Crafting a Creative Career with Raj Lulla

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The podcast is back 🎉

This is the first of a build-in-public style series with my good friend and often co host Raj Lulla. We’re pulling back the curtain on a book that he’s written and is launching. We’re digging into the writing process, the marketing efforts, and all the hard work that goes into an endeavor like this.

Putting something meaningful out into the world โ€” with hope, desire, and expectation โ€” is an act of courage. My hope is that sharing Raj’s journey will inspire you to do similar work in your life: to get unstuck if you feel stuck, to encourage you, inspire you, to take the next step in whatever project you’re dreaming up, that you’re working on and pushing forward.

Whether that’s a business, whether that’s a creative project, whether that’s something else, it doesn’t matter. The act, the work is the same.

Today we’ll explore Raj’s career and its major transitions, as well as the inspiration for his upcoming novel. Stick around to the end of the episode because we have a special offer that I’ve been dreaming up around his book and how you can be involved in this process.


Raj’s newsletter:

Pre-order the Caring House:

Software Generated Transcription:

[00:00:00] โ€‹

[00:00:00] Dan : Hey, podcast listeners. We are back. It has been a while. Thrilled for what’s ahead, but I just feel this urge to share everything that’s happened in the last year. And every time I’ve approached this podcast and this episode, I keep recording and re recording like this catch up of everything that I’ve been up to.

[00:00:23] Uh, but. That’s not why you’re here. For those of you who are interested in my journey, hopefully you’ll be able to piece together that journey as we move forward. Just, I’ll leave it at this. It has been a wild ride in the last 12 to 24 months. Just completely nutty. And I’m still here. We’ve made it through.

[00:00:44] And I’m excited for what’s ahead. I have the first of a few episodes in a series that’s a build in public style series with my good friend and often co host Raj Lulla. We’re pulling back the curtain on a book that he’s written, that he’s launching, on the writing process, on the marketing efforts, on all the hard work that goes into it.

[00:01:07] in to putting something meaningful out into the world with hope, with desire, with expectation. It’s an act of courage. And my hope is that in sharing Raj’s journey and our conversation around that, that it will inspire you to do similar work. in your own life, to get unstuck if you feel stuck, to encourage you, inspire you, to take the next step in whatever project you’re dreaming up, that you’re working on and pushing forward.

[00:01:35] Whether that’s a business, whether that’s a creative project, whether that’s something else, it doesn’t matter. The act, the work is the same. Today we’ll explore Raj’s career and its major transitions, as well as the inspiration for his upcoming novel. Stick around to the end of the episode because we have a special offer that I’ve been dreaming up around his book and how you can be involved in this process.

[00:02:00] So let’s dive in. Welcome to The Meaning Movement podcast. This is a show about getting your work out there, overcoming obstacles, doing work that matters. Join us today with my friend Raj Lulla. Stay with us.

[00:02:17] Dan: Raj, welcome back for, I don’t even know how many times. you’re the most frequent, um, contributor to this, to this show and always a joy to have you on. welcome back.

[00:02:28] Raj: Thanks for having me. It’s an honor to be the innumerable guest. I like that.

[00:02:33] Dan: Yes, slash co host. the, the, the, the question I like to start with is how do you begin to talk about the work that you do?

[00:02:40] Raj: yeah, you know, we talked the other day about how I was remembering that when I reached out to you probably I don’t know almost ten years ago eight years ago something like that When you were writing the emails as you always do and and at the end you say, you know reply to this I read them all and at that time, you know, just because of the way the internet is I assumed that you were getting 5, 000 emails every time you Right that and you’re just like shoveling through them and and just I’ll get to you in three weeks when I’m you know Dig out from this but you’d asked a question something like what do you want to do when you grow up?

[00:03:21] It wasn’t exactly that, but it was, you know, why are you here with the Meaning Movement? What, what are you trying to become? And I remember at that time writing something like, I, I want to start my own church. And you know, as guests who’ve, who’ve heard us talk before, people who are listening have heard us talk about before, I spent the first 10 years of my career in, ministering the evangelical church.

[00:03:48] And, and that’s not what I do now. And so, even just kind of thinking about with you and our relationship, how that’s evolved, my, my answer now would be considerably different. And, so I guess to unpack that a little bit, you know, grew up in a home, my dad is a practicing Hindu. My mom is a Christian and, she’s from the Midwest from the States and, my dad’s Indian.

[00:04:17] And, so my house was always kind of this interesting, Divide, my parents, you know, have a great marriage. They’ve been married for a very, very long time. And, you know, like 45 years, I think it is this year. And, and so there, that’s never been a problem for them, but it’s in, it’s interesting being raised with two different worldviews.

[00:04:37] And, and it always seemed really subtle to me. In fact, it seemed much more Christian in our home than any of my dad’s, you know, religious influence, but it was always there. And for me, it always caused this kind of outsider feeling in the evangelical church. And I didn’t realize it at the time, couldn’t have put my finger on it, especially not as a, you know, 8, 9, 10 year old, when a lot of these experiences are really formative.

