Ben Cake, the artful pause and the profound choice of responding vs. reacting.

I was sitting on a stool, my elbows pressed against the bar top, existing behind my navy blue ball cap hovering just above my eyes.

As an introvert that is desperately shy, I’ve found ball caps and sunglasses keep me safe in conversations with new faces. For me, they’re not all that dissimilar to a thunder jacket for a dog.

When Ben Cake walked up next to me, he wasn’t wearing a ball cap, but he was wearing sunglasses — I imagine he would have kept wearing them, had he been famous or had he been heavily inebriated or had he been both.

Like myself, Ben was an introvert. And, like myself, Ben was a writer.

The relationship between introverts and writers is interesting. Not all introverts are writers. But, almost all writers are introverts (or at least the ones I’ve met).

We differed, though.

As a writer with an MFA in creative writing and someone who has worked for the likes of Esquire Magazine, Penguin Books, Fast Company, Saks Fifth Avenue’s advertising department and at one of the fastest-growing startups in the South… Ben has written, read and edited a lot of pretty words.

He was and still is and will be for quite some time, the better of the two writers among us.

(Perhaps, if he bites the dust before me, I might have time to catch up but the chances of that are fairly unlikely for reasons I will outline here shortly).

Naturally, being in the presence of a superior writer, I asked copious amounts of questions and, of course, feedback.

The latter of which is almost always the most difficult to ask and hear (writers are notorious for possessing delicate egos).

But, despite this difficulty (or perhaps in spite of it), I listened to what Ben had to say.

What Ben had to say.

“Reading your work is like watching a vulture circle the sky. I think you’re writing to discover your truth; to figure out what you believe in. It’s neat to watch and interesting to read.”

And, then, he paused for a brief moment before delivering the constructive criticism.

This is something Ben does often in conversation, almost inadvertently, to collect his thoughts like a writer who knows words are sacred; who believes in them like religion. Or, perhaps, some sort of toothpaste scientist that knows it’s impossible to get the toothpaste back in after it has been squeezed out.

Finally, he continued…

“All that I would challenge you to do is ask yourself if you would believe the things you’re writing five years from now?”

It was an extraordinarily graceful way of telling me that while I had some chops, I needed to be a bit more thoughtful with the ideas I shared in my writing.

He was right.

I think he was more right than he realized.

But, he wasn’t only right where it concerned my writing, he was right where it concerned my emotions, too.

While I am many adjectives — some of them good and some of them not so good — I would not describe myself as particularly “calm” nor “collected”.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m a fairly emotionally volatile person…

Which makes my friendship with Ben fascinating because he is one of the more calm and collected individuals I’ve met.

Let’s “put a pin in that” momentarily as my dear friend would say, and shift quickly to Seth Godin.

Shifting quickly to Seth Godin.

For those unfamiliar, Seth Godin is a writer, marketer and thinker renowned for his crystal clear thinking, keen ability to break down complex ideas and tremendous control over his emotions.

I find it nearly impossible to become a victim of my own mind when I’m reading and listening to the countless pieces he shares on his blog and podcast (and the blogs and podcasts of others).

Recently, I listened in on an interview he did with Brian Koppelman, the genius screenwriter behind Billions who I recently mentioned in an article I wrote on Muhammad Ali.

Stop day trading on emotions.

It was right when the initial shock of the Coronavirus first set in. Humanity was panicking. Folks were raiding grocery stores for toilet paper. Jobs were being cut. And, the number of cases was growing at a breakneck pace.

Seth Godin, in his so beautifully collected way, said…

“All of us need to stop day trading on emotions.”

When you think of a day trader, you think of someone high-strung, watching unblinkingly at charts and graphs, feeling frantic as he resists the urge to pull the trigger.

While some might be excellent at working as day traders for a living, it is no way to live your day to day life… something everyone is guilty of in this anxiety-charged global pandemic.

This, in not so many words, was what Godin warned the masses of on the podcast episode I mentioned above.

Godin then went on to explain the difference between responding vs. reacting…

Now for a trip to the doctor’s office.

If God forbid you were to find yourself needing treatment for some sort of disease, you don’t ever want to hear your doctor say… “You’re reacting”.

That’s not good.

But, on the other hand, if your doctor walks in with a smile on his face and tells you that you’re responding, that’s very good.

The same can be said for our emotions.

Right now, in this strange unparalleled time, it is easy to day trade on emotions and choose to react versus respond to the shit going on in our environment.

Force quit relationships.

Lose sleep over a job you haven’t lost yet.

Fire off an email you won’t be proud of in the morning.

Settling for that shitty job because you’re telling yourself the narrative that now — while the entire world is on pause — is not the right time to live off savings and give those dreams of yours a shot.

Has anyone seen that fucking pin?

The hard thing to do in these moments is to be like Ben Cake both in conversation and in life, stingily protecting his tube of toothpaste, pausing, collecting himself, taking a breath and finally responding thoughtfully rather than reacting with something empty.

Right now, every one of us is guilty of living in a reactive mode.

When we hear a rumor the quarantine could be ending soon, we feel elated. Then, when we see another spike in the curve, we feel our hearts drop.

This up and down roller coaster of emotions continues with each passing news story, each text from a friend that someone they know has lost their job and so on and so forth.

It’s a race to the bottom.

And, all of us must choose to stop running (and reacting), and instead, take a deep breath and respond, thoughtfully.

Like Ben Cake asked a young writer a year ago…

“Would you believe the things you’re writing five years from now?”

I’d ask you a similar question…

Would you believe the way you’re living and existing (and hopefully responding) five years from now?

If the answer is no, perhaps it is time for a pause.

By Cole Schafer.

Sticky Notes is my email list reserved for entrepreneurs, creatives, marketers, writers and freelancers looking to sell like hell (without losing their soul).

Originally published at on April 15, 2020.

I write pretty words and sometimes sell things.

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