Do you struggle with a nagging feeling you’re not doing the work you were meant to? Are you bottling your biggest ambitions until the timing is right? Does fear of the unknown hold you back from taking risks?
If so, Cincinnati resident Todd Henry
's new book "Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day
" is for you. I spoke to the author, noted creative consultant and staunch Cincinnati advocate about dying empty, the risks of coasting in your comfort zone, and the opportunities he sees for our city’s creative class and its budding entrepreneurs:
When did you first know you had to write this book? Was there one particular encounter or event that prompted it, or did the idea slowly surface?
I spend a lot of time speaking at conferences, so I get to meet a broad cross-section of people from different industries who are at various stages of their careers. The one common theme I see across all sectors and in all life stages is a haunting sense in people that they are not really getting the work that is personally meaningful to them out into the world. Many people are successful, and some are even broadly recognized for their work, but they still feel that they are just “settling” and not acting on their deeper ambitions and instincts. After hearing so many of these stories, I felt compelled to write this book as a way to help people structure their lives in such a way that they build a body of work they can be proud of.
Let’s talk about the title. You didn’t go with something such as "Live a Full Life." You chose "Die Empty." "Die" is a pretty provocative word, no?
Yes, it’s definitely provocative, but it’s also reality. We each have a finite number of days on this earth, and today is not a dress rehearsal. Every day we choose to default to whatever is comfortable or most convenient instead of what we know to be right is an opportunity lost forever. My goal with this book is to equip people to live and work in such a way that they will die empty of regret. No one gets to do everything they want to do in life, but I believe that anyone can engage life and work in such a way that they minimize their regrets and don’t feel like they squandered the opportunity to make a contribution.
It sounds like you frequently encounter big thinkers and would-be entrepreneurs who have a killer idea they're passionate about, but not the confidence or risk tolerance to take the plunge and try to make it happen. What advice do you offer these dreamers-but-not-doers?
Søren Kierkegaard said, “Decisions part the fog on stagnant waters. Cowardice kills us.” Many times, people are paralyzed by the options, and thus incapable of making any kind of meaningful progress. They simply don’t know the next steps. My advice to these people is to make the decision to start acting on it, to define their through-line or mission in the project, and to commit to daily, meaningful progress. It isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. You can redirect from anywhere to get where you want to be, even if you make a few bad decisions. Action yields momentum, which yields opportunity. Inaction and pontificating leads to frustration, stagnancy and, eventually, mediocrity. Many brilliant ideas have died on the vine due to inaction.
Whether you’re launching a new business or pitching a bold plan to your boss, going out on a limb is inherently risky. But you make the point that clinging to your comfort zone is also dangerous. Can you elaborate on why settling is actually unsafe?
There is nothing wrong with comfort as a byproduct of your work. However, comfort cannot be your primary ambition. It’s impossible to pursue great work and comfort simultaneously because you will eventually have to choose. Brilliant work is accomplished when people choose to do the right thing, even when it’s the uncomfortable thing. It seems temporarily safe to stay in your comfort zone, but eventually you will become less effective if you’re not taking strategic risks to develop your skills and challenge your processes and assumptions.
The location you list in your Twitter bio is “Cincinnati/Airports.” Between consulting work and your many speaking engagements, you visit a lot of different cities around the country. In terms of innovation and creativity, how do you think Cincinnati stacks up?
I’m incredibly bullish on Cincinnati. I try to be an ambassador for the city wherever I go because I believe that it has a brilliant combination of three critical elements—opportunity, resources, and stability—that’s lacking in many other cities. In my opinion, it’s the perfect environment for startups and entrepreneurs because it’s small enough to get connected, but big enough to provide ample opportunity for growth. Plus, it’s centrally located, so it’s easy to get anywhere you need to be pretty quickly.
What, if anything, is missing? I’ve heard you say Cincinnati is at an inflection point. What does our city’s startup community need in order to go to the next level?
So many of the things that are happening are exactly what we need, only in ever-increasing measure. Funding is ramping up for local startups, we have incubators and community continuing to develop to support these initiatives, and the opportunity is ripe because so many larger companies are looking to emerging startups to fill the R&D void. We may look back in 30 years and say that the next decade established an amazing new vector for our city.
Your first book, "The Accidental Creative," was a big success and is now out in paperback. "Die Empty" will be released this week and has received glowing, full-throated endorsements from heavy hitters such as Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield. You travel the globe helping others boost their creativity. Ever wake up in the morning and have to pinch yourself?
I’m really grateful that my work has gained traction because it’s taken many years for that to happen. However, I also try to take my own medicine by waking up each morning on mission, and realizing that every day is a chance to engage with meaning and purpose, wherever that may lead.
Want to learn more on how to "Die Empty"? Join Joseph Beth Booksellers and Soapbox on Tuesday, October 22 at 8 a.m. for a morning conversation with Todd Henry. For more details or to RSVP, please click here.
Doug White is a Cincinnati-based writer. He’s the editor of TCG Blog, which focuses on careers and creativity. Follow him @TCG_Doug.