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9 Unforgettable Lessons from Seth Godin’s Summer Seminar of Impresarios

I am back from the New York City Summer Seminar event with Seth Godin and the 20 other remarkable students.

Simply put: working together with Seth and all the students was nothing short of a life-changing experience. It was three days long, but those three days alone will attribute to a lot of my future success. This I know.

I’m changed. Different. I can’t go back to my old ways because I know better. Going back to my old ways would be the lizard brain at work. During this seminar, all the students pushed through their comfort zone — no, they shattered it. In short, we were Spartans.

This post will be a bit long (2500 words) because I will try to encompass all the invaluable lessons I learned throughout this journey, as well as give you an idea of what this event was like.

1. Becoming an impresario

The italian term, Impresario, simply means to be a connector. In the 18th century, an impresario was responsible for hiring a composer, gathering costumes, musicians, etc.

So here is an empty theatre. An impresario sees an opportunity to connect a composer — so they can deliver their art — with a space that needs to be filled. Voila!

Were there risks? Absolutely. It wouldn’t be art if there weren’t any risks involved.

In this seminar, we learned to become an impresario. A connector. We had to find an empty space that needed to be filled, while also being responsible for filling it. Sounds crazy, right? Who are we to be responsible for connecting two ideas or people together to create a greater good? The lizard brain would say, “No, not you. Go back to being comfortable.” An impresario would just go and do it, regardless of any variables.

Here’s what I have written down in my notebook:

Be an impresario ————> Whether you fail or succeed: do it again.

Try this: Start practicing the traits of an impresario, today. Connect two people or ideas together and start something. It may be the start to something revolutionary. It may be something that will fail, but guess what? You will learn more by starting something rather than doing nothing.

2. The Lizard Brain

Steven Pressfield immortalized the term Resistance to describe the lizard brain, or the amygdala.

In this seminar, Seth deconstructed the lizard brain and how it plays a part in our lives. I’ll attempt to do the same.

The lizard brain is the amygdala. It’s two little almond-shaped pieces in the back of your head. It’s responsible for fear, anger, revenge, arousal, reproduction, fight or flight, and survival. When there is an emergency, a wild animal in your presence, or a plate being thrown at you, the lizard brain takes over and protects us.

It also stops us from creating art that can change the world.

When a writer puts away a book that they’ve been working on for years, when someone is dead-scared of asking the other person out on a date, when an entrepreneur thinks of a fantastic idea but immediately makes up excuses as to why they can’t do it, that is the lizard brain at work. We cannot surgically remove the amygdala or beat in a fist fight. We can condition it to quiet down. We can develop better habits that help us break through that comfort zone.

Picture this: Kid climbs up diving board. Once he gets to the top, he realizes he doesn’t want to jump. But he can’t climb down — no way. After multiple hours of contemplating, the kid finally jumps.

Moral of the story: He gets out of the water and does it again, immediately.

I dare you: You can be that kid again. You can ignore the voice of the lizard brain. You can shatter the walls of your comfort zone to experience that “first time” feeling. You can jump, experience something that shakes your core, and do it all over again with a smile on your face. You can condition yourself to use that fear as a trigger, not an excuse.

3. Vulnerability

I’ve read and watched all of Brené Brown’s work. I read the Gifts of Imperfections and devoured the knowledge; I love her cause and everything she stands for. But the thing is, I never put vulnerability into practice. I would with a few friends here and there, but never in a setting like this.

I’ll be candid: If it weren’t for every individual being vulnerable, this experience wouldn’t have been what it was. The fact that everyone exposed their flaws and willingly opened themselves up, only then were we able to connect with one another on an authentic level. That connection became the mortar and bricks to relationships that I will cherish for life.

I was shocked. I didn’t think I was able to be so vulnerable with people I just met, but I did it. And it was empowering. It was freeing. I didn’t have to wear a mask and become something I’m not. I could share my struggles, passions, and ideas with everyone, while receiving feedback and brainstorming better ideas. The only words that come to my mind to express myself: enchanting.

