Reinvention Isn’t Easy, But It Is Necessary: 22 Thoughts from Julien Smith

The Fall Mastermind program is underway. If you'd like to be considered for the January 2018 cycle, click here to apply.

It’s November, the season of gratitude–one of my favorite seasons. In the spirit of gratefulness, thanks, and learning, I’ll be giving away prizes with almost every single post all throughout November. Some of the things I have to give away include a copy of Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s new book, “The Impact Equation,” copies of I’m Fine, Thanks, (the documentary by Crank Tank Studios), a digital copy of Do Something, and a copy of the upcoming book by Shane Mac, Stop With The BS. If you haven’t yet, make sure you sign-up to be notified of new posts by email so you can win all of these goodies: there are a lot of giveaways this month!

Today’s thoughts come from a powerful presentation by Julien Smith at last months’ Powder Keg conference in Indianapolis, Indiana–and a chance to win a copy of his latest book, The Impact Equation. 


“If we don’t cannibalize ourselves, someone else will.”
(Steve Jobs)

Why did Apple make the iPhone? They already had the iPod and if they made a new product that incorporated music into a phone they would be actively competing against their own product. What’s the benefit of this?

As Jobs said, often you have to cannibalize against yourself–through perpetual creative destruction, adaptation, and reinvention–in order to push the envelope.

Reinvention isn’t easy. Leaning against the edges of your comfort zone is HARD. It’s terrifying. In addition to all of the thankfulness and gratefulness I have, I’m also–frankly–terrified. When there are big changes happening and it’s not comfortable or easy, and each time I have to push hard to make change happen, working through my own psychological hang-ups and my desire for comfort and security.

But it’s worth it. You can’t sit back. You have to do something.

It reminds me of a presentation that Julien Smith gave last month at the Powder Keg conference in Indianapolis. These are my notes from his presentation, and I call them, simply, “reminders.” He’s brilliant–he pushes you–and he also writes one of my favorite blogs. This will not be easy. Thanks to Julien for inspiring this post.


  1. Adapt or die.
  2. Adapt or suck.
  3. Create your own categories.
  4. Seek out conditions that test and challenge you to MAKE YOURSELF BETTER.
  5. “Why can’t you fucking go do something interesting.”
  6. Everybody is being conditioned by something.
  7. Design your own path. No one is designing it for you. [For more, watch this: Dare to Disagree]
  8. If something is inevitable, start doing it.
  9. Find an opening that allows you to move faster than anyone else.
  10. Vulnerability is the new cool. [See: Brene Brown].
  11. Most people do not have the courage to go forward because we are TOO AFRAID OF THE PAIN. Get over it.
  13. Discover your own ignorance.
  14. Figure out what you don’t know.
  15. Get dirty.
  16. The mantra of every entrepreneur, innovator, and doer: “I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.”
  17. Don’t wait. Do it now.
  18. Disrupt yourself.
  19. Disrupt your company.
  20. Always.
  21. Pressure is good for you.
  22. Talk without action is shit.

It’s important to make sure you take action and Do Something about your life, even in the face of fear, even when it’s overwhelming and terrifying. Disrupt. Do the hard stuff. As Brene Brown writes in her recent book, “Daring Greatly,” on vulnerability, the question isn’t “What would you do if you knew you could not fail,” but,

“What’s worth doing even if I fail?”

Gratitude / Today’s Giveway:

Today’s giveaway is a hardcopy of Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s newest book, The Impact EquationIf you haven’t heard of it yet–the book is about how to build a platform and do more than just make noise:

“Anyone can write a blog post, but not everyone can get it liked thirty-five thousand times, and not everyone can get seventy-five thousand subscribers. But the reason we’ve done these things isn’t because we’re special. It’s because we tried and failed, the same way you learn to ride a bike. We tried again and again, and now we have an idea how to get from point A to point B faster because of it.  In The Impact Equation, Brogan and Smith show that to make people truly care about what you have to say, you need more than just a good idea, trust among your audience, or a certain number of fol­lowers. You need a potent mix of all of the above and more.”

