Ignite Your Creativity: Transforming Your Life Into A Portfolio Of Passion With Todd Henry

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Are you feeling stuck in a rut? Do you wish you could tap into a wellspring of creativity? Today, Todd Henry, an author, international speaker, consultant, and advisor, will help ignite your creativity as he shares his journey in transforming his life into a portfolio of passion. Realizing the lack of resources for people like him who needed to be creative under pressure led Todd to create the Daily Creative podcast. Get ready for an inspiring conversation packed with practical tips and insights to help you unleash your inner artist, leader, and creative force.


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Ignite Your Creativity: Transforming Your Life Into A Portfolio Of Passion With Todd Henry

It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Todd Henry. Todd positions himself as the arms dealer for the creative revolution. He teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He's the author of seven books, The Brave Habit, The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivational Code, and Daily Creative. They've all been translated into more than a dozen languages. He speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work. His podcast, Daily Creative, which is amazing, offers weekly tips for how to stay prolific, brilliant, and healthy. Todd, it is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to the Virtual Campfire.

Tony, it's so good to be here. I appreciate the invitation. I've been looking forward to our conversation.

We're going to have a lot of fun. We're going to explore your journey to getting to where you are through what I call flashpoints. These are the points in your journey that have ignited your gifts into the world and seen where you've revealed yourself through these moments. We'll stop along the way and see what themes are showing up. In a moment, when I turn it over to you, share what you're called to share and start wherever you'd like and have. Let's have some fun. Without further ado, Todd, please take it away.

I started the music business when I was in my early twenties as a performer and writer. Like any good marketing major, I had to do a tour of duty in the music business. I realized when I met my future wife that music business, gainful employment, and marrying an amazing woman, you can have two of the three. You can't have all three at the same time. I chose gainful employment and marrying an amazing woman. I ended up becoming the creative director for an organization where I led a team of writers and designers. That was a great experience for me.

Several years into my experience, this is now the early 2000s, I realized that there aren't a lot of resources for people like me who are trying to do great work every day, trying to do it under pressure, trying to be creative. Many of the systems in the marketplace are set up to squeeze efficiency out of organizations, but they're not designed for people who have to create. Creativity is not efficient. It's naturally inefficient.

What I realized was there aren't a lot of tools for people like me. Maybe I could create a tool for people like me to talk about this create-on-demand dynamic that we have. I created a podcast, which was a new thing in 2005. I thought I was late to the game, which is hilarious. I created a podcast called The Accidental Creative. It was designed to capture what it feels like to have to show up every day. Sometimes, ideas pop into your head, and you have no idea where they come from.

The podcast gained traction unexpectedly while I was still doing my job. I started getting feature articles written about the show and about some of the things that I was sharing on the show in major magazines. I got invited to speak at these great companies. I was trying to juggle being a full-time creative director while at the same time flying across the country and speaking at these corporate events or conferences and taking a red eye back to be in a meeting the next day at 9:00 AM. It was crazy. I realized there was something going on here that I needed to take advantage of.

Around 2009, I was offered a book deal with Penguin Random House for The Accidental Creative. That was when I realized there was something I needed to do here. For the last several years, I've been writing, consulting, teaching, training, and speaking. I have been gifted with the opportunity to speak on some of the largest stages in the world, which is fantastic, to share about the dynamics of creating on demand and under pressure every day, and how to lead people who have to create every day. That's a different touch that's required of leaders and creative people. That's what I've been focusing on for the last several years. You mentioned seven books. I'm working on my eighth. I never imagined. I didn't know that I would get past one book in 2009, but here we are.

I think about this word, the accidental creative. When I think about the journey you've been on, you're an accidental thought leader. It's almost like you didn't expect that podcast and speaking on these topics around the world. That was not necessarily in the cards or maybe was not something you had imagined, and even writing books. It's almost like this became an accident, but in some ways, it was the path that was meant for you once you started to see a problem that needed to be solved.

That's the way it is for a lot of entrepreneurs. They start by scratching their own itch. They don't realize that there are a lot of other people who are also itchy in the same way and need that itch scratched. What happened to me is I stumbled into something that I didn't expect to stumble into. Honestly, the podcast was a way for me to talk about some things I was experiencing. I didn't think it would turn into 20 million downloads over the course of the time it's been in existence. I didn't think it would turn into that.

My encouragement to anybody out there who has this hunch and sneaking suspicion that maybe they're not alone is to start building something for other people. Build it for yourself, and you'll find that other people need the same thing. That's what I did with the podcast. That turned into books, writing, and all kinds of other things.

