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Directed and Unstoppable Wins The Race

Directed and Unstoppable Wins The Race

This year I want to make a large shift.

Simply put, I want to make my living doing what I was born to do.

What i was born to do is to entertain, delight and inspire people.

I keep trying to struggle with this statement but it’s really simple for me.

There are a lot of reasons why I’m not currently doing this. Basically it comes down to a bunch of choices I made over the years that led me to where I am now.

Unpacking and understanding those decisions and the unconscious motivations behind them are a topic for another time. Today is the second day of the new year so its time to look forward and get into action.

Click Here to jump to the Actionable/Practical Stuff at the Bottom

My plan this year is to use the platforms I have built over the past months and use them as a public diary of my journey and to entertain, delight and inspire people as I do.

Very meta.

So when you tune in to a face cast or read my blog I want you to get value for yourself as i experiment with techniques, tricks, tips and technology to get where I’m going.

All of this will done using the framework of the Three Simple Steps.

The three steps are step back, step up and step forward.

  • Step back is about defining goals, purpose and direction.
  • Step up is about responsibility and accountability.
  • Step forward is about taking action and staying in action.

These are not 3 steps that are taken in order once. These are three steps that are done in a continuous dance.

The idea is to be moving forward. Taking actions that lead to accomplishing goals. Of course goals change and there are challenges that keep us from taking action. it’s important, for example, to keep stepping back to make sure we have the big picture in mind and are going in the right direction as we step forward. If you have a commitment to walk a mile everyday or call your mother every week and you’re not doing it you revisit the Step Up step to look at why you’re not doing what you said you would to and how you can set up structures to support the actions you want to take.

Over the years and especially over the past 6 months i have been thinking a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

Here is an simple overview of what I’ve concluded boiled down into useful nuggets.

  1. To get somewhere it’s best to know where you are going.
  2. Action leads to inspiration, not the other way around.
  3. Change your mind and you can change the world.
  4. The only scarce resource is time.
  5. It is very easy to spend all your time being entertained and distracted
  6. Taking care of your body and mind should be your first priority.
  7. You can only do one thing at a time effectively
  8. Guilt and shame are usually not very helpful and, unless they motivate you to take positive action, they should be set aside.
  9. Other people are the key ingredient to your success.

Let me expand on these a tiny bit.

To get somewhere it’s best to know where you’re going

Defining goals is hugely important because once you really understand where you want to go you might change the actions that you want to take.

– Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and bound by time.
– Once you have a goal you can work on a plan to reach that goal and start working on it.
– Once you have a goal you can tell people about that goal so they can help your reach it.
– Once you have a goal you can figure out shortcuts to reach that goal

Action leads to inspiration, not the other way around.

Action changes your mind.

“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” – Millard Fuller

Let me prove this to you. Take a second to to inventory of how you feel physically and emotionally right now. Just notice how you feel.

Now close your eyes and take three deep breaths, focusing on your breath as you do it.

Now smile, make sure the smile crinkles your eyes.

Now do a silly dance for 5 seconds. Make sure you wiggle your hips a little.

How do you feel now?

Told ja!

Change your mind and you can change the world

Reality may be immutable at some level but your perception of reality produces your experience of life and defines what you are willing to do. Humans are meaning making machines and we change our experience of reality with our beliefs on a profound level. The effect of the placebo effect is astonishing for example. If you strongly believe that the ocean is full of deadly sharks there is no way you will go swimming in it everyday. If you believe that doing a triathlon is impossible you will not do a triathlon (etc…).

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, either way you’re right.” – Henry Ford

This is not to say that you should live a life of delusional optimism BUT it’s worth noting that the people who change the world, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Christopher Columbus were delusional optimists. Optimists are more likely to take action.

On a more esoteric level it’s worth noting that quantum theory says that reality is actually defined by observation. The particles that make up the world act differently, as either waves or particles, depending on how we look at them. This is profoundly weird and has been confirmed by experiment in 2015.

I don’t think the final 6 points need to be expanded on or explained or argued for at this time. Basically they boil down to this.

When you want to get something done you have a limited amount of time to do it so its best to be as efficient and effective as possible.

  1. If you let guilt and shame keep you from action you will be less effective.
  2. If you spend your time being entertained or distracted you will be less effective
  3. If you focus on one thing at a time you will be more effective.
  4. If your mind and body are healthy you’ll be more effective.
  5. If you get help you multiply your ability to accomplish something.

My Action Plan

I think that the best way to get where I’m going is to focus on 3 things i want to accomplish over a two week period. These things will be aligned with my over arching goal of making my living as a content creator. There will be other goals and milestones that will be part of that goal over the coming year.