To win the book, leave a comment before Friday, November 9th at 1 PM Pacific answering one of the following questions. (I’ll pick a winner by random number generator this weekend). Good luck!

  • How will your life have impact?
  • Are you making things happen?
  • What are you waiting for that you could take action?
  • What’s the biggest thing that’s terrifying you right now?
  • What did you do this week that scares you? 


The Fall Mastermind program is underway. If you'd like to be considered for the January 2018 cycle, click here to apply.

39 Responses to Reinvention Isn’t Easy, But It Is Necessary: 22 Thoughts from Julien Smith

  1. Ryan Cox says:

    What’s the biggest thing that’s terrifying you right now?

    Time. Patience was not a virtue I was blessed with. So time now, and always has been, my biggest fear. I’m impatient and I don’t like waiting for success, failure, heck anything to happen. I’m really well positioned right now professionally — and my eagerness to mark things off my list, that haven’t happened yet, can tend to cloud my judgement. So time. I need to stay positive, stay on course, and enjoy the milestones as they HAPPEN, not just APPROACH.

    • Sarah says:

      Absolutely. Enjoy the space and time of things changing. Reflecting and thinking about the past month or three months and celebrating your successes can be good for this.

  2. Sam Davidson says:

    For me (answering question #1 here), I think of the tension between depth and breadth. Would I want to have an impact on a lot of people or a few? Many times, to reach the masses (breadth), we can’t offer much (depth). We more deeply impact people’s lives when we have a chance to know them better (and they, us).

    So for me, I want to have a deep impact on those I know best – my family and close friends. Then, I want that impact to radiate outward so others – like community and society – can see that and learn how to impact those they love.

    • Sarah says:

      I love this! I think about this, too, but in terms of math puzzles–what’s the right size of a community? What kind of community is forming here on this blog? Is it a hundred people? A thousand? How many can I interact with? I’ve learned so many names and faces, and the core group of people that consistently writes and comes back are PHENOMENAL people. I don’t think too many people are looking for Oprah-like success, which comes with it’s own costs. When we work in a very specific niche and market area, we can develop some stunning relationships with remarkable humans. Depth, yes, with moderate breadth.

  3. Erica says:

    What did you do this week that scares you?

    I told my boss I wanted more responsibility, more challenging projects, and I provided her with some specific ideas of where I could be contributing that would benefit the team and challenge me. Scary! But it worked!

  4. LaChaya says:

    This is a really awesome post that really pushed me to step out of my comfort zone. Thank you!

    What’s the biggest thing that’s terrifying you right now?

    Right now the biggest thing that is terrifying me is fear of the unknown. I know I am great at what I currently do, it’s just not where I am supposed to stay forever. I’ve had confirmation after confirmation that is telling me this, yet I am afraid to branch out into an area that I am not experienced in and that scares the heck out of me!

    • Sarah says:

      Yes… “everything is always changing.” — There’s a great book I’m reading about Stoicism philosophy that may have some good advice, too. It’s by William B Irving, “A Guide To The Good Life,” — check it out. And lean into that fear. Fear is a feeling, and you can survive your feelings.

  5. Suzie says:

    Good post. Thank you for including the quote from Brene Brown (“What’s worth doing even if I fail?”) Two years ago I read the book Failing Forward by John Maxwell. It helped shift my thinking. Don’t ask me “what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”. I know I’m going to fail at something (probably alot of somethings). I’m human. I’m working right now on starting my own business. Downloaded info from my State’s website about what I need to do to start a business. I’m working up the courage to call people I know who have their own small businesses to ask for their advice.

  6. Brian Stuhr says:

    “Are you making things happen?”

    Yes. But I am frustrated by how slow the changes have come and at my struggle to build consensus in order to affect change in my company. I am little more than two years into my career as a landscape architect. I work for a small firm. I have an amazing boss, who has let me run… I have facilitated/am facilitating: the development of a website and social media presence, file naming standards and digital file management structure, marketing material, a more rigorous design process, the adoption of new tools (digital rendering, 3D modeling, cloud based file sharing). I am involved in our local ASLA chapter and I serve on a bicycle advocacy committee. Aside from all this, I own a small business on the side (my muse, one day – ~ ala Tim Ferris). I am a husband. I hope to be a father in the near future, and I am preparing to buy my first house.

