Not Sure What To Do? Try Starting

At South by Southwest Interactive (the conference where I’ve been for the past week), there’s a lot of “free shit” to be garnered.

Mostly, “free” takes the form of tacos and empanadas from the scores of food trucks in Austin.  And it sometimes shows up as beer (usually Miller Lite but often Shiner Bock, which tastes alright back home but somehow much better in Texas).

So when I saw a stack of copies of marketing genius Seth Godin‘s newest book at the Man Vs. Debt meetup (more free — coffee and espresso, food, and RV tours), I got excited because (a) I love Seth Godin’s stuff and (b) I figured it was free.

It was.  Sort of.

On certain conditions

After I had the book in my taco-greased hands, I discovered that I actually had to earn it.  How?

By agreeing to read it within five days, write a one-sentence review in the back, and then pass it on to someone else who could use it.

Having read the whole thing on the plane ride home (not such a feat — it’s only 83 pages), I’m doing that last part now: Maybe you’re the one who can use it.

Go, go, go

Seth’s new book is called Poke the Box.  I don’t like the title, but I think Seth gets enough crap for his titles, so I’m not going to harp on that.

Poke the Box is about starting.  Initiating, instigating, shaking things up.

Why?  Because following the rules isn’t safe anymore.  Taking risks, strange as it may seem, is much safer than sitting back and waiting to be told what to do.  Whether it’s your job, your school, or whatever you call your mission, so few people find it in themselves to question the rules that the rewards to those who do (and the causes they stand for) are greater than they’ve ever been.

What stops us, though, is fear — when you have the nerve to draw your own map rather than following the one that somebody else made (and probably a long time ago), there’s a fantastic chance you’re going to screw up.

Seth wrote this manifesto to get you over that fear.  Embrace it.  Realize that when you fail (and make no mistake — you will fail plenty), take it as a sign that you’re doing something worthwhile.  Be proud of your failures.

I sense that I’m making this sound sort of ra-ra fluffy.  Don’t let that stop you from reading Poke the Box; it doesn’t feel that way when Seth writes it.

Let me try to make this stuff just a little more concrete.

Why I like Poke the Box

Poke the Box resonated with me because when No Meat Athlete first happened, it’s only virtue was that it had been started.

Before No Meat Athlete, I was a graduate student who had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  Two years later, I’m still a graduate student, and with only a slightly better idea of what I want to do with my life.

But there’s a bigger difference between me then and me now — in doing this, I’ve learned, firsthand, the power of starting.  When I poked around on the interwebs looking for good info for athletes who happen to be vegetarian, I found that there wasn’t much of it.  So, desperate for something to do with my life other than grading Calculus homework, I opened a free WordPress account and started writing No Meat Athlete (technically, it was No-Meat Athlete, with a hyphen).

I didn’t know the information I’d be writing about.  But I started, and that made me learn it.

And now 4,000 people subscribe.  And 1,143 of them, in countries all over the planet, have No Meat Athlete shirts.

I’m not naive enough to put this up there with Bieber fever.  And in case you couldn’t tell, my bank account looks nothing like Mark Zuckerberg’s.

But I know that simply because I started (seriously, that was the hardest part), people have a new way of spreading the message that you can do some pretty badass stuff without eating meat.  Looking back, it’s funny to realize how selfish it was to be concerned with my own fears, which went something like, “Who would actually want to buy a shirt from my blog?”

Start.  If you have something in you that’s going to help people stop being fat, run a marathon or a half or a 5K, go vegetarian, or something completely unrelated to any of those things, you owe it not just to yourself but to the world to get it out there.

You can do research forever, you can keep getting more graduate degrees, and you can keep brainstorming ideas that one day you say you’ll act on.  But that doesn’t do anything.  Far worse, it turns out to be a pretty believable excuse for doing nothing, when the real reason is fear.

Just start.

Who needs Poke the Box?

If you’ve read Linchpin, you probably don’t need Poke the Box.  The message is similar; Poke the Box is more a “manifesto” and much, much quicker to read.

If you’re already failing all the time and you’re alright with that, because you know you’re doing something that matters, you don’t need Poke the Box (though it might help you keep on going).

If you’re looking for specific tools to help you do what you need to do, you won’t find them in Poke the Box.  (But if those tools exist already, is what you’re doing really anything new?)

If you liked Linchpin but got stuck in the middle (I’ve talked to at least a few in this category), you need Poke the Box.

If you have big ideas but haven’t executed any of them, you need Poke the Box.

