Two weeks in NY with Seth Godin & co.
I can finally write about my experience working with Seth Godin and 16 unbelievably talented comrades. I say “finally” because it’s been almost three weeks since I returned and I “finally” feel comfortable enough/compelled enough to spill the beans, so to speak.
NOTE: To clarify, I applied and was accepted into a two week internship with Seth Godin and a small team. Our internship ended on August 2nd, 2013. We built something. That something is still in production, but should be released into the wild in a few weeks. Unfortunately I’m unable to divulge the details of what we built. I am able, however, to share some of my experience. My name is Grant. I’m a writer, designer, and entrepreneur from Minnesota. That’s me, above, in the plaid shirt next to Seth.
Since my return I’ve been bombarded with questions, mostly these:
“How was NY?”
“What did you do?”
“Did you touch Seth’s head?!”
“Built something incredible.”
“I tried. Almost got him.”
And mostly I haven’t gotten straight questions, but rather, the audacious request of:
“Tell me everything!”
Ooftah. To my friends I’ve seen since I returned… I’m sorry I couldn’t quite explain. I apologize for the absence of my trademark Grant Enthusiasm™ when discussing what happened. I certainly didn’t mean to under represent my adventures or leave you in the dark.
Because here’s the thing—it was un-freaking-believable.
Every-freaking-thing was so un-freaking-believably un-freaking-believable. I can hardly believe it.
It was the best experience of my life so far.
It was inspiring. It was challenging. It was transformative.
Seth would probably be disappointed it took me so long to write this post—I was hung up, I was caught up in the Resistance. My Lizard Brain was screaming at me to stop typing and to go indulge in something far easier, and far less meaningful. These are excuses, I know.
But the thing is, I don’t think Seth would quite comprehend my perspective on this particular subject. He’s made it very clear where he stands on the idea of mentors and heroes—he favors the scalability, semi-accessibility, and power of a hero. However, he suggests this under the premise that one never actually gets to meet, let alone work closely with, aforementioned hero.
So hey, Seth, this is sort of unique situation. And I couldn’t write about it for a little bit. That’s how much it affected me. I’m a goddamn writer! I write every day. It should be my first instinct, I know.
But this time was different. I put the pen to paper, the fingers to keyboard, and I just…couldn’t.
Just like the time I had tears running down my face after a particularly tough all-hands-on-deck meeting. I had no words. It took me a bit to find them, but eventually I did. That was, surprisingly, one of my favorite moments of the trip—because it was so heartbreaking and so real and so remarkably important. I will never forget that moment when all seemed lost. Thank you Seth, for giving me that memory. And that slice of cucumber. You’re a gent.
And speaking of Seth being a gent, here’s the big secret, guys:
Seth is one of the smartest and kindest people I’ve ever met. Kindness, authenticity, genuine compassion. These are surprisingly rare things. We don’t always expect these traits in our heroes. Seth likes to talk about other people’s “not-so-secret-secrets”…well, his is that he’s a really, really, really good person
And I learned a lot from him. Do you want some advice? Do you want the esoteric knowledge of which I am now privy? Searching for the, dare I say, magic formula to success?!
It’s pretty simple. Seth showed me.
Be smart, be kind, be humble, be assertive, be strategic be compassionate, be really good at what you do.
That was pretty easy, eh?
You may not have the yellow shades or the squeaky clean noggin to pull off Seth. However, practicing kindness (and your craft) will get you a lot closer than you’d imagine. Seriously.
Sethstuff™ aside, I hereby raise my glass to the group of people I had the privilege, nay, the honor of working with. I was tempted to call them “awe-inspiring”, but I don’t think I could make it past “aw” before breaking down and smiling.
They’re pretty dang good folks—wealthy in talent, humor, and fortitude.
The Sethternship™ 17 (total number of interns) was a diverse group that spanned ages, demographics, professions and nationalities. But in the midst of that diversity were a few common threads:
- Talent (and an abundance of it)
- Kindness (and an abundance of that, too)
- Grit (the ability to get the work done in the midst of hardship)
- Dance skills
That’s the crew. I could go on for days, weeks…years, maybe, about how rad that crew (+ Seth) is...but they know how amazing they are and how much respect I have for them, so let’s leave it there.
More importantly, some of the things I learned with Seth & Co.
- Spending time with good people is what life is all about. Most things I do are simply attempts to spend time with good people.
- Let go of your art. Don’t create in a vacuum. Over-share, iterate, improve.
- You must approach Big Hairy Ideas with the understanding that “this might not work.” If Bob Dylan was on the hook for a grammy with every album he would have made one album and quit.
- Having a point of view is important—don’t think out loud in a big group, it’s inefficient (most of the time). Pick a side and defend it.