[00:05:05] But there was this sense to which I was always sort of trying to find the extreme of being in And maybe that was a reaction to not always feeling in and so when you know when I would hear those sermons that were like you know God wants you to do this with your life and all that and I would just I would feel so much like the pastors were talking directly to me and And did not really take any time to consider if I was a good fit for that if, if anyone wanted me to do that and other than just sort of the generally general, they want everyone to do that sort of thing.

[00:05:51] And, and so when I left that world about nine or about eight years ago now, it was with a lot of identity confusion. And so even in the time of reaching out to you, I was still, I was just still in the mode of thinking that being a creative professional, which is what I do now. was, was the detour. In fact, I remember having a conversation with God being like, Hey, if you want me to go back to ministry, you’ve got to stop blessing this.

[00:06:24] You know, like I did wedding photography first. It was working really well. And then, and so I, I was like, I really like this. Why would you do this to me? Almost, you know, like, why would you give me this thing that you’re going to make me give up? And it turned out to be quite the opposite. That, this was the path to, back to, I think, what I was, was more originally meant to do.

[00:06:49] And, you know, I’ve talked, I’ve talked before about how, you know, when I was, when I was a kid, my dad wanted me to be a doctor. He’s an Indian dad after all, but, but he, but beyond that though. He knew he could see things in me that that were not going that direction. I remember we went to a It was it was kind of like an animation boot camp for kids I I don’t remember the school district put it on somehow.

[00:07:19] It was at the like educational service unit building a very descriptive building but you know that had all these Mac computers and and this Like studio program that we could animate this little dog and a fire hydrant and something and It you know, so that was always part of my life and then but I wasn’t a very good visual artist I’m not drawing that kind of stuff, but my dad would pay me to write I didn’t get any allowance for you know doing chores or any of that kind of stuff, but He would pay me to write for him, and so in thinking of my life, I know the last time that we really talked about my career on the Meeting Movement, it was, you know, kind of all about how it sort of seemed like I was taking this detour from ministry, but Now, to me, it seems like ministry was the detour from creative work.

[00:08:14] so, in how I talk about my work, I would consider myself creative professional. by day, I’m a brand strategist, a co owner of Fruitful Design in Omaha. And, and then by, hobby and by, aspiring professional, I wrote a novel and I have several more in the works. And the first one’s called The Caring House that we are hoping to get out in the world together that you, you’ve been very encouraging on helping me, you know, pursue self publishing with.

[00:08:40] Dan: Love it. What a, what a, what a robust answer to that question. I appreciate, all the, all the context. I, I was like, man, I think that, I think that we’re like, we’re, we’re just, we just did the whole interview. but it’s so, so great to have all that context. I want to double click on a couple of things there. first is like, how do you think about, What you’re meant to do. Use the phrase, you know, that, you know, the work, the work that you were meant to do, that ministry wasn’t that, and that you’re maybe doing it or, or closer to doing it now, and I’m just curious how, I don’t know, what those words mean to you.

[00:09:14] Raj: Yeah. I definitely think differently about it now than I used to. and, a lot of that has to do with, you know, I, I was committed to doing ministry, doing nonprofit work for the rest of my life. I was 16 years old and I literally chose the college I chose because they had, had promised to turn you into the kind of person who could spend 40, 50 years doing it, doing ministry.

[00:09:47] They put on a conference called In It for the Long Haul or something like that. And, and that’s, that’s what I believed it felt like, you know, my version of joining the Marines or something, and

[00:10:01] Raj: really called deeply to a sense of identity for me. What I discovered along the way, though, is that despite scoring really high on my, you know, standardized tests in high school, you know, getting good grades, having jobs and multiple jobs all the way through high school and college. When I got out into the quote unquote real world, I had seven jobs in ministry and non profit in my first 10 years of my career. A little bit of that was driven by the great recession, but most of it was driven by an ill fit. And, and so, I, I had a real crisis around this sort of like, what am I meant to do?

[00:10:41] And, and so in 2014, end of 2014, I, I decided to take a bet on myself and, I had a small wedding photography business at that time that made up 25 percent of my revenue. And, and, when I got laid off from my last Job in non profit and ministry. I, I said, Hey, I wonder if I spent all of my time, 100 percent of my time.

[00:11:07] Could I turn 20%, 25 percent of my revenue into 100 percent of my revenue? So I took that bet. We had, our third kid on the way. we had three kids in 37 months, in that period of time. And, and it was like, Hey, if I can just bounce a baby on my knee for a few months, even off of creative work, if it, if it just strings us along enough until I figure out the next thing, then that’s a win.

[00:11:31] And, and I just had a knack for it. I’m not the best photographer in the world. I know that. In fact, one of the things that I would tell people who are thinking about getting in creative business is that there are more talented people than you who work at Starbucks or other service jobs, because they can’t figure out the business side of it.

[00:11:52] and then there are great people, or there are people who are great at the business side of it who are less talented than you, who are succeeding. And, and I had kind of the right combination of, of both, enough talent to not embarrass myself and enough business savvy to stay in the game. And and if anything, that probably was the stronger suit of the two.