Along with my overarching career goal that I have for this year, I also have a an overarching goal of taking care of my body, mind and community. There will be goals that will be related to those goals as well.

I will also commit to 3 habits that I want either change, start or strengthen.

I am going to I am going to publish a blog post Sunday night every week. In that post I will offer observations and tips and ideas. I will also define my 3 goals that I want to focus on for the fortnight and 3 habits that I want to work on.


  • Monday morning I’ll go over the highlights of the post and offer a valuable thought or tip to help you have a a great week.
  • Tuesday will be the Tuesday Trivia Show.
  • Wednesday will be Wild Card Wednesday. I might go for a walk or do an interview or do a workout or something wild.
  • Thursday will be a check in on the current experiment. How are the actions going?
  • Friday will be the Morning Dance Party.

What’s in it for you?

My hope is that you and many others will join me in defining 3 goals and 3 habits two work on every two weeks and that my sharing will provide insights and inspiration. I hope to start a constructive conversation and an engaged community. I hope that you will join me.


  • I am setting a big goal for the new year and I invite you to do the same.
  • I will be setting 3 interim goals or milestones and focusing on 3 habits every 2 weeks and reporting on them here and on the facebook page.
  • I will be creating an engaged community around setting and reaching goals and i want you to be part of it.

Three Steps to
Take Today

  1. Set a big goal for 2017
  2. Set 3 small goals for the next 2 weeks and 3 habits you want to strengthen or change.
  3. Share them with friends and in the comment section below.
Scheduling Challenges

Scheduling Challenges

I missed two appointments this past weekend and last Friday I would have missed a doctor appointment if my doctor hadn’t taken the day off.

This is a problem that needs to be addressed.

There are basically two parts of keeping track of an appointment. The first is writing it down and the second is reading it.

Click Here to jump to the Actionable/Practical Stuff at the Bottom


If you have a good scheduling habit.

I don’t have one of those.


When I a young man I had an very good memory and very simple responsibilities so I didn’t develop a good scheduling habit. Basically I went to work and then went to the theater where I either had rehearsal, a meeting or beers with friends. When I grew older it became clear that I needed a way to keep track of my growing list of obligations and commitments.

I thought that the problem was finding a system that I could consistently use. I longed for the iPhone for decades before it was invented. Before that I tried notebooks and dayplanners and calenders and loose leaf systems and journals and even hired a personal assistant for a few months. Nothing worked. I thought it was because I didn’t have the right device.

The truth is that I did not develop a good scheduling habit.


Now I have the right device, a magical appliance that goes whereever I go. A phone and a computer and a sound system all in one that I always have with me. I have multiple scheduling options. At work I have Outlook and at home we use Google Calendar. Both update to the magical device in my pocket.

So what’s the problem now?

I have still not developed a good scheduling habit.


I want to acknowledge that I have made progress. I actually have a nascent scheduling habit. I am now aware that my life is more complicated and my memory is not what it was when I was 20 so I need to write everything down. It’s much better than it was BUT, obviously, there is room for improvement (see missed appointments above).

What’s missing is the habit of writing everything down and then always looking at both calendars.

Especially on weekends. Weekends and holidays are problematic because I don’t automatically open my computer and check my email and calendar. I have this strong belief that my weekends are full of free time even though every weekend for the past 45 years has been full to bursting. I’m apparently a slow learner.

As I said, there are two steps to scheduling:

  1. Writing it down at the time that the appointment or commitment is made
  2. Reading it and being aware of it when the appointment or commitment is scheduled.

So I going forward I need to make sure I put everything in my schedule and check that schedule every day.

Reading: The reading of my schedule I can do that at the end of my journaling which I plan to do every morning, even on weekends. I do my journaling in my computer which has access to everything. My schedule will also be available on my phone. It seems to me that I should figure out how to integrate my work schedule (on Outlook) and my personal/family calendar (on Google). I am not the only one using either system so I can’t delete either one but I’m sure there’s an effective way for them to talk to each other.

Writing: I need to always make sure I take the time to enter my appointments into my calendar. What stops me is:

  1. Embarrassment at taking time away from whomever I am talking to to write down the appointment.
  2. A mistaken belief that I will remember and/or enter it later.

I just have to change my behavior.

If anyone has suggestions, ideas or foolproof hacks that they use, please enter them in the comments below.



  • Scheduling is challenging for me because I haven’t cultivated a scheduling habit.
  • Step 1 of scheduling: Writing appointments and commitments down.
  • Step 2 of scheduling: Reading your schedule so you know what you have to do.
  • Weekends and holidays are challenging if you don’t look at your calendar on those days.

