Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Biggest Lie We Believe About Influence

There is a lie many of us unwittingly believe. It creeps into our minds and lives in such a sneaky way we don’t even notice it. I tell it to myself every day; you probably do, too.

Biggest Lie - Asking for Permission

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk (Creative Commons)

It’s a subtle, seemingly harmless phrase that rings throughout my head all day long and attacks me when I doubt myself. It’s my excuse for not starting sooner.

It may tease and taunt you, too, causing you to think less of yourself.

And it sounds something like this…

“If only I had a platform…”

Then, I’d be able to broadcast my message.

Then, I’d say what needs to be said.

Then, I’d finally be able to make a real difference.

“All I need are resources,” the voice says. “Just a little more time or talent or attention. If people were watching me, I’d shine. I’d be a star.”

Yeah, right.

I’m calling “B.S.” on that. That voice is a liar; it’s your Enemy speaking, the lulling siren that tempts you to stall until a better, more convenient time to create comes. But here’s the truth:

Nobody who changed the world did it by waiting for an audience. [Tweet]

Not MLK. Not Gandhi or even Mother Teresa. And certainly not Jesus.

Yet, many of us are doing just that. We’re holding back, putting our art on pause, biding our time with mediocrity and waiting for someone to invites us onstage before we share our best work. What a cowardly way to live.

If this is you, if you’ve chosen to believe this lie, then let me tell you something: That day that you’re waiting for will never come. The day in which you will be discovered, the day when you finally get rewarded for your genius — it won’t happen. Not if you just keep waiting.

You will never have the attention you crave until you start living your future now.

Here’s how real difference makers live…

They don’t ask permission. They don’t wait to be picked. They just start with what they have. And you’re going to have to do the same if your art is going to matter.

Were you ever the last one picked for sports in school? I was… always.

A chubby kid who read too much and didn’t exercise enough, I was the one left standing against the wall when the dodge ball teams were chosen. The last one picked and the first one out. I hated that stupid sport.

Back then, I wasn’t in charge. I was living on someone else’s terms, having to conform to another system’s rules. I didn’t have a choice — I was a kid. But now things are different… if I choose to see them that way.

Not getting picked sucks. I know, it’s happened to me for most of my life. With girls, with friends, even with jobs. It’s a terribly disempowering feeling and truly a lonely way to live.

But here’s the good news: you don’t have to live like that any more. You’ve heard this before in various forms, but I’ll say it again for emphasis:

Those who change the world aren’t waiting for permission. They’d rather apologize for too much tenacity than regret having too much timidity.

You can do this with your writing or speaking or music, with whatever it is you do. Be bold, be daring — just don’t be a jerk. Because the world doesn’t need more dodge ball teams. What it needs is for you to get your act together and do something important. To share the work you’ve been called to create.

You, the artist

I use the words art and create a lot when I write. And if you aren’t a writer or a creative professional, you might get the wrong idea. You might think these words aren’t for you. And you’d be wrong.

The truth is you probably don’t think of yourself as creative as you truly are. How could you, in good conscience, don put yourself in the same company as Picasso and Neruda, even Beethoven? The audacity, the ego.

That’s what we think of when think of the term artist. Painters and poets and composers. But maybe we’ve been thinking about this all wrong.

Maybe, and I’m sincerely starting to believe this, art is anything you do that requires care and craft. So whatever you do, whether it’s painting or plumbing, you are an artist. Or at least, you can be, if you treat your occupation as art — a true vocation, a calling.

Because that’s what it is: your chance to let your voice be heard, to say something that changes the status quo, that pushes progress and moves humanity forward. To make something beautiful we can’t live without. Or not.

You could, of course, keep waiting to live the life you dreamed of, to share the words burning on your lips until a better time arrives. Until you’re ready. Until someone comes along and gives you permission to be yourself. That’s an option, too.

