Grace in Your Work

I have experienced grace.  Grace can be:

  • ...seen in the flowing moves of a gifted dancer—the simple elegance of refined movement. 
  • ...observed as a special favor of extended time when you really need it most. 
  • ...the patience that we grant ourselves in the daily process of improvement.  

And yes, grace is even found in “your work”– your unique contribution to the world.   

We don’t often think of grace this way, however it facilitates discovering and shaping your personal influence on others.  Grace allows you to feel good about deferring any harmful self-judgement in the process of forging your work. It provides a suspension of self-doubt as you figure things out.

Personally, it is tempting for me to compare myself to the talent of writers that I want to emulate.  When I do compare, it highlights the gulf between their legendary results and my meager efforts.  When I contrast my skills with theirs, I begin to see developmental areas that take me closer to their capabilities–even if that will be years in the making.  Seeing a path provides hope, and hope encourages more grace.

However, grace encourages me to be patient in developing my own writing talent, and my own work. It helps me avoid harmful comparisons and focus instead on the contrasts that clarify what I need to develop.  

Rather than fixate on ultimate outcomes in the future, I can focus on my work today.

Giving yourself the simple gift of patience allows you to experience grace as you heat, and shape, and mold your work.  And grace allows you to feel the hope of restarting a new day. 

Of forging yet again.

Forging "Your Work"

It’s easy to confuse “your work” with “your job.”  

For much of my career I have been employed as a consultant and coach to corporations.  That job allowed me to get paid and to focus on my own personal ambition to “help others improve.”  Sometimes my employment made a meaningful difference to individuals, and sometimes it was just a paycheck.

For others, their employment has little to do with what is most important to them.  My friend is a successful physical therapist, however he would describe “his work” as serving in a nonprofit that assists families in poverty.

“Your work” is your unique contribution to the world. It doesn’t matter if that work is global in scope or intimate in nature; well-known or obscure. Your work (emphasis on the your) provides you with an intrinsic reward of contributing to something that is important to you. 

Discovering what your work is isn’t something you stumble across or get lucky to find; it is something you forge.  

Consider how metal is forged. A piece of steel becomes a work of art through endless rounds of heating, shaping, and cooling. It’s not easy. The metal doesn’t quickly lend itself to the new shape. It takes skill and demands perseverance from the metal worker.

Forging your work is exploratory by nature. It requires you to see what is possible, make choices within your control, and practice new skills. All the while, you’ll be fighting the pull of the past and more comfortable habits.

The idea of finding a perfect path to your own unique work can be paralyzing.  The key isn’t perfection, it’s to be directionally correct. It takes endurance to forge–lots of trial and error and patience, and that forging requires you to be patient in the process.


In the movie “Limitless”, Bradley Cooper plays an unmotivated deadbeat writer who becomes a Wall Street superstar…in a matter of days.  His secret?  A daily pill that unlocks the entire capability of his brain.

Within thirty seconds he begins to see new connections and remembers everything he’s ever heard or seen. (My favorite line, “Math actually became useful.”)

His downside?  The pill is killing him.  Not a perfect scenario, but an intriguing idea:  What if you had that power?

Here’s the good news: You are limitless.  The bad news:  A pill won’t do it.

The idea of a quick fix is sexy, but only the compounding consistency of craftsmanship will get you results.  And that will happen over time.

Anders Ericsson’s empirical research in Peak makes it clear:

 What sets experts apart from the rest of us is that their years of practice have changed the neural circuitry… which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities.

These world-class capabilities are available to all of us.  We just need to realize the potential we already have.  One day at a time, over time.

Bill Gates makes an interesting observation:

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Don’t short what you can accomplish. You don’t need a pill to be a prodigy, just a commitment to improvement. Craftsmanship can enable you to create a new window of limitless potential.

Open it wide.

Failure- Building Blocks or Stumbling Stones

Why does failure bother us so much?

We know that trial and error is part of the formula. Intellectually we accept trial, but not so much with error. Here’s where it gets personal (Ego) or professional (Craftsmanship):

  • Ego perspective–when we fail we let the shame of being a “loser” shape our identity. And our ego hates that. Failure becomes a “judgment” against you, one that reinforces your fear of not being “good enough.” You are an imposter that just got busted.
  • Craftsmanship perspective–failure is a building block to success. Just another detour on the trip to success. Frustrating, yes, but expected and manageable.

