The Christmas Eve Truce, Pt. 2 — The Horrible Side of the Story

On Christmas Eve 1914, in the middle of the blood and horror that was the first World War, there occurred an unplanned truce.

It began in the darkness on Christmas Eve night, when the men began singing Christmas carols. Voices raising in the cold night, sparse and few at first but growing ever stronger. The soldiers of both sides sang together in the dark, words intermingling both in English and in German, but all with the same meaning.

On that night and the following day, the men on both sides stopped fighting, and instead of meeting in war they joined in celebration of the holiday they all observed and held sacred. Men who had pointed guns at each other the day before left their trenches to exchange food, show each other pictures of their loved ones, trade stories. There was even a game of baseball.

It could rightfully be called a Christmas miracle. Men dead set on killing each other and afraid for their lives laid down their weapons and celebrated the joint holiday as one.

How can such a thing occur in the middle of war?

It had been suggested by the Pope that a cease-fire be called to observe the holiday. The governments on both sides of the war refused to pause the fighting, but the soldiers established their own unofficial truce.

Death was left empty-handed. For a fleeting moment, the world appeared as if at peace — and soldier’s hearts were full.

But beyond the surface-level miracle, the implications of such an occurrence run much deeper.

Psychologically, how does one stop fighting and step out to speak with men he’d hours before been attempting to kill? The fever of war must die hard, and leave a man confused. Did the soldiers feel remorse for the men they’d already killed, who were not there to share in this celebration? Did they mourn them as they mourned their own fallen comrades?What did it mean, internally, to celebrate the holiday in such a way? There must have been a sense of deep relief — for the space of many moments, one did not have to be afraid of death. But how does one view the men on the other side of the trenches?

Many of the soldiers remember it as being humanizing. The men on the other side of the battlefield became, not the barbaric monsters that they’d been told to expect, but instead gentle and compassionate humans. It made the soldiers rethink their perception of their enemy — and it made some question the fighting itself.

When telling the story of the 1914 Truce, people are filled with positivity, rejoicing. It’s presented as a story that is inherently good — and for the first half, there is. But the story has an ugly side to it — for, when the holiday was over, the men went back to war.

Men who had sang together in harmony, shook each other’s hands, seen each other as humans and fellow Christians, were now raising guns against each other and pulling the trigger. Blood was once more spilled on already-sodden dirt. Bodies were emptied of blood and organs in a brutal fashion. Soldiers were maimed, and young men died.

How did these men go back to war, after having shared food and song with the men in the other trenches? How, after sharing such a deep experience, can you aim the point of a rifle at those men across from you and shoot with the intent of killing? How can you spill the blood that warmed alongside your own with the power of such a sacred moment?

What must be the psychology that goes on to allow men to take such actions?

And what must be the psychological ramifications of such an act?

Were they so hardened and ruined against war that it didn’t matter to them? The soldier in their sights was just a body, after all, on the wrong side of the field and wearing the wrong coat and therefore there for shooting. Or had the humanity touched them, so that there was another war going on inside each man’s heart when he once more took up his rifle? In spite of the pain that must have caused, one must hope desperately that there was — but even that is small comfort, for the men still chose in the end evil over goodness, still pulled the triggers.

What does this say about humanity? Is this a net positive or a net negative story? It has the deep power of both sides of the coin — a trend that crops up again and again in war itself. War brings out the best and the worst in us, lives and breeds in both extremes.

As Sebastian Junger says in his book WAR, “The core psychological experiences of war are so primal and unadulterated that they eclipse subtler feelings, like sorrow or remorse, that can gut you quietly for years.” This acknowledges that the men may have paid for what they did for many years — but they were still capable of doing it.

War proves that men are capable both of great good and of great evil.

The men doubted the validity of the war after that night. They doubted the soldiers they were fighting were the inhuman monsters they’d been made out to be. They wondered if the war itself was equally as meaningless. But these questions weren’t enough to stop the war. It continued, for three more long years, cut millions more lives short.

If the men weren’t psychologically ruined already by war, they must have been marred completely by the acts of horror that came in the days after Christmas — the slaughtering of the men they’d grown warm beside and called, for a night, not enemy but rather ‘friend.’

It has been speculated that, had the truce lasted, it would have ended the war. If both sides had refused to fight, Europe would not have been reshaped by the years that followed. It has been speculated that Stalin’s communist Russia would never have risen, Hitler would not have come into power, and many of the greatest horrors of the 20th century would have been avoided.

