Who are the loudest voices in your life (and why are you listening to them)

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Just because someone has a loud opinion doesn’t mean it’s ever right. A screaming baby has more volume than a CEO, but I wouldn’t want a newborn running a Fortune 500 company. It’s never wise to give a platform to someone based purely on the volume of their opinion.

It’s easy to let the loud opinions of a few dictate the direction of our dreams. When I was in my early 20’s, I let people with over-the-top opinions influence me towards making bad decisions. What I’ve found is that people with bullhorn opinions tend not to care how the consequences of following their opinion affect you.

Who are the loudest voices in your life - writetojoncook Jon Cook

Chasing your dreams means you’re going to make decisions people won’t always understand. You’ll start projects, make changes, and pursue opportunities that will leave people scratching their heads. And the opinions will come. And loud opinions will start to dominate, especially if when you hit rocky patches in your dream-chasing journey.

And that’s when you’ll need to decide: who do I need to be the loudest voices in my life, and why should I listen to them?

Who should be the loudest voices in your life

My faith is important to me, so the loudest voice in my life needs to be God. This is why I spend time every morning reading the Bible, praying, meditating, and listening for His influence on my life. This is the compass for my dream-chasing. My dreams are nothing without God’s blessing and direction.

If you’re married or in a serious relationship, your spouse should be the loudest human voice in your life. They know you better than anyone else, or at least they should. If you have kids, their opinions come right after your spouse’s. By the way, your spouse came before your kids and your kids, not your spouse, are supposed to eventually leave your house. Your kids’ opinions may not always be right, but they’ll probably be the most honest.

If you have a business partner, they should be the next loudest voice in your life.

Why should you listen to them

Hunter S. Thompson once said, “He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.” You need wise voices speaking into your life as you chase your God-given dreams. You’re going to make mistakes, but you know that. You’re not going to be perfect, but having people you know, like, and trust who want what’s best for you in your life is important for your learning process. They can help steer you in the right direction.

If you know which voices to listen to in your life, it’s much easier to shut out the noisy opinions just looking for an audience. Build a virtual Cabinet for your dream-chasing War Room and shut out other voices who don’t know or understand all the planning and work that goes on behind the scenes.

Loud opinions are usually just that: loud. Wise and trusted opinions can help you get the insight you need to succeed. Know the difference between the two.

Put deadlines on your dreams

Dreams become reality only when they’re put into action.

You have dreams and ambitions. Maybe it’s quitting that soul-sucking 9-to-4:59 routine and pursuing your dream job. Maybe it’s writing that novel, starting a movement, creating a mastermind group to tackle a social justice issue, or inspiring change in others. There’s a cause burning inside of you, but it will stay only a smoldering possibility without a plan of action.

Put deadlines on your dreams - writetojoncook Jon Cook

I knew I wanted to pursue writing full-time for three years before making the leap. And yet, it wasn’t until I put specific details and deadlines on my dreams that they became my new reality. Author Napoleon Hill said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” A dream is only a hope, but a goal is a dream with an action plan.

Putting deadlines on your dreams is the best way to realize them. You need practical steps to achieve your dreams, the very definition of a goal.

How to turn your dreams into goals

The best way to set goals is to make them S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Take your dreams and turn them into S.M.A.R.T. goals.

For example, let’s say you wanted to start your own custom cabinetry business. You can’t just say, “Goal 1: Start work tomorrow as a custom cabinet maker.” There’s nothing S.M.A.R.T. about that, just a dream with a leap into the unknown. Where will you work? Who will be your customers? Where and how will you get your supplies? How will you market your business?

One of the first S.M.A.R.T. goals for launching a custom cabinetry business might be, “Research and contract with the top three wholesale cabinet material manufacturers in my state by the end of the week.”  It fits all five elements of S.M.A.R.T. goals and puts a deadline on your dreams.

