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Cracking Creativity Episode 23: Tim Lawrence on Growing Through Adversity, Minimalism, and the Power of Listening

Tim Lawrence is a copy editor, writer and adversity researcher. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Barclays Center, and Lincoln Center, and has copyedited for New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling authors. In this episode, Tim talks about growing through adversity, the benefits of a minimalist lifestyle, and the power of listening.

Here are three lessons you can learn from Tim:

You have to challenge yourself if you want to grow

When we grow up, we do everything we can to make life easier on ourselves. We are taught to seek comfort instead of adversity. While this may lead to an easier life, you will also stagnate.

Challenging yourself is the only way to grow as a person. It forces you to be in the moment. You become more aware of you body and mind, and grow outside of your comfort zone.

Otherwise you will be left unfulfilled and bored. Instead of running from adverse circumstances, confront them. That is the only way to grow.

The benefits of a minimalist lifestyle

One of the great revelations Tim had was the power of owning less. When he was making a lot of money, he also owned a lot of stuff, and was still unhappy. Now that he is making a lot less, he also owns less, which has made him a happier person.

What he has come to realize is that by owning less, you are able to serve people more effectively. You have less distractions and you are able to focus on what is truly important.

Instead of owning more things, he recommends saving money so you can have experiences. When you travel, you come face to face with cultures that are different from our own. And you realize that things like possessions, status, and power are valued a lot less than they are in the Western world.

The power of being a good listener

Early in life, Tim discovered that listening was a very important aspect of connecting with other people. When people were going through tragedy, they would come to him because he knew how to be a good listener.

He now uses this skill to help both people who are going through adverse circumstances, and those who are trying to share their message with the world. It has been crucial in his work with successful people.

Through listening he is able to dive into other people’s worlds. He allows people to expose themselves for who they are without judgement. This had led to strong relationships that can last a lifetime.


  • as a child, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy
    • affected him in physical and neurological ways
    • always felt weak and like an outsider
  • experienced tragedies is high school
    • lost a few friends and felt depressed
    • entered deep depression, attempted suicide a few times
  • drawn to philosophical topics and weight topics
    • was fascinated by how people dealt with difficulty
    • people came to him for help with tragedies/difficulties
    • came to him often
    • people sought him out when their lives were going to hell
    • was good at listening and acknowledging pains
  • difficulties led him to current path
  • went into acting/corporate with little success
  • combination of performing and writing brought him solace
    • began writing in depth about his trials and the trials of others
    • researched post traumatic stress and growth
    • started writing about post traumatic growth and what we can learn from grief
    • why are people running from adversities?
  • Gym Jones – small gym in Salt Lake City by Mark Twight
    • was climber and cyclist, opened gym after he retired
    • wanted to build place where people could push themselves
    • gym trains  fighters, Olympic athletes, and military personnel
    • became popular by training cast of 300, but stayed small
    • only a few dozen clients, you have to apply to train there
    • always wanted to train body
    • applied to Gym Jones and got invited to train for 3 months
    • was able to do things even his doctors thought were physically impossible for him
    • gym uses physical means for psychological ends
    • want growth of person and to challenge psychological limits
    • test limits to learn about yourself and take on challenges you didn’t think were possible
    • training – putting yourself in deliberate and challenging circumstances
    • helps you live a more fulfilling, intentional, and directional life
    • was welcomed with open arms, at other gyms he felt like a loser
    • transformed how he sees himself
    • was open an vulnerable when he applied and they were drawn to that
    • individualized training
      • was able to focus on his own weaknesses without worrying about others
      • wanted to improve right side/left side coordination and train brain to get in sync with his right side
  • adverse circumstances and growth
    • at young age, we do everything we can to make things easy on ourselves
    • intentionally challenging circumstances focuses the mind and forces you to be in the moment and aware of your body and mind
    • doing hard work forces you to confront the darkness within yourself

“When I focus on what’s easy instead of what’s best… I’m often left very unfulfilled, bored, and not reaching my potential.”

“There’s also something about adverse circumstances that forces us to confront the darkest part of ourselves.”

“It’s only when you confront that inner darkness… that you can grow”

“I don’t think you can live life very well if you are unwilling to face the darkness within yourself.”

  • there are certain things in life that you will never get over
    • losing loved one, becoming incredibly ill, losing job, etc.
    • people usually say “Get better” “It was meant to be”
      • but it’s usually not the truth
    • seek people who will be objective with you, love you, and tell you the truth
    • best objective people are not usually your closest friends and family
    • instead find mentors who are incredibly objective who will give you the advice you need

“Finding people who will be objective with you because they believe in you is a powerful motivator for confronting your fears and worries… it can serve as a powerful mirror.”

