All posts by Joseph Downing

Ideas Mean Little. Action Means Everything.

I recently listened to an interview of filmmaker Casey Neistat with Rich Roll and was struck by one comment he said in particular: that he couldn’t care less about anyone’s ideas. He is only interested in what they do with those ideas. That, to him, ideas mean nothing but action means everything. How true this is. Personally, I come up with dozens of story ideas in any given week, but unless I commit to the hard work of sitting down, writing them, re-writing them, and then re-writing them again, they are nothing more than mist in the air, something that ultimately means nothing.

So many of us have great ideas for a new business, a new art project or a new way of living our lives. But so few of us actually take that idea and make it something real. And why is that? Well, action is the hard part. And having an idea is inspiring and gives us a momentary sense of pleasure and even—paradoxically—a sense of accomplishment. But that is an illusion. I can think about going for a run, but unless I put on my shoes and head out the door, my idea is not going to make me any fitter.

We must engage the journey through the muddy chaos of creation and actually create. We must give our creation the time and effort it deserves. Nothing magical happens instantly. There are no such things as prodigies, only those that do. And continue to do no matter how many times they fail along the way. If you want to win the lottery, buy a lottery ticket. But if you want to create a great life and reach your full potential without squandering your many gifts and talents along the way, take action. Take your intangible idea and make it something real. Something that you can touch, share and take pride in. Embrace the struggle and hard work required. The work, in the end, is the reward. We find out who we are along the way. That’s a legacy worth having.

Watch Casey’s “Make It Count” video here. (Nike hired him to make a commercial and instead he used the $25,000 they paid him to travel around the world.)

Listen to the full interview of Casey with Rich Roll here:

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at


If you like the blog and/or the book, the best way you can support it is by sharing it with others and by giving it a positive rating at the Amazon link above.   Thanks for checking in.

The Advice We Would Give to our Twenty-year-old Selves. Your Responses.

I asked the question, “What advice would you give your twenty-year-old self?” on Facebook recently and received either via Facebook comments or direct email over fifty responses. The responses I received were candid, thoughtful and contained several very consistent themes. Here they are.

Don’t Be in Such a Hurry, but Don’t Waste Time Either.

Many women, although they love their families very much, expressed a wish that they had taken their time and not rushed into marriage and parenthood so early. In retrospect, they would have taken time to discover themselves, their passions and the world before committing to a domestic life. Both men and women believed that they were in such a hurry to get somewhere else: a career, a home, or a certain lifestyle, that they missed out on the beauty of the present moment that they were in. Others expressed regret that they procrastinated, whether out of fear, naïveté or just plain laziness from exploring and pursuing what was important to them. When young, we live under the illusion that there will always be time in the future to be who we want and to do what we want to do. There isn’t.   The time is always “now” to do what you love.

Don’t Worry So Much.

I spent my time in college and my early twenties fretting over not having enough money and not finding a monetarily secure (and status-securing) job. I wished I embraced poverty more. I didn’t have a car payment, house payment or other debt and I didn’t appreciate the freedom this allowed. I could have done more if I could have let go of the fear of scarcity. A lot of people shared this feeling. The lesson of just letting things unfold, excepting our mistakes as the important lessons they are, and knowing the road is never straight are valuable insights that many of us have gained.

Nothing is Permanent.

Most of us acknowledged that we are very different people from who we were (or thought we were) in our twenties and are living lives other than what we might have predicted. Most of the dramas and tragedies that felt so traumatic worked out just fine and more often made us better, wiser and more resilient human beings. Don’t fret. Don’t hang on. Learn to let go.

Be Braver and Take More Risks.

Many of us followed traditional paths, taking traditional jobs and making traditional life choices because doing otherwise was scary. It’s easier and safer to follow the herd—and very damaging. But we’ve learned that most of the scary outcomes that we feared from failing solely existed in our heads and seem almost comical in retrospect.   We’ve learned that the scariest outcome is the true life left unlived.

Listen More to Your Own inner Guidance and Rely Less on the Direction of Others.