Put deadlines on your dreams

Now, sometimes deadlines need to be extended because life just happens. At the same time, I’ve often found that deadlines light the right fire at the right time to inspire me towards the desired action.

Deadlines can be intimidating because they make you sweat the details. Deadlines keep you up at night. They can hijack your mind for weeks on end. And they’re also responsible for some of life’s greatest achievements.

It’s time to put some details to your dreams. You’ve waited long enough. You’re all out of excuses. You can do something extraordinary if you put an action plan to your hopes and aspirations today. It’s time to give your dreams their marching orders.

What are you doing today to put your dreams into practice? Share your story through the Comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Create a living legacy that’s worth your time

What do you want to be your legacy?

The number one death bed regret is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” (Huffington Post) Now, I don’t mean to be morbid, but it’s easy to think of a person’s legacy only after they’ve passed.

I think that’s short-sighted. Thinking legacy only begins to take shape when a person dies devalues the ethos of legacy. Some of the most powerful legacies today are living legacies: people making a difference in the world around us. Entrepreneurs, philanthropists, social justice advocates, medical researchers, these are just some of the few creating wild significance while breath still inhabits their lungs.

What if we reimagined life years before that final death bed regret? What if you had the courage to live a life true to yourself now? What would you change? What would stay the same? What would it take to turn your life into a living legacy?

Create a living legacy worth your time - writetojoncook Jon Cook

How to build a living legacy

Spoiler alert: life is not about you. You’re not here to build your kingdom. God put you here on purpose with a purpose for a purpose: to make a big deal out of others, especially Him. Any attempt to build your own legacy with selfish intentions will crumble with time. Your life legacy cannot begin to take any significant shape until you start seeing others as more important than yourself.

You can start building a living legacy in a few simple ways:

  • Build someone else up every day. You can be a mentor, an encourager, advocate, even just a good friend, someone who adds value in someone else’s life today. Every one of us could use another person in their corner of the ring. Be that cheerleader.
  • Seek significant change, not just successful opportunities. Anyone can build wealth, but few achieve significance.
  • Live a generous life. Be generous with your time, attention, resources, money, connections, wisdom, even listening. A generous life is one of God’s greatest glimpses into heaven on earth.
  • Duck the spotlight whenever possible. This allows you to highlight others who deserve far more attention than you do. Tipping your cap to others who deserve the applause embodies a gracious life.

Five questions to ask when considering your legacy

When you see your life’s purpose is to enhance the lives of others, there are five questions you can ask to help build a lasting legacy:

  1. What do I want to be true of me?
  2. What is the significance I want to embody as a testament of my life’s work?
  3. Whose lives do I want to influence for tremendous opportunities in the future?
  4. How do I want my name to be remembered?
  5. What emotions do I want to inspire in others after they know my story?

None of these questions are bound by an end-of-life experience. All of these questions can be answered and refined as you live each day. Michael Hyatt recently announced his coming book Living Forward, co-authored by Daniel Harkavy, that’s due to be published by Baker Books next spring. This already looks like a tremendous resource to help you develop your living legacy.

What are some other ways you can build a living legacy?

Sorting the profound and the profane in your potential

You are capable of extraordinary potential.

There are literally billions upon billions of synapses and nerve endings firing and circuiting through your brain as these words drop from the screen through your optic nerves and into your neocortex for split-second processing.

And it’s in that same main hub of conscious thought and language communication that you have tremendous potential for two separate lives: the profound or the profane.

Sorting the profound and the profane in your potential - writetojoncook Jon Cook

Profound living vs. profane living

Now, I’m not referring to profanity when I talk about profane living, although that may be part of the expression. Profane living is a life of fear, insecurity, regret, resentment, even hatred and complacency. It flies in the face of your God-given potential and says, “No thanks, I’ll live in a limited capacity instead of embracing extraordinary opportunity.” It profanes the opportunity you’ve been given.

