RLL 17: Both/And--4 Things I Learned Writing My First Book

Real Life Leading #17

Both/And: 4 Lessons Learned from Writing my First Book

Last week I announced the big news: I have completed the first draft of my first book! This is huge! Over a decade ago, I started my first book-writing project, and then I started a second...and then a third. None of them have been completed yet, and the book that is now complete is very different than the one I originally intended to write. However, I am thrilled to have finished the draft, and along the way I have learned four valuable lessons that are applicable not just to book-writing but also to leadership and life.

1) Writing a book is both easy and hard.

According to my brother-in-law, when I started a second career as a public speaker and author it surprised exactly no one. I’m a high school history teacher, and it turns out that I love to talk. So public speaking and writing was a natural fit for some of my skill sets. But I also knew I’d been trying to write a book for years without any real success. Writing this book was an absolute joy in some ways: I was able to tell stories, to share memories, to help people see life differently and rethink leadership. Writing this book was easy.

Writing the book was also massively hard work. It was many hours of researching, planning, outlining, revising, typing, and retyping. And that was just to finish the first draft! I spent a considerable amount of my school breaks (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and snow days--we’ve had an inordinate amount of those already this winter) sitting at the computer and typing, rather than what I usually do: read for leisure or nap in my recliner while ‘watching’ a soccer game.

This is one of my favorite ways to spend time during breaks from school

This is one of my favorite ways to spend time during breaks from school

As I thought about this process, I realized that this “easy and hard” dichotomy is true in many areas of life. Marriage: both easy and hard. Being a parent: same. Being a teacher and coach: it’s a dream come true...and it can be seriously frustrating. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the dual nature of the process, and yet I was. Now I know, and I am excited about moving from the draft stage of the book to the finished and published product. In your life, I would imagine it's much the same: things you enjoy are both easy in some ways and very difficult in others.

2) Feedback and criticism is both crucial and unpleasant.

When JRR Tolkien first shared some of his writings that would become ‘The Lord of the Rings’ with his friends the Inklings, the character nicknamed ‘Strider’ was originally to have been called ‘Trotter.’ If you’re not familiar with the books, Strider is later revealed to be Aragorn, long-lost heir of kings, and one of the single coolest characters ever written. Had his nickname been Trotter instead of Strider for much of the first book, it’s hard to imagine people taking him quite so seriously. If Tolkien had to revise and change some crucial elements of his book, I most definitely will have to do the same.

I was reminded of this when I sent my draft to some friends for helpful criticism and feedback. I’m not sure what I expected; perhaps they’d all reply with, “It’s perfect! A masterpiece! Don’t change a thing!” Yeah, no, that’s not how it happened. Instead, hardly a paragraph went by without a note or an edit from a couple different trusted friends. The more I re-read through the draft, the more I realized they were correct in their suggestions and tips as well. It’s often this way with our leadership, if we have the humility to both ask for and graciously receive feedback. Not one of us is perfect, which means we all have room to improve. One of the best ways to know what we need to work on is to ask someone we trust, someone who can see us more objectively than we see ourselves. In a silly way, I often tell people that if they want to see their flaws clearly, just go be a teacher for a few days: students LOVE to point out every mistake a teacher makes. I certainly did as a student. As leaders, we need to be willing to ask others for feedback, and then we need to be humble enough to listen when they answer, rather than getting defensive or dismissive of things we might not like to hear. If we don’t listen, we just enhance the problem by ignoring it in favor of hearing what is comfortable, rather than what will help us grow. This habit can be fatal to a leader, so let us be humble in our listening.

3) ‘Done with a draft’ is a far cry from ‘done with a book.’

I was extremely excited and thrilled to announce to the world that I finished my draft! I still get excited when I think about it, especially when I remember the other writing projects that never got beyond the ‘partial research/outline’ stage. It’s been amazing to check my email and see feedback from trusted sources who have now read a book that I wrote! It’s also a reminder that there is still very much work to be done.

Just like in business, in sports, and in life, there is always more work to be done either on this project or in beginning a new one. I have had to be careful not to let myself get too carried away with thinking, “Ok, I’m finished, so now all I have to do is publish it and hope for the best.” The reality is that there are many steps still left to be completed: revising, marketing, editing, cover design, more marketing, launching, even more marketing. You get the idea. To be done with a draft is great; to be done with a book is an accomplishment that I have not yet realized.

It is much the same with my classes, my soccer program, and my children. At the end of each semester, it is fun to let myself be excited about how much we achieved together. But then I’m also quickly reminded that a new set of students will be coming in shortly, and it all begins again. Soccer season is similar to that as well: no matter how well we do one season, the next season is right around the corner, with its own challenges and hurdles. As to my children, well, I know that one day they’ll grow up and leave the house, but I don’t think I’ll be done working with them this side of eternity, though I do recognize that my role with change as they get older.