Many of us struggled trusting our own intuition when young. We tended to default to what others—society, parents, teachers, etc.—thought was best for us, often to our own detriment. While it is wise to pay attention to the advice of those who care about us and have had experience, we must remember that others’ experiences, goals and values are not always aligned with our own. Many of our loved ones are more concerned with keeping us safe and secure rather than encouraging us follow our passions. Our destinies are our own. Trust your inner knowledge to know this.

These Lessons Still Apply.

Even though our challenges and our dreams may have shifted since our early adulthood, the lessons and advice about still applies. We have to continue to incorporate them in our lives every day. We may no longer fret over our college major or final exams, but we face the challenges of career change, long-term relationship struggles, or a thousand other things under the sun. Let’s take the advice we gave to our former selves and give it to the present us. It’s still wisdom worth applying.

Sidenote: While almost every response I received from women was honest, direct and vulnerable, almost every response I received from men was self-deprecating and jokey. Hmmm.   There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at

If you like the blog and/or the book, the best way you can support it is by sharing it with others and by giving it a positive rating at the Amazon link above.   Thanks for checking in.


Reflections on Mortality: There’s No Time To Wait

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the mother of someone very close to me. In the mist of the deceased’s loved ones mourning the loss, I inevitably reflect on our mortality and if there is a silver lining to someone’s passing, its the reminder to those left behind of how brief and precious life is.

In 2004, at the age of 58, my mother died of cancer. I wrote about how this event changed me previously (link below) so I won’t retread that theme, but I do want to highlight how keeping an acute awareness of how little time we have on this world is key to having a full, fulfilling and authentic life. A month before she died, I took her and my father to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She had previously never been out of the country. She knew her prognosis: her lifespan was no longer measured in years but in months and days. But the magical part was: I had never seen her so happy. Wheelchair bound, she reveled in bouncing along the bumpy, cobblestone streets, taking in the bright colors of the painted buildings, fabrics and glassware. She loved bartering with the merchants and ordering exotic and beautiful food she knew she would not be able to eat. Sitting on the beach, she watched the ocean for hours.

On the day before we left I pushed her wheelchair out to the sand and we sat and watched the sun set over the ocean. We were quiet for a long stretch of time before she spoke.

“It’s so great to be here, isn’t it?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “I love Mexico.”

“Yes, but I mean it’s so great to be here.”

And then I knew what she meant. It was great to be here, alive, now, in the present moment. And I could feel the bittersweet realization she had come to, and I witnessed the sense of peace, not regret, that it gave her.

My mother was able to experience the preciousness and beauty of the world in a heightened way because she knew her time was limited.

But here is the truth that we all run from: Time is limited for all of us. But when we don’t have death breathing down our necks, when we can look to the “indefinite” future that we all believe is our destiny, what do we do?

We procrastinate. We delay. We put off our big dreams and follow the path of least resistance, letting ourselves become consumed with the minutia of the day-to-day trials. This is choosing to live in a false reality. We don’t have the time to put off what we truly want to have in our lives. There is no perfect time to do anything, there is only now.

Start the business of your dreams.

Write your book.

Travel to that exotic land.

Learn that new language.

Ask that girl out.

Help that person in need.

Tell everyone you love that you love them, and I hope you find love for everyone.

Do it today.


Read “Six Life Changing Lessons I learned from My Mother’s Terminal Cancer” here:

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at


If you like the blog, the best way you can support it is by sharing it with others. And thanks.

The Value of Boredom

As a lawyer, I’m required to attend annual continuing education classes and recently I sat in on a two-day seminar on an area of my practice. Although very valuable on the whole, there are inevitably two or three presentations that are too dry to hold my interest. In one such presentation my boredom reached a point where my mind began to drift and I was no longer engaged with the activity going on around me. And because I was in a situation where I couldn’t distract myself with Facebook, texting, email, etc., my boredom allowed me to drift into . . . my creative space. Ideas started forming. I pulled out my notepad and began to explore an idea for a new short story. By the time the presentation had ended, I had a rough draft of some fiction that I was excited about.

When I’m not trapped in such a setting, I resist allowing my boredom to last. Now—more than ever–It’s easy to alleviate our boredom through social media, television, books, music or a thousand other things. None of those things are bad, but my forced restrictions that day reminded me the value of resisting these urges from time to time—to allow the boredom to open the doors to what is normally so easy to drown out—our inner creativity.