[00:12:15] I still love photography. I really, really enjoy it, but I also can look at other people’s photos and go objectively, wow, they’re really good. And, and so in terms of like what I was meant to do. Like I was talking about that, that kind of faith crisis, identity crisis around what I’m quote unquote meant to do, I was feeling for the first time a natural fit and it felt wrong because I had so convinced myself that I was supposed to do something else.

[00:12:45] And so now these days when I talk about what we were meant to do, I would, I would talk more about what’s a natural fit. And I think we’re often too precious about. that means, you know, because like if I would have been as precious about photography as I was about nonprofit work, then I would, I would still be doing it and my knees and back would be destroyed from shooting 40 weddings a year.

[00:13:16] And, and I wouldn’t see my, my kids on the weekends because, I’d always be at somebody else’s wedding. And, and so. I really, it was about applying the skills that I’d learned in becoming a creative professional to now brand strategy and also to writing and releasing a novel.

[00:13:36] Dan: Yeah.

[00:13:38] it. I love it. So well, so well said. I was just looking back at our, our email correspondence, which started 2014, and kind of right before I you, you went full time with creative work. and then. after, after that, which is just wild. What a, yeah, what a tumultuous, season of life in then.

[00:14:00] but that’s, that’s, that’s, it feels like that’s when people usually find me is when they’re in crisis.

[00:14:05] Raj: Well, the funny thing is that I think, I mean, depending on what month that was, when I reached out, I either didn’t know that I was going to be laid off that year or had just found out. And,

[00:14:16] it. Yeah, yeah. And, and it reminds me of, so Brett Goldstein, who plays Roy Kent in Ted Lasso, he has a podcast called Films to be Buried With, and it’s brilliant.

[00:14:27] It’s, it’s funny. I am the twisted kind of person who wants to watch or listen to something from the beginning. So, when I found out he had a podcast, I went all the way back to episode one. The audio quality is terrible. He’s not famous yet. You know, all these things. He’d done a few movies and stuff and he was an established standup, but.

[00:14:45] But he wasn’t Roy Kent at

[00:14:47] that time and it’s really fun to listen to him not know that he’s about to have a huge, a monumental break in his career. and it’s just, cause he’ll talk about like nobody coming to his shows and you know, talking to empty rooms and all, all those things. And it’s just like, just keep going, buddy.

[00:15:06] You’ll be fine in about 30 episodes here.

[00:15:10] Dan: I hope, I hope that you’re drawing that parallel from his podcast to this one, right? And this is that moment when, when we don’t know that it’s about to blow up

[00:15:20] Raj: I, I certainly hope so. Yeah.

[00:15:23] Dan: or, or were you drawing the parallel to, you didn’t know that your life was about to blow up?

[00:15:29] Raj: No, I, I mean, I think just the, the, you know, the thoughts that I shared with you about what I thought I wanted to do with my life at that time were, seem naive now and, and, and it’s, and so it’s just really interesting, you know, having spent, you know, those last seven, eight years. As a creative professional, being really fulfilled, making also more money than I ever could have made there.

[00:15:55] Not that much, by the way, like, not driving a Lambo or anything over here, but, you know, but, but still way better than I would have done a non profit. And, and have gotten more respect, and more, yeah, creative, you know, exercise, all of those things. I, I didn’t know that I was about to jump into that.

[00:16:15] And it took one more really painful, disappointment, you know, I flew 4, 000 miles at the end of 2014 trying to find my next ministry gig. and it was in like a month or two months. And, and, and we had just moved back to Omaha, where my parents live. And, you know, like I said, we had three kids in 37 months.

[00:16:39] And so it was like, I w I was considering ripping my kids away from the grandparents to go follow that, that, you know, call quote unquote, to go do this when really the, the, the, the natural fit, what I was quote unquote meant to do. was sitting in my camera bag, you know, five feet from me when I was, when I was in the

[00:17:04] Dan: chair.

[00:17:04] Wow. Wow. Well, I’m curious to. I always want to want to hear these, these moments, where you transition. I think that’s what the show is often just cause that’s where my curiosity has centered on. So we’ve got the transition out of ministry into photography, and then let’s just kind of connect the dots of like, how’d you get from there to here?

[00:17:28] What, what were some of the movements along there to, to get to fruitful and what you do now?

[00:17:32] Yeah, you know, it happened almost instantaneously. my business partner, Ben Luters, who’s the other owner here at Fruitful, he,he was the freelance graphic designer I hired at my last non profit job. And he would make these comments about, how I wish I had one of you for every one of my projects.

[00:17:54] and I didn’t really understand what that meant, because I’m not a particularly like organized person. So I was like, I don’t think you mean me as a project manager. and I mean, like, I’m, I’m disciplined, but I’m not, I’m not, I’m not highly like organized and detailed. I love having an executive assistant.

[00:18:10] It’s been life changing for me. And so I didn’t really understand what his comment meant. I wish I had one of you for all of my, clients. But then what I came to discover was that people would come to graphic designers and say, Hey, will you build me a website? Graphic designers would say absolutely and then they would kind of look at each other and the client says What should we put on it and and a designer says?

