Great Work is a Journey, Not a Destination With Dr. Amanda Crowell – Encore | UYGW030

We are excited to bring you this encore presentation of one of our most popular episodes. We hope you enjoy! 

In this week’s episode, we are going deep on the nature of Great Work. It’s easy to confuse Great Work with great accomplishments, but Great Work is SO. MUCH. MORE than just accomplishment. 

Great Work is like navigating a great and mighty river. It’s flowing– with or without you– and it’s full of all the opportunities, collaborators, and adventures you could ever want. 

Don’t you think it’s time to get in the boat? I do.

Join me as we discuss:

  • Why the time to get in the river is NOW.
  • How to learn how to paddle, when you know nothing at all about rivers and boats.
  • How to let the current of the river of Great Work carry you along.
  • How to navigate around obstacles.
  • How to handle the scary rapids that want to carry you to great success.

To learn more about my original business coach, check out

About the Host:

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist, speaker, author and coach changing our perspective on the world of work. It IS possible to do Great Work– launch a successful business, make a scientific discovery, raise a tight-knit family, or manage a global remote team– without sacrificing your health, happiness and relationships.

Amanda is the Author of the forthcoming book, Great Work: Do What Matter Most Without Sacrificing Everything Else, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda’s TEDx talk has received more than a million views and has been featured on TED’s Ideas blog and Ted Shorts.

Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.

Sponsored By The Aligned Time Journal

The Unleashing Your Great Work podcast is sponsored by the Aligned Time Journal! The Aligned Time Journal is here to answer the question “But HOW?” How can we figure out what our Great Work is? How can we get started, stay with it, and finish our Great Work so it can go out in the world and have an impact? 

Click here to learn more, and try it out for yourself!

For more information about the Unleashing YOUR Great Work podcast or to learn more about Dr. Amanda Crowell, check out my website:

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Dr. Amanda Crowell:

Hi. Welcome to unleashing your great work, a podcast about doing the work that matters the most to you. I'm your host, Dr. Amanda Crowell, a cognitive psychologist, coach, and the creator of the aligned time journal. Every week, we're here asking the big questions. What does it take to create something of your own? How do we overcome the procrastination, failure and rejection that comes prepackaged with great work? And while we're at it, what is your great work? How would you know? How can you find out? We'll explore all of this and more. So get in here, and let's unleash your great work. It's easy to confuse great work with a great accomplishment.

Dr. Amanda Crowell:

When I ask people what their great work is, sometimes they say, I don't have any yet. I haven't won the Pulitzer, my show hasn't been picked up. I haven't solved this professional puzzle, my book isn't done. And I only have 800 followers on social media. So no great work yet. This is a misunderstanding of Great work. Great work is not about the accomplishments though. If you do enough great work, you're likely to accumulate some. But instead, great work is about how it makes you feel. Are you in your life? are you pursuing your dreams? Are you working through your struggles? Are you sharing what you see? And what you've learned? Do you feel alive, invigorated and engaged? Are you connected to the other people who care about what you care about? are you contributing? Yes, then you are doing great work. If you only sort of feel that way, or you feel that way, rarely, then there's great work just waiting to be cultivated in your life right now. Long before the Pulitzer Prizes, and the presidency. Today, tomorrow, next week, and you don't have to wait for an opportunity. You just have to get in the river. That's how great work has always felt to me, like a river. A river that is flowing with or without me. The River of great work is an ever evolving place with opportunities, challenges and collaborations around every corner. My job and yours is to get up the courage to get in there, and then manage my mind and my life. So I can stay in there. I'm a cognitive psychologist with a specialization in school change. I love it, I care about it. And I'm dedicated to improving schools. This is absolutely part of my great work. And there's another part of the river of great work that carries me along to in addition to being an educator, I'm also an author, a speaker and a coach. I write books and speak to colleges and corporations about how to do great work. I have a coaching practice where I help what I like to call accidental entrepreneurs, experts, creatives, coaches, they were just trying to help. And they woke up one day in a business. I help them get clients make money, and share their ideas more clearly. And more broadly. As part of that great work, I also create courses, write blogs, and articles and books and I produce this podcast, the opportunity to build my business is what I want to unpack a little bit here because it unfolded out of nowhere, in the past seven years and has required a lot of self trust and learning along the way. I'm using it as an example of what it feels like to get in the river of great work and stay there long enough to build some success. We'll go through the four stages that I've noticed, and I'll share a few of the tales of business building that I've experienced. But keep in mind the examples not the point the analogy is you can apply this to becoming a scientist, building a fortune in the stock market, raising your kids, whatever it is that you're doing, that is part of your great work, you will probably experience these four stages. And the first one is not surprisingly, get in the dang River. Wherever you can find a put in, just do it. Don't wait for a great port of entry or the perfect weather or exactly the right current. Just get in, then paddle around and expect no movement that doesn't come from your very own paddle. When I started a business lo those many moons ago, now seven years ago,

