What is a simple way to increase the chance that you'll actually achieve your goals?
We often hold ourselves back with arbitrary rules that we never confront. “When I lose 5 pounds, I’ll treat myself to a dance lesson,” or “When I get a promotion, that’s when I’ll pitch my big idea,” and while we convince ourselves that we’re being sensible and pragmatic, in reality we are sabotaging our opportunities and even delaying happiness. So how can you begin to release these expectations and finally finish what you started?
I recently interviewed Jon for the LEADx Podcast, where we discussed everything from follow-through to funny people. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: What advice would you give to a young professional who wants an amazing career like you've had?
Jon Acuff: I think you try to be patient, and I think you surround yourself with people smarter than you that can speak the truth into your life. I think you accept that you're going to make some mistakes and you're going to fail sometimes. I think you accept that it's going to be embarrassing and awkward, too. You know, there's times where when you put yourself out there, and that's what happens.
Now average never gets embarrassed, because average is really quiet and nobody notices average, but the cost is you have to be average, so for me, it's worth doing something that might not work, and might be embarrassing. The other thing is figuring out what matters most. I would go for the experience, not the income, initially. There were things I did that gave me better experience than income, because I felt like the income wasn't going to be worth as much as the experience. I spoke to Dave Ramsey's team three times for free, each time. Now some people would say, “Ah, you should have charged them money,” but I needed that experience, and it led to something much bigger than if I had tried to squabble over $300.
I think you have to constantly be going forward. And the last thing I'd say is, remember the old rules don't apply. That's one of the things I try to teach my kids all the time. The old rules don't apply, and it's just starting. I meet people that go, “Ah, I missed my window with the internet,” and I think that's insane. The internet is toddler, barely begun. I think there's so much runway, so much opportunity left.
Kruse: I remember my Dad and I marvelling at how quickly computers flooded the market, and he said, “Well it looks like they’ve got it all figured out already.”
Acuff: Yeah and it's funny. So he had a definition of what was enough research or information, you know. The average author, we have enough books. We've probably had enough books since the 1800s. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write your book though. We don't have your book yet.
Kruse: What's the best way our listeners can find out more about it, and also keep track of your work?
Acuff: If you go to Amazon, anywhere books are sold, you can pick up a copy of the book. It's research-based, but it's really really funny. I mean, there's a reason comedians like Jim Gaffigan endorse my books. It's because they're humorous. My niche is to write with humor on a fairly unfunny topic, which is business leadership, and then if you want to sign up for any of my stuff. It's probably the easiest way.
Kruse: Did you study comedic writing, or is this sort of a natural thing?
Acuff: Well, I benefited from having a dad who's funny. My dad's funny. I'm not the funniest one in my family. My youngest brother Bennett is. He's a lawyer. Dad, when I was in high school, would take me to comedy clubs, and then we'd watch folks like Brian Regan, and so it was a value that I grew with. It was something that was important and fun in our house, and then, I always tell people, “For everyone business speaker I watch, I watch 100 comedians.”
Because the best comedians, they're not doing slapstick. They're doing social commentary that they frame with humor, so whether it's Louis CK or Chris Rock or Gary Gulman or Bill Burr, Nate Bargatze, there's people saying really funny things that are true, like most comedy has an element of truth to it. Then I recognized it as a niche. The reality is, I'll never be as good at research as Jim Collins. I'll never be as detailed as Tim Ferriss. I'll probably never be as innovative as Seth Godin, but those guys won't be as funny as me, either.
Nobody's ever said like, “Oh man, Jim Collins is hilarious.” He's got a great dry sense of humor, but it's not what he leans on because it's not who he is, and so I would say I was always naturally that way, and then I would say once I started to work in this space and realized it is crowded, there's a lot of people, how do I stand out? Well here's something.
I always tell people, “Find something that people need. Find something that's missing, and find something you enjoy doing.” So I enjoy doing it, they need it. People need to laugh right now, good grief. Go on social media for 10 minutes, you'll hate your life, and it's missing. And not only is it missing, the bar is pretty low. There's a lot of unfunny people, poor speakers that feel like they have to open with a joke, and come up and read you a joke from a notebook, and you're like, “This is the worst.”
Kruse: What's your process when it comes to writing?
Acuff: It really depends. I'll write the draft, and there'll be humor, but then I might amplify something, so I think one of the funniest things I've ever written is the story about buying a new computer at a Mac Store, so I took what were honest thoughts. It does honestly intimidate me because now they’ve removed the register. I didn't need them to do that. I don't know where to give money anymore. You just have to find a guy in a jewel-toned shirt whose name is Genius and has a hip register on, and that's confusing to me. And then you have to decide what things to transfer or not. You're making choices about, “I don't need those photos,” next to a store that's next to the Orange Julius. That's intimidating, and so I'll do a rant of that, but then I might add 50% more, just go over the top.
It’s the same with speeches. I'll say, “Man, this section is really heavy. It needs some levity. It needs to release the tension. Where is there a joke that can release the tension?” And so I kind of go through like that. With movie scripts, they hire comedians to punch them up. I don't do that per se, but I do go in and say, “This could go harder. This could be funnier. There's a joke in here. Where's the joke at?” I had to think through it that way, and if it makes me laugh, then I think it will probably make other people laugh, and that's my type of humor. But yeah, I grew up on Seinfeld. I grew up on observational humor, and I think a lot of my audience did too.
Kruse: We try to do a daily challenge, and I'm tempted to say: go watch Louis CK on Netflix for today!
Acuff: If you said Gary Gulman, a good kind of clean comedian, you're not going to be easily offended. I think a good place to start is with Gary Gulman, and he has a comedy album really, even though album, gosh, that sounds so old-fashioned. He has a cassette tape. But he has a comedy album called ‘In This Economy,’ and it's brilliant, it's absolutely perfect, and that's a great, because some of Louis's stuff is super dark.
Kruse: That's what makes him great, but he's not for everybody.
Acuff: No, he's not for everybody, but somebody who I think is brilliant—and people sometimes hear the word clean, and they think cheesy or boring—but Gary's one of the best comedians on the planet. He just chooses not to go to certain subjects, and I think he's genius, so Gary Gulman, the album is ‘In This Economy,’ would be a great listen.
Kruse: Have you actually done stand-up ever yourself?
Acuff: I've had friends that want to do it with me, and I definitely have enough bits that I could do ten solid minutes, probably. I couldn't do a special by any means. No, I haven't. I guess part of me, I'm honestly intimidated by it. Mostly, I'll do a bunch of huge events, but at none of them do I get heckled by drunk people, so I'd be lying, the only reason I haven't done it is I'm intimidated. We have an open mic night here. I know I could do it. The other thing is, I know I could fill the place because of social media, and I've had some friends be like, “Well that wouldn't count,” but that's the dumbest thing ever. I have what every comedian would kill for, 300,000 followers. Of course, I would use that. What doesn't count? That's a good way to ruin your goals is to have a bunch of arbitrary rules that are just dumb.
Kruse: I think the more you could invite your social media fans and friends in, the better.
Acuff: Yeah I think so. I would totally fill the crowd, and I'd have fun with it. I mean, it'd be like if you were going to start running, and you own nice running shoes, and you're like, “You have to run barefooted or it doesn't count.” You'd be like, “That's stupid and unnecessarily painful and… No! If I can afford running shoes, I'm going to wear them.” It's just fascinating the rules we make, but I'm sure I'll do it at some point. I don't think it's this fall, because I'm doing a tour, but I'll do it at some point.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.