    In spite of all this, I feel like I am standing still most days. I must get better at this…

    With aloha from Hawaii,


    • Sarah says:

      Aloha, and congratulations on all of your hard work so far. You’re building a foundation, and it sounds like you take a few steps every day. The best way to get somewhere is to do a little at a time and keep showing up. Congratulations–I think you’re doing really well. As a follow-up question: what is it that feels so slow, and what would you want to have NOW that you don’t have? What would success look like to you? Do you have a picture of this?

      And another follow-up to consider: What’s most important to you right now? Which piece is the part that you’d like to change the most?

  7. Ryan says:

    What’s the biggest thing that’s terrifying you right now?

    Working as a freelance copywriter right out of college, job security is non-existent. I’m forced to write things that please my superiors and are hardly self-fulfilling. The end date of my contract is terrifying. My new prospects of relocating across the country is terrifying. And the challenge of finding a job where I’m not disposable is terrifying. I want to venture out on my own and do great work on my own terms and make those mistakes. But financially, I am scared of those potential consequences.

    • Sarah says:

      Ryan–I think you’ve hit on things that a lot of people are afraid of. Sometimes I wonder if “job security” was a myth born in the 1950’s-1980’s post-war era and we’re just starting to realize that we’re all, always dispensible to some degree.

      My friend has a great quote. “Sometimes you have to feed your cat, and sometimes you have to feed your soul.” — Some work is for fun and our creative needs, and sometimes we work to pay the bills. Can you get a little of both in your life?

      And job security–or building layers of diversity and ongoing clients and contracts into your repertoire–can be built over time, but is never a guarantee. Each time you do wonderful work for a client, however, you gain a possible future client, the fact that they may generate referrals for you, experience, and knowledge about what kind of clients you want to work with and for.

      Good job and good luck!

  8. Jason says:

    Are you making things happen?

    Great post, and yes, I am finally getting off my butt to build a new biz idea I’ve been sitting on all year. I look forward to pulling the pieces together to build this thing. I’m a firm believer that some of the best new ideas are simply old ideas connected in new ways.

    • Sarah says:

      Totally agree. Execution on ideas is rare–and CONGRATS on building your business idea!!! Best of luck to you!

  9. Breanne says:

    So many choices! I’ll riff on a few of these, because they’re so inter-related for where I’m at right now.

    You see, I recently looked around me and decided that I was tired of going through the motions and living an unfulfilling life. Fulfillment, for me, means being able to make the world a better place – even if only for one person.

    Of course, in doing that, I also make the conscious choice to make the world a better place for ME, too. So now we’re up to two people. And if I’m happier, then the people around me don’t have to suffer me being… unsufferable. So we’re up to at least 3, and that’s on a quiet day.

    Thing is, none of that can happen if I just sit around on my butt all day. And it can’t happen if I’m dancing to someone else’s tune. And that’s how I’m making things happen. To borrow a football metaphor that I totally abused on my blog this morning, keep moving the ball down field, one first down at a time.

    So, this morning, I did my first set of cold-calls (well, emails) for my “web strategy for world changers” business since leaving the so-called “security” of my full-time job three weeks ago. I’d been doing okay with just referrals, but if you’re going to try to help people change the world, darn it all if you don’t get out there and actually DO something about it.

    It was terrifying. Still is. But it’s what needs to be done, if I’m going to do more than just find myself turning the ball over on downs.

  10. Kathi says:

    Are you making things happen?

    In at least one area in my life I am actually “making things happen.” I’ve lost 41 lbs. since April and tried many new and scary (to me) things along the way – rowing (thumbs up), exercise bootcamp (thumbs up), krav maga (hated it!), dairy, gluten, sugar-free diet (hard, but it works). :)

  11. Dan says:

    What are you waiting for that you could take action?