[00:18:35] Oh, well, I mean what I do is I take the things that you give me and I make them look good and so so many clients are missing that step between what they need and it being ready to put out in the world and I, forever, for whatever reason, probably because my dad paid me, you know, a quarter a page or a dollar a page or whatever it was to write, recaps of the Chicago Bulls games in the nineties for him, that I just, I had an ability to quickly come up with words.

[00:19:09] And you know, so when Ben would send me back a brochure that I had asked him to design for the college I was working at and, and say, Hey, I need a paragraph right here. Or, this headline is 12 words, I need it to be six. It was, I mean, it was nothing to me. I, I won an award in high school for advertising design.

[00:19:30] And again, thought it was just the aberration. Like, just, I, you know, yeah, I’m more of a youth group kid. I, I could care less about this journalism contest. And. Even thinking back now, I was the guy on staff that, the, our chief editors, Michael and Crystal of our high school newspaper would go to when they’re like, We gotta cut this headline down.

[00:19:50] You know, somebody turned in a headline that’s ten words. I need it to be eight. what can you do for me? And, or even if a piece was all the way written but needed a headline, I just, the ability to switch around words and, and mash them together, all that has always just come super easy to me. And I didn’t think there was any money in it, you know, it just seemed like, and I will say too, part of that is When we graduated, high school, 20 years ago, a little over 20 years, 20 years ago now, people were saying, don’t go into journalism, because all the newspapers were dying, they were being eaten by free internet content, all of that.

[00:20:29] Now, of course, I’m furiously angry at that advice, because the world is driven by content now. But if I had done anything besides go to Bible college right after high school, definitely it would have been going into writing. It would have been either journalism or just a plain English major. I, that was clear to me.

[00:20:47] but everybody in my life at the time was advising me not to do that.

[00:20:50] Dan : Mm mm Yeah.

[00:20:52] Raj: yeah, go ahead.

[00:20:54] Dan: I was just gonna ask, like, is it, is, are words the thing

[00:21:00] Are words the thing? Yeah, I think so the the Now I struggle for it’s to describe why But yeah with with so with Ben I so immediately after I I switched to photography full time you know, the funny thing is I don’t know that I actually ever did photography full time because Months after I made that switch, I was approached by some churches here locally who wanted us to, or wanted me to be their communications director, and I’m not a designer, and a lot of times a communications director at a church is not They’re looking for a unicorn, somebody who’s great at graphic design, good at web, good at SEO, good at social, good at video, you know, good at writing, all sorts of things.

[00:21:48] They’re looking for six staff positions for the price of less than one. And, and so again, this is like the just bare knuckled survival instinct. I went, I went to the church and I was like, I do not want another non profit job, but I want to do this work for you because I’m good at it. And I had just spent.

[00:22:08] Time managing. I don’t remember what my budget was it to the college, but I think it was like a half a million dollar budget that was you know, 29 managing a half a million dollar budget or something like that and And I was like I can do this, but I absolutely did not want to work for them I had my own business and so I said if you pay me half and pay my designer Ben half Then we will do this work for you together.

[00:22:35] You got to figure out video on your own and After a little time they accepted this idea. We worked together for several years That was our first client together. And so I became a brand strategist or About three months after I became a professional. Well after I became a quote unquote full time photographer this was all about four years after I’d become a Professional photographer, and so in terms of our words, the thing, that’s always what I’ve, I’ve brought, but I would, I would say words are the thing in the sense that.

[00:23:09] writing is discipline of thought when, when you really boil it down to, to what writing is. what makes something good versus something bad. You know, there’s this, Aaron Sorkin show, Studio 60 on Sunset Strip. It only lasted for one season. I’m a huge fan of it. Lindsay and I watch it every Christmas, because I love their, their holiday episode in that, show.

[00:23:32] But there’s a scene where, where the people are trying to write a sketch. And they are absolutely sucking. They’re just terrible at it. And so then their mentor says, Okay, what’s funny about this situation? And they tell him. And he goes, Okay. Now go back to it, and take away everything that isn’t that. That’s how you get to good writing is it’s it’s taking away. I’ve heard a similar story about Michelangelo carving David where somebody asked him like how did you carve this amazing statue and And he said a very very similar thing He said I took the slab of marble marble and I knocked away anything that wasn’t David and writing, writing all creation, I think is, is really about editing as much as it is about, creating.

[00:24:21] It’s, it’s about taking away what’s not core, what’s not central to the idea. And so many people struggle with that in such a noisy world. And for whatever reason, my brain just is able to drill down to those central ideas and then thankfully have enough vocabulary and letters of the alphabet to. Put it together into coherent words.

[00:24:46] Dan : I love it. I love it. Yeah, that’s that’s very well, very well said so it sounds like That was kind of the impetus or the the start of fruitful you and ben working at at you know doing the communications for that church and it’s grown grown since then but let’s now connect the dots from there to where is it now and what’s next as you look forward and yeah into your career and into the future

[00:25:12] Raj: Yeah, yeah, Ben had already built, or he started Fruitful, the same year that I hired him as a freelancer. So we’d been, we’ve been working together from the beginning. me first on the client side, now as a, his partner in business. And, And, and yeah, those, those years, we, we have basically 10x the revenue from, you know, from that time where it was just barely enough to pay for Ben’s own family to, being an over a million dollar business a year now, which by the way, for anybody who’s entering the creative world is not as, amazing as it sounds.