A profane life is most pronounced in the lies we entertain and the lies we even tell ourselves. “You don’t have what it takes,” “Am I good enough?” “You’ll fail just like everyone else has.” “Who am I to start my own business?” “I’ll never succeed.”

Quit drinking that Kool-Aid; you were made for more than that.

A profound life reaches past where you are today. It creates something worth celebrating, a life of significance that enhances the lives of others around you. It’s what helps us create and share art, music, romance, philosophy, hope, justice, and most importantly, love.

When it comes to chasing your dreams, it’s easy to flirt between the profane and the profound. One moment you’re making that call, quitting that job, or scheduling that interview. Things start to feel significant, even profound in their meaning. The next moment you’re in the third bathroom stall puking your guts out and wondering, “What have I done?!” Hello, fear.

Profound, profane, profound, profane, lather, rinse, repeat.

What would it take to embrace a profound life and leave a profane past behind?

Living a profound life

Embracing a profound life starts with the words you allow yourself to hear. It starts with changing your mental narrative. Kara and I talked today about how poisonous it is to entertain negative thoughts. Negativity isn’t reality, even if reality is sometimes negative. Negativity profanes our potential. Gossip profanes our spirit.

There are five significant shifts that define a profound life:

  1. A profound life pursues significance.
  2. A profound life is filled with people who speak constructive criticism out of hope, not Negative Nellie’s out of jealousy.
  3. A profound life kicks fear in the face by chasing the possible inside the seemingly impossible.
  4. A profound life knows that chasing your dream will be filled with uncertainty and still doesn’t give up.
  5. A profound life doesn’t let your inexperience or lack of pedigree change the trajectory of your calling.

You were made to live a profound life. Now’s your time to do something significant and leave a fear-inducing profane life in your rearview mirror.

What are some ways you’ve embraced living a profound life?

Why dream chasers need dream seekers

When was the last time you looked for a complete stranger in a crowd?

That’s the whole premise of a crowd: it’s usually filled with strangers, people you don’t know. If you’re at a sports event, the mall, airport, or festival, there’s no shortage of people you could meet. The point is that you’re not interested in meeting everybody everywhere, only certain people for certain purposes.

I’m really good at finding people I know in crowds, but I stink at finding people I’ve never met before. Why? Because I don’t know who to look for, what their names are, or what they even look like unless someone tells me. Finding someone in a crowd is much easier if that person is also looking for you.

Look for people who are looking for you - writetojoncook Jon Cook

When it comes to chasing dreams and doing work that matters, you need to be looking for people who are looking for you. Dream chasers need dream seekers.

So many people try to get connected with big-name people in their new industry that have no interest in meeting them. It’s like looking for someone in a crowd who isn’t interested in meeting you. A random stranger at a ballpark isn’t going to give me the time of day unless I have something they’re wanting. Why should they?

Dream chasers need dream seekers

Dream chasers need to find dream seekers: people who are looking for a dream that’s worth investing their time, energy, and attention. Maybe you have a great story to tell in the form of a book, a feature-length film, or as a speaker. You need to look for a literary agent or platform builder who’s also looking for a great story to share.

You don’t need the greatest filmmaker or even a popular name in your industry that might have some connections for you. You just need the right person who is looking for what your dream entails, a dream they can believe in and promote with you.

We as dream chasers have a quantifiable amount of energy; we can only do, be, and effect a certain amount each day. Don’t waste your energy trying to catch the attention of the wrong people. Spend your time, energy, and attention looking for the right people who are looking for you.

How to find dream seekers

It’s helpful to know how to find dream seekers. Where do you start? How do you know that someone is looking for you and your dream? There are some simple steps for finding dream seekers and inviting them to support your dreams.

1. Ask people you know, like, and trust who they know, like, and trust who might be interested in your dream.

2. Do your research on that person. This is full permission to stalk the crap out of them. Google them. Look them up on social media. Read their blog or website, if they have one. You need to know why they do what they do before inviting them to support your dreams.