Are you doing that? Or are you believing the lie, waiting for permission? Share your story in the comments

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Payton Mancuso

    Please check out my blog. I would really appreciate it!
    Thank you.

  • Anything can be achieved if you really push yourself towards it. If you truly want greatness, success, or want to be the best at something, you better believe that it’s going to take a lot more than blood, sweat, and tears.

  • Stacey Dawn

    “Everyone has a story” seems to be digging it’s heals in my head. I keep thinking my story doesn’t matter because everyone’s been through “xyz” and it’s much worse (or better) than mine. However, I do believe each of us have a story that can influence someone else in a positive way. Just reading about several people being picked last in sports eased an ache I forgot was there!!

  • Heidi Pungartnik

    Jeff, you keep writing the most inspirational posts in my entire rss reader. Thank you!

  • Alda

    Hi Jeff, I’ve been following your blogs since February. They are so delightful and inspiring, however, I’m still terrified to send anything in. There are so many rules such as number of words. God forbid that you don’t write what is thought to be be right number. You are immediately thrown out? Doesn’t anyone think out of the box? Many of my favorite authors are direct and to the point. It seems that folks are filling in “stuff” just to get the right number. Now I’ve had my time to complain. Actually, I just like to write even if it is for myself.

    • Hi Alda, I wasn’t aware there was a “right” number.

  • Beth

    Terrific post, Jeff! It can be so difficult to take that first step to expose our creativity to the world. We look for any excuse to take the safe route, living a life of mediocrity instead of taking that leap of faith that could have unlimited potential. Reading this post was an inspiring way to start my day! Thank you!

    • There’s that word, “mediocrity.” For so long, I thought that was me, and I didn’t have a choice. But taking that “leap of faith” definitely breaks the idea of mediocrity into small pieces. Good point!

  • I sat down last week with a friend that said some very hard things, things tha tneeded to be heard, but hard. After that meeting I walked away discouraged and with lack of focus. This blog was just the thign I needed to jumpstart me again. Thanks!

  • For so long, I simply waited for permission. But then I realized that I have something amazing to offer, and I don’t need anyone’s permission but God’s to offer it. I was also picked last in gym class, mainly because I was shy & timid. But today, I realize that people misunderstood me, and, well, I misunderstood myself. I simply live at a slower pace than a lot of people, but it gives me a unique perspective and approach too. Anyway, knowing that I can share who I am and what God has given me truly gives me a confidence that goes well beyond what any numbers or statistics could give.

    • Sadly, sometimes I STILL wait for permission. Seems like some forms of passivity are the hardest to shake.

      • Thought more about this… while I do have confidence and feel led to put myself out there, I am not convinced that anyone else is impacted. I feel it’s mostly just for me, and that’s okay, but perhaps I limit my impact because I believe my impact is limited.

  • Ann Odle

    This is my favorite line! art is anything you do that requires care and craft
    Thank you!

  • soulstops

    ah, love that reminder of dodge ball…I was always the smallest kid and not super athletic so I can relate…yes, we just need to go and create 🙂 Thanks, Jeff, for always reminding us of this truth….unless some unforeseen disaster happens, I will release my soul care manifesto on March 17 🙂

    • Excellent, Dolly!

      • soulstops

        My soul care manifesto is done….for now…and releases tomorrow, for my blog subscribers…thanks for inspiring me to write it 🙂

  • Absolutely wonderful. My biggest stepping out as of late is getting my words out there by starting a blog. I have all these ideas I envision with my life, but I’ve never really known how to start or even get there. You are right, there never is a right time you just kinda have to start. So I have started. It’s not much and it may take forever, but it’s a start. It’s small, it’s hard work, but it’s mine and my beginning for the vision I have. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Marie

    Dear Jeff!

