READ TIME: 9.5 minutes SKIM TIME: 4 minutes

Question: “How do you know if you’re a leader?”

Answer: “You look back and see people following you.”

Robots Following If you are not a leader, please stop — DO NOT READ Are you still reading? Click this!

(Shhh, I think they wrote a song about you…) Just kidding… Sort of…. Everyone thinks they’re a leader, right? Me too, but here’s…


As I’ve pushed forward as a leader (filmmaker, director, call it what you will) I’ve noticed a growing sense of loneliness. And, along with the growing loneliness I’ve also noticed something else. Something strange…

It’s as if just to the side of me there’s a vacancy. Like a shadow where someone should be — but is not.

I find myself increasingly anxious for this positon to be filled: “Oh God, is your HR department backlogged or something?” Yet, the position remains vacant. Can I tell you about the owner of that position? Super-Hero-Silhouette-Kevin-Dooley Oh, magnificent are they, the Filler-Of-The-Void.

Surely they were a calculous major in college, debate club on the side, dabbling in computer programming on weekends just for kicks. And experience? Oh my…

Filler-Of-The-Void has budgeted and carried movies on to profitability by sheer force of will. They are iconic, powerful, commanding, and strong.


Filler-Of-The-Void has the diplomatic wit to wrangle warring factions to peacable accord — and the gravitas of a business mogul to boot. They are friend, confidant, and shoulder to weep on.

Filler-Of-The-Void exists to pave the way for me (Movie Director Magificent) to swagger on set shout “Action”, call “Print”, then go home to a peace-filled sleep.


As I recently began pre-production on my 2nd feature film, I had a nagging suspicion that God was saying: “Sean, that person ain’t coming.”

Now, I don’t know if God uses such poor grammar, but this nagging suspicion had the ring of truth to it, you know?

The reality was closing in that it was time for me to gut-up and start learning the skills that I was abdicating to this hero who is simply not going to show up.

After all, good leaders don’t abdicate, they LEAD! (Tweet This) Like this guy…

Rogue Warrior Cover

Richard “Demo Dick” Marchinko Founding Father of SEAL Team Six.

Marcinko’s mantra:

Leaders “lead from the front!”

Leaders don’t wait for someone to come along and coddle them towards greatness… leaders move out.

But let me speak my plight with more clarity — leading, especially leading from the front is… LONELY! Like this iconic scene from Forrest Gump (Zemeckis, you slay me).

Forrest Gump Running

Now don’t misunderstand, by lonely I do not mean without company, or without fellow workers. I have great friends. And I have awesome co-workers and crew.

This loneliness is different.

  • When your the leader, the very nature of leadership demands that you are out in front — it is lonely.
  • When everyone needs your attention, it’s not friendship — it is leadership.
  • If you want to be a director — a real director — gut-up to loneliness, it will be your constant companion. (Tweet This)
  • If you want to be a thought-leader, then gut up to loneliness.
  • If you want to be market disrupting inventor, gut-up to loneliness.
  • If you want to be a provocative artist, then gut up to loneliness.
  • If God has burdened you with a dream, then you cannot expect anyone else to be as hard-charging, or as long-suffering as you. It is your passion. It is your burden to bear. (Tweet This)

I confess that Demo Dick Marcinko’s “lead from the front” mantra had me reconsidering my own leadership gifts:

Am I really a leader…
If I am waiting for “Invisible Hero” to show up and save the day?
Am I really a leader…
If I am waiting someone to be with me so I am not so lonely.

After all,in his book (a book every leader/warrior-type should read, BTW), I had never heard Demo Dick utter even one derivative of the word “Lonely.” Yet, to my dismay, evidence would say that I am a leader.

What evidence, you ask? The same flavor of evidence I see in my son Ryan… I know Ryan is a musician because music flows from him.

Or the evidence I see in my friend Brandon Burgess… I know Brandon is a cinematographer because great motion photography flows from him.

I knew I was a leader because when I looked back, people were following. (Tweet This)

Through the making of Splashed, and many other productions before it, people were willing to follow me into the most foolhardy of all unreasonable endeavors: filmmaking.