3. Take the initiative to contact them. Don’t text them. Don’t DM them via social media. If you have their phone number, call them. If you don’t have their phone number, email them. The best approach is calling them. It’s more personal than an email and communicates higher value.

4. After you’ve established a healthy connection with that person, repeat steps 1-3 with them.

Dream seekers can help turn your dreams into realities. It takes work, lots and lots and lots of work, but the reward is worth the hustle.

What are some ways you’ve found dream seekers who can support your dreams? Share your stories in the Comments section below so I can celebrate with you.

If you don’t have time to read, don’t expect to succeed.

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde

Reading is one of the most overlooked benefits in life. People constantly ask me what I’d recommend to help them improve professionally. My response is usually a question, “What are you reading lately?” There’s a reason people say leaders are readers. The average CEO reads four to five books a month. (Refresh Leadership) If you want to succeed in life, you must bury your nose in a good book to learn from others what you don’t know.

My love for reading began with being able to read in preschool. My mom would take us to the library (remember those?) on a regular basis and we’d leave with arms full of books to devour. I read anywhere between 10-20 feature-length books a year and between 80-100 eBooks.

Read to succeed - writetojoncook Jon Cook

Reading rates among U.S. Adults

Seth Godin recently shared that 23% of Americans read zero books in 2014. Zero. Illiteracy is not all to blame with 14% of American adults being unable to read. (U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy) That still leaves over 27 million U.S. adults fully capable of reading who simply choose not to read.

With social media, radio, and TV clanging for our attention, the thought of devoting a few hours to consuming a book is seen as, well, “not worth our time.” If that’s the case, then why do some of the most successful people in the world, fiscally or not, consume the most amount of books?

I’m currently in the middle of reading six books and I feel like I’m still missing out. What I don’t feel is uninformed and uneducated. The power of reading transforms even the most obscure individuals into industry leaders and world-changers. Just by reading one book this year you will be learning and advancing more than over 75 million Americans.

How to create a reading habit

You may not be an avid reader. In fact, you may hate reading, but if you’re wanting to develop this life-changing habit, there are a few easy steps to grow as a reader.

  • Pick a nonfiction book your friends recommend. It doesn’t have to be several hundred pages long, but it should be at least 150 pages, give or take a few. It’s important to note “nonfiction” as the genre. Maybe it’s a book on a hobby you enjoy or a person you admire. The point is to feed your brain without kicking it into autopilot, which is what happens with a lot of fiction books.
  • Sacrifice one time-consumer in exchange for reading. Maybe you only watch six hours of Netflix each night instead of seven. To grow you must sacrifice.
  • Schedule your reading. Block out a half-hour or an hour of time for reading. It may be every night or every other night, just pick a regular time and stick to it.
  • Read. I know, that’s earth-shattering advice, so I’ll say it again: read. You may be bored and fidgety within the first few pages. Just let yourself get into the pages and focus on what you’re reading.
  • Discuss what you’re reading. Maybe you should join a book club or use an online discussion forum to talk about the latest book you’re reading. Other readers can draw out observations and experiences from books that you won’t. This will enhance your overall reading by learning from other readers.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading right now. What are some great books you’d recommend? What are some other tips or tricks for developing as a reader?

Life is an opportunity, not an obligation.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison

Nobody loves the feeling of obligation. It’s the dinner party with extended family members you really can’t stand. It’s the work retreat that’s “optional,” but then you’re asked during your annual review why you didn’t attend. I’ve attended plenty of events because I felt obligated.

Obligation is a slimy word, a compulsion powered by internal grudges. What’s the point of doing something if you’re guilt-tripped into it?

Life is an opportunity, not an obligation - writetojoncook Jon Cook

There are times in life where we confuse what seems like obligations with true opportunities. It’s the difference between “I get to…” (opportunity) and “I have to…” (obligation). You woke up today for a reason. God gave you an opportunity to live today, right here, right now, with a purpose.

Life is filled with opportunities.