    One night I googled the phrase “Stop dreaming and start living“, because i really wanted to get inspiration for how getting started and letting doubts go. I was filled with joy these days by experiencing change.
    When i google i often feel attracted to a special headline of a website and just follow my feeling. And so it was when i chose yours. I had that feeling of: There will be answers! An yes indeed: It was the best to open at this moment of curious hoping to get fresh air, a kick, an encouragement for my shy intention.
    It was the time i wanted to decide to finally start what i waited for so much. To speak to people and to inspire them with hope and creativity. To make them feel accepted and understood. To live and enjoy and be thankful in every part of my life. But always the voice of perfectionism held me back. “I will do this, when i am ready, better or more convinced!“

    But you’ve said it right: “B.S.”
    That will never happen. Not by waiting without searching, doing or at least trying.

    And so i read your lines, being overwhelmed by the fact God had created an ideal kick in the pants for me through your words. You wrote down the thaughts in me, i couldn’t define in words. And when it comes to the point, that i can describe with words what is going on in my head, then i have this feeling that actions can follow. Because i can not only feel the “problem“, but also describe it and face it. I can beat it, because i know my enemy good enough to find solutions out of its „claws“.

    I started something my heart longed for for so long and i was held back by things, that intimidated me. Just like writing you. I am from Germany and only wanted to send this message, when it’s perfectly transcribed into proper English. „B.S.“ again. That would take so much time, that i maybe will stop in the middle of process. I have decided: I don’t want to risk you not reading another message of encouragement. You’re doing a great job and inspire me. It doesn’t matter how good i am expressing myself. I only hope you’re getting the message in between the lines: YOU ARE ON YOUR WAY. ON A GOOD WAY. BUT NOT A SELFISH WAY. YOU ARE ENTHUSIASTIC IN WHAT YOU DESCRIBE AND EXPERIENCE. AND THAT GIVES OTHERS – ME- AN ACCESS TO THEMSELVES AND TO GOD!

    And i really did unfold. Things are happening in and around me. Unbelievable!!
    I finally use my gifts, i hided for such a long time. God blessed me with the fact that it is not too late and accelerated my development, from which I believed it will take me years to be at the point where others stand, because they had started earlier. This fact gives me new access to the phrase: “With God, all things are possible.”

    Thank you so much for being a brother, a model, A BELIEVER!


  • Oh, Jeff, how I hated dodge ball and for the same reasons — pudgy and picked last and then first out. Then I hated school dances. No one asked me to be their date. Never had many boyfriends and 32 years into our marriage, I’m still amazed God sent me the husband he did!

    And that’s how I’ve been looking at my writing life. I’m about 2/3 of the way through a memoir about a mother who always made me feel less than worthy, stupid, incompetent, whatever. The first time around I married the male version of her. Despite the fact my second husband is always encouraging me, inspiring me even, I have never lost that image of not being good enough.

    I’m always looking and reading and trying to find that perfect way to not only write my book, but to build that platform everyone thinks is so necessary and then I become overwhelmed with the whole social media thing. I find myself giving up on it all.

    I haven’t written for nearly three weeks. I’m in your 500 Words group and I haven’t written there either. Of course, my husband is in debilitating pain and facing surgery here on the 18th, and I’ve not been well myself while taking on the full load here at home and helping Bob get to where he needs to be for appointments, semi-social outings, church, etc. And those serve really well as excuses for not writing, she says.

    Well, I just read a post written by a fellow in whom I have confidence and trust, and I’m stepping outside the old box that has been me and starting my path toward using my creativity and art to share my story and to write, write, write. Jeff, you have spurred me on with your words and your beliefs. God bless you for all you provide here and in so many other ways for those of us living the creative life.

    • Sorry to hear about the tough life you’ve had to live, Sherrey, but I’m inspired by your courage to share your journey. It will liberate more people than you may even realize. Thank you for being brave.

  • JocelynRMendez

    Yes, I am that one “believing a lie, waiting for permission”.
    Ever since I was young I had an interest in drawing and writing. I was encouraged by teachers and family to pursue that interest.
    And I did…for a while. I pursued it passionately, confident in my success. But my confidence plummeted when I faced the odds.
    I would doubt myself “Who do you think you are that you can write? You are too young. Just give it up. No one cares to hear what you have to say anyway.”
    I read your “The Writer’s Manifesto”. That encouraged me to stop writing to be read, but write because that is my vocation and that is what I love to do.