But a night of shared observation of a deeply powerful holiday wasn’t enough.

Take Time to Give Thanks: a Celebration of Free Markets and Christmas

The holidays are a time to be grateful.

Although less blatant than Thanksgiving, it’s part of the Christmastime tradition. Secular families give thanks for their loved ones and their blessings. Families of a Christian bend partake in something old and sacred as they gather together around tables saying grace — in the moment, giving thanks for their food, but in the purpose of the holiday giving thanks for the birth of the son of God. Older still is the pagan tradition that once marked this season, people gathering in gratitude for the return of the sun.

Let us not forget this part of Christmas — or whatever midwinter holiday it is you choose to celebrate. Let us take time to be deeply grateful for those things in our world that have blessed us, and for those things that make the holiday we love what it is.

In the words of my grandfather, in some of my earliest Christmas memories, as he sat at the head of his warmly-lit holiday table: Let us give thanks.

. . .

To properly give thanks, we must start at the very basis, at the source of our sustenance.

Let us give thanks for the rich land upon which we grow our food. In this era of industrialized farming, with barely a fifth of America’s population living in rural areas, we don’t think about the land from which our food comes. We don’t take time to think about the dirt. This dissociation is a new phenomenon, and it’s an oversight — we forget that we need that dirt to survive. For millennia, earth was one of the most valuable commodities. The rich soil is our lifeblood. Pioneers risked their lives for it, immigrants crossed oceans for it, left their families and took the risk of never seeing them again for a piece of it.

We’ve been blessed by good dirt — and we’ve been blessed by the right to own it. From Locke’s writing on property rights — and his theory that working the land imbues it with effort and turns it into the property of the person who expended that effort — to the structuring of a society with a similar philosophy as its underpinning, people in our society have had the gift of property rights.

Property rights spark innovation. When we own something, we’re incentivized to put effort into improving it, because we get to reap all of the benefits. Our culture of private property and our social structure based on the principle of free markets has fostered a society rich in innovation and production. This system has allowed us to make the abovementioned drastic shift from an agrarian to an urban society — and enabled us to forget about the dirt in the first place (and allowed us to no longer live hand-to-mouth, relying on the direct fruits of our labor to survive).

Our society has vast amounts of industry. Goods and services have become cheaper and easier to produce.

As you sit down to open your gifts this holiday, take time to give thanks for this social structure we live in. It enabled nearly all of the gifts you’ll give and receive this holiday season to be created. They came into existence because it was in someone’s selfish interest to create them. The creation of those objects improved both the creator’s life and the purchaser’s. They arose in a culture of pure selfish innovation.

We live in a society of great abundance and richness, and that abundance comes into existence because of the freedom and the openness of our culture — a milieu that allows people to create and enrich their own lives as we’re naturally designed to do.

As you offer thanks to those who gave you your Christmas gifts, take time to acknowledge also that those gifts were purchased and exchanged on the free market — a phenomenon that allows the free passage of goods from places of abundance to places where they’re desired. The tradition of trade and giving runs deep — it’s older than the holiday itself. Trade routes and the act of exchange have been a constant for millennia.

Long before Christmas was ever celebrated, humans exchanged what they had for what they needed. In the centuries since the process has been refined, but the basic mechanics are the same.

Giving gifts was part of the original Christmas story. After the birth of Christ, wise men came to pay their respects to the child, and they bore with them gifts — gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. At the time, the latter two were precious commodities, as valuable as the first item on the list.

Now you can order 15ml of frankincense oil online for $7 and have it on your doorstep in two days. How the times have changed.

Human nature has remained the same in the intervening millennia between then and now, but the world we live in — the world we’ve built and been enabled to build — has drastically evolved. What rich lives we’re capable of living.

And last of all — but most certainly not least — as you celebrate the holiday, let us give thanks for the act of celebrating itself. Whatever you choose to celebrate — Hanukkah, Christmas, a secular observance of the solstice, or something else entirely — you have the religious freedom to do so. We live in a culture where we have the capacity to believe whatever we wish to believe, and practice however we wish to practice.

In whatever way feels sincere and right to you, give thanks for that too.

. . .

