The Story Economy Blog

People In Cars Getting Ideas

It’s funny how you get what you’re looking for in the middle of looking for something else altogether.

It happens all of the time. It’s just rare that we pay attention.

Let me explain.

Yesterday, I had a meeting that involved a long car ride: two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. It was one in a series of meetings that my client and I are involved in as part of a project we’re working on together.

Now this particular client is really also a friend, so from here on out, let’s refer to said client as “FC” (“friend client”). One of the first things I said to FC when I got into the car was something along the lines of: “Oh crap, you have got to help me figure out a topic for my newsletter tomorrow in the space of these four hours.”

Writing this newsletter is usually not a struggle. I’ve got pages of ideas, and I love writing it. I mean, I love it. I pretty much hoard the writing of it through the week, saving it up as a reward: a piece of pie after the hard work of eating brown rice.

The topic to write about always pops into my head at exactly the right time: a combination of some sudden insight and some issue I’m dealing with in that very moment. But this week, it’s like there was nothing in the swirl. This week, none of the ideas felt relevant.

Hence, my desperate plea to FC for help. First, I mentioned what I was thinking of writing about. Maybe I’ll write about money, I said, because I keep getting all of these requests to give prices for projects. Cool, said FC. And by the way, how much do you want to charge for this project we’re working on together right now?

We easily agreed on a price—at which point I realized there was nothing much interesting to say about money this week (which is 100 percent a good thing). Hmm.

Maybe I should write about how I want everyone to start their own business, I said (FC hears me rant about this quite a bit, so I think I detected an eye roll). But the thing is, it just feels like what everyone is writing about. Do the work. Poke the box. Start with why. I mean, I love it all. But . . . sigh. Not in the mood.

The Topic That Never Came

Now, I can’t remember the chronology of our conversation (four hours is a long time), but every time I’d bring up my missing newsletter topic, we’d stray to something else far more interesting.

Like why electrons are so weird (FC is a bit of a science geek). FC explained the famous double-slit experiment, which led to a discussion of what reality is. Do we make reality anew for ourselves every time we look at it? Is it ever fixed? What is matter anyway, and why is it so freaking bizarre?

We also talked about what drives people to search for answers about stuff like the universe and how things work. We talked about how scientific discovery is really just peeling away the layers of truth, like peeling the onion. I realized that I’m not sure I think there is an absolute last layer of the onion, but I’m compelled nonetheless.

Naturally, that led to a whole conversation about free will (FC and I are both big fans of free will), and how the sorting hat put Harry Potter in Gryffindor not because of destiny or magic or chance, but simply because he asked to be. What is destiny, and what do we choose? Is everything what we choose?

It wasn’t all so heavy. We also talked about the various people in our lives we deal with and the quirks of relationships that drive us crazy and bring us joy. And then I pulled out my iPhone and we listened to They Might Be Giants “Hot Dog” (the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme), because you can’t listen to that and feel anything but happy.

But hot dog or not, no topic materialized. So FC finally asked me: what was my favorite newsletter? “A Story About the Hill,” I said, because it was gut-wrenching and amazing to write, even though it didn’t really have any kind of clear nugget of marketing genius.

So, you’re not just trying to write about marketing then, FC said?

No, I said, I’m writing about life.

And then I said something like this, but I know it wasn’t nearly as polished sounding: I’m writing about slices and pieces and nuggets. I’m writing to contribute to the swirlof ideas out there that I’m constantly pulling from and getting inspired by. I’m writing because at any given time, I might say something that changes the game for someone, including me.

To which the voice in my head said, oh, that’s why I write this newsletter? This was suddenly a revelation—inspired, no doubt, by a rich conversation about free will and physics and love and the Meaning of it All.

The stuff I put out there every week doesn’t come from a marketing playbook or a grand plan to get people to hire me: it comes from my life. My conversations. My interactions with people.

It comes from the swirl.

Oh holy crap, I told FC, this is what I’m writing about this week! Our conversation about what my newsletter should be about! (FC was amused.)

Because sometimes, the inspiration is the process itself. Like a show about comedians in cars getting coffee, or the rich stuff that happens while you should be writing an article about how to find rich stuff.

So this is what you’re getting this week. A newsletter about nothing.

But I actually think it’s a pretty good something, and here is what it might mean for you: today, tomorrow, in 3 months, you might find yourself sure that you are in search of a certain thing. And then there might be a moment where you realize the search itself has illuminated something that the thing you wanted probably couldn’t.

And when the thought pops into your head: go with it. Accept that it’s true. Because it’s definitely not nothing. It’s a layer of the onion, and it’s probably exactly the thing you need.


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