[00:25:47] don’t get me wrong. There are really, really wonderful things about it. I’m sitting in a very nice podcast studio that, that, that that kind of revenue has afforded, but it’s not what it sounds like. just because it’s a million dollar business does not mean I am personally a millionaire. and that’s something that I’ve learned about creative business is that, it’s, it’s a team sport.

[00:26:06] And so in order to do it really, really well. you need to have the right people around you. You have to watch your numbers really well. All of those things. but yeah, what we do now is we do branding, messaging, and websites for, often service based businesses, you know, typically B2B businesses or B2C businesses that are,yeah, that, that are trying to do something more in the world.

[00:26:29] you know, we don’t have the non profit bent anymore, although we certainly serve probably, I would say probably 20 or 30 percent of our customers every year are non profits and they’re really, really wonderful. We love working with them, but, we, we work often really well with people who are going through an identity crisis of sorts.

[00:26:47] Again, writing is discipline of thought. And so it looks like. You know, a parent handing down a business after, you know, 20, 30, 40 years to a child who’s taking over by child, I mean, you know, descendant, not, not actual child, but, you know, probably somebody who’s mid career, who’s, you know, 40 or so themselves and, and they’re taking on the accounting firm or the medical practice or, you know, whatever business it is.

[00:27:13] And, and, but now the son or daughter has some ideas of. What it’s going to take to survive and thrive into the next generation. So we, I help rename businesses. That, that’s one of the most disciplined, thinking about words is, is what do I call this? It’s like naming a child. and so naming businesses, branding them, getting new messaging on their websites.

[00:27:34] We, we’re a story brand certified agency. So we use. story we use writing in, our messaging for people because it’s how humans make sense of the universe. And therefore it helps people understand if they should buy your product as well. And, and so, yeah, we are, continuing to serve places like that.

[00:27:54] We also, do really, really well with internal pieces of larger businesses. So, you know, we just got done doing. an R& D effort with a, with the largest privately owned bank in the country. And, the, it’s really, really hard to talk about things like blockchain inside a, a large organization when everybody else is like.

[00:28:19] Don’t put that crypto stuff in here because it’s dangerous and there’s good reason for them to say things like that, but at the same time, they have to be able to engage with technologies that could disrupt them. And so we just got done helping them, communicate and brand and message their way through, you know, some incredibly innovative initiatives over there.

[00:28:39] And, and so we work with internal parts of companies as well, on things like R& D, wellness, employment, hiring, those types of things.

[00:28:47] Dan : Love it. Well, and you didn’t mention, but like the pinnacle of your success, which is the new meeting movement website, which will be live when, whenever this, episode

[00:28:56] Live. so, you know, I’m a, I’m a very, very happy client. Getting to enjoy the beautiful work that, that you and the team do.

[00:29:02] Raj: I mean, that is such the pinnacle of our success that I did not even have to mention it. I assume that people just, just know.

[00:29:09] Dan : reason I like, I was like, well, I, I need to mention that and connect the dots for listeners. But then also you said identity crisis. I’m like, my whole life is an identity crisis. So of course that’s, course you would the agency that, that would, I would want to work with because, my career is nothing but, if it’s not an identity crisis,

[00:29:27] Raj: We’re just going to rename this podcast to the Identity Crisis Podcast.

[00:29:30] Dan : that’s, that might’ve been a better name it Cause mean,

[00:29:34] Raj: Thinking about it, like, that’s pretty good.

[00:29:36] Dan : Yeah. Okay. So, welcome to the identity crisis podcast, Dan, who’s always in an identity crisis, So talk to me a little bit about the next phase. So you’re, you’re doing, you’re, you’re playing with words, playing with words.

[00:29:55] It’s probably not the right, the right, way to say it, you get do things with words professionally. And then you’re also doing things with words, On, on the side. And I think I wanna, you know, kind of connect the dots, what kind of, spoke to me as you’re talking about that taking away process of, of words I kinda like, wanted, like, I wanna do that with your career a little bit as you’re thinking about what’s next and like taking the things away.

[00:30:18] And I think that goes back to my question of like, are words the thing for you? but talk, talk to me about the books.

[00:30:25] Raj: yeah. Um, so I did this really brilliant thing in, at the beginning of 2016. I had a, probably, he’s probably nine months old at that time, nine month old at that time. our middle would have been, just over two and our oldest would have been, just, I probably just had turned four, or about to turn four and, and so I decided, you know what?

[00:30:49] This would be a great time in the middle of building a business for the first time. I should go ahead and start trying to write the great American novel, because I’m really, really smart like that. no, truthfully, the. The space that running a creative business had given me in my head of not trying to figure out,you know, for one, how I was going to provide for my family on a non profit salary.

[00:31:12] And then, for the other, not, also just having margin because I knew how to. Create some efficiencies in, in the creative business where I wasn’t working all the time. I wasn’t working 50, 60 hours a week. I was, I don’t know that I was working 40 when I, when I, at that time and it gave me enough space, that I, I realized that, you know, and this is something all, all creative people I think should realize is that often what pays the bills is when you rent out your skills to other people.