    A better question might be “why am I waiting?” But I am waiting because I am unsure about where I want my projects to go. I’ve been in a rut about not knowing exactly where I’m going to end up, which causes me to stall. I know that I’m never going to have all the answers, and I know that taking action is the way to getting answers. It’s pretty clear that the stars are never going to align for me to start taking some action, so I better get going. Time to work…

    • Kristen says:

      Hey Dan – I know the feeling! I’ve found the best thing for me is to figure out exactly what I want the end product to be (but not every single detail). Once you figure that out, it’s MUCH easier to move forward. Also think about the core ‘why’ of everything you’re doing. Is there a project on your list that you keep putting off? Think about why — maybe you’re just passionate about it as something else! Just remember, wherever your focus goes is where the energy flows… so if you’re focusing on being stuck in a rut, you’ll stay stuck. Take babysteps towards your end goal and repeat as necessary :-) Good luck!

  12. Kristen says:

    What did you do this week that scares you?

    I have worked 3 tireless weeks on launching my first biz/blog. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, stressful, but above all – it’s FUN. I love it. I love waking up and being able to do whatever I want. I love deciding last minute I want to join a sweet Twitter chat, write a blog post, or make lunch – in no specific order! But it’s also scary! Each of us has the power within us to do whatever we want – we just have to start DOING and less (over)THINKING. Action > talk. :)

    • Hi Kristen, I’m going through the same situation and feelings. The first quick glance at your website looks good – good luck in taking ACTION towards your goals & dreams!

  13. Sathya says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Hope to win this book. So here is my answer to this question.
    What did you do this week that scares you?

    For a client deliverable that we are having, i critically reviewed a document pointing out various mistakes/a lot of improvements. Although i am leading the project, i am leading some pretty diverse people in the organization who are way high in the designation. And i told in the email that had the critical review of the document, that i wouldn’t ship any document to the client that didnt match the high standards although the client wasnt expecting such standards. By doing this, I am setting my deliverable for critical review as well. Now i have to stand up to that.

  14. Kurt Swann says:


    I like the list of 22 items! And from reading your blog, I have to say your note taking skills are definitely noteworthy. :)

    Scary thing this week? Have been traveling in Nicaragua since last Sunday so almost everyday has a little bit of being uncomfortable. Not life changing, earth shattering fear but just the feeling of being on the edge of lost. Although today I did do one “scary” thing. Went “snowboarding” on the side of volcano. But instead of snow we boarded down the mountain on volcanic ash. Pretty crazy :)


  15. Jenn says:

    I am not making things happen, waiting until I find some semblance of stability, more self-confidence, and financial security. I would love to take some kind of pedestrian advocacy action in the city where I live, but I readily create excuses that prevent me from starting (e.g., not educated in the appropriate field(s), too shy, financial instability). I particularly appreciated the note: “Design your own path. No one is doing it for you.” Moving forward is terrifying and will certainly involve pain, but stagnancy and complacency can no longer be an option.

  16. DJ says:

    What’s the biggest thing that’s terrifying you right now?

    A sense of regression. I’m two years “behind” than my classmates that have graduated from college this May because I took over a year off school and landed a local internship and also worked abroad. At one point during this break from college, I was paralyzed by both the “follow your passion” and “30 is the new 20” hypes. I felt that taking detours was the way to go. But what I didn’t learn at the time was that detours sometimes lead to more detours and in turn can distract me from finding my way back into life. As I’m still in my early 20s, I’m granted with a plethora of choices from which to choose. I stopped letting myself get caught up in the fear of going in the “wrong direction” in life because making choices and taking action are still better than the worst case scenario: not making any decisions. I’ve slowly moved away from being a thinker and more towards being a doer. For me, taking baby steps was the leap.

    I realized that you can’t rush experience, and that things really take time to bloom. I’m planning on trying things out as much as I can while I have the time and emotional capital to do so. That way, at least I’ll be making progress no matter what. And certainly, this habit of mind will keep me away from regression.

  17. Are you making things happen?

    After years of pondering and gathering information, I’m finally taking my first tiny steps to starting an online business on a healthy lifestyle and coping with chronic illness.
    This means having to do many things that are quite scary for a relatively introverted woman, like purposely creating attention to my work by starting a Facebookpage and Twitteraccount (@Health_Sessions). Writing articles in English (not my native language) for my upcoming website is pretty daunting too!
    I’m very aware that I still have lots to learn, but that’s how I want my life to have impact: by offering psychosocial support for people with chronic illness.