This holiday, give thanks for those around you whom you love and share this deeply human time of the year with. Give thanks for that which makes you what you are, and that which makes your life rich. Give thanks for the food on your table, the land upon which you’ve built your home, the gifts you exchange with those dear in your life. Give thanks that we live in a society that makes all of this richness possible.

And give thanks for the return of the light — because that’s ultimately what this holiday is about.

Merry Christmas, and the warmest wishes to you and yours. May this holiday season be filled with blessings and a million reasons to give thanks.


. . .

Photo by on Unsplash

The Silence of Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is a night of silence.

The sanctity of the night goes beyond even religion. It’s one night in a span of nights in the coldest, darkest time of the year — long swaths of darkness hovering around the solstice, wrapping the world in cold. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you feel the gravity of it — the sun sinking and then the world turning inward. The craving of warmth and of light. The deep, peaceful quiet.

For those of Christian leanings — or of Christian culture but secular beliefs — it’s a time of strong tradition and great power.

Did you know that on Christmas Eve 1914, in the middle of the blood and horror that was the first World War, the soldiers on both sides of the trenches stopped fighting and sang Christmas carols together in the night? Men who would resume fighting each other when the holiday passed, men side by side who would either survive or who would have their blood and guts spilled on the dirt — all of them raising their voices together. A great truce was called, soldiers crossed enemy lines, and the holiday was celebrated together, not as enemies but as comrades and friends.

It was a humanizing moment. Death was still that day and that night.

The power of Christmas — the tradition of it — is something that spans centuries. If you come from a Christian heritage, your blood has been observing this night for millennia. Those who lived on the same land upon which you live, those who lived in and built your hometown, those who built the things around you — they celebrated it too. Who are your heroes? What great men and women do you look up to as having reached the height of achievement, the ideal for a human to reach? If they’re of Christian heritage, they too felt the gravity of this night.

For all who are of our culture, there has been the experience of Christmas Eve.

Take time to sit in silence tonight — sit in the warm, soft glow of the lights on the Christmas tree, a candle, a fireplace, perhaps lights on the snow, and just feel the weight of the silence. Feel the connection to all of those who have come before and all of those who are living it currently, all feeling the same warmth and the same silence.

That’s part of the point of tradition — to draw us all together: those who came before, those living now, and those who will come after.

Embrace the silence of this night.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

How to Tell Good Stories

“All good books have one thing in common — they are truer than if they had really happened.” –Ernest Hemingway

Before I start, give me twenty seconds to convince you that reading this article is a valuable use of your time, because learning how to tell good stories is important not just for obvious storytellers, but for everyone. We tell more stories than we think, but not as many as we should. Stories speak to us on an emotional level, and they’re imperative in good communication. If you want me to believe something, you can’t just tell it to me. You have to make me feel it and understand it — which is what storytelling is all about.

Stories crop up everywhere in our lives. We live them, and we share them with those around us in both social and professional interactions. They’re in books, magazines, and movies. But they also show up in less obvious places. Marketing deals heavily in stories. Sales can use stories as a tool. My favorite teachers and coaches use stories to illustrate their points.

Obviously, this article is especially relevant for marketers, writers, videographers, and other types of content creators — people who actively use storytelling in their day to day lives — but it’s worthwhile for anyone who wants to increase their effectiveness as a communicator.

So — how to tell a good story?

A Praxis participant posed this question to me a few weeks back: what makes a good story?

It’s an incredibly open-ended and general question, and it’s surprisingly hard to answer. Even as someone who’s spent her lifetime studying stories, the key elements are hard to sum up and articulate.

First off, let’s define the term “story.” Miriam-Webster defines it as “an account of incidents or events; b: the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work.” Alternate description that will fit (most) of our purposes: a conveyance of (usually linear) narrative with emotional value.

Remember the emotional value. That’s an important point, and we’ll visit it later.

There are a few basic elements that hold true in every single good story:

  • A good story is emotionally captivating and entirely believable. It draws you in, makes you care, makes itself feel real. When you’re consuming the story, you’re completely engrossed, and you care about the outcome. It makes you feel things. If a story can sway emotions, you know you’re on a path bound in the right direction.
  • A good story feels true. As Hemingway said, they feel truer than reality.
  • A good story is engaging. People have to be compelled to keep consuming — either because it’s so intriguing they want to know what happens next, or because the experience is so enjoyable they want to stay.
These are the core, overarching truths. Breaking them down to a more granular level, a storyteller has a wide variety of mechanical elements at his disposal by which to pull this off: conflict, tensive pulls (forces pulling character in opposite and conflicting directions), interesting character, interesting subject, something relatable, or something so foreign you’re fascinated (pairing those last two is really effective).