In the state of boredom we are pushed to turn inward, to ponder, to drift, to contemplate, to explore. And this is the place where new ideas, new solutions for our businesses, new directions for our art and our “ah-ha” moments are giving the freedom to show themselves to us. Like a child trying to get our attention on a busy traffic corner, they can’t be heard until all the movement, honking, and exhausts disappears.

Allow yourselves these moments. Let the discomfort of boredom be the small price you pay for the valuable insights and ideas that spring from it. Boredom is the mental equivalent of a painter staring at blank canvas or a writer a blank page and wondering where to begin. This feeling hovers be between soft anxiety and out-and-out fear.   Don’t run away from it. Here are a few suggestions to spark the gifts of boredom:

  1. When you arrive early and are waiting on someone, leave your phone in your pocket. Just be still and wait.
  2. If you are a runner, every once in a while run alone, without your ipod. Be silent within the movement.
  3. Carve out time to go to a coffeeshop, park, or anywhere quiet that takes effort and time to get to and bring only a notepad and pen. Make a commitment to stay at least twenty minutes.
  4. If you feel really stuck, commit to a retreat, away from home and somewhere in nature with no TV, phone or internet connection. This (from my experience) is surprisingly uncomfortable at first and extremely rewarding by the end.

Boredom has a bad reputation, but can be a very valuable tool. Take advantage and use that tool. You might be surprised what gifts are hidden inside you waiting to be given voice.


My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at

If you like the blog, the best way you can support it is by sharing it with others. And thanks.



How To Self-Promote Successfully and With Integrity

The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Annie Dillard

Whether it be our art or business, so many of us have trouble promoting ourselves. It feels like bragging, narcissism, or selling out. And it can be, if it is done arrogantly or in bad faith. But it is essential if we truly want to share what we have to offer with the world. Others can’t benefit from it if they don’t know it exists.

For example, look at how the Beatles captured America’s attention, as written by Stanley Booth in his biography of the Rolling Stones*:

Two of the Beatles’ records had been released in the United States a year earlier to scant response. Capital Records, who distributed the Beatles’ records in the U.S. spent fifty thousand dollars for what they called a “crash publicity program.” They plastered five million THE BEATLES ARE COMING stickers on telephone poles, washroom walls, and other appropriate places around the country. They tried to get a copy of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to every disc jockey in the country. They made a four-page newspaper about the Beatles and sent out a million copies.

And what happened? The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show was seen by seventy-three million people. Does this self-promotion diminish the artistic value of Yesterday or Hey Jude? Does it tarnish the Beatles integrity? Of course not. Their genius touched the lives of millions. But to do that, people had to know they existed.

But how do we self-promote successfully and with integrity? To answer that, I’m going to highlight key points from Austin Kleon’s exceptional book on the topic, Show Your Work.**

  1. Get comfortable with sharing your work. “We all have the opportunity to use our voices, to have our say, but so many of us are wasting it,” Austin writes.   “If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.”
  1. Don’t be afraid to show the process. Show the struggles, the failures, the mistakes, the growth—as well as the end product. It shows you are human. It lends heft and understanding to what you have created and people value that.
  1. Don’t worry about making what you share perfect. Just make it worth the audience’s time. Thank about not just what interest you, but what would interest your audience. Avoid navel gazing and mental noodling. Speak in plain language. Value your audience’s time. Be brief. Make it the best you can and then put it out there.
  1. Don’t let the sharing of your work take precedence over doing the actual work. If you are spending all your time posting on Facebook about your writing instead of writing, you are poster not a writer. Keep your priorities straight.
  1. Know that your work doesn’t speak for itself. “The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it, ” Austin writes. As I in The Abundant Bohemian, Sculptor Shon Walters had to learn this lesson. “I used to think as long as you made the art and you knew it was good, everything would be okay, and when in doubt just keep making the work,” he told me. “But I learned how much networking and promoting your work matters. My sales increased dramatically once I made the leap from ‘I’m going to make that work as good as I can and I don’t need to talk about it’ to sharing the stories of the work with people.” He writes narratives describing the life of his sculptures and the work that went into creating it. “These stories get into people’s heads and hearts and they have a better appreciation for the work.”
  1. Don’t be human spam. Human Spammers are people who don’t want to want to listen to your ideas; they want to tell you theirs. If you want fans, you have to be a fan first. If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to be a good citizen of that community. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice. Support others that you believe in. Encourage them. Promote their businesses, art, writing, spiritual journey or whatever passion they are pursuing. It is important to give in order to receive.