[00:31:45] And, you know, so photography, I wasn’t out there shooting fine art photography, hoping that people will buy my prints. And that is a valid way of making money in the industry, but it’s not the way most people are going to make money in the industry. And, and, you know, so photography, I was renting out my skills to brides and grooms who were, you know, who needed well composed, well lit, well edited photos to capture the most important day of their lives.

[00:32:12] and I was happy to do so. It was really wonderful. It was kind of like Living in a rom com every weekend. I got to enter so many people’s stories. It’s such a small part of it But in such a close and personal way. It was an honor but I was renting out my skills and same with with writing words for other people for a living.

[00:32:31] you know, I You probably only get so many words in your lifetime, you know, just by virtue of Of, of the nature of life and, you know, you’re going to have so many words that you say so many words that you write. And I found a way to make money renting mine to other people. but I had never, I mean, since high school, I hadn’t, I hadn’t written much for myself other than blogging, which was fun and frivolous, but, but it was just a practice of writing really. so at the beginning of 2016, I heard this episode of This American Life that was about a grief counseling center for children, in Salt Lake City. my wife Lindsay and I had lived in Salt Lake City for a year. And so like I could just picture this place, I knew what neighborhood it was in, and also the culture of Salt Lake City, which has this, you know, just south of, of Salt Lake, there’s a,you know, Utah County, they call this place Happy Valley.

[00:33:31] And it’s kind of a sarcastic thing because it’s got the highest use of antidepressant usage in the country and And so everybody looks happy, but it’s it’s Medically induced which is totally great. If you need it, I’m all for psychiatric medicines when you need them they’ve been beneficial for me, but the The, the point though was like I could just really understand this, this place and I heard this story, grief counseling for children in Salt Lake and, they,unfortunately a lot of the kids had lost a parent to, to suicide.

[00:34:07] And I think about 60 percent of the kids who were there have lost a parent to suicide, typically a dad. And I might be wrong on the exact figure, but a high percentage and, and there was just this wild hair that went off in my brain of, I wonder if a boy and a girl who had met there, both having lost a dad in the same way, if they could fall in love and get married.

[00:34:41] And, and then survive life with the kind of ever gnawing suspicion that maybe one or the other would be lost in the same way they lost their dads. And it was just a, it was a really great what if that, you know, great and terrible of course, what if, but that got my brain churning and, And, and, I don’t, I honestly don’t remember if it was a couple of hours, a couple of days, but I mean, within a very short amount of time, I went back to my home office.

[00:35:13] It was like this little nook of our bedroom, in this townhouse we were renting. And I just, I typed the first line of the book. And I was, I, writers talk about this stuff, I hate it, cause I, and I wish it wasn’t true of my story, but I, I, I heard this voice in my head and I, I, I just started digging out what the conversation was that started this, this one particular phrase, this one particular line.

[00:35:40] And and so for me, it felt more like an uncovering process than a creating process. I, I was like, I knew that. because of, of like, just hope that I had in the universe that I wasn’t writing a tragedy. I’ll spoil that part of the book for everyone. but I knew that I wasn’t writing some indie Hollywood thing that makes us navel gaze and go, gosh, isn’t life bleak sometimes?

[00:36:12] I knew that I wasn’t writing that story, but I knew, but I started with a crisis. And I knew where I needed to end and then it just felt like discovering everything in the middle and it was fun like I, I, it was a lot of work, but. It almost felt like moving these folks out of my head, every time I would write.

[00:36:35] It was just like, it, it, it was like they, they would get louder and louder and louder until I was like, fine, I will write and I will sit down and, and we lived across the, it wasn’t even across the street from a Starbucks. It was across a field from a Starbucks. and So, you know, sometimes when the babies were down for naps, I would just sneak over there and I have this kind of peculiar writing habit.

[00:36:56] I don’t know if anybody else has this, but I would play the same song on repeat, until it just became noise in my brain. and then, and then I would just write these characters until, until they’re quiet enough to for me to go about my day again. If you’ve ever seen the movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, about, Charles Dickens writing The Christmas Carol, very similar to that.

[00:37:17] Like, the ghost actually kind of visiting and mess messing with him. It felt felt similar to that. and I just, I loved it. I hadn’t written fiction since high school. I honestly didn’t know if I was writing a screenplay or a novel or if I was just wasting my time. it just felt like therapy kind of.

[00:37:34] just, just getting these things out of my head. And so I just followed it as far as it went and 86, 000 words later, it’s, it’s a book.

[00:37:42] Dan: And what’s the, we’re going to dig in more in future, future episodes to like really the, the why of this book and your hope for the book, but just to, to focus on, you know, you as a, as Raj, the writer, the author, like what’s the, what’s your ambition when it comes to writing a book like this and other books, I know there’s other, you’ve other works in the hopper. and I think, I guess what I’m trying to get at is likeUm, there’s these parts of your career and I love that you’re talking about, you know, renting your time versus, renting out your skills rather versus making your money from, from the product of your skills, I guess. and, and is this, is this, you know, potentially like if you could wave your magic wand and have all your dreams come true, would eventually Raj Lula, the writer, be the main thing or is it, you know, some blend or is it something else? It’s a lot of questions in there.