Dr. Amanda Crowell:

I was just following one hunch after another. Actually what's interesting is that this business started out as writing a book. And then I realized that I needed to talk to some people about the ideas I was writing about. And then I did some workshops at a place called the broken brain area. And while I was doing those people asked me if I would coach them so I said yes. And then I had to figure out what that whole thing was about. And then I had to build a website but I built it on the wrong platform. So I had to build it again. Just imagine that you spend a whole 90 days building website, only to discover that you'd built the whole thing on a platform where you can't do any of the things you wanted to do. I couldn't attach it to an email list. I couldn't deliver a freebie, I couldn't schedule events, it was a whole thing. So I had to rebuild it. So then I spent the next 90 days rebuilding it on WordPress. All of this is basically paddling around and around in circles on this river. While I figured out where I was, which way was north, where did I think I wanted to go? And actually, you know, how do you paddle a boat, I was in a river I had absolutely no experience in. So I was just there, figuring things out. Now, looking back on it, I realized there was absolutely a current in that river. At that time, I found the Brooklyn granary right away. And then I did 15 Back to Back sold out workshops over two years. But those bursts of speed were so overwhelmed by the effort that I needed to exert to figure out all the things I was completely clueless about. That's okay. That's how it goes. When you get in a totally new river, you have to figure it out. You got to paddle around in some circles. But there is a shortcut. And that brings us to the second stage of how to get in the river of great work and stay there. That one is ask for directions. Since you gotten this river without knowing what the heck you were doing, you can't be expected to navigate it perfectly, or even well, or even competently, or even at all. Maybe using the word navigate feels like too much confidence. About a year after doing my first workshop at the Brooklyn granary I wanted to take my business to the next level, the internet will tell you that the smart move is to build an online course. Why say the same things over and over the internet urges when you can say it once sell it as a course and then live on a glorious influx of passive income. I bought it hook line and sinker. Well, what I actually bought was a webinar blueprint that guaranteed me sales of my miracle course if I followed it exactly. So I spent the next few months following it to the letter, I paid a graphic designer to build a beautiful PowerPoint. I followed the template Exactly. And I ran about $3,000 in Facebook ads to get people signed up for the webinar. Just so you know. At that time, that was all the dollars I had. But since I was planning to sell the course at about $400, I reasoned that I only needed to sell about 10 spots in the course to make all my money back. And I was happy to break even on my first attempt. I scheduled three webinars over two weeks.

Dr. Amanda Crowell:

