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How bad do you want it? by Spencer Lum

I always thought I wanted it pretty bad. I thought I was willing to take the hits, but when I look back and really think it through, I’d be hard pressed to make the case. It was all just plausible deniability. It was never my responsibility. Always something else. Some reason. Some excuse. Sometimes – maybe more times than not – it’s just easier to think more of yourself than to be more of yourself.

But though you can tell yourself whatever you want, life has a simple formula. You do, it gives. You don’t, it takes.


They say the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and you see it all of the time. People hit the wall – great people, often the greatest of them – who can’t crawl out of themselves any longer.

And it’s only getting harder. It’s an age of virtual navel gazing and personal brand. Hell, I’ve burnt through whole days waiting for my apps to light up. New likes? Fans? Did I go viral? It’s like an accident. You just can’t not look.

Yeah, now more than ever, you have to stand for something. Be something. And, yeah, be proud. Stand tall. Do all of it. Don’t run from your shadow, and pack your achievements in a tiny dark box in the back of your brain.

But now more than ever, you also have to let it go. Thomas Szasz said:

“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self- esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self- importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.”

If you want to step into your future, it’s not about building, but tearing down. The walls being removed aren’t exposing you. They’re letting you go forward.

And if you’re not stepping into your future, then you’re going to have to ask the question: “Is this really what I want?” Because the hard is what makes everything great. The hard is what makes it all worth doing, and if you don’t want the hard, and you just want the fame or the fortune, maybe you don’t really want that future.

There are going to be excuses, and there are going to be obstacles. Excuses you create. Obstacles you encounter. If you come across too many excuses, odds are you really don’t want it bad enough. Look where you are, and see if it’s the path that’s the problem and not the barriers. But if the things that are stopping you are in fact obstacles, then double down and push through with everything you’ve got.

In all cases, you either hang onto the past at the expense of the future or you let go of the past and find your future. That’s the choice. Pick carefully.


Sometimes, the shit hits the fan, and you’re stuck cleaning the mess. And it sucks. How much does it suck? It sucks to the tune of about 10.9 million results plus or minus a few when you Google “What to do when your client is unhappy.” As it turns out, there’s no dearth of advice on how to slink your way through the gauntlet.

And, yet, for all that, the first time I ever Googled those words was exactly 36 minutes and 12 seconds before I started writing this.

Here’s my small contribution to the mix.


When things go wrong, as tempting as it is, this is not your chance to get your passive-aggressive on. People sniff out self-interest faster than you can inhale glue. Carrie Bradshaw once said “Don’t forget to fall in love with yourself first.” And if a narcissistic, fictional character who spends $40,000 on shoes says it, then I’d say it’s a good sign to do the opposite.

There is no dearth of people who are already far too far in love with themselves. Angry clients hate defensive businesses. I like to employ the forget-being-in-love-with-myself-and-just-solve-the-damn-problem” strategy instead. It’s not as new age-y as acknowledging your self-love and living fiercely from the I, but it makes the pain go away a whole lot faster, and, guess what? It makes your clients happier too.

And when things go wrong, you want happy clients.

For real? Yes. For real.

Not because the client is always right and all that. Who really thinks that? But the real question is, does it matter? You’re in business. Some clients will be wrong, some will be right. You’ll have to deal with both.

Here’s the oft forgotten point:

Unhappy people fight back. Happy people don’t.

This is important. It kind of flies by, and you don’t really notice, but here’s what it means. If you focus on making someone happy, they’ll be willing to hear you out and even accept what you’re saying. But if you focus on making people hear you out and accept what you’re saying, they’ll just get angrier.

Now, maybe you say “But they’ll blame me if I don’t defend myself!” In reality, they already blame you. And no matter what you say, they’ll make up some reason that you’re still wrong if they’re mad. All these years doing this, and not even one person told me I showed them the light, despite my proclamations of innocence. Not even a thank you. Sheesh.

See, on it’s own, Super Secret Success Principle #209 is sort of a “Fine. Meh. Got it.” sort of thing. But in the heat of battle, it’s everything, because almost anything you read from an unhappy client is probably going to read a little like “blah, blah, blah, you’re wrong…blah, blah, blah…I think you’re an idiot, and I blame you.”

And when someone hears “I think you’re an idiot, and I blame you,” whether it was in the words or not, it is very, very hard not to push back. But, see, that just makes them come back at you harder. See how the cycle works? All bad.

For example, I’ve noticed when I get in a fight with my wife (umm…you know…once in awhile that happens…) she’s a whole lot more willing to listen to me after we’ve made up than in the middle of the argument. Because she’s happy. Or at least not pissed.