[00:38:37] Choose, Choose,

[00:38:38] adventure. That’s

[00:38:41] know, I know, I absolutely know the answer to this question and it’s also the scariest thing to say out loud, which is yes, I, that, that is what I would love. in fact, Ben and I have talked about, if The book blows up and there’s a world where I need to go spend three months in LA to help Netflix turn it into a movie.

[00:39:03] I’m going to do it like I, he already knows that it’s like, you got to sit somebody in my seat who can write well enough, on websites for three months while I go do this because there’s no chance that I’m not doing that. and, but, but the reason it’s scary to say out loud, is in part because it’s, it’s always been scary when, when I started writing the book, I was probably.

[00:39:29] I mean, 14 months or so off of my last non profit job. I thought this was a detour from non profit and, and faith work and, and I really struggled with the fact that the book is not a Christian book. It’s not, it’s not an anti Christian book. but it’s not, it’s not a Christian book either. There’s no scene where somebody goes into a chapel and, you know, prays to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and then it somehow works out their problem and they’re, you know, their family’s whole again and whatever.

[00:40:05] Like that, it’s, that’s not this book. And there’s bad words in it too, and so I struggled at the time thinking that I was going to be probably going back into faith based non profit work again and wondering like, this book feels like authentically my work for the first time in my life. And it really doesn’t fit this industry. does, and so that caused a lot of identity crisis around do I fit this industry? And, you know, seven years later we’ve answered the question, the answer is no. but, but that was really, really hard. I mean, that was, I mean, it was, it was 30 plus years of programming in my life at that time. of conviction in my life at that time.

[00:40:47] That that was what I was supposed to do. And in the matter of 14 months it, it, it, Like decomposed, it, it, it deconstructed, and, and so it’s, it’s scary to say out loud that, yes, this is what I’ve always wanted, you know, that I’ve, I’ve always wanted to be a writer and, but I, you know, I was fortunate to have a, a great conversation with, Donald Miller, who’s a New York best time, a New York Times bestseller, for several books, and, and he described me as.

[00:41:19] The writer who struggles at the core with the question of whether or not life is worth living and That is why I write. That’s what The Caring House is about my first book. That is what The other books that I’m working on are about though in different ways. They’re not all you know death and and and grief and all those things the first book is in large part because of the things that I was going through at the time and we’ll talk about that and in the next episode but

[00:41:54] the other books though all deal with kind of this question of like how is Anyone okay withwith this existence? I love how John Green, who wrote The Fault in Our Stars, talks about you know, like it’s weird that we have bodies, you know, that we have bacteria in our gut that either makes us depressed or anxious or happy, and we have zero control over that.

[00:42:19] And much of it is determined from the moment we’re born. you know, and so it’s like, are we even who we really are? and, or is it a lot of microbes telling us who we are? and you have, I’ve been listening to some Pete Holmes lately and, and, he had a great conversation with Steven Pressfield who wrote The War of Art.

[00:42:36] And, and in that, Pete said thatthat art is highly sensitive people reporting back to everyone else how they experience reality. And so I think that, you know, the Caring House is an, it’s such a great quote. It’s like a comedian who tells a lot of jokes about his anatomy. is it was really profound thought.

[00:43:06] He’s a deep thinker. He’s, I’m really enjoying his, his work,

[00:43:08] Dan : he is. I love, I love his So good.

[00:43:10] Raj: but, but that idea, I mean, that’s really what formed the first book and what’s going to form all the books is, is that. If you allow yourself to be sensitively open to the fact that life is this crazy mix of beauty and joy and pain, then there’s this tension of existence that comes from that.

[00:43:38] And we have to decide whether it’s worth continuing to press on into this, knowing that it’s going to have both the good and the bad, or if we’re going to give up. And, ultimately, again, I don’t know if it’s my gut bacteria or whatever that tells me this, but I believe that life really is worth living.

[00:43:59] And I also acknowledge the dark shadow strokes that are painted into this whole thing. And, and, you know, some people would, I think, a bit too tritely say, well, that’s what makes the light parts shine. I would say, I would say probably for me, it’s a little bit more that. There’s beauty in the combination of the dark and the light strokes.

[00:44:30] Even if we would not choose to have any of those dark strokes.

[00:44:34] Dan : I mean, I just want to like, I just feel like I just need to let that sit for a second. Cause it’s true. It’s just so, so true. and so true of my, my experience. and so true of my, my life that like so much of the goodness that has come has come through pain that I would never have chosen. if so.

[00:44:57] Thank you for, yeah, carrying that torch, carrying that message, for believing, believing in that truth. it, it, it matters.

[00:45:09] Raj: for giving me a space to, to say it. And, and you’ve been so supportive of this journey as well. I know people have heard me on the podcast a handful of times in the last year. But, what they don’t see is the, you know, we might be at over a hundred conversations now. Oh, we probably are well over a hundred conversations now.

