Todd Henry is the author of The Accidental Creative and Die Empty. He is also the founder of Accidental Creative, a company that helps people and teams in many different industries. Through his speaking and workshops, he teaches simple practices that lead to everyday brilliance.
What was your childhood like? Any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
Yes – I grew up in a very rural environment. We had a lot of room to play, to explore, and to simply live and be. Also, given that this was before the advent of always-on technology, I got bored a lot which meant that I had to learn how to entertain myself.
This was all very important to my creative development, my ability to ask questions, and my willingness to stay with a problem long after it seems hopeless. We are trying to replicate some of that with our children by limiting their “screen consumption” time.
The best thing we’ve seen is that when they get bored, they reach for a book. To me, that’s a huge win.
What advice would you give to your 20-year old self?
Success comes in layers. There are no “breakthrough moments” that define the rest of your life. Never get too excited or too down about any one instance.
Instead, know what you want and where you’re headed, know what really matters to you and what you’re not willing to compromise, and don’t forget to connect deeply with your experiences.
In the end, patience, resilience, and persistence are the key contributors to success.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“Follow your passion.” We interpret this as “do things you love to do.” The reality is that in order to succeed in any area, you have to push through the muck and mire of a lot of stuff you’d prefer not to do.
If you’re only thinking about what gives you a thrill, you’re going to abandon something the moment it’s not fun, which means you’ll never accomplish much of anything. Instead, focus on outcomes and solve a problem that matters a lot to you.
If you do that, you’ll find that you have a deep reservoir of resolve to help you push through the inevitable difficult periods.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I went through a period several years ago in which I felt a lack of clear direction and no path forward for pursuing my work. (This was well before I launched my business and current career.)
In the midst of it, I learned that my “secret work”, or the work I do that no one ever sees, is just as valid and critical as my “public work”.
So, my early morning study, my writing, my sketches and thoughts, and all of the encouraging conversations I was striving to have with others to help them be better were just as important as any work that I put out into the world in a more public way.
This is an insight that has continued to serve me even as my work has become much more public. I strive to pursue “secret work” with the same vigor as my public work.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Probably my willingness to entertain thoughts and ideas that no one else will. I try hard not to live by assumption, so I’m always asking “why?” and “what if?”
What is your morning routine?
I get up at the same time each day – 6:10 AM – make a cup of coffee and the exact same breakfast, and retreat to my home office where I read and study for a half hour. Then, I spend some time reflecting on what I’ve read and considering how I might apply it to my work. After this, I help get my kids off to school, and start my work day.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
I thrive when I have a lot of space to process things. For the past few years, I’ve taken a long walk in the middle of the day.
I typically walk about five to six miles, and I use that time to think, to process ideas, and just to retreat from the creative problems I’ve been attempting to solve. It’s been a life-changing practice, and I can’t recommend it enough.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl. When I read it, I truly began shifting my perspective from “what do I want from life” to “what does life want from me?”
I think this is a far more powerful, and ultimately impactful question to ask yourself because it forces you to consider how your unique combination of passions, skills, and experiences can be leveraged in service of others rather than simply for your own benefit.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Merton. “There can be an intense egoism in following everyone else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular, and too lazy to think of anything better. Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. The want quick success, and they are in such a hurry to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them, they justify their very haste as a species of integrity.”
It’s a reminder to me that during periods of stress, intense work, and creative productivity I need to stay rooted in my core productive passion and refuse to allow my core principles to be violated for a little bit of short-term gain.
I’d rather under-perform in the eyes of everyone around me than violate what matters most to me in the interest of a little more “success”.