Your perspective will decide which trajectory you experience. Not from a simplistic Positive Mental Attitude approach, but from a core and visceral level of drive and motivation.

People who are committed to the relentless journey of improvement see something different when they fail. Consider Peter Sims’ (Little Bets) capture of how one of the most successful animation studios in the world “un-sucks”:

When Ed Catmull (President, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios) sums up Pixar’s creative process, he describes it as going from ‘suck to unsuck.’ Pixar film ideas begin on rough storyboards that suck until they work through thousands of problems throughout the process in order to take films from suck to unsuck…

Of course, just failing is not the key; the key is to be systematically learning from failures. To be closely monitoring what’s working and making good use of that information.

Nick Saban is Head Coach of the University of Alabama’s football team and one of the most successful coaches in NCAA football history. His advice:

“Don’t waste failure.”

His encouragement is to get technical about what you need to do to improve to prevent another failure. Always in the context of what you did, not the other person. Because that’s the only thing you can improve. That’s how you win because of failure.

I’ve had my own brilliant disasters. And I have been deeply challenged in how I would interpret them.

My Junior year in college I lost the general election for Student Body President. It was such a fantastic failure, especially when it’s so painfully public. The day before the election I greeted everyone with a smarmy thumbs up, the day after I tried not to make eye contact.

I learned a lot about intestinal fortitude from that loss. Though not as consciously as I wish I could have. (It’s strange, years later I can remember the votes it would have taken to change the outcome.)

I adopted a new mantra gleaned from that experience: “NTC” (Nothing To Chance). I used that blistering experience to steel my resolve to get a post-college job on Wall Street (as an English Major, no mean feat) and into Business School for an MBA.

Failure can become fuel for growth, (however painful) or a damning judgment that stops us in our tracks. And how we view it matters.

Josh Waitkins, (The Art of Learning) calls this process of learning from failure as “investment in loss.” This requires a beginner’s mind and is the ultimate in humility. Easier to do when there are no expectations of you, harder when others expect performance and production.

I learned this lesson the hard way coming off a successful stint as General Manager in a publicly traded company. Having proven a Midas touch, I was ready to start my own company.

The fact that I had no entrepreneurial, industry, or venture capital experience didn’t slow me down a bit. I literally bet the farm (our entire life savings) on my success. After eleven months, we never got a product to market or secured the funding we needed. It was a complete crash and burn.

While very painful, the experience etched new lessons into my psyche. My new steppingstones (learned from failing) when starting a business would be:

  • Play to your strengths
  • Stack the deck with winnable games
  • Choose complimentary partners
  • Let quality drive quantity

Choosing to “invest in loss” changed how I approached my next entrepreneurial opportunity. While my first was a complete “break down,” my second startup was a “break even,” and my third was finally a “break out” success.

“Pixar directors understand what seasoned entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and agile software developers do: The faster they fail, the faster they will discover promising opportunities.”  – Peter Sims

I make a conscious choice to have the humility to see failure for what it is: Building Blocks of success.

Call to Craftsmanship:  What is keeping you from paving over your stumbling stones of failure?




Craig’s Craftsmanship Reads…

Anytime someone asks for a reading list, I pause.

Mostly because I’m not sure if it’s even helpful. Clearly a list doesn’t mean anything by itself. It’s when a book is distilled into insights that drive better outcomes that any book (on any list) actually means something.

So, below is a list. If you have thoughts on ways to organize them in a more helpful way, I’d welcome your ideas.

“Drink deep.”