- It’s amazing what you can accomplish when people get out of the way. Make an effort to get out of people’s way, or request they get out of yours, en route to really great work.
- There’s more joy in connection than success. Even the most successful people are human. And it seems to me that the things that bring successful people joy are the same things that bring me joy—hard work with incredible people, family, connection, vulnerability, risk, art, high-fives. And it would also seem that finding joy in those things usually leads to success. Connect with people.
- Understanding other’s worldview is the key to a lot of things. When you’re trying to motivate someone else (this can mean a lot of things—sales, inspiring an employee, arguing in a relationship, etc.) what YOU think isn’t necessarily important. If you’re not capable of true empathy, of a perspective shift, it’s going to be a lot harder to a) understand the rationale from the other party and b) convince them to do whatever you were hoping. Change. Your. Perspective.
- Poking the box, causing a ruckus, is my mission. It typically comes back to that for me—how can I improve things + change things and how can I connect with more awesome people?
- “People prefer to buy hope rather than truth. Truth is mechanical. Hope is inspiring.”
- Writing every day is both possible and valuable. Possible if committed to, valuable in countless ways.
- Almost everything boils down to stories—telling and crafting and fitting into them. This is part of that worldview we all carry around. We’re a bunch of storytellers. Good storytellers are gold.
- Don’t half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing. Thanks to (the beautifully faced) Erin Lee for this sage wisdom (see her website/quotes section for further affirmation).
- I’d rather die laughing than accomplished. It’s more fun that way.
- Bug bites are nothing, a mosquito doesn’t derail a train. Carry on, locomotive.
- Ship or die. If it doesn’t ship, it isn’t art.
- Be direct. Those who are committed to doing great work can handle direct, real feedback. Even though it’s hard, especially with my Midwestern roots, I’m committed to stepping on toes if I must, in the interest of doing better work. Even though it’s harder to be direct than to meander around issues and opinions, I owe it to my collaborators to be clear, concise, and honest.
- It’s selfish not to share with the world. It’s easy to stop, to quit, to do things that are safe and predictable. But that’s selfish, so I won’t hold back just to save face. I will be vulnerable and ambitious.
- “Americans are horrible at talking about feelings.” Or so says a very vocal Panamanian woman named Stefy. I’m not sure how I feel about that accusation……I don’t want to talk about it. But really, this is directly related to #16. Be open. Be honest.
- How you tell a story changes what it is perceived as. Seth totally re-framed my view of Gladwell’s Outliers. Mind, blown. Once again—storytelling, changing perspectives… there’s a reason these themes are recurring, guys. They’re important.
- When you don’t communicate, the fan and poo collide. Especially in a team—if you’re not talking you’re probably wasting resources (time, energy, money) and headed down the wrong path (or at least toward something lesser than what’s possible).
- Extreme circumstances are huge opportunities for growth. Take advantage if you’ve stumbled through the wardrobe into Narnia, who knows how long you’ll be there. This is suspended reality, seize the chance to expand and explore.
- I discovered the BEST BURGER IN THE WORLD while in NY. Thanks to Ryan and Tina of TGD for sharing—I promised I’d keep the location a secret, unfortunately. But I’m not above accepting bribes.
- People are often looking for permission. Permission to walk across the street, permission to get a job, permission to take a risk. Sometimes you need to pick yourself and stop looking for permission. Other times you need to recognize the longing for permission in someone else and grant them it. Permission (even if it’s often more symbolic than actually binding) can change someone’s life.
- Jake Gyllenhaal needs to leave me alone. Seriously, it’s getting a little out of control, dude. Chill out.
This experience opened my eyes, shifted my perspective and challenged me in new ways. I don’t want to say it fundamentally changed me as a person… but it certainly had an enormous impact on me. It affirmed a lot of things. It eradicated the minute amount of Impostor Syndrome that still ailed me. I am a cured man.
And Seth is a truly brilliant human. I think the really special part of that brilliance involves pushing us toward our own learning.
Many people are searching for answers. A lot of people would assume Seth has a mystical box. And they would assume that in this mystical box are the answers to all of their problems, that Seth can reach in at will and pluck the solutions out, fully-formed and ready to go.
But it’s not that. Seth’s wisdom is that he teaches you not to memorize exact solutions to standardized tests, but to enlighten yourself and discover independently. Instead of handing you the answer key to this test we commonly refer to as “life,” he gives you permission to be great, to succeed. From there, it’s up to you, as it should be.
For his leadership, teaching, generosity, kindness, and permission, I am eternally grateful.
To the team that I wouldn’t hesitate to call family, I am humbled to be among such extraordinary company.
PS two other interns posted about their experience:
Barrett Brooks / 14 Lessons from 14 Days with the Seth Godin Team
Sean O’Connor / Lessons from Seth