they will believe in you. Impresarios don’t wait for the words “Yes, you should do it.” They wait for the words “Wow, I’m so glad you did.” Be the type of person that brings people together to create lasting change that spreads.

“Focus: relentlessly and regularly remove things that aren’t adding value to your life, your relationships, or your venture. They are distractions.” — Jonathan Van

What am I up to? Currently, building to enable frictionless tech commercialization. In simple terms, we help scientists and the institutions they belong to make more money, faster on their ideas and IP. We’ve raised seed funding to build out our platform that we believe will transform the way people interact with their universities and research institutions. We’ve partnered with one of the US’ largest R&D institutions (TBA)

Concurrently, my non-profit work has been the creation the Discovery Fund to grant student entrepreneurs $5k-25k grants. This stalled by a bit. We originally thought we could pretty easily raise $500k and get operating in 6–12 months. We totally underestimated what it’d take to work with and get approval from all the right university stakeholders. We are in the final days of that now.

What have I shipped? Started Interact with some friends where we brought 100 AWESOME people to Austin for SXSW and provided them with badges and lodging. Some alumni have gone on to become Thiel Fellows, YCombinator entrepreneurs, and Forbes 30 under 30 list. I’m super proud of recommending and leading an investment for Alta Ventures in Nuve.

What failed? I’m too perseverant to fail. I’d say there are some things I haven’t failed YET. I’ve definitely met a lot of hiccups, like the aforementioned timeline for the Discovery Fund. With Technium, we essentially stalled for six months due to fundraising taking WAY longer than expected, but it was a great time to collect our thoughts, refine our plan, nail our pitch and position ourselves for success.

I knew one thing for sure after the seminar: I’d never apply for a “regular job” no matter how tempting it might be due to peer and parental pressure. Being an entrepreneur means making $1 into $10 and there are opportunities to do that everyday if you live with your mind wide open. I remember awkwardly going to one career fair before the seminar. After the seminar, I was too busy hustling to even remember why all my friends suited up on a random weekday. I would turn every $1 into $10. I started racking up little bits of hustle here and there: hosting Lean Startup Machine Austin, helping pull together a clean energy consortium between Austin and the Netherlands, and generated $15,000 in revenue with the vacation rental business during SXSW.

In 2013, I hustled to follow my tech commercialization dreams that were seeded during my freshman year. I, subsequently, failed to get a cybersecurity technology out of UT Austin. Summer 2013, I spent some time with Tom Pickens (yes T. Boone Pickens son) learning how to be a great CEO at a company he was turning around called Astrotech. Shortly after, I jumped into a pet project at Alta Ventures that’s currently spinning out as Technium. You can’t stop someone whose got a fire in their belly that just won’t go out.

What changed me most was thinking my work at UT helping entrepreneurs would automatically make me an entrepreneur, but since the seminar, I stopped helping put on events and focused all my attention on building my own ventures. So I went from a very well known fixture in the community to someone who stepped out of the spotlight. It was a pivotal change in mindset that has led me to where I am today. Had I continued on that path, I might’ve been better suited working in economic development or at the university.

Focus: relentlessly and regularly remove things that aren’t adding value to your life, your relationships, or your venture. They are distractions. Try and sync up your calendar to priorities, so your time is in line with your top 3 priorities.

Appreciate consistency: Decision fatigue is real. The more good habits you form today mean many mental cycles you can reserve for important decisions. Your mental energy spent thinking about what you’re going to eat for lunch can be better spent negotiating a pivotal contract.

Make your bed everyday: “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.” — Admiral McRaven

Take the 20 min to watch this commencement speech: — witnessed it in person and it changed my life.

“Back then, I underestimated the power of story and of connection. Now, with every project, I aim to make philanthropy personal.” — Jodi Sagorin Spangler

The proudest project I shipped since the seminar is a nursing school scholarship program for young women in Haiti pursuing careers in healthcare. Yay! Up next, I want to make a dent in the huge gap in access to pain treatment. Together with some incredible colleagues, I’m working on a fundraiser to train 25 nurses in essential palliative care skills in Rwanda with the hope that they move on to ease the suffering of all the patients they encounter.

The seminar challenged me to think bigger and to do more. To separate things into actionable and attainable goals. I highly recommend Seth’s little workbook, Ship It, for this! He gave it to us during that weekend and I still use it for every new project. I also learned that there are so many incredible people my age working on inspiring projects and that we have so much we can learn from each other even if we are in different fields.