Dying Empty

There are many areas I want to go into with you. There's one thing I do have to explore with you because it's something that has stuck with me since I've read your books. It’s this concept of dying empty. I feel like it's such an important concept. When I read it, it touched a nerve in me. It is one of those things that people hear, and they say, “That's morbid.” Maybe you want to talk about it briefly and how this all came to be the idea of how we have a song to sing in us, and we want to make sure we get out in the world.

I was part of an organization. We were in a meeting discussing a project that was overwhelming and scary. One of our colleagues was from South Africa. He sensed the tension in the room. As he was speaking to us, he said, “I want to ask a question. What's the most valuable land in the world?” He quoted the late Miles Monroe when he said all of this, which I found out later. I didn't realize at the time.

He said, “What's the most valuable land in the world?” We’re like, “That's a weird question.” We're throwing out all these guesses like oil fields in the Middle East and gold mines in Africa. He said, “No, the most valuable land in the world is the graveyard because, in the graveyard, they buried all of the unwritten novels, unexecuted ideas, and unreconciled relationships.”

All of these things that we carry with us, we think, “Tomorrow, I'm going to get around to that. Tomorrow is the day I'm going to do it. We push it into the future. Until one day, we die. We reach the book of our life. All of that value is buried with us in the ground and never to be seen by human eyes. That's why it's the most valuable land in the world because all that value is buried with us and the unrealized potential.

That day, I went back to my office, wrote two words on the index card, and put them on the wall of my office and in my notebook. Those two words were Die Empty. I committed that at the end of my life, I want to die knowing I've put my best work into the world. I'm not carrying it with me, thinking, “Someday, I'll get around to doing that. I'll have that conversation. I'll reconcile that relationship.”Unfortunately, many people gloss over and continue moving on with their lives. They're busy bouncing from thing to thing, but they never take the time to do the thing that they know they should do, and they carry it with them their entire life.

I want to be clear. I'm not talking about leaving your job and launching a business or taking some huge gambit or leap. That's not what I mean. For some people, it will be that, but for some people, it's as simple as picking up the phone and calling a parent who maybe said some hurtful words to them and being the person who's brave enough to reconcile that relationship.

Both parties want to reconcile, but nobody is willing to be the first person to call. It could be something as simple as that. It could be something as simple as I've always been curious about this thing. I always wanted to start a hobby doing this thing, but I'm always busy. It's never time. They're 85 years old, and they can't do that hobby anymore because their body is starting to give out on them.

My encouragement is to take the time to do the things, make an effort to do the things, put them into the world, and empty the things that are inside of you because your work isn't for you. It's for other people. Do the things that you know that you should be doing. You don't have deep regret later about having carried those things with you to your grave.

Do the things you know you should be doing today so you don't have deep regrets later.

It’s reminiscent of the stoic philosophy or the stoic word morte, but the idea of today could be your last day. That, in essence, has you thinking, “Life is precious. Why not go out and do that?” It's reminiscent of that. There are many, especially creatives, who think, “I don't have time to do that thing. That's not going to move the needle in my life.” The reality is that maybe it will, and it'll make you feel more fulfilled by trying that thing.

A Portfolio Of Passions

It's like any good investment portfolio. You need balance in your life and your portfolio. Some people's portfolio is way underbalanced. For them, 90% of everything is in one investment, which often is your job. You're putting everything into your job. Your life should be a portfolio of passions. Your job is important, but it's one part of your portfolio. For some people, their body of work is never going to be about their job. Their job is a way for them to earn a paycheck. They can do the things that matter to them. They can volunteer, serve, give, build relationships, do all the things, and raise a family.

Your job and your life should be a portfolio of passions.

I have three kids. I have two in college. One is in high school, almost in college. For me, the biggest part of my body of work is my children, my kids, and my family. Are they going to go out and be responsible citizens? Are they going to go out and love their neighbor and be contributors? Is that going to happen? We are myopic.

This is not a knock on youthful energy because it's fantastic, and I was the same way, but when we're young, we see things through such a narrow lens that we can't understand that life is fragile and fleeting. We don't understand the fragility and the temporal nature of life until we get older and start to see that nothing is ever guaranteed to us. When we're young, we think everything is a guarantee and nothing is guaranteed in this life.

It makes you begin to appreciate the importance of seizing opportunities when you have the importance of you can't wait until August and decide to plant your crops. If you're not planting seeds in your twenties that are going to grow up into something beautiful in your 40s and 50s, you're missing your opportunity. That's not to say it's late, but understand that what you do early will reap results later in your life. Be the person now that you want to look back on with pride, 40 or 50 years old. One of the things I've begun to think a lot about as I've entered my 50s is what it looks like to look back on a life that you're proud of.

The Virtual Campfire | Todd Henry | Creativity

I want to get back into your journey because there are many great things that you shared so far. I want to hear about some of the moments you haven't shared already that had you questioning, “Am I on the right path?” You have some stumbles along the way or failures that you learned from. Is there anything you want to share that you haven't shared?

