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Erik Kruger on Lessons from Failure, Letting Principles Guide You, and Creating Value for Your Audience – Cracking Creativity Episode 82

Erik Kruger is like many of us who became entranced by the idea of lifestyle design. He read Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Workweek and felt the desire to work as few hours as possible so he could “run around and do other things” with all his extra free time.

So he tried to build businesses that let him live that lifestyle. His first attempt was a local freelance network, which fizzled out. He also tried to create web directories for physical therapists, gyms, and models, but those never gained traction either. He describes all of these unsuccessful projects as his “graveyard of domains” because of all the sites he tried and failed to build.

These failures taught him a valuable lesson. When he started out, his main goal was trying to make a lot of money while working as few hours as possible. But over time, he discovered he was focusing on the wrong thing.

Luckily for Erik, our failures often lead to our greatest success. His success came in the form of Better Man, a site dedicated to helping men change their behaviors to become more productive, habit driven, and successful. This project has grown into a thriving community of like-minded men driven to make the most out of life.

In this episode Erik talks about the lessons we can learn from failure, why you should let your principles guide you, and the importance of creating value for your audience.

Here are three things you can learn from Erik:

Failures Can Teach Us Valuable Lessons

We are all afraid of failure. No matter what level you’ve reached, how much money you’ve made, or how much success you’ve achieved, there’s still something in the back of our minds that’s deathly afraid of failure. It’s a part of human nature.

The difference between those who continue to find success and those who give up is that successful people learn from their failures. Erik failed many times before hitting on Better Man, but these failures taught him valuable skills.

“When I look back, it’s really embarrassing to talk about them, but they taught me incredibly valuable skills, to the point where Better Man is what it is because of the digital skills that I built up during all these horrendous sites.”

Your moments of failure might seem frustrating in the moment, but they can also teach you valuable lessons.

“It’s always nice to look back and know that you’ve gone through all these things and at the time you might be frustrated and looking back you might think of them as failures, but they actually taught you so much.”

The biggest lesson Erik learned was changing his mindset. When he started, he was enamored with lifestyle design and let that dictate his decisions. But once he shifted his effort towards something he was passionate about everything changed.

“Probably the biggest mistake that I made, and I don’t want to say I regret it, but I wish my mindset was a bit different, is that, during that same time lifestyle design became this buzz word and everyone was flocking to this idea of building a business while working extremely few hours a week and being able to just run around and do other things the rest of the time and I got really hooked by that idea, and I wish I didn’t. I wish I’d just stuck to working hard and not fell into the trap of wanting to put in as few hours as I can, but trying to get maximum results from it… A big deal with what I teach is that you want to put in as little effort as possible for maximum return but it doesn’t mean you’re not still working ten hours. It just means those ten hours are more focused and working on the correct things and not just things that are keeping you busy.”

Let Your Principles Guide You

Often times our biggest challenge isn’t that we don’t know what to do. It’s that we forget what we stand for. We stop letting our principles guide us in the right direction. We follow those shiny objects hoping that this new tool or technique will help us break through. But shortcuts rarely work.

What we need are some principles to guide us. Better Man’s guiding principle is to take responsibility for your life.

“I think what we all just want is that magic wand… that’s just going to figure out everything for us, but you have to go back and actually start taking responsibility for your life, and once you start doing that, then… things start falling into place because you start designing your life around the responsibility that you take. So, I guess if I had to say the number one value… of Better Man, it would be to take responsibility for your life. And to not just sit back and wait for life to happen to you, but to go out and to say ‘This is what I want in life and I’m going to make it happen. It’s going to be up to me.'”

Being productive, building habits, and changing your behaviors are wonderful tools for becoming better people, but those changes aren’t possible unless you take responsibility for yourself and your actions.

“The rest of the things that we speak about, productivity, world power, habits, behavior change, none of that is possible without you saying ‘I’m showing up today. I’m getting out of bed and I’m going to kick some ass.’ So I would guess that would be number one for me, the number one principle.”

People are always trying to jump ahead in the process, but the only way to build something sustainable is by doing it step by step.

“People want to shortcut the process. The effort that it takes to get there. The grind, and the hustle, and the pain, and the days and weeks of feeling like you’re not getting anywhere… you want to shortcut it, and I completely get it, but ultimately there’s only one way to really get anywhere. And that’s brick by brick, step by step. That’s the only way you can build something significantly.”