  18. Melissa Meyer says:

    How will your life have impact?
    Teaching is the most important profession in the world; we impact everyone. The doctor who will save your life had an invaluable teacher who changed her life! As the teacher-librarian, I create learning opportunities for young adults to find information and use it to create knowledge for themselves. For four years I am privileged to create relationships with students who I know will change the world.

    Are you making things happen?
    Yes! The school library is the hub of intellectual, social, and service activities for our school (the students are even now eating brownies and cookies while working on US History, Calculus, and carrying in the sleeping bags to be donated to our local homeless shelter next week!) I work with teachers to improve their professional skills — to move away from a teacher-centered to the learner-centered paradigm. Essential!

    What are you waiting for that you could take action?
    I am waiting for the development of a well-articulated, coherent, learner-centered curriculum! We need this now.

    What’s the biggest thing that’s terrifying you right now?
    Not being heard!

    What did you do this week that scares you?
    I’m about to go into a meeting to remind administrators that their most important assets are their teachers who must be valued more highly.

    • Sarah says:

      Melissa: We need people who speak up and advocate for what is needed. Thank you for doing this, and people will hear you if you keep reminding them!!

  19. Rob Young says:

    Are you making things happen?

    I’m making things happen by refusing to listen to the resistance and the lizard brain telling me not to.

    I’m making things happen by making a step every day, without fail, and putting things out into the world, where they are open to feedback, criticism, or worst of all to be ignored. Making sure I take a small step often means I take lots of them. It stops the inertia that comes with thinking every step must be a giant leap.

    What did I do this week that scares you? All of the above. But every time I take that small step, then it gets a little less scary.

    • Sarah says:

      NICE JOB, ROB! I’m so glad to see you here again–thanks for being such a great supporter. I agree: it’s step by step, and showing up, that gets things done. Go rock it!

  20. Pia says:

    What did you do this week that scares you:

    In January I set a goal of self-improvement for the year. One thing I’ve been working on is becoming a better speaker and listener: in public, in meetings, even in small group settings. I am slowly working on this and joined Toastmasters to help. This week I gave my fourth speech at my local Toastmasters club. I already see an improvement in a short time, but know I still have so far to go.

    • Sarah says:

      Congratulations on Toastmasters, Pia! That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. How do you get better? By doing it. You’re an inspiration already… keep it up.

  21. Boris Nimcevic says:

    The question I am going to answer is:
    What did you do this week that scares you?

    This week I registered for 26 hours for the next semester, and the most I ever took was 18. This scares me because I am also on track and field scholarship, and a I’m juggling with three different jobs. The reason it scares me is that it is definitely going to be hard, I know I can’t do it, but it is going to be very exhausting 4 mounts

    The reason why I am doing this is that I want to get out out school as soon as possible, and start something that matters, start changing the world, and helping people.

    Thank you Sarah for everything, you are a great inspiration!

    • Sarah says:

      Congratulations! It can be tough to push yourself. I have a counter-question to possibly consider: Do you HAVE to do everything? Can you drop something? It might be worth doing a couple of things well rather than all of it while exhausted.

      • Boris Nimcevic says:

        I am not on the full ride, so jobs are covering all my college expenses that sports are not, and since I am an international student, I can’t take loans, or anything similar. Also, coming from a poor country, I can’t count of parents help. So I kinda have to do all that. But I wasn’t planning to complain here, I actually enjoy working hard, and like being challenged.

        Thank you!

  22. Meghan says:

    What’s the biggest thing that’s terrifying you right now?

    I was in the running for six-figures of funding for my start-up based in Kabul, Afghanistan – but I found out this week that even though I was a finalist, my idea didn’t win the competition. I keep reminding myself that there is more than one way to make an idea happen. I know I’ve come to far to not let this idea come to life! I guess I’m scared because I so badly want to make my idea happen, yet I’m feeling a tiny bit stuck on how to raise capital. One thing is for sure though, I’m meant to do this!