Here’s a simple guide whenever things go south:

1. TAKE 5
Calm yourself down. Responses written in anger and frustration rarely read well. And absolutely no passive-aggressive-y stuff. People can tell when you say things like “I’m so sorry you feel that way,” that you’re really not. If you say, “I’m sorry we missed that,” people feel better. If you say, “I’m sorry we missed the shot that I wasn’t required to take according to the contract,” people don’t.

A simple “I’m sorry. Do you have a moment to talk, so we can figure things out?” will do the job. And reply quickly. When someone is angry, minutes matter. Remember, as clients, we all have long histories of being treated badly, so a little care can go a long way. Sometimes, it’s so shocking and disarming, it’s enough on its own.

Also, keep your emails short. No essays describing every sensation pulsing through your body. Who wants to read an essay? Email excels at efficiency, but it stinks as communication. Get them to talk. If people hear you’re sincere, people will let you off for a lot. Also, clients are often more reasonable than their emails sound.

Know what you’re willing to give in on and what you’re not. Know what you want to achieve. If you don’t, it’s easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment.

Whether you can fix it or not, make your client feel valued. Listen to them intently and fully. When most people are heard, even if the problem can’t be fixed, they feel better.

As Gloria Gaynor would tell you, you will survive.

And there you have it. You’re welcome.


I just polished off The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt last Friday. Not quite binge-watching, but when you have two kids, you can only go through things so fast.

That’s how the world has changed. It used to be, you watched a show once a week. Now, watching a season in about a week is nothing.

Kimmy Schmidt is a show for our times. Not only delivered instantly, but unrelenting. The references and gags fly fast and furious, as your mind races to catch up. It never does. Between Ellie Kemper’s pitch-perfect performance and Tina Fey’s break-neck pace, it just keeps going, going, going.

And that’s how the world has changed, too. Everything keeps going, going, going, burning through the burn rate. You don’t break orbit. You just stay ahead of gravity.

The magic of photography isn’t the preservation. I’m sorry. It’s just not. Preservation, at least without clarification, is a cliche of the highest magnitude, and it comes at too high a cost. To the viewer. To the creator. To the soul.


It’s a cop out that fails to answer the harder questions that separate good photography from bad. It fails to tell us what you or anything else is about. Just about every picture preserves something. So what? A good picture is not only a portal into another world, but a device to force people’s minds and hearts to take that journey. You have to ask what’s being preserved (a mood? a thing? an irony?), why it matters, and how to get that across. This in turn means you have to know what’s going on in the world and how to play both with and against trend and culture.

Making a good picture keeps getting all the harder. When nothing was preserved, everything mattered. Everything was fresh. But these are on-demand times. Everything is bits and bytes, and typing a few words into a box will produce more results than you’ll know what to do with. That’s the irony. We’ve created a society where finding answers is so easy, the answers have lost their value. It used to be that answers were insight. Now questions are insight.

Before Gutenberg created the printing press, a bible was a book for royalty, each one written out by hand. Knowledge came at a steep cost. In the 1840′s, a wallet-size daguerreotype cost in the area of a $100 (inflation adjusted). Getting better, but information still wasn’t exactly prime time. Now, information, image, and knowledge cost nothing. Hell, you can work your way through MIT’s curriculum online for free. The fresh and novel become cliches in minutes, days, and weeks instead of years and decades.

And what’s wrong with cliches? Cliches kill the imagination and rob us of the opportunity to engage with the past in a personal and intimate manner. They tell the mind to think of the cliche instead of the content itself.

When you see a couple dipping on the beach at sunset with fill flash, you can’t not think “wedding photography.” What you likely don’t see is an authentic gesture and moment. And while unlikely in this particular case, it’s fully possible to neuter true moments by showing them in a manner that is simply too familiar and too common. Clliches tell us more about the creator than the subject. It’s a little like those movies that seem so inauthentic, you’re sure the only place the screenwriter ever experienced those emotions was while watching other movies.

If you haven’t seen Kimmy Schmidt, I won’t ruin it for you, but I’ll say on paper, the dolphin gag (as one of many possible examples, shouldn’t work), but it does. It’s ridiculous. Which is the point. When a show moves with this type of speed, it makes high order of low comedy. It is constantly fresh, even when it’s not. It may not hit all the marks, but it owns its comedy, and that’s exactly what we all need to do.

Living isn’t just moving through change, but reacting to it. The power of knowledge is as much that it tells you what not to do, as what to do. How would you travel the road less travelled if you didn’t know what the road more travelled was? And in the modern day, it’s an occupation of constant going, going, going. Fresh doesn’t have to be big, brilliant, and massive. It doesn’t have to be cutting-edge nor can it not be classic. It just has to be specific to the thing in front of you. A well-worn technique in a fresh context is often enough. A new technique on an old subject can work. Personal is shifting life by one degree, but when the lure of the answer and the pressure of the style are omnipresent, that may well be the tallest order of all.


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