Create Value for Your Audience

We are constantly bombarded with lists telling us what to do. “Here are five hacks for this” or “Ten ways to do that” but these lists are rarely helpful. They rehash the same tired information.

Erik believes these lists are extremely unhelpful. There’s nothing tangible you can actually implement from them.

“One of the things that quite irritates me the most is the five life hacks that will make you successful… and then you go and read these articles and it’s the same stuff that’s been rehashed over and over and over, and they give you this one thing and they give you one supplemental thing to fill it up, and it just means nothing. There’s nothing you can grab onto and that you’re going to implement in your life and it’s going to take you further.”

There’s so much information out there that it becomes hard to distinguish what’s useful and what’s not. That’s why Erik likes to distill his ideas for his audience. He knows they’re busy. He knows they wants something that works. So he does all the heavy lifting for them.

“I think that’s one of the big problems we have at the moment is that there’s so much out there in the world. You literally have millions of sites at your fingertips, and if you’re just getting started in self-development, it can be so overwhelming to go and search and sift through all these blogs and to find good quality content. And then you think you’ve found something, and the next thing you read completely contradicts it. So, what do you believe? And what I’m trying to do is say to people ‘I’ve already put in the effort and the time to make sure this is good information that I’m giving to you, and I’ve put my filter over it. My Better Man filter over it… and this is what I’ve come up with.”

Another thing Erik realized is we aren’t going to be the right fit for everyone. We need to concentrate our efforts on people who will get the most out of what we have to say.

“At some point you just have to realize that no matter what you create, it’s never going to be for everyone. And the quicker you can get to that point, the quicker you can start serving the people that you will do an excellent job of serving.”

So stop trying to create for everyone. Stop worrying about your unsubscribes. And focus on your loyal audience instead.

“I think what happened for me is I just realized there’s so many other things I need to focus on instead of my unsubscribes. I need to focus on people who remained and who said I want more of what you have. Like, why not put your energy and effort into those people?”

Shownotes

  • about Erik
    • got bit by the digital bug right after becoming a physical therapist
    • first goal was to make money, but realized that wasn’t the right strategy
      • none of the projects he started made any money
    • decided he wanted to be a better man
      • doesn’t have to be a big thing, just a better person than when he woke up
      • started sharing his lessons on Better Man
  • projects he tried to start before Better Man
    • had a graveyard of domains
    • first project was local eLance/Upwork
    • physical therapist/gym/model directories
    • built his own digital marketing agency because of all the things he learned
    • worked hard and put in the hours
    • get away from lifestyle design
    • Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss – not about working as few hours as possible but about maximizing your time

11:37 “When I look back, it’s really embarrassing to talk about them, but they taught me incredibly valuable skills, to the point where Better Man is what it is because of the digital skills that I built up during all these horrendous sites.”

12:29 “It’s always nice to look back and know that you’ve gone through all these things and at the time you might be frustrated and looking back you might think of them as failures, but they actually taught you so much.”

13:23 “Probably the biggest mistake that I made, and I don’t want to say I regret it, but I wish my mindset was a bit different, is that, during that same time lifestyle design became this buzz word and everyone was flocking to this idea of building a business while working extremely few hours a week and being able to just run around and do other things the rest of the time and I got really hooked by that idea, and I wish I didn’t. I wish I’d just stuck to working hard and not fell into the trap of wanting to put in as few hours as I can, but trying to get maximum results from it… A big deal with what I teach is that you want to put in as little effort as possible for maximum return but it doesn’t mean you’re not still working ten hours. It just means those ten hours are more focused and working on the correct things and not just things that are keeping you busy.”

  • interests as a child
    • likes to surf and help people in some way
    • became physical therapist because it felt most natural
    • moving full-time into Better Man
  • how physical therapy has influenced Better Man
    • his patients need big procedures and want to get back on track
      • they don’t talk about big psychological components
      • need to have empathy and give them motivation to overcome pain
    • started observing lessons from books in clinical setting
  • starting Better Man
    • was going to start as a podcast
    • inspired by James Clear to write and have newsletter
  • story about the wolf
    • defining story for Erik
    • read it before starting Better Man
    • Cherokee battle inside old people
      • evil wolf and good wolf
      • which wolf wins? the one that you feed

21:03 “It’s not really about good vs. evil here because you look at it and that’s what you kinda think, but it’s also about action and desire. Are you going to lie on the couch or are you going to take action and go to the jump. It boils down to choices. Every choice you make will either feed the good wolf or feed the bad wolf, and it’s everywhere. It’s in what you eat. It’s in whether you’re going to do the work or not. So when you start thinking about your life in terms of the good wolf and the bad wolf you’re feeding all the time. It really puts things into perspective.”