I was talking about this with my wife and my daughter at dinner, which is something we try to do every night. We try to have a family dinner. We've done that always. We're not always successful, especially these days. Now, there are three of us in the house. It's a little harder sometimes, which is ironic, but we used to be rigid about it when everybody was in the house.

I look back on my time in the music business in my early twenties. As I look back on it, I was afraid of success. I was afraid of what would happen if I succeeded in doing what I was trying to do, which was as a writer and a performer. The way I like to describe it is I was as successful as you can be while still failing. That worked for me in the music business, meaning I had a ton of interest and opportunity. We opened for a ton of big names. I got to travel and play for thousands of people, my own music in front of 100,000 people. We got to play a show, open for some huge names, and play on big stages.

I made practically no money doing it because that's the nature of the business, but I never went all in. I never fully committed to the path. The way I approached it was that I wanted to make a living playing music while I pursued doing this on a higher level. You can't do that. In my case, to do it meant I needed to commit and move to Nashville if I was going to do it. I can't try to do this from Cincinnati, where I'm based, but I was trying to do it both ways.

That was a lesson I learned early on. I was talking about this with my family. The thing I look back on is that I don't regret having taken a chance to try to make music happen. I regret not going all in on what I was trying to do in my twenties when it felt like the stakes were high and unbelievably low at the time. I fail. What's the worst that happens? I get a job. I did that anyway. What's the worst-case scenario? It felt, at the time, the stakes were high. The lie that we tell ourselves, especially early in life, is that the stakes are high.

I talk all the time with young professionals in their twenties who look around and compare themselves to everybody else. To them, it feels like everybody is getting ahead of me. They're buying cars. They're buying houses. They're moving to the suburbs. I'm like, “That's their path. Who cares? You have to run your race. It's going to look different to you.” In my late 30s, before I started the business, I was in right now, and this is my calling. I didn't discover it until my late 30s.

One thing I would say for people is if you're going to do something, especially if you're early in your life, you have to go all in on it. I'm launching a new venture. I have to hedge a little bit because I have a family, a mortgage, and two kids in college. Entrepreneurship is about risk mitigation. I'm still taking risks. I'm still doing it. It's more about risk mitigation than risk-taking. That would be the first thing.

The second thing was, and this is relevant to anybody who's in the content creation space, my first two books came out, and they took off. They did well. I thought, “This book-writing stuff is easy. I just write a book.” I was publishing with my dream imprint portfolio, which is an imprinted Penguin Random House with amazing, talented people. I’m like, “This is easy. I just wrote a book. We put it out and sell.” The first two books did great.

The third book was the best book that I've ever written until The Brave Habit, my new one. I put it out. It did well for a couple of weeks, but it landed with a thud. It didn't do anything beyond that. The thing I learned was that it's almost better to fail with an understanding of why you failed than to succeed without understanding why you were successful.

My first two books were successful, but I had no idea why. My third book failed, and I suddenly realized, “I don't understand what made those first two books go. My fourth book, Herding Tigers, corrected the curve, and everything was fine from there. That's a lesson for all of us who are in business. If you're successful but you don't understand why you're successful, that's a problem because you can't replicate it next time. I thought Louder Than Words was going to do what the other books did because that's what my books do, but no, because I had no idea which strings to pull. That's a lesson.

That's brilliant because there is this sense of you're building. You rinse, wash, and repeat. The problem is, if you don't know what to repeat, it's hard to do that. I also want to harken back to what you said earlier about this commitment piece, like going all in. Life has those chapters. I always say that you run your own race. A lot of people struggle to say, “ I’m nervous about going all in.” What's the worst that's going to happen? You have that stage of your life. There are many things you can still do even in your 50s, 60s, and 70s, and you can still continue to pivot and make changes. There are no fatal changes we can make. The risk tolerance is what changes. That's the key thing.

Shades Of Success

There are all kinds of shades of success between I am Mark Zuckerberg and I am living destitute on the street. Sometimes, you have to redefine success for yourself as you go. A lot of people think, “I want to have a $50 million exit.” People don't think about what comes along with that. I have been fortunate to work with and talk with a lot of people who have been successful in that way. What you don't realize is what comes along with that. People think they want success until they realize what they have to carry with them. Some people say, “That's a good problem to have.” That's fine, but make sure you want what you say you want. You're not chasing after it because that's what everybody else wants.

You have to redefine success for yourself as you go.

I'll give you another example. I hate to keep going back to the music thing because it's funny, but I learned so much in my twenties while I was doing it. I mentioned that we opened for a bunch of successful people. There were people we opened for who were remarkably successful. I'm talking about a household name type of musician who was one of the most amazing people in the world. They were good to us. They would chat with us, give us advice, and welcome us on stage. It was wonderful.