If you don’t have big ideas yet, but have big passion for something and need a nudge, you need Poke the Box.

And I need to give my copy to someone. If you think you could use a dose of motivation to throw out the rulebook, let me know in the comments.  I’ll pick someone to send my copy to, based entirely on my gut feeling about who it could help the most.  (But you have to read it in five days, and then pass it on!)

Oh yeah, and you can go here to learn more about the Domino Project, the organization behind this “pass-it-on” game, and whose goal is to change the way books are made, sold, and spread.

Heart rate monitor winner!

Last thing — I believe I owe you guys a winner from last week’s Polar heart monitor contest, sponsored by  Out of 223 entrants, the random winner is…Chris Van Dyke, who writes the blog “…when I talk about running.”  Looks like Chris’ virtual finger-cross paid off!  Congrats Chris, and thanks to everyone who entered and to Heart Rate Monitors USA.



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  1. This book sounds like something I should check out! I’m about to graduate from law school and I feel like there are a million things I want to do but I’m not sure how to start. I want to find a rewarding job, start a philanthropic foundation, get faster and run my second half marathon, spread the word about how good my (relatively) new vegetarian diet makes me feel, etc. etc. Thanks for the review!

    • Darcy, the advice I’ve heard seemingly millions of times is to start giving first…supposedly, it sort of “trains” you to believe you have abundance and leads to more. Sounds a little “Law of Attraction” for my taste, but even more grounded people recommend it. Since philanthropy is something you’re interested in, think about this new idea of philanthropic capitalism… Tom’s shoes, for example. I just heard the founder speak and he was awesome! Check it out.

  2. I think I was one of your first readers… Through you I learned enough to adopt a Low Fat Raw Vegan diet! When I finally get to running and a reasonable size – and I will – I am going to order some NMA shirts, all the way to South Africa.

    The book sounds like something I could use where I am right now – unemployed, recovering from a serious illness and wanting to change the way I live my life, including how I earn my living. At the age of 41 I am finally allowing myself to pursue my dreams, instead of just stumbling through life.

    I wouldn’t expect you to post it all the way here though! At least I’m working with a life coach, so I’m not left hanging…

    • Hanlie, you were most definitely one of my first readers! So thank you for that. 🙂

      So glad to hear you’re pursuing your dreams! As best I can tell at this point in my life, that’s what it’s about.

  3. The book sounds intriguing and perhaps relevant to me…I am a well-educated person (maybe overeducated) who has come to the realization that my life is bounded by a formless fear. That fear has kept me in adequate circumstances, but it has also kept me from exploring avenues to live my life that may be more rewarding personally and societally. So a book that addresses this type of fear and breaking out of its straitjacket would be welcome.

    I’ve been an ethical vegan for some 23 years now; it’s the one thing I pursued in my life without fear.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and even ran my last 10K wearing it proudly – you can’t believe how proud I was to wear that shirt!

    Keep up the good work!

    • Jeannie, I think recognizing that fear is a huge step toward getting past it. I think there are very few people who don’t let fear control some part of their lives — after all, it exists as an emotion for a reason. But it seems that whenever there’s someone I look up to, they’ve managed to get over a fear that I haven’t yet.

      Thanks for supporting NMA by wearing the shirt!

  4. I’m sure I could benefit from this book, but my husband really could!
    He’s a business student with lots of ideas, and an intention to be an entrepreneur, and not work for “the man” but has a really hard time taking action and making those ideas happen. I think this book would be just the motivation he needs to get STARTED!

    By the way, love your blog and all that you do through it! I’m proud to be a NMA!

  5. Ana Avila says:

    Dear Matt,

    I’ve been a huge fan of NMA for a year now .
    I am not an athlete but I do workout and will soon be getting my personal training certification (fingers crossed)

    I do believe this book will be quite helpful for me , you see …
    I live in Laveen az , 18 years old and with a strong passion for health and fitness I love helping people make the rightchoices with their food , dieting and fitness . I have helped a few people and they do come to me for advice ( reason why I want to be a personal trainer)
    I LOVE vegan cooking .
    I wanted to start my own little business / services to help people replace unhealthy foods , I do sale vegan tamales ( they include brown rice , black beans, soy meat that I personally bring from Mexico and organic spices and oils) instead of the traditional pork And lard ones.

    So far I just have a facebook page not many fans because I haven’t really had ideas on how to start (video and articles wise)

    I do want to grow with this I’ve gotten great compliments and results on the people that I hace helped and here in Laveen there’s NO vegan community or any services or health stores , NOTHING And me having this passion I want to get something started.