  • limit your mentors
    • it’s easy to do research and planning, but it can lead to paralysis
    • he only asks for advice when he is really stuck, and only asks very few people
    • seeking mentors outside of you direct sphere of influence is very powerful
    • learning to make decisions on your own is also very powerful
    • we live in a society of paralysis by analysis
    • we avoid making decisions, even the inconsequential things like what dish to get on a menu
    • most decisions we make are not consequential, they are usually minor
    • learn to make decisions quickly, start with the mundane and inconsequential
    • when you do this, it becomes easier to make decisions for more difficult situations
    • limit your options and give yourself constraints
      • force yourself to say no and confront the fear within

“Rely on your own self-awareness…when you do that it increases your confidence…that therefore leads to greater self-esteem, which leads to a greater sense of meaning, and a greater sense of purpose…and you get more done.”

“If you want to confront you fear, you have to go inside yourself. and the best way to go inside yourself is to stop avoiding yourself.”

  •  you need to have patience with yourself
  • limits of will power
    • we use most of our will power in anxieties and fears
  • stoic philosophy
    • focus on things in life you can control and focus your energy on those things

“The reality is, most of us spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things we have no control over.”

  • asks himself out loud every day “What do I have real control over?”
    • there is great power in it, it makes you conscious and aware of what you have control over
    • it also gives you confidence and allows you to ignore what you don’t have control over
    • most people devote their energy to things they can’t control instead of things they can control
  • the power of systems and owning less
    • he sold 90% of his stuff after he quit his job and found it a liberating experience
    • he limits his options and decisions he has to make
    • limit what you bring into your home and get rid of what you don’t need
    • limiting your options and freeing yourself from distractions
      • leads to increased confidence and decision making

“I think that owning less is a very very powerful way to augment your ability to make decisions and to control what it is that you can control.”

“Environment is very powerful…and it is one of those things you can control.”

  • stuff vs. experiences
    • making a lot of money and owning more vs. making a lot less and owning less
    • he is able to serve people more effectively
    • highly suggests saving as much money as you can for experiences
    • we don’t think we will fall into the traps of a mundane life, but societal, cultural, and environmental pressures are powerful
    • we are incredibly strong and weak
    • finds himself falling back into certain habits while in the US
    • if he thinks he’s above it, he will fail
    • interested in how we deal with our weaknesses and understanding that we do have weaknesses
    • not inherently good, we are inherently selfish
    • be aware of your weaknesses

“Travel… forces you to come face to face in depth with other cultures that are dramatically different from our own.”

“In much of the world, things like possessions, and status, and power are valued a lot less than they are here.”

“Finding meaning in fulfillment is a very very winding road and there’s a lot of pain in that. There’s a lot of confrontation in that. There’s a lot of failure in that.”

  • post traumatic stress vs. growth
    • post traumatic stress – people who face tragedy and extreme circumstances that morph into something they are not
      • fall into patterns of addiction and self-destruction
    • post traumatic growth – relatively new phenomenon
      • people undergo adverse circumstances and suffer, but they are able to create new mosaic for their lives
      • they are able to build new meaning, fulfillment, strength, and care on foundations of that pain and suffering
      • hard to do because suffering and tragedy are terrible things
      • these things can’t be defeated
      • Megan Devine – “Some things in life can’t be fixed. They can only be carried.”
      • only possible if you wish to build a new life in the face of those circumstances
      • if you don’t acknowledge the pain, you will never embrace the loss for what it is
      • there’s no formula
    • through his research, he wants to acknowledge people’s pain and help them find the space to really live
    • the most meaningful parts of his life came in the wake of tragedies
      • he was able to serve others in his pain and help people recognize they are not alone
      • after tragedies, even at the end of the day, you still have the choice to live and impact the lives of others
      • interested in touching other people’s lives and enriching his own as a result
      • happiness is a byproduct of wading through adversity
      • chooses to live and give even though things might suck
      • people are afraid to go to this place because they are afraid of the beast and adversity that lurks within
    • those who grow vs. those who don’t
      • people with a history of avoidance and running from pain will be more likely continue that pattern afterwards
    • we all face minor adversities throughout the day
    • the act of running from pain is in itself painful, just like procrastination
    • accept that adversity is a part of life
      • practice it and prepare for it
      • we don’t get to make it go away, we just get to respond to it

“At the end of the day, we have to accept that pain, and suffering, and difficulty are a part of life, and really accept that… but millions of people spend their entire lives doing everything they can running from it.”

