Steven Lawson Returns: Founder of The Monk Manual

I am excited to have Steven Lawson, Founder of the Monk Manual back for a second interview. The first interview was in March of 2019. I thought it would be fun to chat with him now that the Monk Manual has been available for almost 2 years.

How can the Monk Manual help us navigate the COVID-19 world we now find ourself living in? 

In modern times, we are accustomed to feeling a sense of control. When we encounter challenges, we typically can find a means to overcome that said obstacle by taking action to change our exterior environment and circumstances. As a culture we celebrate this sense of agency and the underlying feeling that with enough hard work and ingenuity we can fix any problem.

With COVID, things feel a bit different. The pandemic is a problem that as individuals we can do very little to fix or overcome. We’re being forced to move from a place of conquering challenges to now learning to cope with one that is out of our control.

For many of us, COVID-19 has brought about a certain level of chaos to our lives. Our job situations, social interactions and day-to- day routines have changed, which means we have to invent new ways of doing things. We are all searching for ways to bring order back into our lives.

I think that is where the Monk Manual can most profoundly serve in this place and time. We can find peace amidst all the disruption if we take the time to carve out our own path and find a way to create structure amongst the chaos. In many ways, the Monk Manual is a perfect tool for such a time as this, which is why I think we have been growing so much over the past few months.

The Monk Manual has been available for over one year. What are some of the valuable ways it can be used? 

I am consistently surprised and amazed by the variety of ways people are using the Monk Manual. I intentionally designed it to be rather open and flexible. I wanted to give just enough boundaries to guide the user while still keeping it open enough so that it can be used in a variety of lifestyles and personalities.

The daily reality of a stay-at-home mom/dad vs. a student vs a teacher vs a business executive is different. I wanted to create something so flexible that it could work in all instances and life circumstances..

Did the demand for the Monk Manual surprise you? I noticed a few times that you were temporarily out of stock due to high demand. What attracts people to the Monk Manual? 

Yes and no. When I created the Monk Manual, I felt very strongly that it was a tool that could help a lot of people live a full(er) life. I rarely have such strong convictions around anything.

What I didn’t expect is that it would grow so fast. While I’ve always believed in the long term vision, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to materialize. It’s happening much faster than I had imagined, which is exciting. As I’m writing this we are going on our fourth round of being out of stock.

What do you like to tell new users of the Monk Manual? What advice or tips do you suggest as they begin to utilize the Monk Manual? 

I think this has changed over time for me. In the beginning, I was very eager to explain the reasoning behind the Monk Manual and the deeper why’s behind various components. It’s not always explicit when people start using it, but really every single aspect is very intentional. I spent a very, very, long time thinking about the Monk Manual down to every last detail. In the beginning, I thought that if I shared my intention with the Monk Manual, users would be more likely to stick with it in the long term.

But what I’ve actually come to find is what people struggle with the most isn’t the system itself, but rather the emotions they feel around the system. Many of our users–and this probably applies to any system geared towards intentionality– have relatively high expectations of themselves. They may even fall into perfectionism at times. What I’ve noticed is that some people struggle with a feeling that they are not doing it perfectly when they are getting started.

So now my biggest tip is to be gentle with oneself and just trust the process. There are many ways to use the Monk Manual – the important thing is not to let perfection get in the way of progress.

What do you like to tell experienced users of the Monk Manual? What are new ways of using the Monk Manual that they might wish to consider?

One thing I like to tell our users is that they should expect their practice with the Monk Manual to change  over time. Just like I said earlier in this interview – everyone’s life circumstances  are very different. We have people who are living radically different lives. But that level of shift can happen even on an individual level, for example with a change of job, or state in life. As the dynamics of one’s life changes so should their practice with the manual. It’s meant to be a very fluid thing.

What are some upcoming projects you wish to share? 

Right now, I am focused on designing a few tools to help users enhance their experience of the Monk Manual.

I am also working through how to take the function of the Monk Manual and reengineer it into new forms that can serve different audiences and circumstances. I’m still in the gestation phase of this work, it’s a slow process. I want everything the Monk Manual provides to be deeply intentional and purposeful, and that type of work takes a lot of time and discovery.

What are you really excited about?

One of the greatest joys of this project is the opportunity I have to serve such an incredible and diverse group of men and women. Our users come from every creed and color and are united in a common search for a full(er) life. With so much disunity that exists in our world right now, I have a great amount of hope seeing the people who have come together around this tool. It all feels very human and very right to me and I’m excited to serve this incredible audience for a very long time.

Thanks for taking the time for this interview and for the great work you do!


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