But if I were honest, in deep places I loathe to speak of, I really wanted someone as hard-charging as I to do the hard work. I wanted someone else to bear the gut-wrenching burdens of leadership because I had a clue about…


  • Only leaders read the books that no one else wants to read, about stuff no one else cares to discuss — that is your lonely burden to bear.
  • Only leaders do the prep that no one else wants to know about  — that is your lonely burden to bear.
  • Only leaders deal with people-problems others never want to empathize with — that is your lonely burden to bear.

Others just want to show up, have fun and do their jobs. And they are entitled to that. They are not the leader, you are.


And if you have even a modicum of success as a leader, watch out because it gets even worse…

With success comes scrutiny. Everyone (I mean everyone) will begin mining your actions for deeper meaning. They will even scrutinize your lack of action for deeper meaning.

If you disconnect to do your lonely work — as I do when I go into tunnel-vision-mode — people will assume the worst!

It behooves you to be communicative ( even “overly communicative”) during this phase.

I confess that I absolutely suck at this which has gotten me in trouble with those I love and enjoy the most (sorry friends).

But learn from me, if you do not direct the narrative about how you feel, or what you are up to, the worse will be assumed. This will, of course, make your even more lonely.


Success is a magnet for the strange.

People will come at you hoping you can fulfill their desires and dreams (much like how I was waiting for Filler-Of-The Void).

Any success (even success as lame as I have enjoyed) will attract dreamers. Not all dreamers are “doers.” If you are a “Doer” then these folks will look to you for their “shot”. This will make you protective, possibly defensive, and that will cause even more isolation, and yes…loneliness.

Like the fine Sunday morning that I awoke to a Facebook Message that began with the words “Hello Mr. Farrington” (Note: this is, by the way, the worst of all social media opening lines).

Here’s what followed…

Sean's Strange Facebook Msg - kid picture

Sending pictures of your kid (an adorable kid none-the-less), over the internet, to a complete stranger, I don’t know…

Momma pride aside — this is a little strange.

I kinda freaked out and did not reply (how would you have replied to this?)

But it is just par for the course, within a few weeks I would have actresses handing me postcard sized “calling cards” with some interesting pics.


Or the hot actresses surrounding filmmaking events who want pictures taken with you (why they want the picture, I have no idea).

Strange enough, but add to that the discomfort of waiting for a malfunctioning camera while ridiculous platform heels put certain “endowments” uncomfortably at ear level. Question: where do you look while waiting for the flash?

Sean looking away as camera malfunctions

But that’s not the worst — the worst is far closer… and far more personal.

I’ve been approached by friends expressing sadness that they didn’t fight for a bigger role in my last film.

Fight for a role? It’s not like I’m frikin’ Scorsese here…

Or the friends who approach you for their “shot”, like people you’ve known for years asking if you would “let” them direct a movie — again, not Scorsese, and especially not Louis B. Meyer.

The take-away, is that we are all hungry for momentum. We all want to believe dreams can come true. But God help us if we think “getting a shot” or having someone “let” you direct is what you need. Or if we are waiting for some Filler-Of-The-Void champion to come our way before we lead (ahem, Sean).


So, realizing my weakness, I am stepping out like Forrest Gump (“Run Forrest, Run”) but this time with a strategy!

My strategy is threefold, first…


“In the first place Eustace (never having read the right books)

had no idea how to tell a story straight.”


Renewing the mind is always a great place to start.

C.S. Lewis, my all-time favorite man-crush knew that the “Right Books” existed and were worthy of being read. Action stepTake 15 minutes a night to read the right books. (Tweet This)

  • The book of Proverbs always rocks. There are 31 proverbs — one for each night of the month, an excellent place to start.
  • Leadership books help shed light on the leadership process. My current favorite is Creativity Inc — a honest (sometimes gut-wrenching) tale of leadership in the creative sector. And real-life lessons from one of the best businesses ever: Pixar!


Reaching out to other leaders in or near my own circle if friends is my second strategy. This has been helping, especially as I start to discover like-minded souls who are themselves forging ahead. Suprisingly I find they have experienced similar side-effects of leadership.

