get started, fail a lot, and then try something else. all in the name of poking the box.


You’re at a track meet. You’ve got a paper number pinned to your chest and you’ve got on some crazy colored spandex.

You pump your heels up & down. You stretch, side to side. You eye up the competition.

On cue, all the runners approach the starting line. You carefully place your snazzy Nikes into the starting blocks, you breathe deep, you gaze ahead. You wait.

Mere seconds feels like a lifetime.


the gun shot! And you’re off! The race has started. You bolt down the track, legs pumping up & down, arms pushing you faster & faster.

Starting is not something you thought about it. It was a reflex. A reaction to the stimulus of the gun shot.

Some people have this natural reaction to the gun shot of a great idea.

A great idea can take a self-starter from sitting on her ass to creating all night long. A great idea can start a business in a day, create a piece of art in an hour, write a story in a month.

But somewhere along the line of Western education and corporate employment, most people were told that their natural reaction to starting needed to be suppressed. Jumping off the blocks at the sound of the gun was not allowed.

Instead endless meetings, countless hours of research, focus groups, and manager vetting had to come first. Then someone else would start.

You may have guessed by now that I’m not too excited about that model. There’s not much to get excited about.

I get excited about starting. About trying. About experimenting.

I get excited about allowing myself to try new things and fail at most of them.

And that’s why I’m excited about Seth Godin’s new book, Poke the Box. As a member of the Domino Project street team, I was lucky enough to score an advance copy and I’ve been practically sitting on my hands to keep from talking about all the wonderful ideas inside of it.

In it, Godin explores all the fears & obstacles that we have been conditioned to feel about the idea of “starting something” – initiating.

What’s on your “allowed list?” What’s missing?

One idea that really struck a chord with me was the idea of an “allowed list.” He says:

Most employees can give you a long list of all the things they’re not allowed to do. Not-allowed lists exist in schools, in relationships, and in jobs…

It’s interesting that the allowed list is harder to remember and to write down. I think we might be afraid of how much freedom we actually have, and how much we’re expected to do with that freedom.

Right on, Mr. Godin.

One place that a “not allowed” list has no place is your personal relationship with yourself and your great work.

Or, I suppose, you’re allowed one rule: you’re not allowed to do that which doesn’t work for you.

And because “allowed lists” are so difficult to remember and write down, I decided to create a short & simple one for you.

Download it.
Print it. Tack it up. Share it.

This is your list. You are allowed to start, to fail, to do things your way, to stop preparing and start doing. You are allowed.

Now more than ever before.

Take advantage.

PS There’s less than a week to register for my newest digital program, The Art of Action. If you find yourself at the starting line but find the first step difficult, this program is designed to get you off & running.

{image by tableatny}

26 thoughts on “get started, fail a lot, and then try something else. all in the name of poking the box.

  1. I pre-ordered this book and it popped into my kindle today! Can’t wait to get right into it.

    Thanks for the printable. Will be going up on my wall right where i can be reminded when i need it.

  2. I began my day reading the book as I pre-ordered it when you gave the $1 deal heads up on Twitter. Thanks for the download! I look forward to more of your thoughts on his ideas.

  3. Tara, nice post — especially acknowledging the “Not Allowed” list that is so prevalent in our lives. Being a tad older than you, I grew up being ruled by that list. In retrospect, it seems that so much was NOT ALLOWED….nice girls don’t play with boys, what will the neighbors think, you can’t do that, just follow the rules…… It is so refreshing to view myself as a positive force and know that I am ALLOWED. That will be my new mantra.

  4. Ah. So true! Life can get so overwhelmed by what you “can’t do” that you forget to realize everything you can. For me, I have to remind myself that there’s “FREE” in freelance. It’s not working for free, it’s freedom to do what I want, how I want …!!

  5. I love this message (it has a particular resonance with me at the moment) and was in the process of printing the printable when I noticed a possible typo in the third line from the bottom. The word ‘allowed’ seems to be missing an ‘o’. Please forgive me if it was intentional, but my inner copyeditor had to make sure. We are all allowed to make mistakes.

  6. I also had Poke the Box sent straight to my Kindle & I’m really excited to start reading it! Especially after Linchpin was so great.

    I think we all need to hear “you are allowed” from time to time. Personally, I could always stand to be told “You are allowed to fail” – being afraid of failure has held me back many times, and embarrassment after failing has too. I’ve been working on it a lot and I’m finally getting to the point where “failure” isn’t an inherently evil word for me, which is amazing progress.

  7. Got Poke the Box on my Kindle this morning and it took everything not to spend all morning reading it. I am so excited about so much that starting is not so much the problem but where to start.
    Thanks for the permission and allowed list. You ROCK!

  8. I don’t have a Kindle, so I’ll have to settle for good old paper. Thanks for another great post. We often start off, as children with our parents & teachers telling us we can do anything & end up surrounded with people who tell we can’t. It’s great to be reminded that maybe we can & the only assured can’t is not trying at all!

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