I’ve struggled with self-promotion myself, but I wrote my book and write on my blog because I believe what I share has value and I hope you do, too. And if you do, then you can help by following the blog, posting comments, liking my Facebook page, or writing a review of the book on Amazon. And if you don’t want to, that’s okay, too. Thanks for reading.

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at

*Show Your Work by Austin Kleon can be found here:

**The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones can be found here:


Nick Hornby and the Complexities of Love


In his charming and humorous latest novel, “Funny Girl, ”Nick Hornby takes us to TV land and swinging mid-1960s London. The titular character is It girl comedic actress Sophie Straw, a “quick-witted, unpretentious, high-spirited, funny, curvy, clever, beautiful blonde.” Her looks and charisma land her the lead role in a new BBC sitcom.

Hornby follows her and her colleagues (costar Clive, producer Dennis and writers Bill and Tony) as “Barbara (and Jim)” becomes a big hit and Britain relishes its postwar cool.

But the biggest success of the novel is Hornby’s thoughtful ruminations on the complexities of love. As the characters transverse the arc of their lives, coming to grips with sexual orientation, fidelity, sacrifice and acceptance, Hornby skillfully addresses the challenges we all face seeking connection with another human being. Here are a few notable examples:

As the character Dennis struggles with his infatuation with his wife, who clearly doesn’t love him back, he says:

How on earth could he love her? But he did. Or, at least, she made him feel sick, sad and distracted. Perhaps there was another way of describing that unique and useless combination of feelings, but “love” would have to do for now.

Most of us have been in this situation: confusing pain and need for love. It’s as unhealthy as it is inevitable in our lives. Let’s hope we learn the difference early on and save ourselves from repeating this form of suffering.

And there’s the lessons learned from the story of the married couple Tony and June, who love each other but endure so much trouble due to Tony’s sexual orientation struggles.

“It’s funny, sex,” she said. “It’s a little thing like a glass of water is a little thing. Or something that falls off a car and only costs a couple of bob to replace. It’s only a little thing, but nothing works without it.”

 We wish this wasn’t true, but it is. A relationship without sex is a beautiful friendship, but as humans, we crave more. It’s that thrust into the divine, that touching of the infinite that loving sex provides like nothing else. And without it—as much as we can deny it to ourselves—we are always left with a sense of deep spiritual longing.

And the need for vulnerable bravery in the search for love, as shown by Dennis when he struggles to muster up the strength to tell Sophie he loves her:

He was finding it increasingly hard to keep it bottled up, however. That wasn’t the point of love, in his opinion. Love meant being brave, otherwise, you had already lost your own argument: the man who couldn’t tell a woman he loved her was, by definition, not worthy of her.

So true. How many opportunities for connection have we squandered because of our fear? Rejection is a small price to pay compared to what we miss by failing to even try. Only by exposing our hearts to the very-real possibility of being broken do we have the chance of having our love reciprocated. So hard, and yet so necessary for a fulfilling life.

And then there is the need to get past our own pathetic, unnecessary fear of . . . looking stupid. When the shy Dennis finally gets the opportunity to spend the night dancing with Sophie, he learns how much we miss when decorum trumps letting our souls free.

He kept moving to the music, just in case she thought he didn’t want to be up there. To his surprise, he did—but then, he wanted to be anywhere Sophie was, no matter how much embarrassment might ensue. And anyway, proximity to Sophie meant that embarrassment was no longer the terrifying ogre he always believed it to be. Perhaps he would wake up the next morning realizing that he’d made an utter ass of himself, but there were worse animals than the ass.

 Love is messy, beautiful, painful, confusing, and ultimately, the reason we are here. Give yourself over to it.