    Reading your suggestions on this book seems like I can get some ideas and more motivation …


    • Vegan tamales sound great! I bet there are some vegans who think you’re the best place in town! I loved that about Austin, TX when I was there…vegan versions of lots of local stuff, even BBQ!

      Send me an email and maybe I can offer you some suggestions on using Facebook and other social media to get your business going.

    • Ana, I got your email and I’m trying to respond to it, but it keeps bouncing back. Any idea why?

  6. I think I need this book. I am an instructor at a rural community college, and I want to spread the word about being a vegetarian and about the joy of running to my students. I’m the youngest instructor, and I have some pretty good ideas, but I’ve been too nervous to start something new at my school. I have so many ideas but just don’t know how to get started! I keep getting more degrees (working on my second masters) and brainstorming all these great ideas, but they fizzle out when I don’t start implementing them right away. I have a passion for running, a passion for vegetarianism, and I think I can make a difference in my community if I could just get a kick in the pants and get started!

    • Kara, you sound a lot like me. I wish I had two books to give away. He talks a lot in the book about the idea of starting something at your work, a small (or large) program like what you’re talking about. I’d highly recommend the book for you!

  7. I need this book… I am interested in starting my own business, but don’t know what to do / where to start :/

    • Kat, I don’t think this book will help you that much… it’ll just make you WANT to start more. Where to start? Is it something you can start building a following for on Twitter, FB, or a blog before you even have a product? That’ll help you gauge interest and give you some momentum.

  8. I am newly vegan and write a blog about changing the world and your life one meal at a time. It has changed my life and I would like to believe it has actually changed the lives of those who read it. Starting was the hardest part and maintaining enthusiasm and courage to keep doing it is of course the challenge. Self doubt and fear can be inspiration killers but you can move through them anyway. Thank you for the inspiration to keep doing what I now love.

  9. Brian Hagan says:

    I started running (more often then 10 miles per month) abour a year ago and decided to try a half marathon. I asked a friend of mine what I should eat the week before, and she sent me a link to this site’s post on what to eat the week before a marathon. I started following this site ever since, and became a vegetarian last October. I feel great and am proud to be training for my second full marathon.

    Anyway… my wife and I ran a race in St. Johns USVI last month, and we met some new friends while we were there. They did not run the race, but we spent a few days together and had a great time. I got an email from the guy yesterday stating that he started running, stopped eating red meat, signed up for his first 5K and lost 10 pounds becuase he was inspired by my change to running and adopting a plant based diet. This is the only time I can remember having this much of an impact on somebody, and it feels great! I know I want to do more of this, so if you think the book can help, please send it to me.

    • That’s the best, isn’t it? I really never expected to actually change anyone through this site, but when it happens and someone takes the time to email and let me know, it’s amazing.

  10. I would love to read Seth Godin’s book and pass it on! I’ve just started my own business, but need a push to get started on the marketing, organizing and managing everything. It would be a life saver! Thanks! Love your blog btw!! 🙂

    • Brooke, check out his other stuff like Purple Cow or All Marketers Are Liars…they’ll make marketing seem really fun and like a part of the whole, not some boring, uncomfortable self-promo work.

  11. I was really moved by what you wrote. Thank you. Your right, it is all fear. I sit here and I think about all of the ways I want to help people and I’m afraid. I’m afraid of failing, sure, but I’m really afraid of letting people down. What would happen if I tried and failed and the people I was trying to help had just a little less hope because of me? But what if they had more? What if? What would happen if just maybe, I did some good with my failure? I feel like I’m standing at the starting line. That feeling of anticipation, and fear mix and I’m not sure if I can remember how to breath. Let alone run. But if running has taught me anything, its that you never look at the distance, you just focus on the step you are taking. I’m going to start. One step at a time. Thank you.

  12. This sounds like a necessary read. At 45 I have completely revamped my life. Went veg again, gave up sugar, wheat, most things in a box or package. I have a new clarity that I’ve not experienced before. I have more energy and spirit than I did in my teens. This year my partner and I decided to sell everything and move to NYC, a city we both love and have always wanted to live. We are still getting our ducks in a row. But, one thing I have learned in this crazy world, is that you make it happen. Adventures and dreams are just an arm’s lengths away. Thanks for the review, and as always the daily inspiration. Your words are valued by this young lady. Cheers!