Never forget: There are relationships that are built on the real you, and there’s everything else. Start with being you and see where that takes you. You may not kick it off immediately, but give it some time. Be the first person to open up. Whether you believe in magic or not, building relationships on a foundation of vulnerability can build castles in the sky.

4. Listening

You probably think your ideas are amazing. You probably want to express how passionate you are about so-and-so.

Well, we are the same. I am eternally interested in me … but in a situation where you’re in a room with like-minded allies, and the maestro’s time is limited, one of your best skills is to listen.

Listen wholeheartedly. Pay attention to body language. Don’t listen to what you think they’re saying — listen to what they are actually saying. Ask questions. Connect ideas. Let the person finish.

During our breaks, we had a moment to discuss with one another. It happened naturally — the room sounded like a high school cafeteria. The level of engagement was surreal. The ideas, the suggestions, the breaking-down of things — all breathtaking.

And when it came time for me to speak, everyone reciprocated and offered life-changing insight and affirmation. It was simply divine. An honor to be in that space, at that moment, and with all the right people.

Always, always: Listen to the other person’s ideas, passions, and desires. You can speak about yourself for days — now isn’t the time. It’s time to listen to others and help them connect ideas that they couldn’t reach on their own. Listen wholeheartedly.

5. Having a sense of direction

Every student was required to pitch an idea, for five minutes, about ways they can be an impresario.

In this exercise, Seth critiqued our pitches — what needs improvement, what’s missing, what’s unclear, etc. The next day, we had to come in with our marketing strategies. How will we ship? What will it take to make this a success?

A few key important questions came up, and I believe they are questions we should always be asking ourselves in regards to our work and our life:

  • What is the goal, the mission? (As specific as possible.)
  • Who’s responsible for shipping? What day will this project ship? (Date and time.)
  • What does perfect look like? What does good enough look like? What does failure look like?
  • Who will help you? Who are your allies? Who are your competitors?

The idea is to have a clear idea of what it is you are trying to accomplish. It’s about setting measurable goals, identify the steps that need to be taken, and accomplishing them. I received similar advice a few years ago and it changed my life.

Draw the line: Clearly identify what it is you want and how you’re going to get there. Identify perfect, good enough, and failure. Identify the steps that need to be taken, teammates that will support you the whole way, and the day you plan on shipping your idea or project. What are you afraid of? (Be real with yourself.)

6. Community

What I was a part of — 20 students, Seth, the brainstorming, discussions, bouncing ideas off one another — it was majestic.

I can honestly say that I’ve never been in an environment like that. My vulnerability was being exercised, everything I learned the past few years being put into practice (I read a book a week), the thoughts that surfaced, the ideas that were shattered than reconstructed, the smiles, the laughs, the stories — it’s a feeling where words cannot do justice.

I am already feeling the symptoms of nostalgia; I caught myself telling a friend that I can spend hours upon hours in an environment like that. But really, what’s stopping me? What’s stopping me from getting a few students from my school, and creating a community of like-minded individuals? What’s stopping you from doing the same in your community with the resources and access that you have around you?

I believe that everyone longs to be in a community — not a place to fit in but rather a place to be accepted because you’re different.

Here’s the challenge: Create a place (or just go into a room) where you can meet up with like-minded individuals. Share your story, ideas, passion, goals, and struggles. How can you help one another? How can you be an impresario?

7. Building relationships

I personally despise the word “networking,” like handing out your business card and trying to shake everyone’s hand. I don’t do favors for my friends — I just do it because I know they would help me when I need them. So your network isn’t there only when you need an endorsement or a damn tweet. They should be there because of the relationships you built on the foundation of authenticity and transparency. With that in mind, they will help you because they believe in your cause — not because you exchanged business cards.

I was focused on building long-lasting relationships. And I believe I accomplished just that. Reasons how? Clear communication and vulnerability. Those are your two most important assets. Bring those two assets with you and watch a flower grow in the crevices of concrete.

Focus on: building relationships. Focus on getting to know the person — their desires, goals, struggles, ideas, etc. Focus on ways you can help them. Share ideas. Show them doors they are unaware of. Start with being vulnerable and let the rest unfold.

