“Without tension, there can be no growth.” — Seth Godin

I get that. The only way to build muscle is to put that muscle under tension. If I’m fiddling on the guitar, I can feel the tension being experienced by my fingers as I get better (or in the case of the guitar, let’s say I get “less bad). So tension is the thing that makes us grow.

And I’ve recently seen some huge gains in the way I understand and work in the world of story, because I’m in a state of tension.

Let me explain. I’ve talked before about the shift of Final 5 from a video production company to an agency that helps organizations find and tell stories. If I’m being honest with myself, that was a lot of lip service up until the fall of 2015. I mean, we were definitely working through all of 2014 and ’15 to shift the organization, we were talking about it and writing about it, and really working to understand what it meant. But the majority of our revenue was still coming from video production. It was comfortable. It was something we were good at and something we got paid well to do. I said I wanted to be different, but I kept accepting the production work.

Then at the end of 2015, we fired our two biggest clients. I say “fired” in the very broad sense. I didn’t call them and say “shove your money up your butthole!” But we made very clear the direction of Final 5 and that if they wanted to continue doing business with us, it was going to be in a different kind of capacity. To this point, they have yet to take us up on that offer.

I was definitely expecting more of a runway. Overnight the work dried up.Which left me scrambling to understand how we were going to package these new storytelling products, and how they would manifest themselves in the world. Money was (and is) tight. Suddenly, payroll and operating expenses are walking out the door and there is no money on the way in. It is stressful and worrisome. The tension is real.

And what do you think my reaction to the tension has been to this point? It’s been “I’m really thankful for it because it has gotten me to a point where I’m doing meaningful work that I love… but I need to start making money.” I feel this very human reaction to the tension, and that is to work to relieve it. Instead of turning up the tension and seeing how far we can push and how great we can be, I’m working to relieve the tension! Last week I found myself saying “eh, it wouldn’t hurt to dip back into production just to bring some money in.” After some of the gains we’ve had this year, that’s fucking crazy. We’re doing better and more important work right now than I’ve ever been a part of.

I am seeing now that relieving the tension is the wrong approach. Having seen what it can do for our work, the correct approach is to lean into the tension. To work harder at creating more and seeing where that leads. It’s like I’ve done 3 sets and thought it was time to put the weight down. I realize now that it’s time to push through to the 4th, 5th, and 6th set. How can I create more tension, so as to foster more growth, so as to see what’s on the other side of this tension? And how can I be comfortable doing so? It’s not about the money, it’s about being comfortable with the tension.

Maybe it’s something fucking amazing on the other side. Or maybe it’s failure. I’m not sure, but I am going to find out.