Some of the most miserable people I met were people who had crossed that threshold of success where they had become successful. Some of them were miserable. They were vindictive, angry, and rude to us, which is funny to me because I'm like, “You were where we are not too long ago. You're being rude to us.” What I realized was that some of those people had achieved success, but it wasn't quite what they had thought they were going after. Some people weren't in it to make music. They weren't in it because they loved the craft. They were in it because of whatever comes with being a famous musician. When that wasn't quite what they thought it was going to be, they became bitter, vindictive, and angry.

I see this in the business world. Some people are chasing promotions or success, not because this means they can have more impact. Profit equals impact. That means I can have more impact. It's because I want all of the things that come with being seen as successful. They realize that doesn't scratch the itch that I have. I thought that would solve the problem, but it doesn't.

We have to make sure, in the words of James Carse and popularized by Simon Sinek, we have to be playing an infinite game. We have to be playing a game that goes beyond the finite game. At the end of the finite game, it leaves you feeling hollow, like, “I won, but what's next? What do I do now?” I have to play a bigger game. I have to have another success versus playing an infinite game. It's like, “If I do well, we all do well, and we all continue to get to do this.” It's a purpose-driven game versus a winner or loser-driven game.

The Virtual Campfire | Todd Henry | Creativity

Todd, I would love to have another two hours with you because there are many things that we could dive into, but we have to come to a close. I have one last question to ask you. What are 1 or 2 books that have had an impact on you and why?

I'll give you two. I'll tell you the one that caused me to start my podcast, and I've told him this many times because we've chatted many times, but it was Purple Cow by Seth Godin. I picked up that book in 2004. It made me think, “What am I doing that's causing me to stand out? What am I doing that's unique to me?” That’s what caused me to start thinking, “I need to step out and create something for other people who feel like me.”

The second one is what I've never talked about in a podcast interview before, but I reread it about once a year. It's called New Seeds of Contemplation by a guy named Thomas Merton. Thomas Merton was a mystic and monk cloistered at Gethsemane outside of Louisville, Kentucky, in the mid-20th century. He lived there and wrote for several years.

He died at an unfortunate early death. He was electrocuted while on a trip to Thailand. It is a spiritual book by nature. Some of the things that Merton writes about are deeply profound as they relate to the human condition, creativity, and the marketplace. Some of the things he writes are profound on the level that we often don't find in some of the more business-targeted writing.

I'll give you one of my favorite quotes I use often in my talks. It’s like, “There's a profound egoism in following everyone else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular and too lazy to think of anything better. Hurry, ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success, and they're in such a hurry to get it. They cannot take time to be true to themselves. When the madness is upon them, they argue that their haste is a species of integrity.”

They want quick success. They're in such a hurry to get it. They cannot take time to be true to themselves. They justify on the back end that hurry is a species of integrity. They’re like, “I had to do it. It's what my boss asked for. It's what the marketplace was screaming for. I had to do it in order to be successful.” They justify it. Doing their nature, they violate who they are. I have taken many gems like that away from this book. Caveat is a deeply spiritual book. If you're going to read it, there's going to be a lot of spiritual discussion. It's more a book about human nature than anything. That's another one that I would say has impacted me.

Todd, you didn't disappoint because that was brilliant. I'm going to read the book because this is what I do. I love reading these types of books. Todd, thank you so much for coming on the show. We'll have to do a part two at some point. We'll do that for your next book. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Before I let you go, I want to make sure people know where to find you.

The best place is ToddHenry.com. You can find my books and my speaking. The podcast is called Daily Creative. We're going to launch season two after several years. We're launching season two in the first week of May 2024. Make sure that you check that out.

I want to point out one thing. I love how you've started to combine some of the insights of multiple guests when you come together and put these little summaries together, which is amazing because it's like mixing and matching guests.

We got rid of several years of back catalog, which was a risky thing to do. We renamed the show Daily Creative after a show that I've been doing before, but we renamed it Daily Creative. We have developed a narrative arc for each episode, along with my producer, Josh. It's more ideas around the theme. Our first episode of the next season, starting the first week of May 2024, is going to be around the idea of slow productivity and producing work that matters. We've got Cal Newport. We're going to revisit the conversation with Ryan Holiday about how to make a perennial seller. We're weaving a bunch of different ideas around one theme for each episode. It's about twenty minutes long, and you walk away with some cool insights. That's what we're aiming for.

Watch this space. We have to check out Todd's website, podcast, and books. I know you're leaving with some great insights, and readers are feeling energized by this conversation. Thank you so much, Todd. Thanks to readers. That's a wrap.

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