Three Steps to
Take Today

  1. Do you have a good scheduling habit?
  2. If not, consider what you need to do to create one today and take steps to put it in place.
  3. If you have a good system, share it with others readers (and with ME!!) in the comments below.

Checking my schedule(s) now….Back to school night? What the heck is that?


I started this blog to provide a forum for my ideas AND to document my own transformation and to create public accountability for changes I want to make in my life. Some posts will be full of philosophy and others will have practice tools. Others will be about my own struggles and successes and the steps I am taking to minimize the former and maximize the latter.
This is one of those.

The Importance of Names
(or That Which We Call, Arises)

The Importance of Names
(or That Which We Call, Arises)

IMG_8274I was thinking that things were going so well that this blog was going to get boring.

Well that changed last night.

I’m in the midst of a crisis with this blog, my nascent business and the design of my new life.

I discovered something last night that could basically ruin everything.

And I’ll tell you all about it.

But first a few stories and observations.

Origin Story

There are currently three reasons for this blog.

  1. To outline the 3 steps and give practical ways to apply them to whatever.
  2. To draft a book about the 3 steps.
  3. To document the application of the 3 steps to the creation of a company based on the 3 steps.

#3 is inspired by the terrific first season of Gimlet Media’s Start-Up podcast which documented the starting up of the podcasting start-up that became Gimlet Media (very meta). In one episode they talk about the process of coming up with the name of their company.

I love Gimlet Media and all their podcasts but I’m not a big fan of the name Gimlet. I think names are pretty important and I love the stories behind names.

My Son’s Name

My son is called Yogi. Yogi is his grandmother’s maiden name. His official name is actually Robert Yogi Wenk Sylvain in part because we wanted him to have an out in case he hated having a unique name that some people might associate with a cartoon bear and others with an old baseball player. Also, Robert Yogi was the name of his great-grandfather and Robert Sylvain is the name of my father and my brother.

So we have a lot of history and coolness in one name.

I have to mention that Yogi Berra is one of my favorite people ever but as a Red Sox fan I could never name my son after a Yankee. Yogi is NOT named for Yogi Berra.

Yogi loves the name Yogi, by the way and doesn’t like being called Robert.

My Name

When I was born I was called “Sonny” for the first few days of my life and that was almost my name – Sonny Sylvain. Can you imagine? I can’t. What would I be like now if my name was Sonny? I’m pretty sure I’d own a restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire or maybe be in the vending machine business in Ohio or Michigan.

Here’s why I was almost Sonny. I was the 38th grandchild of Henry and Eliza Sylvain. None of my aunts and uncles had named any of their sons after Pèpére (that’s grandfather in Canadian French) and my parents felt obligated to rectify that with me.

The Sylvain Family c. 1941. My grandfather is in the left corner. My dad is the little boy in the front row.

But they hated the name Henry. They thought I would be crippled by the name so they settled on the nickname “Sonny.”

(For the record, I like the name Henry. My favorite Shakespeare play is Henry IV, Part 1. If I ever used a pen name it would be Hal Silver or Hal Prince.)

When Pèpére heard that they were going to name me after him he told his wife of 40 years that his name was really John Stanislaus Henry Sylvain. She didn’t believe him until he pulled out his birth certificate. She wrote a letter to my parents that arrived a few days after I was born. My mother says my father’s relief was palpable. “That’s a nice name!” he said in stunned surprise.

So I’m happy to report that my name is John Stanislaus Henry Sylvain II.

(How someone born to lumberjacks in the woods of Quebec ended up with two middle names is an intriguing detail currently lost to history.)

The Purple Crayon of Yale

I was one of the founding members of the The Purple Crayon, an improv group at Yale that is (I’m very proud to say) still going strong several decades later. The group was started by Eric Berg who had spent half a year learning a long form improv called The Harold from Del Close. The form was called “The Harold” because someone said “what’s it called?” back in the late Jurrasic and someone else said “Harold!” (In the spirit of George Harrison’s answer to a reporter who asked him what the Beatle’s haircut was called. “Arthur,” George replied.)

So we were trying to come up with names (some were leaning toward “Yux et Veritas,” heaven forfend). Eric was training us to keep in mind things that everyone could relate to like myths, legends and great literature (rather than pop culture). I vividly remember that I was walking along right here:

Thinking about naming the group and how it should relate to something everyone had in common.

Everyone knows the stories from Greek and Norse myths. Everyone knows stories from the Bible. What else is there?

Everyone knows classic children’s books.

Like the one about the kid named Harold who creates his world with his imagination.

And his Purple Crayon.