    Your post encouraged me to stop listening and waiting and start doing.
    Thank you.

    • Thanks for reading, Jocelyn! Glad you liked the manifesto.

  • Attish Kanhai

    To add another dimension to this great piece: you are also NEVER going to feel like it. Okay not never, but the days when you wake up and inspiration for writing just flows and you have enough time to write and create will probably be very limited. For most of us we’ll have to make the time and find inspiration on our own. Things do not happen magically.

    For most of us we’re going to have to work hard at it, often a lot of times without success, before we see anything happening. A passive attitude, as Jeff alludes to here will not make you a success, you have to actively go out and seek the things you want.

  • Get your tools together. Do the work. Let God provide the results.

  • Hogarth

    seems like the exact same shit you were saying several months ago. i wonder what it feels like writing the same message over and over again?

    • Hogarth

      “Because that’s what it is: your chance to let your voice be heard, to say something that changes the status quo, that pushes progress and moves humanity forward. To make something beautiful we can’t live without. Or not.”

      cheesy and canned. plus i found about 3 typos just skimming this article

      • Hi Hogarth. Thanks for reading. Sounds like now would be a good time to unsubscribe. 🙂

  • Toni Haas

    This message is repetitive because it is the truth, and the truth always bears repeating. Finding a creative way to stand for what we believe and giving something constructive to the world is the basis for all spirituality of any brand and certainly the prototype for mine. We are so self-consciously concerned that we’ll offend or step illegally into someone’s territory, that we’ll make ourselves liable or even noticeable, we take the coward’s way. I am on the brink of making a small first step for what I believe will be a huge effort, but whether it succeeds on a large scale or not, it will make a difference with the people it touches in my community. Simultaneously, I’m about to launch an e-publication, a novel. Jeff, I have listened to the download of your podcast about e-publishing, but I have a few questions. May I direct them to you, and where should I send them? Meanwhile, keep watch. The end of the first week of May, you’ll hear from me again in a manner that I hope inspires you to blog, Jeff, and will perhaps allow me to guest blog as well. By that time, my other media will be launched so that you can know I’m legit, listening to your advice and trying with 100%. Thank you for being a mentor and modeler for the rest of us.,

    • You’re welcome, Toni. Thanks for reading. It’s a gift.

  • Jeff, an empowering piece and reminder to trust our voices, heart and calling.

  • So true, Jeff. I’ve found myself repeating the lie time & time again. Doubt and uncertainty accompany any thought of making a difference or investing time and resources into a dream project. It’s an important reminder that waiting isn’t going to make me any more ready.

  • Great article. You are really good writer!

  • Always a great read when I check in with you, Jeff. Here’s a question I have: do you think it’s more important to focus on your given craft of choice and outsource all other work? Or is it more important to balance the craft with the development of new skills? I had a similar conversation with a music buddy who is considering paying a web developer to make him a website instead of trying his own hand at it. Thoughts?

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  • LucyLoosie

    I love this post!
    I was alway’s one of the last few to get picked for sports teams. But, further-on, throughout my junior years and well into my experiences at secondary school, I was ALWAYS, ALWAYS one of the few kids that got picked to contribute, artistically, to the giant wall displays, and topic back-drops, that constituted the area’s that were used to display the best pieces of work, by the kids who had superceded expectation’s, and topic outlines/learning outcome’s.

    I know how this ‘shoe fit’s’ on either foot, and think this Blog-post cover’s the motivational aspects of ‘reaching out to our audiences/fan’s/peer’s, brilliantly!!!

    A fabulous piece of literature to read first thing in the morning.
    I’m ready to take the day as my own after reading this.
    Thank you.

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