This is what my desk looks like when I work. Notice the mini-cassette recorder: this is how I 'wrote' much of my first draft while making my forty-five minute drive to and from school each day.

This is what my desk looks like when I work. Notice the mini-cassette recorder: this is how I 'wrote' much of my first draft while making my forty-five minute drive to and from school each day.

Let’s embrace the process of whatever work we’re involved in, knowing that even when we’re finished there will be another project, task, or assignment just around the bend.

4) I needed help--and so do most people.

This isn’t necessarily going to be an ‘acknowledgements’ section, like you’d find in a book, but I do want to point out something that I often say in my leadership presentations: rarely does anyone accomplish a task of lasting significance without help. This book is no exception. I’ve had the help of the people around me, my wife and kids especially, as well as the help of relatives and friends farther away who have asked about my progress and encouraged me as I wrote.

In addition to what I call real-life help, I’ve also had what I call the virtual-help of various other people, mostly accomplished authors and business people who have served as inspirations and who have, mostly without knowing it, provided guidance and help in the writing process. What I realized in writing this book is that I knew very little about actually writing a book. Writing? Sure, I can do that. Writing a book that will be meaningful and impact people’s lives, that will help them rethink their world and their role in it...that’s a bit more complicated.

When I realized this, I began to seek the help and knowledge of various people. This includes Bob Burg (, co-author of ‘The Go-Giver’ series, who was kind enough to read some of my blog posts and who was very encouraging about my writing. It also includes Chandler Bolt ( and Rob Kosburg (, both of whom have, through their own blogs and podcast interviews and online programs, taught me most of what I now know about the book writing process as well as the complexities of publication and book marketing. This list also includes the amazing Neen James ( who has taught me about the importance of focusing my attention on the task at hand. And finally, Jon Acuff (, author of ‘Do Over’ and ‘Finish’, whose work has inspired me that I also can complete my book, rather than just letting it become yet another unfinished project.

Every one of the people mentioned in that paragraph is what I aspire to be: a best-selling author and speaker whose work is changing lives and impacting people in a positive way. The lesson here is simple: seek out those who are what you want to be, who have accomplished what you want to accomplish, and then learn from them. None of us is an expert in everything, so instead let us learn from those who already have the expertise we seek, whether that is in writing, in leadership, in our families, or in our businesses.

Thanks for reading this week’s update. I’m excited that my speaking is about to get very busy for the next few weeks, and then soccer season will (forgive the pun) kickoff as well!

Action Step:

This week, ask yourself what task you’ve been unsuccessfully working on, and then examine your circle to see who you might look to for help, guidance, and inspiration. Then email me and let me know what you decided and how it turned out. See you next week!

RLL #16: 8 Great Books for 2018

RLL 16: 8 Great Books for 2018

    Happy Sunday, everyone! Most people have already begun (and many have also already failed at) their New Year’s resolutions, so I thought instead of resolutions I would give you a quick update on recommended reading for this upcoming year. The good news is that it’s never too late to get started reading excellent books, so it’s a great way to not fail at your resolutions (for more info on how to do better at setting/reaching goals, etc, check out the excellent work being done by Michael Hyatt and Jon Acuff).

So, below is a brief list of books I recommend for 2018. They are of different genres, but the two things that tie them together are: 1) I am recommending them only because I have read them and found them valuable, not because I just *think* they would be good books to read; and 2) they all contain encouraging information about both life and leadership that I think everyone will find valuable and helpful. They are not listed in any particular order (i.e., which I like best, or which are easiest to read, etc), they’re just all excellent books that I recommend to people all the time. If you’ve already read one or more of them, I would LOVE to hear what you think about the ones you’ve read. If you haven’t, then let me know when you have and we’ll talk about what you learned. So, without further adieu, here’s the list!

1) ‘Steal the Show’ by Michael Port

I have been a high school history teacher for over a decade, so I am no stranger to being in front of a group of people and presenting information. Even for me, Michael Port’s book ‘Steal the Show’ is a treasure-trove of information about the art and craft of speaking and presentation-giving. It contains clear directions, helpful tips and exercises, and also activities for helping you practice and gain confidence for any and every situation in which you have something on the line. In doing so, it also contains insights into leadership, such as helping us to see why communication is so important and how we can become better at precise communication. As the back cover says, “Confident communication is a skill, and anyone can learn how to do it.”