  • feeding the two wolves
    • feeding the evil wolf isn’t always a bad thing
    • there will always be a certain amount you will feed good and bad wolf
    • has become more aware of decisions/consequences
    • Die Empty by Todd Henry
      • making many tiny decisions that add up and put us into a state of crisis

24:13 “It’s so easy to think ‘Oh, this is a small thing. If I neglect this today, if I say no to this today, it won’t come to bite me in the ass later,’ and it does. Your decisions have consequences. And when people can do that and start to take responsibility for their lives, you’re already miles ahead. You’re already going to see a change in behavior above people who just sort of believe that decisions they make have absolutely no consequences in the future.”

  • dwelling on decisions
    • weighing the consequences of decisions we make
    • know what you stand for (ex: healthy eating)
    • having all the decisions support your why
  • principles of the Better Man project
    • have responsibility for your own life
      • people talking about battling consistency
      • life getting in the way of things
      • embodying who you are in everything that you do

26:51 “I think what we all just want is that magic wand… that’s just going to figure out everything for us, but you have to go back and actually start taking responsibility for your life, and once you start doing that, then… things start falling into place because you start designing your life around the responsibility that you take. So, I guess if I had to say the number one value… of Better Man, it would be to take responsibility for your life. And to not just sit back and wait for life to happen to you, but to go out and to say ‘This is what I want in life and I’m going to make it happen. It’s going to be up to me.'”

28:03 “The rest of the things that we speak about, productivity, world power, habits, behavior change, none of that is possible without you saying ‘I’m showing up today. I’m getting out of bed and I’m going to kick some ass.’ So I would guess that would be number one for me, the number one principle.”

28:58 “People want to shortcut the process. The effort that it takes to get there. The grind, and the hustle, and the pain, and the days and weeks of feeling like you’re not getting anywhere… you want to shortcut it, and I completely get it, but ultimately there’s only one way to really get anywhere. And that’s brick by brick, step by step. That’s the only way you can build something significantly.”

  • what he was exploring when he started
    • get people’s life stories and what made them successful
    • realized he wanted to share his own thoughts more
    • podcast wasn’t doing as well as he would have liked
      • wanted to create more touch points: read, listen, and watch
    • staying true to your craft
    • Better Man blog posts are all at least 1500 words
      • daily emails are short/punchy – 300 words
      • designing different avenues but sticking to principles
      • being true to the brand

31:25 “Over time, if you’re consistent enough and you persevere, then things happen, and they really have. So, where I am now, I’ve sort of come full circle… I guess you have to be flexible, you know, especially when you’re creating and you want to give expression to something you have inside of you. You need to be flexible in the way that you present that to people because people might want to consume it in different ways.”

35:11 “You have to stay true to yourself. Even when you’re creating different layers of content for different people.”

  • building his brand in the beginning and standing out from other similar brands
    • got good with Facebook marketing
      • organic marketing takes some time
    • reaching out to influencers, sponsoring, jumping onto podcasts, etc.
    • built his list through FB marketing
      • built a newsletter people would talk about
      • likes don’t mean much
      • building close knit private group
      • engagement and support
      • word of mouth
    • learning to used paid media
    • because he’s mostly local, his main competition is magazines

39:01 “You have to be where your people are and unfortunately you have to pay to play when there’s a lot of competition around you, and putting out quality content. Putting out content, not just for the sake of content, but putting it out because I really believe in it and because if I say I’m going to be making men unstoppable then I can never live up to that if I’m putting out mediocre content.”

  • content he puts in his newsletters
    • make them actionable
    • only put one idea into each email
    • bases content on books he is reading or themes he finds
    • synthesizing most important ideas in books
    • staying consistent
      • people ask him where the email is when he doesn’t send it at the same time
    • being more afraid of loss than happy about gains

40:30 “One of the things that quite irritates me the most is the five life hacks that will make you successful… and then you go and read these articles and it’s the same stuff that’s been rehashed over and over and over, and they give you this one thing and they give you one supplemental thing to fill it up, and it just means nothing. There’s nothing you can grab onto and that you’re going to implement in your life and it’s going to take you further.”

