Write to Grow: How Writing Helps You Learn

I missed my flight.

There was no excuse. I was sitting in the airport lounge. I had arrived in plenty of time. I had my boarding pass and wasn’t far from the gate.

What happened?

I got lost. Lost in writing. People refer to it as a state of “flow” or being “in the zone” where you actually experience time differently. For me, it’s a heightened sense of awareness an intense focus that locks me in. I missed two flights writing in airport lounges last year.

Of course, it doesn’t always go that way. More often, writing is a grueling experience of resisting the temptation to procrastinate and forcing myself to push through the next sentence. My internal resistance is always present, ready to remind me that my writing probably isn’t worthy of reading. I have burned hours staring at a blank screen, playing with my dog, checking the fridge for the 10th time and scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed all in the spirit of attempting to create.

Is it worth it?

I know my blog represents some of the most important work I’ve done. I started on a whim without any thought or long-term perspective on the outcome. It seemed like a good thing to do at the time considering I didn’t have any budget for marketing. I’ve never been paid a dime for anything I’ve written, but writing has provided some of the richest rewards and most valued exchanges in my work life.

How Writing Helps Me Learn

When I hit a plateau, it’s usually because I’ve relaxed on my commitment to learning. Writing forces me to stay in the learning lane. It forces me to organize my thoughts, evolve my perspective and take a firm position. Conducting research and preparing for interviews is automatic education, and of course interviewing an expert always expands my knowledge.

Writing has helped me become more curious. I’ve expanded the blogs and podcasts I follow and recently recommitted to a daily reading practice. I didn’t read enough books last year and I know that’s a big missed opportunity to accelerate both my personal growth and the impact I can have on others.

The real secret is that I’m often writing for myself. Turns out, there are a lot of other people navigating the same challenges I am around business performance, sales, leadership and personal growth. If I can solve my most significant challenges, I can usually help someone else, too.

Here’s how writing helps you learn: Writing provides an immediate feedback loop. When I share ideas and information that aren’t very interesting, I’ll know right away. When something strikes a chord, I have a pretty good sign we’re moving in the right direction.

My writing isn’t always public. Everything is a rough draft until we decide it isn’t. I’m doing more personal journaling as part of my morning routine and I get many of the same benefits — and the chance to explore ideas that eventually become something I do want to share.

How Writing Connects Me to People

Writing has helped me meet interesting people I never would have known otherwise. It’s helped me forge meaningful relationships with people I admire. That notion was reinforced last week over dinner with my friend and mentor Larry Flick during a business trip to Philadelphia. Larry is an incredibly successful entrepreneur and our friendship moved forward when I interviewed him for this blog post on his entrepreneurial journey several years ago. That post has become a gift that keeps on giving in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

Writing helps me stay connected to clients, colleagues, family and friends. The notion of community and importance of staying connected wasn’t something I ever even considered as a potential benefit of blogging, but it’s been an absolute game-changer for my business. It’s also helped me personally.

When my Dad was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, it was hard for our entire family. I flew home right away and the first night back, it was hard to find the right words to say. It was actually easier later that night, after everyone went to bed, to find the right words to write.

Mom and Dad, thank you for everything. The list is way too long. But I want you both to know that just knowing isn’t good enough for me. Saying it so you know matters: I am proud to be your son.

Reading the blog post about my dad to both my parents the next morning over breakfast and the conversation that followed is an experience I will take with me for the rest of my life.

How Writing Creates Opportunities

Last year I was asked to give a presentation on How I Built a Million $ Speaking Business (in less than 5 years). The truth is that most of the answer exists in our blog archives.

Writing and sharing my ideas publicly has been a catalyst for our business growth. It’s a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs and sales organizations alike.

Are you getting found? If you aren’t getting found, you’re relying on traditional sales and marketing techniques that are only going to deliver diminishing returns going forward. It’s no longer about who you know. If you want to accelerate growth, it’s all about who knows you.

I was in a breakfast meeting this morning talking through a significant new business opportunity with a prospective customer. Here’s the unsolicited email I received to set the meeting:

Let me know when you’d have time for coffee. I’d like to discuss how you may be able to play a role in transforming the way we deliver patient care/patient experience. This is more than a speaking engagement. This is work that has the opportunity to touch and inspire thousands of people whose lives we touch every day, from day of birth to last breath. Your cup of coffee post struck a nerve and aligned with some work that I’m doing with the VP of Strategy, Customer Experience and Marketing. Interested?

That is a huge win. But the real secret is, even if nobody was reading the blog, we’ve still developed an archive of sales assets that is far superior to sending cold pitch e-mails that annoy or offend prospective customers.

Writing and sharing my writing publicly is still an exercise that moves me out of my comfort zone. I still get anxious on “publish” day. I’ve actually come to realize that’s a good sign because it means I care and the odds are better that someone else might, too. I’m getting better at reminding myself that the benefit of sharing what I care about with the world far outweighs the cost and commitment. In fact, it’s one of the best commitments I’ve made.

I needed to write that. I needed to read it, too.

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