My Personal Manifesto
8 values I’ve learned I can’t live without
About a year and a half ago, I started an agency called Baji with four friends. To us, it was important to start with what motivated us at the deepest level. In the process, I wrote out the eight values below.
I’ve been writing professionally as a copywriter and ghostwriter for over a decade, and during that time, it was rare for me to write deeply for myself. So, the opportunity to sit down and define my personal manifesto and tie it to the agency was refreshing.
Today, Baji is no more. My friend Jon Ashcroft and I sold our share to our partners Jesse Bryan and Mike Anderson at the beginning of August. Jon is now doing what he loves most, killer design and illustration on the freelance circuit. Jesse and Mike had a vision to reshape Baji into an agency called Belief. And I’ve moved into a perfectly-fit role for me at Phinney Bischoff as their Brand Experience Director.
But to me, these original values do live on, and I plan on carrying them everywhere I go in life. I may not always live them perfectly, but I hope to always stay in the gap between perfection and complacency.
1. THE MEANS SHOULD JUSTIFY THEMSELVES
We all have places we want to go, things we want to accomplish, and projects we want to see the light of day. And each day, we’re faced with thousands of seemingly inconsequential decisions that are the means by which we get to our desired end. For some, accomplishing goals is more important than the way in which they accomplish them. Compromises must be made. White lies told. People sacrificed. The ends justify the means. After all, we aren’t perfect, right?
Machiavelli wrote, “Anyone who would act up to a perfect standard of goodness in everything must be ruined among so many who are not good.” Translation: everyone else is compromising. If you don’t, you won’t succeed.
I call that the tyranny of pragmatism.
I’m not perfect, but I’d rather die trying. I believe that every decision I make is important and should be justified within itself. Sometimes that will take me to my desired end—sometimes it will takes me to surprisingly better places. I choose to be constrained by what is right, not by my end goal. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. After all, the journey is half the fun.
2. JOY CARRIES THE DAY
James the Just wrote over 2,000 years ago, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Joy in trials? What the hell, James? But maybe he was onto something.
Lots of people want to be happy. This can often mean avoiding pain, struggle, stretching, and a host of other uncomfortable words. But the problem is that while they may be happy (or at least think they are), they don’t grow. They don’t accomplish. They play it safe and get safe results.
Joy transcends happiness. Joy can be had in even the toughest of circumstances because it is the resolute state of a mind and soul that has purpose and is achieving that purpose. As FDR said, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” And I might as well counterbalance that with some words from John Calvin: “You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy”
Often making amazing, creative work is a painful process of supreme suffering (maybe that’s a little hyperbolic…maybe), but out of the process true joy happens as we, together, create something meaningful and powerful. Even in the toughest of circumstances, joy carries the day.
3. LIVE AND DIE TOGETHER
A young boy once asked his grandfather, “Were you a hero in the war?” His Grandpa answered, “No, but I served in a company of heroes.”
We might all enjoy movies like Rambo, but let’s face it. Most people who try to be vigilante heroes end up dead. True strength comes in numbers—in the collective talents, passions, and insights of a company of heroes, not one hero who takes credit for everyone’s work.
Babe Ruth, a man who many would consider a giant of individual talent, put it this way: “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”
When it comes to any creative endeavor, it’s not me, but we, who make the project a success.
4. GOOD ENOUGH ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH
When the deadlines pile up and time is running short, we can find ourselves ready to throw in the towel and say, “That’s good enough.”
No, it’s not.
Good enough is the mantra of the defeated. It’s the path to mediocracy. It’s safe. But Todd Henry makes a great point, “A lifetime of mediocrity is a high price to pay for safety.”
I refuse to settle for good enough. I strive for greatness. I forge ahead. When I hit a wall, I push through it. When the road gets bumpy, I may switch gears, but I keep going. After all, “It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.” Seneca said that. Yeah, he was pretty smart.
5. WALK INTO FEAR
Either you will walk into the fear, or you shrink from it. I choose to embrace fear and stare it in the face. I respect it. I do not run from fear a coward but instead run into it with courage.
Gandhi said, “Fear has its use but cowardice has none.” Fear makes us better. It helps us know when we’re taking risks. It brings excitement. It opens doors. It compels us to do great things.
When it comes to creativity, fear is usually the indicator that something great lives on the the other side. The ability to walk into the fear is what separates the strong from the weak, the good from the great. Embracing fear is a treasure given to us by God.
Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it into perspective, “He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”
6. STORIES MATTER
You can sell them, or you can compel them. Selling will move your product, but it won’t create evangelists. To create follow-you-to-the-ends-of-the-earth fans, you have to create an ethos. You have to be mythic. And the only way you do that is through stories.
Stories compel us, not just sell us. They move us. They create emotional attachment. Stories connect with the depths of our souls. As Muriel Rukeyser beautifully put it, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
You have a story, and it’s begging to be told. You change lives, for better or for worse. You can and should stand for more than the bottom line.
7. BE KIND, NOT NICE
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “There’s only one rule I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” Kurt probably said that a little more strongly than I would, but you get the idea. Certainly, he didn’t mean be nice when he said be kind. He wasn’t nice by any stretch. So, what did he mean?
There are lots of nice people in the world who aren’t very kind. They’ll smile at you. They’ll patronize you. They’ll tell you yes when they should tell you no. They’ll hold your hand all the way to hell.
Nice and kind are not the same—though sometimes they work together. Kind people care about you and others. They care so much that sometimes they’ll say the hard word because it’s needed. They’ll turn you out because they know it’s what’s best for you. They’ll push you when you’re ready to give up. They’ll see what you can be instead of what you are. And sometimes, you won’t think they’re being very nice.
Some of the kindest people I’ve known have been the hardest on me. I salute them, and I strive to be like them: kind, not nice.
8. WHAT’S THE 11TH?
Hit me up on Twitter, and I’ll let you know.
Jake is the Brand Experience Director at Phinney Bischoff, an experience design studio in Seattle, Washington.