Mary Augustine once said, “We become happier, much happier, when we realize that life is an opportunity rather than an obligation.” Life begins to change when we change how we see potential “obligations” as fresh opportunities.

“I get to serve others.”

It’s a blessing to be a blessing. I’ve served with countless people in food banks, pregnancy centers, homeless shelters, orphanages, all over the world. It’s never been about me, but I still come away feeling like I was blessed more than I could ever bless others. Serving others changes you.

“I get to work today.”

Over 17.5 million Americans are currently unemployed. (Trading Economics) The fact that you and I get to go to a job, even a job that you might despise, is already an opportunity. You get a paycheck. You get to eat. You get to learn from others with more experience. You get to mentor those who are newer to your industry. Work is one of life’s greatest opportunities.

“I get to walk/talk/hear/read/write/sing today.”

How many people would kill to have all their senses and abilities? The fact that you are fully functional in your body is opportunity enough to use all those functions to share hope and blessings.

“I get to spend time with my family.”

Your family may drive you nuts, but I guarantee you an orphan wouldn’t mind one bit.

“I get to pay a mortgage.”

You may be upside down in your house by $100k. Your house may have all sorts of issues, but you still have a roof over your head. God gives us opportunities, like owning a house, to be a blessing to others.

“I get to be stuck in traffic.”

This means you have a car or you know someone who does who’s blessing you with a ride. This means you also have time to listen to the radio, audio books, music, or talk.

These are just a few of the ways we can rethink “obligations” into opportunities. Today is about seeing opportunity in life. We have a chance to live on purpose. We get to share hope, grace, second chances, and generosity. We get an opportunity to make the most of life today.

Book Review – Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (Seth Godin)

Purple Cow Seth Godin - Book Review writetojoncook Jon CookSeth Godin is arguably the marketing guru of our time, or at least one of the most influential marketing voices. I’ve followed Seth’s writings for several years now. I recently finished his book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable and I was thoroughly challenged and impressed.

In the world of marketing, several “P” words set as marketing factors: promotion, price, placement, and others. The problem is none of those truly work as well anymore. Enter the Purple Cow.

A brown cow is boring. Any cow of any normal shade or hue is still boring. What isn’t boring is finding a cow that’s purple. It’s worth noticing. It’s worth telling your friends and family about, “Did you hear I saw a purple cow?” It’s remarkable.

Online marketing glut has created so much noise that we see browns cows everywhere. The key is creating a purple cow experience that leaves customers raving and sharing with their friends and family.

Godin explores several companies who created “purple cows” in their products or services, like Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Apple, and KrispyKreme. These companies weren’t worried about pricing or placement first; they were concerned with creating a remarkable product or experience worth sharing: a purple cow.

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable was originally written in 2003, so some of the concepts are now dated, but that’s to be expected with any book on marketing. It’s also not a very long book, so don’t expect an exhaustive exploration of a fairly simple concept. It’s a very well-written book that summarizes a basic concept many entrepreneurs, business owners, and ideators struggle to apply but it will dramatically change your business efficacy if put into practice.

I would highly recommend Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable to anyone wanting to stand out with your marketing message. It starts with creating a remarkable product, not aggressively pricing a subpar experience. It starts with a purple cow that people will talk about.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Dreamers slay dragons, not lizards

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – Neil Gaiman

Knights and dragons are the tales of heroes with terrors to vanquish. Fire-breathing dragons the size of 747s are what make heroes quake and take a solid gut-check before slamming down their visor. Dragons bring out the best in heroes.

How many stories have you read about a knight riding out to save the day from the terrifying destruction of a gecko?

Spoiler alert: none of them, because that’s a terrible storyline. No gecko, especially not the GEICO gecko, will ever be grouped in the “terrifying, destructive” category of wild beasts. Geckos don’t carry the risk and danger of a dragon.