    • Daisy, you’re already doing it! That’s huge stuff! You don’t need this book… it’ll make you feel great though and might provide a little more spark. But you’re already making huge changes, and I envy that.

  13. i would love to read poke the box. i’m currently in politics and am totally burnt out. i want to quit my job and start my own food business, but i need to START! but it’s scary, and that’s why it’s still a dream. help.

    • Betsy, can you keep doing your day job while you start it? Hugh MacLeod has a book called Ignore Everybody where he talks about the myth of the big day where you quit your job and start your own business. His argument is that if you keep your day job for a while, you can really make your business an art, because you don’t depend on it for your living and you can do really cool stuff and take risks.

  14. i’m at a bit of a crossroads: took my teaching job from full-time to part time this school year to open a personal training business … and it sort of is working but sort of not … and am now expecting our first offspring in the fall and am looking for a bit of clarity. will this book have whatever my brain is looking for to grab on to? i don’t know. but i won’t be mired in it long, if i need to get rid of it in 5 days. so once i get it, i’ll post a giveaway on my own blog and give it to whoever needs it…

    • I applaud you for starting something and switching your job to part-time to make it happen. That’s a huge step that most people will never have the guts to do.

      I feel like I’m recommending all of Seth’s book here (I swear he’s not paying me!), but check out The Dip. It’s about hanging in there (and knowing when to give up) during the inevitable down-period that happens after a new business starts. It’s one of the few of his I haven’t read, so I can’t say if it’s good, but most of his stuff is great.

  15. I love to get this book!!! It sounds like something I could really benefit from – I have ideas to improve my job but am scared to take the needed steps to make them happen. I also want to make changes in my life, but am hesitant because of worrying about failure or what people will think/say. I know this isn’t good, but I am having a hard time over coming it. I also know who I would give the book too when I am done – my sister! We were raised the same way (obviously) so she needs the same help and she is just getting started on her career, so I want her to get started out right. Thank you!!

    • Amanda, I think this book would help you. I picked someone else to send it to because their story resonated so much with me for being similar to my own, but I’d highly recommend grabbing this book online for 8 dollars. It would definitely get you moving.

  16. This is a book I MUST read. I recently turned 50, forty pounds lighter than I was 6 months before my birthday, heart meds gone, and living a meatless existence that I never thought would be possible. I’ve made the step toward a healthier me physically and am loving live more than I ever have before. However, I know that I am not doing what I’m suppose to be doing with my life. “If you have big ideas but haven’t executed any of them, you need Poke the Box” describes me perfectly. With the “new” me, I know it’s time to put those ideas to work!

    • Wow, 50 pounds in 6 months? That’s incredible. I’m sure lots of people would get value out of knowing how you did it… is that (helping other people do it) the thing you’re supposed to be doing, or something else?

  17. Oh Man I’m gonna look up that book. I have been to 3 colleges, all for no more than a few semesters, moved to 4 different states in a matter of 3 years, and have had more odd end jobs than you can imagine. I have passions: running, riding my motorcycle, healthy cooking, photography, at home beauty treatments, researching ancient civilizations, travelling, drawing. I have ideas such as: get better on my camera and take photo shoots for free just because I love it, make a healthy to go snack to sell at Farmer’s Markets, become an aesthetician and then learn natural ways to take care of skin and spread the word…I have so much passion and energy and not a lot of knowing how to use it. It’s caused a lot of anxiety and stress in my life! And I don’t even recognize myself for the most part anymore.

    • Jenny, I understand that feeling of not recognizing yourself because you’re so splintered into multiple parts. The only advice I can give you is pick one and go with it. Or find an umbrella it all fits under, start a blog with that topic and see what part of it really connects with people when you write about it, and then go further with that idea.

  18. ariana golub says:

    I was debating reading the other comments already posted to see if I could somehow put a twist on my NEED for this book but… all competitiveness put aside, the NEED is so great I skipped right to the comment post area…

    To put it in a nutshell… I graduated college in 2007 and have since tried TWO graduate programs and THREE full-time jobs (with part time jobs in between)… I have a passion for nutrition and exercise and keep finding ways to subconsciously delay just jumping into the fields – even though I have done AMPLE reading on the subjects and even tried going to grad school for a related field (2nd grad school… public health nutrition…)

    Sincer I could remember… I have had interest in becoming a personal trainer but when I envision myself in the position I feel unprepared and go on the serach for the “perfect” certification program (nasm? ace? you name it… I’ve searched it…) and then I tell myself “when I get enough “education” in the area, I’ll jump in… interestingly enough, with the depth of the internet, I already have a good deal of knowledge (by no means an expert) and already help many friends with their exercise routines… Similar story with nutrition… I look at programs (should I get certified? or get a masters? be an RD? or stick with CN?) …all this time, I am the one cooking healthy food and educating friends and coworkers on the importance of it all…

    I know deep inside that I just need to get into it but my current job (job #3) is “cushiony” with enough pay to let me live freely and enough “freedom” to not be miserable everyday… I can honestly say that FEAR is what is stopping me and if you say this book with give me a kick in the ass… PLEASE send it along!!