[00:45:27] And some, some of them for you, some of them for me. But, your constant encouragement that. I shouldn’t wait to put this work out in the world. I shouldn’t necessarily be precious about whether it’s with a traditional publisher or self published, has, has really encouraged me. And it’s, it’s changed my thinking about.

[00:45:45] what the value of this is and what the purpose of it is. So, thank that.

[00:45:48] Dan : Yeah, yeah. I’m, I’m, I’m moved by that. And like, like you said earlier, like this, this is what you’ve always wanted. And, um. I applaud the bravery of even saying those words, and how much harder this is because of that, If you didn’t care about this book, if you didn’t care about where this journey took you, then it would, you know, it would be a non issue. but because, because it matters, it’s so much scarier. because it might not take you where you want it to go. And therefore, like, it’s easier to not do it. Because then you don’t have to face the potential of being disappointed by the outcome. but you have to face that. In order to, take that risk and find out, If this could take you there, which is one of the, the, ironies, I guess, of creative work and of, it’s not just creative work.

[00:46:47] It’s a, it’s of doing work that matters. It’s, it’s of, of, it’s, it’s why I have these conversations, right? Because this is what it’s about as like the risk and the journey and the figuring it out as we go. and so I’m just, yeah. stoked for, for, for your, you know, to, to witness your bravery, you know, in, in this process.

[00:47:06] And thank you for leading by example.

[00:47:09] Raj: Well, thank you. Most of it, all of us really don’t know what the effect of our work will be in, in the world. I mean, you know, F. Scott Fitzgerald was very nearly a forgotten writer and it, it happened to be. That world war two, it was the combination of world war two and him having a warehouse of unsold copies of the great Gatsby that rocketed him to, you know, to, to, the, the pantheon of American writers and.

[00:47:39] no, don’t get me wrong, very, very talented person, but were it not for those things, Great Gatsby would not have become what it did. And, you know, but even sitting here thinking, it’s not, it’s not just creators. Like you said, I mean, like sitting here talking to a microphone to you, I don’t know who invented the microphone and could they have imagined podcasting?

[00:48:04] Could they have imagined, you know, the tiny, tiny microphones in our cell phones that, that record birthday parties and, you know, engagements and, and last words and all these, you know, incredible moments in life? And You know, this was probably some guy in, in a laboratory with a workbench and a soldering iron going, I wonder if I can replicate the human voice with some, you know, metal and some wires.

[00:48:31] That’s pretty stinking amazing. And. Everybody’s work in life are like that. We don’t actually know what the effect of them are going to be until we put it out in the world. And that’s scary. It’s so hard. I wish, you know, I wish that we had a sense of the future and what the work was going to be before we put it out and then get to decide whether or not it’s worth doing.

[00:48:54] But we don’t. So we just have to do the things that were quote unquote meant to do. The things that come natural and hope that It fits into the tapestry of humanity in a way that’s useful and helpful.

[00:49:07] Dan: Beautifully said. Let’s, let’s call it a wrap there. We have more conversation to have about this book in particular and about your journey ahead. but, I’m, I’m excited to see how it unfolds. Excited to see you continue to, to hold that tension of, Renting, renting out your skills and also wanting to be paid for the, for the, the other words that you write, your own, your own words, I guess you could say.

[00:49:34] but thank you for, for this conversation. Thank you yeah, just your, your willingness to be so open about where you are and where you want to go.

[00:49:40] Raj: Thanks, Dan.

[00:49:41] Dan: Thank you so much, Raj, and thank you, dear listeners. You can find links to Raj’s newsletter, his book, a place you can pre order it at our, in our show notes at themeaningmovement. com slash Raj Book Launch. That’s R A J Book Launch. I’ve been thinking about Pondering how we can come together as a community and support Raj and his efforts and create some synergy between what he’s doing and what we’re doing.

[00:50:12] And I’ve put together this plan. First and foremost, just again, all of the royalties from this prelaunch go to a fantastic charity. So they’re like anything that I do that we do only just helps kids who need some extra support who’ve been through traumatic experiences. So my idea is that we put together a book club for this book.

[00:50:37] If we sell 50 copies, if the Meaning Movement community can buy 50 copies of this book, whether you buy one or two or five or ten yourself, or maybe 50 people all buy one, I’m not too concerned about it, but I would love to see us buy 50 of his, pre order 50 of his books. And then I will lead us in a book study through book club is a better way to say it through the book Raj will make An appearance and do some Q& A.

[00:51:03] We’ll do it over a few sessions It’ll be a blast and a chance for us to meet each other hang out more bring the community together So grab a book from the link in the show notes, and then email the receipt to book at rajlulla. com with your receipt. Um, and in that email, just mentioned the Meaning Movement.

[00:51:23] That’s how Raj tracks the pre orders, make sure that those royalties get sent along. So you buy the book, send the receipt to book at rajlulla. com. Let’s aim for 50 sales or more in a couple of weeks. We’ll be back discussing the launch and marketing strategies and putting this kind of work out into the world.

[00:51:38] I hope this is inspiring for you. If you have any thoughts, any feedback, shoot me an email. at podcastatthemeaningmovement. com. Thank you so much for listening, for being a part of this crazy thing. We’ll be back with you shortly.


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