Each of these elements must be honed in as well. Your characters must be carefully crafted and detailed, your conflict must be intriguing and your subject must make a reader want to step inside of it.

Lastly (and sometimes most importantly), a good story has a strong and compelling aesthetic/ethos — the feeling of the story, or the vibe. Every story has a tone, and nailing yours can bring your whole project to life.

On the technical level, the mechanics for telling that story need to be good. Whatever your medium is, it’s the vehicle for your story, so you need to be adept in it. Ideally, you want the vehicle to disappear entirely. You don’t want people to think about the photos/video/text — you want them to be lost inside of it.

What makes a bad story?

A bad storyteller doesn’t have a good sense of what a good story is.
A bad storyteller feels like they’re trying — I think this ties back to a) the vehicle should be invisible and b) lack of practice/familiarity. The worst storytellers feel like they’re trying way too hard. Don’t try too hard.
A lot of storytellers say that storytelling is inherent. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I think the best way to hone your skill at a craft is to immerse yourself in it — storytelling most of all, because story is narrative, and narrative is inherent to the way we think and m observe and live.
My final (and arguably most important thought of the whole night thought) is this: feed the well. Don’t let yourself go dry. Fill yourself up with things you can use in stories. Constantly be watching the world around you. Take lots of notes. The more you consume, the more fodder you’ll have for the future stories you want to tell.

So how to get better at telling stories? I.e. how to put this into practice?

This list is deceptively straightforward, but absolutely imperative to follow.

Consume lots and lots of stories
Consume analyses of stories
Create every day

Do these three things and you’ll improve drastically over a short period of time. Hone your mind and hone your skill in equal measure. And tell me a story!

Travel Journal: Atlanta

When I drove into Atlanta the first time it was pouring rain.

I’d been on the interstate all day and I’d never been to the south before. Hot summer day with humidity so thick it made your clothes and your hair stick to you — the kind of weather that breeds bad smells and rain. West Virginia had been too long — ugly mountain after ugly mountain — and Virginia had been a short but welcome swath of beauty. North and South Carolina were dull, rather flat — they felt distinctive, but in an apathetic way.

When I hit Georgia, everything shifted. Driving south on I-85 you simultaneously hit a lake and a state line, and the shores of the lake are swaths of red mud, and you realize you’re seeing southern dirt. And almost as soon as you’ve taken that in, you’re over the lake, and the water’s stretching out around you, and then on the other side there’s the Georgia line, and you realize in a visceral way you can taste in your mouth that you’re in the south. It just feels different.

Off the highway a few miles into Georgia there’s a gas station in the middle of nowhere, off the exit for Carnesville, Georgia — a tiny little town with one empty state road and a lot of overgrown weeds. The gas station was built for an era long gone — an exaggeratedly tall sign but no flashy advertisements, peeling paint, a gas pump that clicks and thunks. Standing on that faded pavement and smelling gasoline — the first time my feet touched Georgia — I found something I’d been looking for but hadn’t known I’d lacked. That place felt like every southern song I’d ever loved. Words jotted down between capping the gas tank and heading back for the interstate — “I’ve found the south and it’s glorious.”

That was where the love affair started.

Soon after it started to rain — dark clouds that opened up and dumped on the highway; lightning flickering across the sky. The thunder’s louder in the south, and the raindrops are bigger. It stopped raining in the interim of highway heading into the city, when suddenly the road split into more and more lanes but the skyline wasn’t yet in sight — a good fifteen miles of pre-urban sprawl — but it started again right before we hit the city limits. When I pulled off the highway and onto the streets I cracked my window, just enough so I could slip my fingers out and curl them around the top of my car, hold them outstretched, feel the southern rain on my skin, let it run down my arm. The streets were flooding. Windshield wipers clicked and clicked and the leaves hung heavy on the trees, laden with water. There are lots of trees in Atlanta. It’s a city filled with green.

That first night I didn’t see the skyline — just city neighborhoods with southern houses and sodden roads. The house where I was staying — a neatly trimmed southern affair — had a rooftop balcony, and when I stood there and looked out, I could see the tops of one of the skyscrapers between the treetops, and I stood there and stared at it. I saw the skyline the next day, in pieces, and saw the full thing the day after that. It was broken to me slowly, and I took my time with each piece — just stood and drank it in.