Dreams are worth the fight

Why do people not chase their dreams? Because dreams can be scary. It can be paralyzing to see the path God’s calling you to follow and it looks like a massive dragon landing in front of you. The size of the fear has a direct connection to the size of opportunity for extraordinary living.

Of course, dragons aren’t real, right? They’re make-believe; the stuff of legends and lore… just as reliable as many of our fears and insecurities. They may loom large, even terrifying right in front of us, but dragons can be beaten.

Dreamers slay dragons, not lizards. Dreamers see monstrous obstacles on the path ahead and still charge forward. Dreamers recognize the risk, the danger of facing a fire-breathing future of uncertainty and fear and even critics… and still ride on.

Facing the dragons of your dreams

The “dragon” of your dreams come in all shapes and sizes:

  • Maybe you writing your first book and you’ve never been published.
  • Maybe you’re starting your own school or community center and have no funding.
  • Maybe your dreams is a marriage you’ve always wanted and need to work on.
  • Maybe you’re being led to launch a new movement for a cause close to your heart.

All of these can come with their own “dragons”: obstacles, objections, and even direct opponents to your opportunity. Some of these can come from external sources, and some can come from inside yourself.

If chasing your dreams was easy, everybody would do it. If making 100 phone calls and getting 100 “no’s” was easy, everybody would make them. If starting a business or a nonprofit were easy, more than 10% of new businesses would survive the two-year mark. If writing your guts out for several months in hopes of your manuscript being read was easy, everyone would write a book.

This is your battle, your chance to fight for what’s good and right and honorable in this world. This is your dragon to be slain. This is your dream worth fighting for in this world. It’s time to fight for your dreams today.

How to build self-discipline

Building self-discipline requires a plan of action.

Over the past few days I’ve shared about how self-discipline can enhance every area of our lives. A lot of people don’t realize there are nine areas of our lives that need self-discipline. Building self-discipline is one of our greatest God-given opportunities to enhance the world around us. How to build self-discipline - writetojoncook I used to sleep in till 8:00 or 8:15 each morning during the work week because I didn’t have to be to work until 9:00. When I launched as an entrepreneur, I started waking up earlier to focus my mind before the day. I moved my exercise routine to the morning and now I get up between 5:30 and 6:30 to exercise, read, blog, pray, and read the Bible before beginning my work day. It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen without an action plan. Lacking direction is one of the leading excuses people give for not having self-discipline. “I want to be better in [this area of life], but I don’t know where to start!” This is why you need an action plan to build self-discipline. As the saying goes, a failure to plan is a plan for failure. It’s time to start building your action plan.

Five steps for creating self-discipline

Building self-discipline starts with super practical steps: what can I do today to start building for tomorrow? There are five basic steps to take when building self-discipline.

  1. Know why you need to change – What will happen if you change? What will happen if you don’t change? Put emotions and future realities into the explanation; this needs to feel deep and personal. For example, I choose to exercise five days a week so I can enjoy life as a fit grandpa in thirty years. I also believe my body is a gift from God and I want to be the best manager of this body for my entire life. Both of those reasons have deep, emotional connections to them.
  2. Set a goal – Fitness, diet, time management, whatever the area may be, set a goal. Remember: your goals need to be S.M.A.R.T. – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
  3. Create a strategic plan – This is your roadmap for meeting your goals. What are you going to do, when are you going to do it, and how are you going to get there?
  4. Recruit accountability – Who can help you stay on track to meet your goals? Recruit their help with regular (daily, weekly, bi-weekly) check-in times.
  5. Track your progress – Change that is measured can be best improved. You need a system for measuring your progress towards self-discipline. Wearing a FitBit is a great example of tracking your fitness progress. Doing a schedule audit is a great way to track your time management. Whatever you choose to use, keep track of your progress and make corrections as needed.

Follow these five steps and you will see results. Whatever area of life in which you choose to build self-discipline will begin transforming. I’d love to hear your success stories. Tag me on social media @writetojoncook and share your progress with me!

1 3 4 5 6 7 37