Learn To Say “It’s Not For You”


The work you do is a gift to the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

Last week I was privileged to take part in the 99u Conference in New York. While I’ve observed the conference from afar over the past several years, and have contributed both to 99u.com and to their book project [amazon_link id=”1477800670″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Managing Your Day To Day[/amazon_link], I wasn’t prepared for how amazing it would be to gather with a thousand or so other like-minded people obsessed with making ideas happen. It was a little like drinking a double shot of espresso every hour on the hour for two straight days.

One of my favorite sessions – no surprise here – was the open Q&A with Seth Godin. Every time I see Seth in a Q&A, he seems to pull an old rock out of his pocket, rub it up a few times, and transform it into a diamond. He said something in response to a question about making art that resonated deeply, and even set me off in a new direction with the book project I’m currently working on. I’d heard it before, but for some reason it really resonated this time:

“As soon as you’re willing to say ‘it’s not for you’, you’re freed up to make art.” – Seth Godin

Translation: not everything you make will be for everybody, nor should it be. Even more to the point, if you are trying to make something that’s for everybody, then you may be compromising your art, which means you are sacrificing possibility on the altar of pragmatism.

When you’re first sharing your work with the world, critique stings. You have very few data points by which to judge whether or not your work is reached and impacting its intended audience. However, as you share more broadly over long periods of time, you begin to see patterns emerging within groups of people who resonate with your work, those who don’t, and those who are indifferent. (As your voice becomes more refined, the indifferent crowd often grows smaller.) The key is to be willing to listen to critics and incorporate valuable feedback without allowing their comments to stall your progress and growth.

It’s easier to tear something down than to build something new. No one ever changed the conversation, a mind, an organization, or the world by lobbing critiques from the cheap seats. If you want to create impact you have to enter the arena. Tina Roth Eisenberg (SwissMiss) reminded us of a James Murphy quote at the conference:

“The best way to complain is to make things.” —James Murphy (via @SwissMiss)

In those areas where you  have discretion over the kind of value you create, have the courage to follow your instincts, to take risks, and to stand up for your work. If you want to see something change, then make something.

Most of all, when a critic arises have the courage to say “it’s not for you.”


Die EmptyOne of the best books of the year. Passionate, practical and powerful, Todd will help you do more and do it better, starting right now.”
Seth Godin, author of The Icarus Deception

Available now! Amazon.com – Barnes & Noble – IndieBound

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1 Comment

  1. Jim Hough

    Great post Todd! I bet it was a treat to be part of this event! It’s been my experience over the years that critics seem to be the bravest in sharing their opinions. There’s often a grain or two of helpful feedback, but it’s hard to find in all the negative energy. Finding your own voice is the key. Finding it and holding on to it. That makes it easy (and sometimes enjoyable!) to say, “It’s not for you.”

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I'm Todd Henry.

I'm Todd Henry.

I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas. More

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I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas.

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