Boom. *Mic drop before mic dropping was a thing.*

Sacred Fools Theater

The naming of Sacred Fools is a terrific story that was in print somewhere once but I can’t find it so I guess I’ll have to tell it again. The short version is that we inadvertently stole the name and most people don’t know where it came from. The long version is below…

Three Simple Steps

All of this is to say that names are very important, not only on a marketing and search engine level but really on a metaphysical level. Names are incredibly powerful things. To a large degree we define our world with language. We identify who we are in relation to the word based on words. That creature is “Mama.” That building is “Home.” That is a “Dog.”

The first thing that God had Adam do was to name everything.

“And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”

-Genesis 2:29

In fact naming is so important that it was only after all the animals were named that God and Adam figured out that none of them would make a good companion for Adam. This suggests a comedy sketch that writes itself.

GOD: How about this one. I think you two make a great couple.

ADAM: I don’t know. It’s not really my type.

GOD: Well what type is it exactly.

ADAM: I think I’ll call it a Komodo Dragon.

GOD: Well, when you put it that way I can see what you mean. Not really a good match.

ADAM: No. The deadly bacteria infesting the mouth kind of puts a damper on kissing.

GOD: Kissing is important to you then?

ADAM: Well. I was thinking maybe once in a while.

GOD: How about this one. I think you would be great together. What’s her name?

ADAM: You mean the hedgehog?

GOD: Hmmm. Let me ask a seemingly unrelated question. Do you like ribs?

So now we come to the crisis.

I came up with the idea and the name of the three simple steps about a decade ago but I didn’t do very much with it. A little over a week ago I launched this blog with all kinds of fanfare and excitement (that fanfare and excitement was mostly inside my own head so you’re forgiven if you didn’t see it on the news).

Last night I published the latest post and then did a google search to see if “three simple steps” would lead to my site.

I found this.

A man named Trevor Black has written a self help book called Three Simple Steps. He published it a few years ago.

WHAT?!?! How did I miss that?

So after kicking myself a bit and doing a little whining to my poor sleeping wife I realized that ‘simple’ was a nice appealing word but it wasn’t REALLY accurate and it wasn’t essential.

How about three super steps or three smart steps?

My wife grunted in disgust and fell back asleep.

Purple Crayon? Hedgehog? Komodo Dragon?

Wait. What about Essential?

Three Essential Steps. That’s a NICE name!

So I immediately got and then Now I have to figure out how to move everything over there.

So maybe that’s it.

But I’d love more ideas. Let me know if you got a good one. I’d also like to hear any stories about great names.

And finally, if you want to get a weekly notification of new blog posts along with news and links to interesting tools and content, sign up for my newsletter. It was going to be The Three Simple Steps Newsletter but now I might just call it Arthur.

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PS The Longer Version of the Sacred Fools Name

We started the theater and needed to establish a non-profit corporation so we could open a bank account and take donations and exist. The sadly late and fantastically great Jim Ponichtera (a fellow Purple Crayon) was our pro-bono lawyer and to get the organization to exist we needed a name. Michele Dunn and I brainstormed about 200 ideas for names and many people added suggestions and at our third meeting we had a series of votes to get to the name. We were down to the last 10 (“The Candy Store,” heaven forfend, was the clear leader at that point) when a guy named Mark called out “How about Sacred Fools.”

A young Jim Ponichtera making fun of his own handsomeness

Late to party as it was, the suggestion got added to the final rounds and ended up winning. I voted for it because it seemed to allude to the special and crazy place that artists hold in society. Traditionally the fool was the only person who could make fun of the king and tell him thing he didn’t want to hear. That’s what I thought I was voting for.

The next day Jim did the name search and shortly thereafter filed the Sacred Fools Theater with the Secretary of State.

A couple weeks later we had the name. A day or so after that Mark came up to me after a meeting and said “we can’t use the name Sacred Fools.” Turns out it was the name of a group he had been part of in New York and he’d stolen the name. “Jon Kellam came up with it and he’s pissed.”

Jon Kellam and I had a talk and I apologized and he reluctantly accepted. He and I later became friends. Jon actually named Zoo District Theater and Wolfskill Theater so he’s got some naming skills.

Some old Sacred Fools at the old Sacred Fools space.

The irony is that the name Sacred Fools refers not to medieval fools or to artists in general but specifically to the sacred clown shaman of the Lakota people. That’s what Jon was referring to when he came up with the name for his short-lived company in New York. There have been thousands of Sacred Fools over the past 20 years and 99.9% of them have no idea where the name came from or what it means.

Post Post Script

Extra Credit: What does the punny title refer to?