I learned a lot doing these webinars. On the first one, I realized that only about half if you're lucky of the people who sign up for a webinar show up for it. So the 30 people that had registered for the webinar resulted in about 12 people on that first webinar, none of whom purchased the course. That's okay. No worries. I had some ideas for how I might change the PowerPoint and adjust it a little bit to make it more successful. So the next one, I wasn't surprised when 40 People resulted in 20 people on the webinar. I had adjusted the PowerPoint, it was more powerful. It was clear. Nobody bought anything on the second webinar. And then on the third webinar, I almost cancelled it because I was so discouraged. But I thought you know, you got to finish, Amanda. So I pulled pulled up my big girl pants sat down, did my webinar, that one had about 72 people because I was like, you know, I gotta get I gotta get more people registered if I want to have enough people on the actual webinar to buy these 10 spots. So I got like, I think it was 72 people registered for the third one, about 30 people showed up. And nobody bought the course. And that was not what they said would happen in the webinar. Blueprint thing I bought, but it is what happened. And I remember driving myself I left my husband was like How did it go? And I was like Merck got in the car drove to friendlies. I don't know if you guys have friendlies where you're at. It's an ice cream shop. And they have these really big ice cream sundaes. And I ordered myself a Reese's Pieces sundae with extra marshmallow sauce and I sat there eating my ice cream, just bereft. I had lost $4,000 And I had sold no seats in my course and What the actual fuck was I doing with my life? So this is a classic example of being in over my head not asking for help doing it myself digging in my heels, not listening to the messages that slow down, figure it out, ask for help. It really nearly did me in I almost gave up on the whole idea of having a business. It really nearly did me and I almost gave up on the whole idea of having a business but I Didn't, instead I got some help. That probably took me about five months to get over it. And then the first thing I did after that five months recovery period is I went to a conference and at that conference, I met a woman named Val Bowerman. Val was a person like me, she was a heart centered help her in her soul, who not for nothing could sell ice to a polar bear. She had figured out how to be in service and sell. And she provided the kind of like Midwestern advice I felt I needed at the time. If you want to help people, she said, You need to meet people, build relationships, and then offer them your service in that order. She helped me to see that selling courses should come after people know who you are. And that while you can sell courses to cold leads, it will always be a high pressure sale, using a lot of the tools of persuasion like urgency and scarcity. That just didn't jive with my own value system. I needed to learn how to sell my own services first. And then I could offer lower price point products like a course. Now I'm not saying this is the right or the only way. But I have to say it made a whole lot of sense to me. It's exactly what I needed. But it was too uncomfortable for me to figure out on my own, I needed some help. In the river of great work, I needed to ask for directions. This happens a lot, because great work involves a lot of figuring out. But when you ask for help, that feeling of paddling around in circles, will eventually start to feel more like steering a boat through the currents that just exist. You take your direction, and more opportunities pop up, you learn your way into those and someone arrives looking for a collaborator that sounds exactly like you, before you know it, you're in it. And the river of great work, it's much easier to ask for directions than to get it out on your own. Especially when you find yourself knee deep in something that is overwhelming. As soon as you can find a person like you who can help you navigate this river. Definitely feel free to reach out to me, I work with people myself. And if I'm full, I do have a list of people I can recommend. However you find your help get it early and get it often because it will save you a ton of time and angst and drama.

Dr. Amanda Crowell:

And once you have that help, things can really start popping opportunities, collaborations and projects will materialize out of thin air. And that brings us to the next stage of great work. When that current begins to pick up, you're going to have to figure out how to let the current carry you while you are also steering yourself around obstacles. One of the hardest parts of great work is figuring out which opportunities to take and which ones to turn down. In the beginning, you kind of take whatever comes your way. But as you get into the flow and you're moving more quickly, you have to be more discriminating. I'm not always great at this because I have a bias towards Yes. And while this was an asset early on, nothing keeps you in the river more than a can do attitude. It can become a liability when you reach the faster currents. The real advice here is to figure out how to hear and listen to the voice in your head. That is speaking your truth as soon as you possibly can. Many of the really big lessons I've had to learn have come when I tried to listen to a voice of reason or best practices or common knowledge when my own instincts were screaming at me to stop, get out and go another way. The best example of this was when I was offered a book deal to write a book about burnout. Now book about burnout actually makes a lot of sense, because I truly believe that one of the biggest enemies of great work is burnout. But the specific ask was a book about millennial burnout. It was a trending topic at the time. And they just stalled of that movement wasn't really in line with my own view. I hold the view that you can vastly change your experience by changing your perspective. But the millennial burnout movement was really looking for structural change. And I'm not against structural change. Keep in mind, but it's really not my zone of genius. So even though I knew that my solution wasn't going to entirely fit the mold they were looking for. I pitched my perspective. They bought it and I took the deal. Everything about that book deal from day one was a bad fit. They were upset with my ideas. They were calling me naive and delusional. And I was not surprisingly upset with that feedback. So let's just say it got pretty hot pretty quick. And after about six months of trying to make it work, I sent the advance back. And I immediately felt free. I learned in that moment to listen to my instincts when it comes to opportunities and collaborators. And this was a hard lesson to learn, especially when my childhood dream of being a published author was on the line. But looking back on it. I think the stakes had to be that high For me to learn the truest version of this lesson, the truth is, following your own instincts and developing self trust, it isn't a nice to have, it's not the icing on the cake of great work. It's critical. If you don't follow your instincts, you will drastically slow the current of the river. But if you do, follow your instincts and listen to your truth, you can be carried very far, very fast. Now, it's hard sometimes to distinguish between your instincts and fear. Which actually brings us to the last stage of great work that I'll talk about today, the role that fear of success plays in great work. When the current picks up, you have to resist the urge to take your boat and get out. You know, fear of failure is one thing. And it keeps us stuck right at the beginning of our great work. But honestly, fear of success is another powerful force, and it hits right in the middle of our great work. This is especially true if you have a history of burnout like I do. In fact, I like to describe the first 15 years of my career as one long ride on the productivity roller coaster of doom. This is where you work like a fiend until you're so exhausted that you collapse and you try to recover. And then when you've recovered just enough, you throw yourself back into overworking. Just so you know, this is the worst roller coaster ever. And I've worked hard over the last several years to chart a different course to take care of my resilience in addition to my ambition and drive. But nonetheless, the consequences of those burnout experiences is still present. When something starts to take off, a part of me wants to throw on the brakes. I don't want to get carried away. I don't want to get overbooked overstretched, overwhelmed, I have been there. And I'm not interested.