40:49 “I think that’s one of the big problems we have at the moment is that there’s so much out there in the world. You literally have millions of sites at your fingertips, and if you’re just getting started in self-development, it can be so overwhelming to go and search and sift through all these blogs and to find good quality content. And then you think you’ve found something, and the next thing you read completely contradicts it. So, what do you believe? And what I’m trying to do is say to people ‘I’ve already put in the effort and the time to make sure this is good information that I’m giving to you, and I’ve put my filter over it. My Better Man filter over it… and this is what I’ve come up with.”

45:35 “At some point you just have to realize that no matter what you create, it’s never going to be for everyone. And the quicker you can get to that point, the quicker you can start serving the people that you will do an excellent job of serving.”

46:52 “I think what happened for me is I just realized there’s so many other things I need to focus on instead of my unsubscribes. I need to focus on people who remained and who said I want more of what you have. Like, why not put your energy and effort into those people?”

  • always having haters
    • Taylor Swift as an example
    • anonymity of the internet and leaving negative reviews
    • Does it actually affect you?
    • not changing who you are or what you do because of criticism
  • determining whether to finish a book
    • being better at choosing which books to read
    • reading for retention
      • pulling specific points out of books
      • meditating/thinking about quotes and books
    • choosing books to read
      • recommendations from people
      • read reviews to see what people are saying
  • building Better Man
    • interactions in Facebook group
    • Better Man Insider – membership site
      • get together in Slack and talk about themes
      • bringing in experts from different fields
  • people who make up the Better Man audience
    • men who don’t want to settle for mediocrity
    • they are ambitious and have a drive
    • considered the cool older brother
    • implementation and taking action
    • knowing what to do but not knowing how to take action
      • overload keeps people from taking action

57:25 “You can read all the emails that I sent for the year… and accomplish nothing in your life or you can read one of them and completely change your life if you decide to take the information and take action on it because the truth is, at the end of the day there’s nothing new under the sun. We all know what we need to do.”

58:32 “Take action on one thing and it moves you so much further along the path than reading a million things.”

  • not giving up
    • you have to give something a good try before giving up
    • the downside of MVP – testing and iteration
    • give things enough time to see if they do work
  • surprising results
    • had call with an overweight guy who wasn’t eating well or training
      • goes to the gym and reads newspaper
      • didn’t take action because he didn’t know what steps to take
      • worked with a personal trainer and found direction
      • became easier to take action
      • good example of the human condition

1:02:20 “The reason I like his story isn’t because it’s dramatic or because there’s massive change, but just because it’s such a good example of the human condition, of us not doing anything because we’re uncertain and unsure, and how easy it actually is to break down a problem into its core components and to build it up from there and to start taking action, and the incredible, beautiful, results that follow from that.”

  • favorite quote
    • “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
  • morning routine
    • has changed over the years
    • get up early, drink coffee, meditate 15-20 min., then move ahead with the day
    • meditation – cognitive calibration
      • many men believe it’s a spiritual/religious practice
      • at night he does it to unwind
      • morning – gratitude, what success looks like, who he wants to be, reacting to situations
        • spending time with his mind
      • no real “correct” way to meditate

1:08:45 “It’s so strange that we almost don’t want to spend time with ourselves. It’s a very weird thing to me. And whatever you want to accomplish in this world is going to be because of the way you act in it and the decisions you make in it. So why not spend some time programming your mind to behave in a certain way if you know that that’s the outcome that you want? And that’s the way I see it is that when I’m in meditation, I’m busy programming my mind… so that when a certain situation arises, it doesn’t catch me off guard because I’m already in a state of mind where I can be in control.”

1:15:13 “So I guess my definition of creativity is just the ability to create and to give expression to the things that are inside you: the passion, the ideas, the thoughts, and to somehow bring them into existence and to put them in front of other people and maybe create some sort of value out of it.”

  • how to be more creative
    • have a routine
      • “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” ― William Faulkner
      • reminder to write every day
    • embrace flow
      • know some days are more creative than others
    • support your art
      • take time to be inspired
      • reading, note taking, be inspired
    • accountability
      • easy to trick yourself, hard to trick someone else
      • someone who checks in on you
    • push through the resistance
      • work through the tough times
  • challenge
    • make sure you are always growing
    • checks in with himself every day
    • Did I do the best I could today?
    • Am I better than I was this morning?

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