I’ve seen the skyline many times since, but it’s never lost that magic. If anything, I think it’s gained more. Moving towards it through the grid of streets, or flying towards it on the interstate. Every time I see it something within me rises.

Atlanta’s this big sprawling hub of tall buildings. When you drive through it on I-85, it feels like it goes on forever — your vision is tunneled by the highway, but the buildings just keep coming. You see them on the horizon, coming up fast, and then you’re almost on them, but they keep coming and coming and coming. Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead. The highway runs alongside them, then curves into the city, and suddenly there are buildings on both sides, and still they’re coming. So much gray and silver rising up towards the sky. It’s stunning in both the day and the night.

In rush hour, there’s traffic everywhere. So many cars. So many people. If you hate being stuck you can hardly bear the standing still. At night, though, in the dark, the streets are almost entirely empty — whole highways for you to fly down, with the buildings all lit up and rising on either side.

But go a few blocks from the center of the city and suddenly you’re in quiet southern neighborhoods, with gentle streets and tall trees and lovely Southern houses. Atlanta’s a city of contrast — it doesn’t feel like a jungle of steel and concrete, but instead like the best of both worlds. I stayed in Reynoldstown — a neighborhood that used to be bad, apparently, but is getting expensive now. It’s east of Cabbagetown and north of Grant Park, and bordered at the top by railroad tracks. There’s a railroad yard on the edge of the neighborhood with more shipping containers than one can count and graffiti all over its concrete fences. So much graffiti.

The first Atlanta night I slept like a baby in a top-floor bed, underneath a roof that was wet from the rain. The first Atlanta morning was hot as hell, and humid — humidity so thick you could almost hear it dripping; the kind that hits you like an oppressive wave when you venture outside, fills up your lungs with soup. I loved it anyway — sitting under the locust trees on the back porch playing all those southern songs I knew and loved on a borrowed guitar, because what does one do when one meets the south besides this? Good food, wood floors, bare feet, dry mouth from trying to avoid the city water. I slept for three nights in that house and I mourned with I had to leave.

That was June. Since then I’ve been two more times — made that drive into the city twice since that first entrance in the pouring rain. The second time I came in it was almost 9pm on a Sunday night, after fourteen hours of driving straight through seven states. I was exhausted and restless all at the same time, but the city gave me life. I drove again to Reynoldstown — same neighborhood, but staying in a different house — came in on Moreland, one of the eastern thoroughways, a street that changes from rough to gentrified and back again, and which probably crosses the place where Sherman’s army marched out of Atlanta after they burned the city in 1864 (I suspect, but can’t currently confirm). So many ragged, sweaty, dirty soldiers.

Sleeping softly in the gentle southern night; so tired my body melted into the mattress, tangled itself in the sheets and then lay perfectly still.

Little Five Points, the rough bohemian neighborhood where five roads converge and people who look like they’re on drugs and long-haired hipsters (who haven’t gotten the memo about Asheville) hang out outside of bars and edgy record shops. So much hip and angst all in one place. I drove through it on my way into the city, went down a couple nights later to check it out. Everything non-flesh in that neighborhood was painted, and everything flesh was tattooed. I sat in a coffee shop with my camera on the table, took pictures in the dusk. Some long-haired boy and messy-haired girl made out in a parking lot just past a street light, seemed to stay there forever with his hands on her back, and some dude walked through the dark in a pair of mirror shades.

Most of the culture I encountered was lest edgy. Indoor markets, with their echoing rafters and the smell of good food cooking — the hard choice of smoothies or a fried catfish sandwich. Greasy fingers, feeling southern. Good southern diner food — more pancakes than a body can eat in two meals for less than ten dollars, and all the syrup you want, and art on the walls. Farmers markets in the sticky Georgia morning, the humidity becoming more and more oppressive as you walk through it, leaving your skin covered in a thin film of sweat, and the trees above you so deeply, richly green. Buy a bottle of lemonade, fresh pressed while you watched, poured into a cup filled with ice. Makes your insides feel alert and alive, makes your taste buds sharp. Hold the cup against your damp face and feel the coolness and breathe. Keep walking through the market because you don’t want to leave.