Back then, I underestimated the power of story and of connection. Now, with every project, I aim to make philanthropy personal. I learned to be crystal clear about the change I want to make in the world. I also learned how to pitch — making things imminent, exciting, and inviting people to join.

My advice would be to stop dreaming and start doing. Take action, no matter how small. You can do so much more than you can imagine right now. You’ll stumble, you’ll fall, and you’ll fail sometimes, but it’s worth it. Look around you. Make things better. Like Seth said, “better is a dream worth dreaming”. Go.

“One piece of advice is to pay attention to your misgivings about an opportunity up front.” — Sam King

Overall, I have stayed on the path of computer science and social change, though I have had a few twists along the way.

In the last few years:

  • I continued working on Code the Change. Now, we have chapters across the US, Canada, and the UK.
  • I continued to pretend working on my blog.
  • I finished my undergrad and masters.
  • I spent a year and a half at Google working on the education team.

I started at

I enjoyed my time at Google, and I certainly learned a lot, but it wasn’t a perfect match for me. I wanted to work there because it was, in many ways, a path of least resistance since there are a lot of resources there to help software engineers program, learn, and live comfortably. However, the team was mostly focused on incremental education initiatives.

One piece of advice is to pay attention to your misgivings about an opportunity up front. I worried about that when I was considering different options, but I discounted it. Instead, I should have been up front about it and talked with the people on the team directly about my hesitation.

That’s about all the concrete advice I can give at the moment (aside from encouraging you to try to make the world a better place) since I mostly just go where the wind takes me

“I thought I was only going to write, that writing would be my vessel for creating change. But I know that’s not true, and that we all have a lot of skills we can use to create the lives we want.” — Kristina Villarini

I didn’t ship what I discussed at the workshop for a myriad of reasons, but I will say that I have shipped myself. I’m the new Digital Engagement Manager for the non-profit GLSEN, which hopes to keep everyone safe in schools regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

I wrote about what I learned here: and spoke about the difficulties of self-selection for women here: … I don’t think I was aware how ‘programmed’ we are. That was a huge turning point for me; recognizing that being a catalyst for change isn’t a linear thing. I don’t have to JUST graduate and get a job… I am much more than that.

I thought I was only going to write, that writing would be my vessel for creating change. But I know that’s not true, and that we all have a lot of skills we can use to create the lives we want.

Don’t wait. Worry about how that idea, start up, or game works later. Learn about how to code it tomorrow. Just start. Don’t wait.

“Empathy is everything. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another, or more specifically, to identify an audience, listen carefully to what they really need and then have the deligence to iterate on solutions until you actually solve their problem.” — Tom Harman

Six months ago I joined an NYC startup with a mission to improve health outcomes throughout the US. Prior to this I spent a number of months shipping freelance projects as well as three months in Hawaii building Coastermatic, the company that started as the project I brought into Seth’s workshop. The line between success and failure often feels like a question of perspective, but the most challenging part along this journey was my choice to leave Coastermatic, a company continuing to grow from strength to strength.

For me the impact was in re-inforcing ideas and decisions I was already making. I wouldn’t describe this as a change so much, but it was definitely a wake-up call to take action and make things happen. I still struggle with balancing that instinct with day-to-day responsibilities ☺

I thought I would be completely self-sufficient, and the workshop re-inforced that I could do this. But since then and finishing my MFA, I realized this isn’t the only path, and if anything, I can do more of the work I enjoy when I’m able to collaborate heavily with people who’s talents I would struggle to combine working independently. It’s really about finding a way to work with people and organizations I share a world-view and mission with, without restricting my independence.

Empathy is everything. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another, or more specifically, to identify an audience, listen carefully to what they really need and then have the deligence to iterate on solutions until you actually solve their problem.

Paul Jun

I’m about to graduate college. In August I joined Help Scout. I write for 99u. I’m helping Michelle fund the learning school in Nepal. I’m privileged and honored to be able to do fun projects like writing this article. I’m continuing to build my site, Motivated Mastery, where I connect the dots on subjects like philosophy, psychology, creativity, self-mastery, and how to live well.

In December of 2013, I came across a fantastic quote by Kurt Vonnegut. He said, in short, “Practice any art, no matter how well or badly, not to get money or fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside of you, to make your soul grow.” I decided to teach myself to draw and, fortunately, I discovered something inside of me that is slowly taking over my life. Here’s a progress picture:

Left was finished in February 2014; the right was finished in December of 2014.