2) ‘Mere Christianity’ by C.S. Lewis

In addition to history I also teach high school Bible, and I have used this as one of my textbooks for Bible class for the past five years. One of the classic works of the 20th century, ‘Mere Christianity’ was originally conceived of as a series of radio talks given by C.S. Lewis to the British public during World War II. Lewis articulates many valuable truths to the readers (as he did his listeners) through a blend of word-pictures, humor, and wit. Whether you are a Christian or not, this book also contains amazingly important information about human nature and relationships, about why we think the way we do, and about how important it is to examine our motives, thoughts, and actions. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”


3) ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien

Until I was in college, I wanted nothing to do with what I considered “nerd-books” (read: sci fi/fantasy novels, etc). But I was very blessed in my sophomore year of college in that I had a scholarship which paid for me to attend Oxford University (in the U.K.) for a semester. While there, I began reading JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis for the first time, since both had been at Oxford for much of the 20th century. In short: I fell in love with their work and have never looked back. ‘The Hobbit’ is an adventure story, full of exciting action, magic, and humor. It is also full of amazing wisdom and insight into human (hobbit, really) nature. I read this book to my children when they were younger, and it is one that I re-read every year. If you have always thought, “Yeah, those kinds of books just aren’t for me,” that’s ok. Give it one more try. “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”


4) ‘Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae’ by Steven Pressfield

This book is the story of the amazing Battle of Thermopylae, in which a small group of around 300 Spartan warriors held off a force of 2,000,000 (yes, you read those numbers correctly) Persian invaders. The story itself is incredible, and this book is written not as a history book, but as a novel, telling the story from the point of view of two main characters. It is a fascinating look into life in ancient Greece, but more importantly it contains extremely valuable information about traits of leadership, the importance of overcoming one’s own limitations, and the power of self-sacrifice in leadership. “The supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from-commonplace conditions.”


5) ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom

When I was a teenager, my dad had me watch this movie with him one weekend, and at the time I did not come close to appreciating how amazing it was. Last year, at the age of thirty-four, I got around to reading the book after picking it up at a yard sale, and I immediately felt a sense of regret that I had not paid more attention to the lessons Dad was trying to get me to see when I was younger. This book is powerful, insightful, touching, encouraging, joyous, and heart-breaking. It explores human nature, leadership, relationships, and love. I wrote about it more extensively in the second-ever RLL blog post (, and I still feel just as strongly about it. “That’s the thing, you see. Once you get your fingers on the important questions, you can’t turn away from them.”


6) ‘Out of the Blue’ by Orel Hershiser

My dad was a huge Los Angeles Dodgers baseball fan, and Orel Hershiser was one of those athletes that Dad always told me I should pattern myself after due to his character, not just his athletic ability. Hershiser is what Dad called a “classy player,” who showed respect to his opponents regardless of the situation or circumstances. That ‘class’ comes across in this book as well, which is mostly the story of the 1988 LA Dodgers season (in which the Dodgers won the World Series and Hershiser won the World Series MVP award), but it also is the story of Hershiser’s upbringing and his life off the baseball field. In the book, Hershiser is honest, humble, and self-reflective, and he shares much valuable information with the readers. I recommend this book to all baseball fans and also to anyone who simply enjoys a good read. “The most important thing is doing the right thing the right way and letting the results take care of themselves…”


7) ‘The Messiah Method’ by Michael Zigarelli

I am a high school coach and former college player, and so I’m always looking to improve my coaching. One of my former college teammates who is also a coach (and far more accomplished than I am) recommended this book to me a few years back, and I owe him a huge debt for doing so (Thanks, Cush!). Messiah College in Pennsylvania has a soccer program that is the best in the country on both the men’s and the women’s sides. Their record of winning games and championships is incredible, and in this book Michael Zigarelli (himself a Professor of Leadership and Strategy at Messiah and a high school soccer coach) looks at the seven disciplines that Messiah has followed to create such an amazing program, regardless of changes in coaching staff. The book is not about coaching soccer as much as it is about creating a specific type of culture and atmosphere within this college community, and thus the lessons are applicable at high schools as well as in businesses and in the corporate world. Their success speaks for itself, but so does the testimony of one former player, which captures the incredible atmosphere and culture at Messiah:  “I’d rather sit on the bench at Messiah than start anywhere else.” How many organizations have a culture that would inspire that type of attitude?


8) ‘Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections’ by John Wooden

This is a book my dad gave me for my 15th birthday, and I cannot remember how many times I have read it and referenced it. John Wooden is the legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach (back when coaches were also often still teachers, even at giant universities like UCLA) who is, even today, widely considered one of the greatest-ever coaches in any sport, at any level. He also was incredibly humble and kind, generous and caring. This book is a wonderful collection of thoughts, short stories and anecdotes, as well as lessons learned (and taught) through Coach Wooden’s life and career. It is inspirational, encouraging, challenging, and uplifting all at the same time. “Make each day your masterpiece.”


Action Step: Pick one of these books and read it! Then, let me know what you think about it.

As always, thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you! Let me know what you think about the list, and I would LOVE to discuss any and all of these books with you in the future. Have a great Sunday!

Walk Worthy,