There are good people who live in Atlanta. Smart people, ambitious people, kind people. Your average southern man goes out of his way to hold doors. The startup scene is strong, and filled with people who like intellectual stimulation. You’re nearly guaranteed good conversation if you’re there long enough. Late-night meetup talking philosophy in a tavern with naked brick walls and vintage posters hanging. Long drinks of water with condensation on the glass, lots of feeling alive.

That second time I hated leaving even more than the first. When you fall in love separation is painful, and I’d fallen hard.

The third time I wasn’t even supposed to go down, decided to take a trip at the last minute, was endlessly glad I did — I don’t need much convincing to go to Atlanta, only an excuse. I stayed in Buckhead, woke up every morning and looked out at the edge of the skyline, slept at night in the harsh glow of streetlights. On that third trip I flew down I-85 in the middle of the night, walked through Midtown in the dark and took pictures, filmed video on the edge of the train yard, ate dinner at the top of a tall building with a view across the entire city, just to celebrate being alive. I stayed for eight days and it was glorious.

There’s a strange mix in the city of cool metro and pure southern. The houses are southern, the food’s southern, there are southern gas stations on the corners, and there’s usually a southern man to hold the door. But the city itself is made largely of implants, non-natives, and it’s built physically of cold steel, and it feels like any city — charming, but modern and cool. It isn’t overwhelmingly one or the other, just hovers somehow as part of both. Somehow this makes it even better.

Driving out of Atlanta, at the end of every visit, you head north on I-85, through those 15 miles or more of exit lanes and traffic, and then the road opens up and becomes again a normal interstate — four lanes and 70-mile-an-hour speedlimits that nobody follows. Atlanta’s out of sight behind you and you miss it, but you’re still in Georgia, can still feel the south around you and taste it on your breath. The trees are lush and green and the topography’s distinct and the dirt when you can see it is red with clay.

An hour and a half north you get to Carnesville, with its lonely gas station and its weeds and its run-down buildings and its state roads and its southernness. And just beyond that you hit the lake, and the state line, and you see that red Georgia dirt again, but instead of filling you up with joy it makes you sad, because you’re leaving it. And then in the space of just a breath you’re in South Carolina — and the state feels different; a distinct shift — and that distinct feeling of the south is still borne within you, but outside of you it’s gone.

. . .

How to Start a Mastermind (and why it’s valuable to do so)

“No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind.” — Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

One of the most beneficial things you can do for your professional development is form a mastermind.

A mastermind is a group of people in a similar place in life who are all striving for similar goals. It’s a group dedicated to self-betterment, personal growth, and the pursuit of individual goals. Four to five members is ideal — less, and you lose the dynamic range of insight and perspective; more, and you lose the powerful bonds of personal connection. A mastermind meets regularly — ideally, weekly — and each member takes a turn sharing their failures and victories for the week, requests help with their struggles, and sets goals for moving forward.

A successful mastermind demands the honesty and respect of all its members. It raises the bar for achievement and realized potential. A mastermind challenges you to grow bigger, reach farther, achieve better. It holds you accountable when you set goals, helps you see your strengths, workshops your weaknesses, supports you when you struggle, and celebrates with you when you are victorious.

With the combined power and energy of multiple people all striving for similar goals, a mastermind can achieve wonders.

The benefits of having a mastermind:

1. Support. When you’re weak and you’re struggling, your mastermind will hold you up. When you’re operating from a place of strength, your mastermind will keep you on track and moving towards your goals. There’s a deep sense of power that comes with the knowledge that you aren’t doing this thing alone. There are others journeying with you every step of the way.

2. Critique. A large part of a mastermind’s purpose is offering feedback. What are you doing well? What could you be doing better? What are specific places you can be taking steps to improve? The group as a whole does a deep-dive analysis into all of these questions. Because the group is built on a deep-seated sense of respect and honesty, this feedback will always be of high quality and intended to catalyze growth.

3. Accountability. Part of your meetings will entail setting goals. Setting goals is easy, but maintaining them alone is hard— there’s a lot of effort expended just in keeping yourself on track. External accountability is key, and a mastermind offers that — along with check-ins, updates, and fine-tuning at every meeting.

4. Insight. One of the beauties of a mastermind is the deep level of knowledge and understanding each member has of the others. Each member knows exactly where you’re at and where you’re going, and can offer insight and feedback accordingly. Other people often see things about ourselves that we miss. Having that steady stream of feedback is invaluable.

