Lessons from Matt D’Avella’s Ground Up Show
Episode 95 – Reframing Failure
The Ground Up Show is a compelling interview podcast which features creative people (filmmakers, writers, musicians, entrepreneurs) sharing the story of how they are accomplishing their dreams. Created and Hosted by Matt D’Avella (the documentary filmmaker who is best known for Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things), The Ground Up Show is insightful and inspiring. I listen every week and always manage to take three of four practical lessons from each episode.
In Episode 95 of Matt D’Avella’s Ground Up Show, Matt has a conversation with Caroline Zook, author, artist, and co-founder (with husband Jason) of the creative entrepreneur coaching and mentoring program Wandering Aimfully.
Zook starts off the interview by saying she was not always comfortable calling herself an artist. Although she was in a constant state of creative play as a young child, academics took the forefront and pushed creative expression into the background. “I’m a rule-follower by nature,” she says. “Growing up, even though I was a creative kid, I was also very good at operating in a school format.” A format in which expectations of what she should do with her life were being handed to her by her teachers, parents, and peers. “My academic success was always sort of praised at a level where it was telling me this is the societal standard of success. You should follow this path.” Which led to her enrollment in the pre-med program at the University of Florida.
“When I got to college and got a little bit removed from the rat race of this very competitive high school that I went to… suddenly people had all these other interests besides just cut-throat academics. I started getting more in touch with the voice inside of me saying ‘Wait a second. You’ve always been this creative person. This is what makes you happy.’ I started pursuing more creative things on the side.” One example she gives is that she volunteered to paint the banners her sorority hung outside their house to promote events. “Suddenly, I’m on my hands and knees painting these banners until four o’ clock in the morning because I love(d) it so much.”
“I can’t do something that is not authentic to me for very long. It exhausts me. I get anxious.”
Zook says she experimented with artistic expression, but it still took a while to embrace the idea that she could make a career from creativity. “There are so many different parts of my journey along the way that got that art to come out of me,” she says. “But I can’t do something that is not authentic to me for very long. It exhausts me. I get anxious… Maybe I could have suppressed (a desire to pursue a creative career) for a while and done the pre-med thing, but I think I would have always found my way back to creativity.”
The most successful experiment on her creative journey found a significant audience on Instagram. “I wanted to become a painter, to be able to call myself an artist. I thought the only way to do that is to do a lot of work… So I committed to doing a unique painting every day of the year with a different hand-lettered affirmation or phrase. It combined my two loves; my love of painting, but then I also loved to write.”
The commitment and consistency of painting and posting daily, coupled with real-world feedback from followers, allowed Zook’s art to evolve and empowered her to leave anything other than creativity-as-career behind.
Check in with your intentions every day
Which brings us to the most powerful lessons Zook shared in the podcast, a theme that recurs repeatedly; intention.
Achieving success in alignment with your greatest self “is about having an intention to turn against the tide,” Zook says. “Imagine you’re in a kayak and you’re following the current of a river. The daily or weekly checking back in to question your intention, to question your values, is like sticking your paddle in the water… and saying ‘I’m gonna fight the current for a second just so that I can question my own intention.’ It (the current) is always going to want to pull you, but just by checking in, you’re just going to fight it enough to the point where you can rewire your brain into having that sense of satisfaction and not being swept away by it.”
…to make it in any pursuit, especially creative careers where the payoff is uncertain, you have to love the process, even the hard parts, to get to success.
The Intention you set for how you want to live your life also provides energy to draw from when you encounter challenges. There are times, as Matt D’Avella points out in the episode, that to make it in any pursuit, especially creative careers where the payoff is uncertain, you have to love the process, even the hard parts, in order to get to success. “It goes back to (the) question of what does it take?” Zook says. You have to want to learn, to relish facing challenges so you can solve them, to enjoy pushing through what feels like limitations. “If you don’t want to learn all that knowledge and find the answers yourself, that’s a real indicator, I think, to ask yourself ‘Maybe I’m not cut out for this path.'”
Another time in the episode that Zook comes back to the theme of Intention is when the conversation shifts to her book, Your Brightest Life Journal: A Creative Guide to Becoming Your Best Self, which she calls an amalgamation of things (
Episode 95 of The Ground Up Show is a great listen; a compact episode that delivers practical advice in every segment. The discussion ranges in subject from reframing failures as lessons, understanding how to develop skills you can make a creative life from, and operating with authenticity, as well as hustle, making money, and how to start and build a creative business. I’d rate it as one of D’Avella’s most actionable podcasts and well worth the listen.