30 Life Lessons from Author, Seth Godin

Seth Godin’s blog is an instant yes.

Whatever he is riffing on, I’m reading it: guaranteed. And as he posts 365 days per year, that’s a whole lot of mind transplanting. 

One of the most influential writers in the world (who describes his work as ‘noticing things for a living and pointing them out to people’), Seth’s now 27 year old blog is full of the kind of necessary wisdom for work and life.

Author of 18 bestselling books, including Tribes, Linchpin, Purple Cow and my personal favorite The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?, Seth is a pioneer, mentor, inventor, thought leader, change facilitator, and responsible for ushering in a better way for leaders to lead, businesses to do business and writers to write.

Basically, dude kicks butt like none other.  

As an ode to ‘the observer’, here is a compilation of some stuff Seth has said from the past year. Note that these have been edited for brevity, so click through to read the whole thing.

1. On saying ‘no’ 

If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it. If you can’t do a good job, don’t take it on. If it’s going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass. 

2. It’s all a mistake

…until it works. The process isn’t to avoid the things that don’t work. Instead, our job is to eagerly embrace the mistakes on the road to the impact that we seek.

3. ‘Can we talk about this?’

That simple question is the litmus test for a productive relationship.

If one professional says it to another, the answer is an emotion-free, ‘sure.’ Talking is what we do. We communicate to solve problems.

On the other hand, if the question brings with it fear and agitation and, ‘uh oh, what’s wrong,’ you can bet that important stuff goes undiscussed all the time.

4. The realest thing in our lives 

Are the stories we invent. We live with these stories, we remind ourselves of them, we perfect them. And, happily, if you don’t like the story you’re telling yourself, you can change it.

5Light on your feet 

To walk lightly through the world, with confidence and energy, is far more compelling than plodding along, worn down by the weight on your shoulders.

There are two ways to achieve this. The first is take the weight away. To refuse to do work that’s important. The second is to eagerly embrace the weight of our commitment but to commit to being light, regardless.

6. Full speed, then stop, gracefully 

Quitting slowly doesn’t serve you well.

At work or in anything else you do, people will remember how you ended things. All in, then out is the responsible way to participate and to end that participation. Too often, we seduce ourselves into gradually backing off, in removing ourselves emotionally and organizationally.

Full speed, then stop.

7. Iceland 

Most successes aren’t the result of trying to be a huge success and settling for what you get. They are the result of focusing on exactly what you need, and getting it.

8. The simple way to get better at business writing 

Don’t do business writing. Write like you talk instead.

With effort and practice, it’s possible to speak with respect, precision and energy. After you speak that way, write down what you said.

That’s effective business writing.

9. Variations on stupid 

We throw the word stupid around a lot, labeling people (perhaps forever). In fact, there are tons of ways to be stupid, and we ought to think about that before we shut someone (including ourselves) down. Stupid is something we do, not the way we are.

10. Are you interesting?

An interesting person is interesting to us because she combines two things: Truth and surprise. 

Everyone is capable of telling the truth. And everyone has been surprising at least once.

Which means that being an interesting person is a choice.

11. Does vocabulary matter? 

It’s not about knowing needlessly fancy words (but it’s often hard to know if the fancy word is needless until after you learn it). Your vocabulary reflects the way you think (and vice versa). It’s tempting to read and write at the eighth-grade level, but there’s a lot more leverage when you are able to use the right word in the right moment.

12. Entitlement vs. worthiness 

When you receive something you feel entitled to, something expected, that you believe you’ve earned, it’s not worth much. 

When you feel unworthy, any kind response, positive feedback or reward feels like a trick, a scam, the luck of the draw. It’s hardly worth anything.

Both entitlement and unworthiness are the work of the resistance.

13. ‘No one clicked on it, no one liked it’

People don’t click on things because they like them, or because they resonate with them, or because they change them. They click on things because they think it will look good to their friends if they share them.

Yes, you can architect content and sites and commerce to get a click. But you might also choose to merely make a difference.

14. The 2% who misunderstand you

Sometimes, it’s essential that you be completely understood. 

But most of the time, if 2% of your audience doesn’t get the joke, doesn’t learn what you seek to teach them, doesn’t understand the essence of your argument, it’s not the problem you think it is.

