Die Empty – A Book Review

The love of comfort is often the enemy of greatness according to Todd Henry. Can you dig it? I know I can. And it’s that lure of comfort that keeps any number of us in jobs, careers, relationships, churches, houses, neighborhoods or cities long after we’ve outgrown them.

In Henry’s 2013 book Die Empty; Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, he invites us to structure our life around daily progress based on what matters most. “Don’t allow short-arc comfort to convince you to compromise your long-arc goals. Rarely are things as terrible or wonderful as they seem in the moment.”

While this book is primarily aimed at business it’s clearly applicable to all the arenas of our life. He defines work as any instance where you make an effort to create value where it didn’t previously exist. In creating value of any kind he encourages us to practice “urgent diligence.”

Former Cosmopolitan magazine editor, Kate White, put it more simply when I heard her speak some years back: Go big or go home. That has always stayed with me and is kin to the less elegant tutelage: If you are going to do something, don’t be half-ass about it. (I feel like I picked that one up from my father.)

I once heard that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. Chilling, yes? Henry warns us to constantly scan our lives for areas where we might be growing stagnant. He says that our body of work should reflect what’s most important to us, and as such, wholeheartedness is a must.

And if your heart’s no longer in it, no matter what it is, tell yourself the truth about that. And then take the appropriate action. Perhaps it’s just a dip or plateau that needs to be waited out, yes, but often it’s simply time to move on.

“When you stop growing, you start dying,” says Henry.

Let’s let that one sink in for a moment.

He believes there are three critical ingredients to unleashing your best work each day…mapping + making + meshing. Optimally, you have to strategize and plan (map), you have to create value and actually do the work (make), and you have to grow, connect dots and participate in the work between the work (mesh).

When you do all of these things you are a “developer.” And that is at the heart of his message. Be a developer. Every single day.

When only two of the three elements are present, as is often the case, you are left in a sub-optimal state. Instead of operating in the coveted position of developer you might find yourself in “driver” status (mapping and making but missing the mesh), “drifter” status (making and meshing but missing the map) or “dreamer” status (mapping and meshing but missing the make).

He warns us not to be among the “busily bored.” That reminds me of the Henry David Thoreau quote.

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

Henry goes on to introduce the clever concept of “satisficing” which is a combination of the words satisfy and suffice. “When you ‘satisfice,’ the work that you secretly aspire to do remains inside you. It clogs up the inner workings of your creative process and causes you to stagnate.”

If only Drano could cure that one.

Approaching the M-word, mediocrity, he warns us that this develops slowly. He presents “The 7 Deadly Sins of Mediocrity” in the tidy acronym of ABCDEFG: aimlessness, boredom, comfort, delusion, ego, fear and guardedness. Regular scanning of these sins is the best method for staying on an upward trajectory, per Henry.

Remember, mediocrity is a sneaky little sucker.

On the topic of quitting (endeavors, relationships, jobs, cities, fill-in-the-blank) he says: “Quit if you must, but make it strategic. And not out of fleeing from discomfort or fear.”

Simple, but not easy.

He has several zingers sprinkled throughout the book and here are some of my favorites. I have this posted on my desk serving as my mega-mantra of the month:

Walk into dark rooms ~ Develop the default position of “yes” ~ Practice urgent diligence ~ Develop possibility thinking ~ Prototype relentlessly ~ Notice what evokes your sense of wonder ~ Excavate your assumptions ~ Emulate your super heroes

Questions to ponder:

How willing are you to disrupt your own comfort for the sake of continual growth?

What do you know you should be doing but you’ve been ignoring?

Where in your personal and/or professional life do you notice yourself “satisficing?”

Which of the “7 Deadly Sins of Mediocrity” resonates the most?

What’s inspiring you right now – where’s the juice?

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