Now these leaders cannot lead for me, but they can at least be a sympathetic ear, possibly to shed light/wisdom on my journey. Action steps: Reach out to  like-minded “Doers”

  • Take 10 minutes a week to email (see templates below), or call leaders.
  • Don’t waste time with talkers, look for the evidence of leadership — completed projects, and people following them into crazy and unreasonable projects.
  • These leaders will most likely not be in the same industry, that is okay, leadership is a unique skill that transcends profession.
  • Once you’ve identified some leaders, be persistent to get in touch with them.
  • Schedule one 20 minute meeting with a leader, any leader.
  • It doesn’t have to be face-to-face. Facetime and Skype are great tools for this!
  • Leaders love to give advice, so ask for it — then take it.
  • Befriend them, be helpful to them.
  • Be sure to have no agenda other than to talk, or better yet, listen…


I am told by people smarter than I that the most primal fear is loneliness.

Our deepest darkest dread is being abandoned by those we love and who love us. If this is true, then the opposite of our greatest fear is our greatest need: being known. (Tweet This)

The irony is that by facing the fear of loneliness we find “Being known.”

It is when we gently push forward into the darkness — into the unknown lonely areas that we discover where God can be found — un blurred, undistorted.

I like to focus on the fact that Jesus’ himself pushed through this fear in the garden when cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46) a most pitiful cry of loneliness.

Christ moved forward past his fear, and (as a leader) he also moved through profound loneliness to be seated at the right hand of God, “exalted” and lonely no more (Phil. 2:9).

This brings me peace: knowing that this Suffering-God understands loneliness, and desires to meet me in the loneliness where I might become known.

It startles and inspires me that God may be calling me to lonely places. It is precisely out there, in the dark and uncertain places that I will find the One who gave me the dream, and the One who is just as willing to walk with me towards it. So…

Wait for no one. Lead now.

Charge ahead. Once more into the breach.

Did you like this? Please take a second to Facebook it here, or on Linkedin here, and I’ll focus more on the impossible stuff of making movies, feral creativity, blogging, etc.


Who is your “Filler-Of-The-Void”?
How has success “gotten weird” for you? 
Who are the “doers” in your circle?
Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links and notes…


Information Mentioned


LEADER CONTACT EMAIL TEMPLATE – I have used emails similar to this with great success.

Subject: I’m in need of your advice…

Hi Jim,

I realize you are a busy man, especially with the wedding approaching, so thanks for taking the time to read this. I’m bugging you because I am in need of some advice/guidance.

I’m working on my next feature film and am moving into areas of business that I have not ventured before.

Since you are the most successful business man I know, I thought I’d take a shot and see if you could afford 20 minutes to answer 8 questions. I promise to keep it short and that I will not follow up with questions, unless you allow me to.

Would you be available for coffee? Or, I could visit your office if that would work better…

If you don’t have the time, or desire, I completely understand, and no hard feelings. Regardless I am looking forward to attending your wedding, it sounds awesome 🙂

– Sean

A REFERRAL EMAIL TEMPLATE (by the way — ask for referrals — this is huge. Then you can name drop.

Subject: Jim Snook told me to contact you…

Hi Kyle,
I was sitting with Jim Snook yesterday and he suggested that I get in contact with you. I realize you are probably a real busy man, but I am in need of some guidance (mentorship may be too heavy a word).
I am going into pre-production on my 2nd feature (my first with a budget) and I’d like guidance on dealing with budgets, legal entities (LLCs) and production.
I thought I’d take a shot and see if you could afford 20 minutes to answer 8 questions. I promise to keep it short and not follow up with questions, unless you allow me.
– Sean

Robots Following: Creative Commons 2.0: Tim Constable – October 15, 2014 Filler_of_the_Void: Creative Commons 2.0: Kevin Dooley – August 3, 2008
Comment Rules: What is Captain Jack Sparrow? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks Brian Oberkirch/Tim Ferris for the inspiration)


  1. Great stuff, Sean. Definitely resonates with stuff I’ve thought but couldn’t verbalize like you did. It’s lonely on the frontlines, but it’s the most exciting view!


  2. Great stuff, Sean. Really resonates with some of the things I’ve thought but couldn’t quite verbalize as well as you did here.
    It’s lonely on the frontlines, but it’s the most exciting view!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s