Adversity is a part of life. It is part of the essence of being human. Click To Tweet
  • on listening and working with authors
    • has worked with New York Times & Wall St. Journal best-selling authors & writers
    • we live in a disconnected culture in America
      • people are really bad at listening
    • he listens well, especially with those going through adverse circumstances
    • listening has helped him with people who are successful
    • when he is reading, his internal sensors come up, and he wants to change things but listening is understanding when those sensors come up and silencing them
    • he has learned when to quiet that voice
      • he tells people “This is what I’m hearing from you” and asks them a series of questions based on those intuitions
      • instead of giving advice or telling them what to do, he makes observations and tells them what he is picking up from their answers
      • teaching yourself to listen helps you, it helps them, and helps you to help them
    • if people want to work with him, he spends as much time as he needs to listen to them and understand them
      • he is entering their world and is not afraid to do so
      • he allows people to expose themselves for who they are and not judging them for it
      • leads to connections that can last a lifetime
      • we are often too impatient

“One of the best ways you can learn to be patient, both with yourself and with others, is through active and intentional listening, where you really invite another person to enter your world.”

  • interviewing and letting expectations go
    • truly listen and be present
    • the next question will present itself
    • conversations will evolve naturally
    • when you listen, it will feel like time is suspended
    • don’t worry about what will happen in the future
  • morning routine
    • vitally important, especially for Tim who is a nomad
    • finding stability is powerful and important
    • meditates 10-15 minutes (mantra based)
      • if he doesn’t meditate, things feel cluttered
    • reads (fiction) and writes (without internet) every morning
    • likes to keep routine simple
  • on reading
    • when working on your craft, you need to create an experience
      • don’t write only when you’re motivated
      • uses Freedom app and Ommwriter, calibrated Spotify playlist
    • returns to many books continuously
    • find the ideal environment to work in and make it a reality

“When you enter into your craft, I think it’s really important to create an experience… you can’t just create when you’re motivated.”

“For me, writing is sort of a cinematic, amorphous, beautiful experience. So I try to simulate that.”

“It’s an experience that I create for myself through books, through music, and how I actually enter my craft, and by creating that experience, I am far more likely to keep working… when I’m not feeling inspired.”

“Create an experience that’s congruent with your craft, and to turn that experience into a habit, and into a ritual. Because once it turns into a ritual, it becomes more sacred to you, and it becomes a lot more likely that you will continue to practice it on a daily basis.”

  • Srinivas Rao of the Unmistakable Creative
    • has rituals and practice for creating
    • pours his heart and bleeds onto the page
    • not a great writer, but a beautifully honest communicator
    • has created a set of practices and has created a set of rituals
    • beauty in everything they create
    • has made himself unmistakable by going through struggle and testing things out
    • has taken massive risks, and that has allowed him to be successful
    • prioritizes creativity and honesty above all else
    • quote from Esme Wang, a guest on the show – “One of the things that makes people unmistakable is a sort of level of obsessiveness.”

“Creativity is… the exposure of… your soul’s delights, pains, beauties, fears, horrors, and desires in a way that weaves some kind of story… through several creative mediums. And that is not an easy thing to cultivate quickly, but it is one of the most powerful expressions of our humanity that we have. Art is incredibly important. It always has been and I think it always will be.”

“Creativity really is about forcing us to come face to face with who we really are and being willing to share it via a medium of our choosing. And that is actually really beautiful and really amazing and something we take for granted so often. We have the opportunity to share of ourselves, to tell a story and to create a legacy and give of ourselves through the creative process. That’s a beautiful thing.”

  • being more creative
    • expose yourself to other forms of art
    •  drawing creative inspiration by going to different museums: going to The Met and MoMa in NYC
    • speaking to creatives in different mediums
    • it is hard to honor yourself if you are destructive

“The true expression of self-care leads to more creativity.”

“If you truly care for your own body and your own mind… you will inevitably be more creative… you will inevitably have more stability in the center of who you are.”

Tim Lawrence |  Twitter

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  1. Brilliant! Genius! Eloquent! God driven!

  2. Tim Lawrence’s speaking is as inspirational as his writing. He is incredibly wise for such a young man. I hope to hear more interviews so that I can continue to learn from him. Thank you for the podcast.

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