When I was held back, I didn’t know it. It’s not abundantly apparent to those of us who believe we are pursuing the right path.
Let me explain.
I’m out in Denver at a conference for people like me who speak for a living. I was at this same conference this time last year.
Holy crap, this time last year was a whole different kind of reality for me.
I was struggling to shoehorn an idea into a book format that couldn’t house it. I was struggling to figure out what on earth I could say on stage. I was struggling to put a framework around what is really a force of momentum that has guided my whole life.
I gave up.
So I called my published and I say, “Rohit, I’m not the person for you. I can’t write ‘The Non-Obvious Guide to Purpose: Doing Work that Matters.’ It’s just not working. You should fire me.”
And he agreed.
“Laura, you are right that this idea doesn’t belong in a guidebook on purpose. It’s a bigger idea. And I think we should publish it as a big idea book, in hardback, in the spring, the way big idea books are done.”
In a moment of sheer panic, I texted my friend Clay. “Holy fuck, what do I do now?”
He texted back: “You call me.”
So, I stepped out of the conference session I was attending, sat on the floor of the hotel hallway, and called. He dropped what he was doing and spent 45 minutes on the phone with me, batting back words and concepts and frameworks and energies. He finally asked after we had a long list of fire: “What do you want people to feel after they’ve read this book?”
I stammered out, in a righteously indignant word tsunami, “I just want people to stop being so damned trapped, so damned limited by everyone else’s idea of who they should be, what they should be, how they should be. I want them to just be their own person, and finally live the life they were put on this earth to live!”
“So, you want people to be limitless, to ignore everybody, forge their own path, and live their best life?”
“No, wait, forge isn’t the right word. We need something more elegant and incisive, like you. Carve!”
“Clay, I love you, and I don’t spend nearly enough time talking to you, but holy fucking shit, I need to hang up this phone right the hell now and go write *that* book.”
And, so, kids, “Purpose: Doing Work That Matters” became “Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life.”
And I wrote *that* book in three weeks. It poured out of me, another tsunami of words, but this time, with purpose and intent and framework and sense. When I was held back, I needed that one thing to unlock the possibilities, and make me limitless.
Moral of the story: sometimes the very boxes you think you need to check — in this case, writing a book that fit into a guidebook format — are the very things holding you back. The status quo, the premise of the expected question, the sunk cost of the way we’ve always done it are cancers to our creativity and promise.
Even Limitless had to become limitless. Meta, huh?