By Title

1776 David McCullough
A New Earth Eckhart Tolle
A Theory of Human Motivation Abraham H. Maslow
A Whole New Mind Daniel H. PInk
Alexander Hamilton Ron Chernow
All Things Shining Kelly and Dreyfus
Awaken the Giant Within Anthony Robbins
Buddhism for Beginners Jack Kornfield
Buddhist Meditation for Beginners Jack Kornfield
Building a Story Brand Donald Miller
Checklist Manifesto Atul Gawande
Competing Against Luck Clayton Christensen
Crunch Time Peterson and Hoekstra
Daring Greatly Brene Brown
Death by Meeting Patrick Lencioni
Deep Work Cal Newport
Destiny of the Republic Candice Millard
Do You! Russell Simmons
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff Richard Carlson
Drive Daniel H. Pink
Eat Move
Ego Is the Enemy Ryan Holiday
Essentialism Greg McKeown
Extreme Ownership Willink and Babin
Flourish Martin Seligman
Flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Give and Take Adam Grant
Great Work David Sturt
Grit Angela Duckworth
Hero of an Empire Candice Millard
How to Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie
Humble Inquiry Edgar H. Schein
Influence Robert Cialdini
Inner Game of Tennis Tim Gallwey
Irresistible Adam Alter
Leaders Eat Last Simon Sinek
Little Bets Peter Sims
Loving What Is Bryon Katie
Make It Stick Peter Brown
Manage Your Day-to-Day Jocelyn Glei
Mastery Robert Greene
Mastery: The Keys to Success George Leonard
Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis
Mindfulness Ellen Langer
Mindset Carol Dweck
Mindsight Daniel Siegel
Multipliers Liz Wiseman
Peace Is Every Step Thich Nhat Hanh
Peak Anders Ericsson
Playing to Win Martin and Lafley
Power of Habit Charles Duhigg
Presence Amy Cuddy
Principles Ray Dalio
Pursuing the Good Life Christopher Peterson
Rapt Winifred Gallagher
Resilience Eric Greitens
Road to Character David Brooks
Seat of the Soul Gary Zukav
Smarter Faster Better Charles Duhigg
So Good They Can’t Ignore You Cal Newport
Start with Why Simon Sinek
Stealing Fire Steven Kotler
Talent Code Daniel Coyle
Talent Is Overrated Geoff Colvin
The 10X Rule Grant Cardone
The 4 Disciplines of Execution Covey/ McChesney
The 5 Choices Merrill / Rinne / Kogan
The Art of Learning Josh Watzkin
The Boys in the Boat Daniel Brown
The Charisma Myth Olivia Fox Cabane
The Culture Code Daniel Coyle
The Daily Stoic Holiday and Hanselman
The Defining Decade Meg Jay
The Distracted Mind Gazzely and Rosen
The Distraction Addiction Alex Pang
The Effective Executive Peter Drucker
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Patrick Lencioni
The Little Book of Talent Daniel Coyle
The Obstacle Is the Way Ryan Holiday
The ONE Thing Gary Keller
The Outward Mindset Arbinger Institute
The Power of Consistency Weldon Long
The Power of Now Eckhart Tolle
The Power of Vulnerability Brene Brown
The Practicing Mind Thomas Sterner
The Rise of Superman Steven Kotler
The River of Doubt Candice Millard
The Science of Being Great Wallace Wattles
The Speed of Trust Stephen M.R. Covey
The Talent Code Daniel Coyle
The Untethered Soul Michael Singer
The War of Art Steven Pressfield
To Sell Is Human Daniel H. Pink
Trap Tales David M.R. Covey
Trying Not to Try Edward Slingerland
Turning Pro Steven Pressfield
Unlocking Potential Michael Simpson
Walden Henry David Thoreau
What Every Body Is Saying Karlins and Navarro
What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear Danielle Ofri, MD
Wright Brothers David McCullough
You Already Know How to Be Great Alan Fine
You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard Bert Decker