5. Energy. The combined energy of a group of people all actively striving towards goals is infectious. It builds off of itself — and with that building energy comes building momentum, which carries all participants forward.

In Practice: My mastermind is one of the most important parts of my week. The group has helped hone my focus and recenter my energy. They’ve pushed me to set more ambitious goals, critiqued my work, helped me through difficult conversations with employers and clients, pointed out strengths and weaknesses I was too close to myself to see — and I’ve gained equal value by watching each of the other members go through the same process. Each time we meet there’s a rush of energy and excitement, and a bringing of our lives back into focus. Our meetings are like whetting our blades at the onset of every week before going back into battle.

What makes a strong mastermind?

1. Each member must be equally driven and committed. Goals are personal and there is no right and wrong, but each member of a mastermind must have relatable goals — not in specifics, but in magnitude. If I’m trying to build a company and you’re trying to do fifty pushups every day, those are probably incompatible goals. But if I’m trying to build a company and you’re trying to become a top-grossing sales rep at your startup, those goals, while different in specifics, are of equal magnitude.

2. Each member must have something to offer and something to gain. As stated above, specific pursuits need not be the same, but each member must have insight and value to offer to every other member in the group.

3. Each member must be committed and reliable — committed to attending every meeting they can, committed to personal growth, committed to providing as much value as possible, committed to fight relentlessly for their fellow members. Each individual must know without a doubt that they can rely on every other member to give everything they’ve got.

4. There must be rapport. If the members don’t connect, deep bonds will not form, people won’t understand each other at a deep level, and the full potential of a mastermind cannot be reached.

In Practice: My mastermind has a diverse range of members: a YouTuber, a startup sales rep, an entrepreneur/CEO building a media company, and myself, focusing on writing, videography, and coaching. At surface level our goals seem very different, but in terms of magnitude our ambitions are at a similar level — we’re all growing at the same rate and expecting the same caliber of work from ourselves. And even though our specific fields are different, our knowledge (and therefore insights) are complementary. We all gain a deep level of value — and with that comes a deep level of commitment to what we’re building, both independently and within our collective mastermind.

So how does it work?

A key element in a mastermind is the regularity of meetings. Meeting frequency and length can vary — weekly hour-long meetings are common. Longer biweekly or monthly meetings are also an option. My mastermind meets weekly for 2–3 hours (on the long side, but we usually have a lot to talk about).

In the meeting, each member takes a turn giving an update of their week, and then breaks that update down in an analysis — what went well, what went wrong, where they succeeded and where they failed, what they could’ve done better, what they struggled with. The group then discusses that information — workshops problems, gives advice, offers insights. The length of this session varies — if someone has a routine update, it can be covered in 10–15 minutes; if someone has something they’re struggling with and want to workshop, the conversation can last for a more indefinite period of time — sometimes upwards of 45 minutes or an hour. When everything has been resolved, each member closes their turn by setting goals for the week to come.

Things to keep in mind when starting a mastermind:

1. Identify exactly what it is you’re looking for. What do you want to gain from a mastermind? What specific value do you want to have? What sort of people do you want to be surrounding yourself with? Remember the adage that you are the sum of the five people you’re closest to — what do you want to be growing towards?

2. Set a purpose for your mastermind. The original purpose of mine was for people interested in entrepreneurship and sales. It’s a very broad criteria, and yet even that level of focus helps to attract people who have similar and complementary objectives.

3. When it comes to rapport, trust your gut. Some people hit it off immediately, and others don’t mesh. It’s important in a mastermind to have people who complement each other and will become close, so in this sense also choose your members wisely.

4. Pay attention to people’s strengths. Soft skills are just as important as the hard skills in forming a mastermind group. What strengths will people bring to the group as an entity itself, and what insights will they be able to offer into other member’s lives?

5. Diversity is a good thing. Strive for similarity in goals, but complement in skills. Part of my mastermind’s strength is in the fact that we all have different skillsets. The business owner’s employee management skills are valuable when the rest of us want to hire employees; my coaching skills are good for drawing out the deeper levels in people’s issues. When we have something we need to sell our sales rep can help us workshop a strategy, and when we need audio gear for a project our YouTuber can walk us through the whole process.

A mastermind is a powerful catalyst for growth, and one of the most beneficial things you can add into your life.

No mind is complete by itself. It needs contact and association with other minds to grow and expand.” — Napoleon Hill



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