Seth gave me confidence to pursue what I originally believed to be impossible or only for the gifted. He taught me how to dance with fear, to ship and not look back, and instilled a worldview rooted in virtues like love, generosity, wisdom, self-awareness, and grit that has carried me fruitfully since.

I believed I was going to follow the path of blogger to book deal; I believed that was the only way to be “successful,” to make my old-school Korean parents happy, and to make a living. I pitched a book idea at the seminar, wrote it in less than a year, self-published it, and was demoralized by the results. I simply lacked an understanding and indeed carried a grandiose sense of entitlement that needed to be removed, but more importantly, understood. That’s when I started the new website, launched a small project called The Motivated Mastery Manifesto, and continued to guest author for many sites. “Journey, not destination,” Seth admonished to me once. Those three words thump in my psyche and I latch onto them whenever I feel lost.

I never thought I would be working at a software company — but the work, in essence, is intrinsically fulfilling, which is something I don’t take for granted. My freedom to work remote, doing what I love and loving what I do, having the time to build my own platform and pursue side projects, being able to take care of my parents in ways I never could, and working with a phenomenal team that is nurturing, supportive, and ambitious, is perhaps one of the greatest blessings and realizations that years of persistence prepares you for whatever fortune has to offer you.

Most of the advice that I give is wisdom passed down from those way smarter than me. Part of the reason why I love quotes is not only because their prose, but for their wisdom and universal application.

Here are some quotes that have guided me and continue to do so:

“The most important knowledge is that which guides the way you lead your life.” — Seneca.

“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

“To live a good life:

We have the potential for it. If we can learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. This is how we learn: by looking at each thing, both the parts and the whole. Keeping in mind that none of them can dictate how we perceive it. They don’t impose themselves on us. They hover before us, unmoving. It is we who generate the judgements — inscribing them on ourselves. And we don’t have to. We could leave the page blank — and if a mark slips through, erase it instantly.

Remember how brief is the attentiveness required. And then our lives will end.

And why is it so hard when things go against you? If it’s imposed by nature, accept it gladly and stop fighting it. And if not, work out what your own nature requires, and aim at that, even if it brings you no glory. None of us is forbidden to pursue our own good.”— Marcus Aurelius

“Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.” — Maria Popova

It’s your turn.

When you start to understand — not know or see, but to truly grasp — the changes that are happening, culturally and economically, it puts you in a position to think about how you can matter and make an impact.

The language that I readily used before I became a writer was rooted in the industrial mindset — seek comfort, safety, certainty, obey and do well on tests. “Language is not a handmaiden to perception,” said the author Stanley Fish. “It is perception; it gives shape to what would otherwise be inert and dead.” The moment I changed my language was the moment my life started to change.

“Choose yourself” or “Pick yourself” is the phrase of the century. No other time in history have we had this much freedom, opportunities, resources, and connection. You can start that business. You can learn that subject. You can connect with that person. You can do work that matters.

But like the promises of the industrial era — go to school, do well, keep your head down, and you’ll be okay — this promise of the connection economy is no easy task and has no guarantees. What we’re being called to do wasn’t taught (and still isn’t) in traditional education, and if your inner circle doesn’t have this mindset, then it’s difficult to see the potential.

However, if you decide to take this leap of choosing yourself, then what a life you’re going to lead. The stories of a CPA becoming a yoga teacher or a failing college student finding his way or the single mother of two starting her own business — ask yourself, why not you? Why not now?

These stories at face value are intimidating and inspiring. It’s easy to believe that this can’t be you — you’re not in the right place or time or circumstance or have the appropriate resources. A lot of people are stuck and brainwashed to feel this way, and I promise you, it’s just an excuse. What’s missing isn’t the extraneous elements but rather the internal ones — the worldview that allows you to see the opportunities, the mindset that transmutes failure into fuel, the attitude of being generous, unyielding grit, mastering skills that create value … these are all available to you right now. You can start right now.

We’re all in the business of leaping. If you don’t take that risk, if you decide to keep doing work that’s unfulfilling, then we’re both losing. You are an impresario and you don’t even know it yet. Maybe, just maybe, that’s something worth finding out, to “live your questions,” to “find out what’s inside of you.” That’s a leap worth taking.

Content strategist, community builder, photographer, and writer. Co-founder of The Observers. Formerly: CreativeMornings & altMBA.

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