When we hold back and dumb down, we are hurting the people who need to hear from us, often in a vain attempt to satisfy a few people who might never choose to actually listen.

15. Will this be on the test? 

A different part of our brain is activated when we think about what’s possible as opposed to what’s required.

16. A fly on the wall 

What people say isn’t always what they mean. It’s more productive to watch what they do.

17. After you’ve done your best work 

After you’ve written the best memo/blog post/novel/screenplay you can possibly imagine writing, after you’ve contributed your pithiest insight or gone on your best blind date…

and it still hasn’t worked…

You really have no choice but to do it again. To do your best work again, as impossible and unfair as that seems.

It compounds over time. 

18. Ten questions for work that matters

What are you doing that’s difficult?

What are you doing that people believe only you can do?

Who are you connecting?

What do people say when they talk about you?

What are you afraid of?

What’s the scarce resource?

Who are you trying to change?

What does the change look like?

Would we miss your work if you stopped making it?

What do you stand for?

What contribution are you making?

Hints: Any question that’s difficult to answer deserves more thought. Any answers that are meandering, nuanced or complex are probably a symptom of something important.

19. The edges 

Defining the edges of performance and the promises you make defines who you are and what you do.

We live in the middle but we understand at the edges.

20. Regrets as fuel 

If regrets about yesterday’s decisions and actions help you do better work today, then they’ve served a useful purpose.

Most of the time, though, we use regrets to keep us from moving forward. They paralyze us in the face of possibility.

21. Depth of field

Focus is a choice.

We have a choice about where to aim the lens of our attention. We can relive past injustices, settle old grudges and nurse festering sores. We can calculate failure’s odds. Or, we can imagine the generous outcomes we’re working on, feel gratitude for those that got us here and revel in the possibilities of what’s next.

Your story is your story. But you don’t have to keep reminding yourself of your story, not if it doesn’t help you change it or the work you’re doing.

22. My most popular blog posts this year

…weren’t my best ones. ‘Best’ is rarely the same as ‘popular.’

Which means that if you want to keep track of doing your best work, you’re going to have to avoid the distraction of letting the market decide if you’ve done a good job or not.

23. Deconstructing urgent vs. important 

The news we consume changes us. Not just the news manufactured by CNN, but the news manufactured by our boss, our investors, our customers.

Our choice, then, is to decide whether we want to engage in the hobby of living through other people’s breaking news instead of focusing on what’s actually important.

24. All my best posts are the posts I haven’t written 

Sometimes I’ll get a great idea for a post while out walking or showering or generally not in front of a keyboard. Not just great ideas, but fabulous ones. And then, after rehearsing the keywords over and over so I don’t forget before I write it down, I forget.

The thing is, an unwritten post is no post at all. The only good posts are the ones I’ve written.

25. I don’t feel like it 

Very few people wake up in the morning and feel like taking big risks or feel like digging deep for something that has eluded them. People don’t usually feel like pushing themselves harder than they’ve pushed before or having conversations that might be uncomfortable.

Do the work. Ignore the feelings part and the work will follow.

26. Persistence  

Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying.

Persistence is having the same goal over and over.

27. Big questions before little ones 

Hiding takes many forms. Inappropriate attention to detail is a big one, because it feels like a responsible thing to do.

28. What are you competing on?

In any competitive market, be prepared to invest your heart and soul and focus on the thing you compete on. Might as well choose something you can live with, a practice that allows you to thrive.

29. Show your work 

Ship before you’re ready, because you will never be ready. Ready implies you know it’s going to work, and you can’t know that. You should ship when you’re prepared, when it’s time to show your work, but not a minute later.

30. Compared to… 

Without a doubt, there’s someone taller than you, faster than you, cuter than you. The most important comparison, in fact, is comparing your work to what you’re capable of. Sure, compare. But compare the things that matter to the journey you’re on. The rest is noise.

Other Seth stuff

Neil Patel’s 10 questions Seth Godin can teach you about blogging.

Best of Seth 2012.

How Seth manages his life.

Seth on the practical way to peruse your passion.

Seth on failure.

What are your favorite musings from Seth? Get in touch!