By Author

Abraham H. Maslow A Theory of Human Motivation
Adam Alter Irresistible
Adam Grant Give and Take
Alan Fine You Already Know How to Be Great
Alex Pang The Distraction Addiction
Amy Cuddy Presence
Anders Ericsson Peak
Angela Duckworth Grit
Anthony Robbins Awaken the Giant Within
Arbinger Institute The Outward Mindset
Atul Gawande Checklist Manifesto
Bert Decker You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard
Brene Brown Daring Greatly
Brene Brown The Power of Vulnerability
Bryon Katie Loving What Is
C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity
Cal Newport Deep Work
Cal Newport So Good They Can’t Ignore You
Candice Millard Destiny of the Republic
Candice Millard Hero of an Empire
Candice Millard The River of Doubt
Carol Dweck Mindset
Charles Duhigg Power of Habit
Charles Duhigg Smarter Faster Better
Christopher Peterson Pursuing the Good Life
Clayton Christensen Competing Against Luck
Covey/ McChesney The 4 Disciplines of Execution
Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People
Daniel Brown The Boys in the Boat
Daniel Coyle Talent Code
Daniel Coyle The Culture Code
Daniel Coyle The Little Book of Talent
Daniel Coyle The Talent Code
Daniel H. PInk A Whole New Mind
Daniel H. Pink Drive
Daniel H. Pink To Sell Is Human
Daniel Siegel Mindsight
Danielle Ofri MD What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear
David Brooks The Road to Character
David M.R. Covey Trap Tales
David McCullough 1776
David McCullough Wright Brothers
David Sturt Great Work
Donald Miller Building a Story Brand
Eckhart Tolle A New Earth
Eckhart Tolle The Power of Now
Edgar H. Schein Humble Inquiry
Edward Slingerland Trying Not to Try
Ellen Langer Mindfulness
Eric Greitens Resilience
Gary Keller The ONE Thing
Gary Zukav Seat of the Soul
Gazzely and Rosen The Distracted Mind
Geoff Colvin Talent Is Overrated
George Leonard Mastery: The Keys to Success
Grant Cardone The 10X Rule
Greg McKeown Essentialism
Henry David Thoreau Walden
Holiday and Hanselman The Daily Stoic
Jack Kornfield Buddhist Meditation for Beginners
Jack Kornfield Buddhism for Beginners
Jocelyn Glei Manage Your Day-to-Day
Josh Watzkin The Art of Learning
Karlins and Navarro What Every Body Is Saying
Kelly and Dreyfus All Things Shining
Liz Wiseman Multipliers
Martin and Lafley Playing to Win
Martin Seligman Flourish
Meg Jay The Defining Decade
Merrill / Rinne / Kogan The 5 Choices
Michael Simpson Unlocking Potential
Michael Singer The Untethered Soul
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow
Move Eat
Olivia Fox Cabane The Charisma Myth
Patrick Lencioni Death by Meeting
Patrick Lencioni The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Peter Brown Make It Stick
Peter Drucker The Effective Executive
Peter Sims Little Bets
Peterson and Hoekstra Crunch Time
Ray Dalio Principles
Richard Carlson Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Robert Cialdini Influence
Robert Greene Mastery
Ron Chernow Alexander Hamilton
Russell Simmons Do You!
Ryan Holiday Ego Is the Enemy
Ryan Holiday The Obstacle Is the Way
Simon Sinek Leaders Eat Last
Simon Sinek Start with Why
Stephen M.R. Covey The Speed of Trust
Steven Kotler Stealing Fire
Steven Kotler The Rise of Superman
Steven Pressfield The War of Art
Steven Pressfield Turning Pro
Thich Nhat Hanh Peace Is Every Step
Thomas Sterner The Practicing Mind
Tim Gallwey Inner Game of Tennis
Wallace Wattles The Science of Being Great
Weldon Long The Power of Consistency
Willink and Babin Extreme Ownership
Winifred Gallagher Rapt



-Craig Christensen

Just Because You Don’t See It…

“Craftsmanship” may strike you as dated. We typically apply it to antique furniture and medieval cathedrals. However, when we think about “peak performance,” we envision Olympic athletes and astronauts. Individuals at the peak of achievement.

Craftsmanship is the process which allows them to strive for their best: An effort fueled by the drive for excellence. A contemporary craftswoman or craftsman is constantly forging their skills in the techniques that drive elite performance.

It’s worth noting that “technique” matters. A lot.

There is a really good chance that many of us are kidding ourselves about our true level of performance.

Dan Coyle (Talent Code) would say that, top athletes don’t practice for the big game, practice is the big game. This perpetual state of improving their technique enables them to perform. On demand and at will.

Why should we care so much about craftsmanship? According to research, there is a really good chance that many of us are kidding ourselves about our true level of performance. (And making this even more difficult is that we likely don’t even see it.)