8. Asking questions

Asking questions was the lifeblood for the conversations to lead from one idea to the next. If there are no questions asked (which was never the case), then the conversation can’t go anywhere. Nothing would be discussed, challenged, and brought into the world.

I need to thank Sarah Clarke who gave me incredible insight through the newsletter I sent out before I left for NYC. She said, “ASK QUESTIONS! That’s the most important thing! Prepare them ahead of time. Write them down.”

If it weren’t for that simple piece of advice, I would have forgotten; if I didn’t ask my tribe, I would have never received that info. Having my questions written down ahead of time, I was able to engage with Seth on subjects where I needed insight. If it weren’t for preparing, I would have went into that room empty handed — and no one likes the person who comes to the party empty handed.

Never forget: Ask questions. Ask your teammates. Ask your friends. Ask your professor or mentor or boss. Don’t let uncertainty dwell in your mind. Ask the question so those clouds can clear up. This, in turn, will lead to more discussions, ideas, and insight. You can’t find what you’re looking for just by sitting there: you have to ask questions!

9. Gift, Attitude, or Skill

Seth asked us what kind of traits would we want in a potential employee? From there, we had to separate all the traits and place them in a category: gift, attitude, or skill.

So as a group we shouted them out one by one: looks, vulnerable, socially aware, problem solver, passionate, honest, outgoing, responsible, kind, generous, teamwork, etc., etc.

Certain traits like looks and passion were considered to be gifts. But traits like vulnerable, problem solver, responsible, kind, and honest? Many of them were either attitudes or skills. As the list narrowed down, it was hard to differentiate what was a skill and what was an attitude.

What we learned was that the two cannot exist without the other. Attitude is built by the consistent practice of the skill, so therefore, the skill must be practiced in order to develop that attitude. You cannot have the attitude of being honest if you don’t practice it. You can’t effortlessly be vulnerable with strangers if you don’t practice it.

Practice, practice: Seth is a no-excuses kinda guy. Honestly, that is probably the first time I ever described anyone like that. In order to develop the attitude, you must practice the skill. So if you want to your attitude to reflect courage, vulnerability, honesty, etc., then you must practice it daily. I aspire to be a no-excuses kinda guy. Guess what I have to do? Stop making excuses.

Inspired

I came back a changed man. My mindset feels different. The voices in my head changed the conversation. The lizard brain is at bay, fishing, and quiet, while I am out flying closer to the sun.

It seems as though the seminar worked as intended.

To all my impresarios: I am eternally grateful to have met you. Thank you for sharing your story, exposing your true colors, while also listening to what I had to say. Thank you for being you, for being vulnerable, for being a champion. Each and every one of you inspired me in ways I simply cannot express. Each and every one of you will be a part of my life from now till the end. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I will always have your back.

To Seth: What you did those 3 days was simply fascinating. You are a true role model, a linchpin, a person who fundamentally changed me as a person. You conditioned me to identify and seduce the lizard brain. You taught me how to become an impresario. You challenged and pushed me in ways I have never felt. It was an honor to be under your wing for those three memorable days.

And finally, to you, the reader: Please read over the lessons I have learned so you can absorb them. I hit the vein and the words came spilling out; this is what I experienced, learned, and felt. Take action. Practice the traits of an impresario. Practice vulnerability. Build relationships that fortify your network. Always ask questions. Listen first. Find or create the community you long to be a part of. Fail often and learn more.

There’s always two possible endings to a story: success or failure. Both can be used as an incentive: to do it again. Success doesn’t mean you’re finished — it means to start something else. Failure means to learn from it, adapt, and try again. I can’t see any other way — simply because there isn’t.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for listening. The next post will be focused on HOW I prepared for an event like this (Here’s the post.).

You could read other student’s perspectives here: How a Stranger Changed My Life, Creatively Independent, and Sam King’s.

Any thoughts? Stories to share? Ideas? Please, share them in the comments below. Your voice matters.

— PAUL JUN
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