    I’m starting to get antsy… 🙂

    …oh, and I know many people who can use it too, so passing it along won’t be a problem!

    PS – thanks for the website, it has become a favorite of mine and I have spread it along to my running teamates!!

    • Alright Ariana, you win. 🙂 You sound exactly like me with the grad school and the “I’ll start after I have more education”… so I choose you. I’ll send you an email and you can give me your address!

      5 days, remember!

  19. Hey Matt — you know, you nudged me over the edge into trying veganism for a month back in October. I’m still at it 🙂

    I’ve got kinda mixed feelings about Seth Godin, though I have to admit that I’ve never read any myself. I guess I balk at what I perceive to be the motivational speaker kind aspect? I think I’m a terrible book snob. That and the fact that it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that you might be at a point in your life where you need to read something motivational…

    I’m in the writing-up phase of my PhD, and I feel like I’m about to cross the veil. I have always been on the academic path, and I was always so freakin driven. I worked hard, competed for funding, took up study abroad opportunities. And now… And now I’ve realised it’s not what I want to do with my life.

    The thing is, I’m too shell-shocked to actually try and figure out what I want to do instead. This was *always* what I thought I would do. It’s what everyone else assumed I would do. I’ve never considered the alternative. The hundreds and thousands of alternatives. More importantly, I’ve never considered who I’d be if I dropped the philosophy and took one of those up instead.

    To be honest, a couple of months ago I wouldn’t have replied to this post. I wouldn’t have even entertained the idea that I might need Seth Godin. But I guess I’m dipping my toe in the water. Putting the actual book aside, I guess it’s good that I can at least acknowledge that I might benefit from reading it! One step at a time eh 😉

    • Beth, that’s awesome that I got you to try veganism, and you lasted way longer than I did! (But now I’m vegan, for good I believe.) So glad to hear it’s going well for you.

      Actually, I’ve never looked at Seth Godin as a motivational author or speaker. Until last year, he was a marketing author. And he still is, but his two most recent books have been about starting something and doing something special with your life. Still tied into marketing, though.

      He’d be a good “gateway” motivator for you!

  20. That sounds like the kind of book/kick in the pants I need! I am a notorious procrastinator who wants a better job, cleaner apartment, and some sort of life direction but I get stuck with “what first” and end up doing the same thing week after week. I know that repeating the same action expecting different results is the definition of insanity, and yet I do nothing different…

    • Beth, I’ve definitely been there. I used to always straighten up my desk or clean my work area before I’d sit down to brainstorm a business idea or whatever else I needed to focus on… and now I realize that all it was was a form of procrastination, because doing actual brainstorming (or actual work on something) was scary. Is that what’s going on with you?

  21. Benjamin says:

    As I sit here reading this, I am in the midst of heavy contemplation. I have been working at the same place for 10 years, but have always dreamed of running my own business. Now an oppurtunity has risen for me to enter into business for myself. Do I leave the safety of my current job or risk it all in this new endeavour?

    • Benjamin, I’d recommend Linchpin. Poke the Box will get you pumped but doesn’t back it up nearly as much as Linchpin or relate to a workplace the way you’d want it to. It’s a great read.

  22. I need this book! I’m 24 and a community college student with a small goal – save the world! I’m passionate about education, mathematics, the environment, social justice, animals, vegetarianism, running and SO MANY THINGS. I want to do great things, but I don’t know how to start and i’m scared to do something that is outside of the box because I crave stability. I could really use the good influence of someone telling me that I can do big, wonderful things.

    • Tony Robbins, Tony Robbins, Tony Robbins! I know people think he’s corny or that he’s going to brainwash you, but I know exactly your feeling and he’s been such a huge help for me. He firmly believes that placing stability as your highest need is a recipe for unhappiness.

  23. Lots of compelling reasons, I just want to read the book. The more we know the farther we go, right? Reading Rainbow peeps! Reading Rainbowwwwww!

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