Over two millennia ago, the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus advised:

"Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

(If you engage with teenagers, then you know what he’s talking about.) This is easy to see in others, harder to see in ourselves.

The obstacle to craftsmanship starts with “I'm good, I don’t need help.” This progresses to a detached cynicism resulting in “I’m fine, don’t bother me.” Repeated over a career.

Anders Ericsson (Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise), the world’s expert on experts, draws on thirty years of research to show that once a person reaches a level of “acceptable performance and automatically,” any additional years of experience don’t lead to improvement. Put another way, without focus and practice ten years of experience is often one year of experience merely repeated ten times.

The Doctor, Teacher, Consultant or Athlete will, over time, become a bit worse. Those abilities gradually atrophy in the absence of deliberate training to improve their technique and skills. On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), take a look in the mirror and ask yourself:

What is the “quality” of my performance?

Sadly, it’s the colleague who sees themself as an 8, and performs at a 4, that is blind to need for constant improvement. My former business partner, Mahan Khalsa, observed about these professionals, “Their skills don’t grow each year – however -- their level of comfort with their lack of skills grows.”

That’s why I’m all in. I want this journey that leads to mastery-- the commitment to perpetual improvement. Since I heard the clarion call of craftsmanship, I now ask a different question about my own performance.

The question isn’t, “Is my work good enough?”

The craftsmanship question is, “How can I be better today?”

Call to Craftsmanship: Consider your desire to perform at elite levels. Is this a journey that interests you? Follow my blog here.


-Craig Christensen


It's Not About Steph Curry, It's About Me.

It's Not About Steph Curry, It's About Me.

I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of sales leaders and tens of thousands of their sales reps over the last seventeen years. Last year I started researching in earnest what sets elite performers apart from everyone else.

Why is it that a few excel, while most never come close to their potential? Why do most people hit a minimum level of performance, and then “hit cruise control” for the rest of their career?

What started as research became an obsession to answer these (and other) questions. I've tried to understand the science and simplicity that leads to craftsmanship. As a starting point, I offer this working definition:

“Craftsmanship” is the journey leading to mastery-- the calling and commitment to perpetual improvement. It encourages you to transform the capabilities that optimize potential, performance and contribution.

My learning has inspired me to personally apply these concepts. It’s easy to study in the abstract, harder to use yourself as the guinea pig. What is now clear to me is that mastery isn’t for the “gifted” few; it’s a discipline that can be replicated by anyone.

When looking for examples of craftsmanship, it’s easy to become enamored with celebrity talent, and observe the formidable gap between their performance and mine. Clearly, it’s unlikely that I could out-perform Steph Curry in the NBA or Thomas Edison in generating new patents. However, a closer look at craftsmanship reveals that there is much to be learned from their patterns of practice, focus and execution. As Dan Coyle observed, “Understanding how a few became great, anyone can become better.”

And I choose to become better.

Craftsmanship has improved my own habits and behaviors. It has enhanced what I see and expect in myself. Here are a few realizations:

  1. I can improve. Not by a little, by game-changing magnitudes. It started with the humility to be open to guidance from others. Then proceeds to discipline. No matter how good I am (or think I am), I can be much better.
  2. Let what “calls” you, guide you. A job was easy to get, harder to create a career, and invaluable to listen for my own calling to contribute in unique ways. I am learning to prioritize activities I am passionate about.
  3. It’s a journey, not a destination. This process is ongoing. Transformation in talent builds over time and has no limit. Day after day. Years into careers.
  4. The payoff of mastery is remarkable. The outcome is exponential success in your personal and professional life. You are more content and peaceful. More dedicated to serving those you love. Mastery is the gift that keeps giving.

Mastery is a living force innate to each of us, “craftsmanship” is the process of realizing it.

It has revealed an unexpected insight: I don’t work on craft, craft works on me. When you commit to craftsmanship, it begins to forge a new momentum and vision of what you can become.

Craftsmanship is a high octane journey with amazing vistas. Just ask Steph Curry. Who’s up for a road trip?

Call to Craftsmanship: Consider your desire to perform at elite levels. Is this a journey that interests you? If so, buckle up. Much more to come: “Road work ahead”


-Craig Christensen