Dr. Amanda Crowell:

I was asked once to write an article for a huge publication. But I got nervous. And I said, No. I've written pitch emails to people who knew they were coming. But I never sent them. And I had someone basically asked me to come and speak at their company. But I did not follow up. And I know I'm not alone in this. As a coach, I help people with this all the time. There are a lot of reasons why we turn down the opportunities we desperately want. And we walk away from the chance we've been waiting for. And my point is that sometimes we are not as afraid of failure. As we are afraid of success, we aren't sure that we want everything to change, we aren't sure that the direction we're going on is exactly right. And or maybe we're just exhausted, uncertain, or generally not ready. And we're worried that the current is too strong. All of this is okay. I am not here to tell you that brute force or busy working is the answer to this situation. But instead, just to make you aware that it might not be your instincts, or your intuition or the reality of your situation, but is instead fear of success. Navigating this is definitely one of the skills of great work. And here's my tip, if you have an opportunity, and you're considering turning it down, pay attention to how the voice in your head makes you feel. If the voice makes you feel expansive, and like you're standing up for what you believe in, like I did when I sent the advance back to the publisher, that it's likely your instincts and your intuition. And I urge you to listen, I wish I had listened earlier to the voice telling me not to take that book to you. But if the voice makes you feel smaller, and like you want to hide away, it might be fear. If you think the voice inside you is fear, you're gonna want to handle it differently, you might still turn the opportunity down, and that's okay. But when you recognize it as fear of success, than you are getting the information you need to know how to overcome it next time. I'm not bringing this up to somehow argue that you need to keep your paddles in the river at all times. No way. Instead, I just want to point out that it happens sometimes fear of success is sometimes a much bigger hurdle than fear of failure. If you find yourself constantly cycling between getting started and stalling out, it might be that what you are most afraid of is success. If it is you might want to paddle on over to the great work river of self discovery. Take some time to explore this point. Sometimes that's what you need. And when that happens, take heart you'll work through it. And if you still want to, you'll find yourself back in the river you left this time ready to go. Then when the current picks up, you can hang on for the ride sure in the knowledge that you can navigate it. You know, great work is so much fun, because this kind of growth and learning and exploration is baked in. You know that means that as you navigate the river you will find yourself at the end of one fork ready to choose another great work by its nature has movement. You'll finish your book and then what you'll end your podcast now what you'll discover the cure to cancer and now what will you do? Well, now Now you get to navigate what's ahead. Because great work isn't a destination or an outcome or an accomplishment. I mean, you get accomplishments and outcomes along the way. Don't get me wrong. But those aren't the great work. The great work is the process of navigating the river. It's the journey of fun projects, amazing people doing cool things and opportunities that span the expanse of your humaneness. That sounds a little vague, maybe. But here's what I mean. You will do a wide variety of great work over your life, the more great work you allow yourself to do, the more great work opens up in front of you. Some of it will be work related. Some of it will be family related. Some of it will involve searching your own psyche and soul to soothe the hurt and heal the wounds. All of that is great work. And when you're done, you get to choose another fork. Now all this talk about down river forks is actually to encourage you to get in your dang boat, find the closest bit of sand to put in and get to paddling. You can't get down river. If you don't first get in the boat and start paddling in circles and figuring things out. Your potential is endless. But your time is limited. Let's go.


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