Squeezed and in a pickle

Whoah. Gone since April.

What have I been doing?

Saving the youth of America. No, not really. But I have been teaching them how to sing, dance and act a little better. 

Hustling.

I've been hustling in the real world (as opposed to blogger world) in order to pay for my kids to go to summer camp, afford to go on vacation, and oh...eat.

We also have to buy a car. Ugh.

Not complaining. Or trying not to complain because I know in the vast expansiveness of the world I am rich. Definitely rich. But due to so many life choices, health, location, and every excuse known to man, we are feeling SQUEEZED. 

In fact if you have a second, take a listen to this Fresh Air interview about Alissa Quart's new book "Squeezed" about why America is getting too expensive for the middle class. In a nutshell the cost of housing, food, childcare, healthcare and daily living has far outpaced salaries. Better yet, maybe read her book.

Combine that reality with my lack of discipline and incredible ability to put my head in the sand mentality and I find myself and family in a pickle.

The good news: I'm really good at making money when in a pickle. 

I didn't say I know how to keep the money.  I said I know how to make it. 

Some people know how to budget. I have friends that count every penny in their savings, that know how to spend this not that.

Not me. 

I know how to spend $157 dollars at Whole Foods within ten minutes. It's a skill. Actually it's not a skill. Pretty easy to do actually. 

I also know how to put together an idea, throw together a website, create a short marketing campaign, charge what I believe I'm worth and sell 50+ spots at a summer camp that I put on this past June and one coming up in July.  

Boom. Done.

Trust me, it was and continues to b a lot of work. After I sold the 50 spots, I have to teach those 50 spots. 

My body pays for it. 

But now I have 50 more customers for future pickles. 

I've now multiplied that idea into a small school, with a focus and am doing it again this fall. I sold 12 spots in one day last week. Exciting. There's a need and I'm fulfilling that need. That makes me happy.

I'm working hard and I'm saving up for pickles.

There is something so uniquely satisfying about coming up with an idea, executing on it, and delivering above and beyond what I'm capable of and FINISHING it. Not always easy for someone like me. I created it and I (as Seth Godin, one of my gurus says), shipped it. 

Which leads me to my next thought. Am I an entrepreneur or a freelancer?

More on that soon. 

I gotta go eat some pickles.

Empathy

When I was in eighth grade I participated in a mock trial.

I had to defend a man who was on trial for murder and up against the death penalty.

Pretty heavy for eighth grade I think to myself now, but looking back on it I remember being fully engaged in a lively discussion with my parents about my argument. I love a good argument. My parents taught me that, as did my extended family. 

I don't remember many details of the actual mock trial but I do remember this fact. This young man I was defending (a 20 year old who had murdered another human being on the streets) had been forcefully kicked out of his mother's womb by his father. His father literally kicked his mother so hard in the stomach that she went into labor and he was born premature.

My argument was that he never stood a chance in this world. 

He grew up in a circle of violence and repeated the exact world that he knew. It seemed pretty obvious to me even then that the world is not black and white. Privilege comes in many forms. Disadvantage is built layer by layer, as is shame, often resulting in catastrophe.

I can't remember if I won the mock trial. I hope I did.

Since eighth grade I've had a similar conversations with those who see the world as black and white.

But the world is not black and white. Decisions in life are often made in various shades of grey. 

I recently read Jon Ronson's "So You've Been Publicly Shamed."

This incredible book dives into the re-emergence of public shaming, mostly on the internet and is jaw droppingly motivating if you're considering cutting social media out of your world. 

Although the book references people who have gotten caught in sex rings, plagiarizing scandals, tweets gone horribly wrong, and exposes the scary "Mr. Robot" world that people in my kind of bubble don't even really know exists, it did more than that for me.

It reminded me of those shades of grey. It reminded me that it's important not to jump on the shaming bandwagon. It's very easy to see one side of the story. The story that fits into our narrative at the time. 

This book taught me the vital importance of empathy. It seems we have lost a sense of empathy as a collective. It seems to me that empathy is lost when we make things black and white. More and more things in life are becoming black and white. Our social media posts are filled with only the best of moments. Our pictures are filtered or at the very least we take 3, 10, sometime 100 shots to get the perfect one.

We do not show the in between. 

But it's the "in between" that I am interested in. I live in the "in between." You live in the "in between." The worst mistakes of my life do not define my character. The best choices of my life do not determine my success.

Life is made up of tiny increments of motivation, loss, and moments of push and pull. Now that those tiny moments can often be frozen in time for all of us to see and respond to, it seems to me that we all need to live, breathe, and teach one thing.
 

Empathy.

 
 
 

The Man Who Thought He Was Going To Die and the startling reality of placebo

A man was in a double blind drug trial and thought he was being treated with anti-depressants.

One night, depressed, he decided to take the bottle of medication in order to kill himself. His body started to shut down, he was rushed to the hospital where they started the IV and tried to get his body to stabilize. 

It took three doctors to convince the man that he had actually taken an entire bottle of sugar pills. It was only after he was finally convinced that his body started to restore.

The power of placebo is strong. I had no idea how strong. In fact there is a specific hierarchy to types of placebo.

From an article in psychologytoday.com:

  • Placebo surgery works better than placebo injections
  • Placebo injections work better over placebo pills
  • Sham acupuncture works better than a placebo pill
  • Capsules work better than tablets
  • Big pills work better than small
  • The more doses a day, the better
  • The more expensive, the better
  • The color of the pill makes a difference
  • If your doctor says "This WILL alleviate your pain" or "This WILL make you run faster" it works better than something more casual like "This could help you."

Here is the most exciting part that researchers have discovered

Even if you KNOW you are told you are receiving a placebo, your brain doesn't really know. That is because most of your brain doesn't speak English (or whatever language you speak). The parts of your brain that feels fear, guilt, or joy, thinks in pictures and associations as well as ritual.

If you're interested in learning more about how the brain "thinks" you can listen to an awesome podcast with Steven Pinker, who is the author of many books but he talks specifically about this concept in his book, "The Language Instinct." You can listen to that interview here.

Athletes have been injected with saline and told it was steroids and guess what? It made them run faster. Why? Their body believed.

So how can we apply this to creative life? 

Well one way is to literally buy a placebo pill and take it as a ritual. Does that sound ridiculous? It feels ridiculous to write it, but it seems to work. And guess what? They sell them. I know because I just bought some. I figure the $12.95 is worth the experiment. Here they are.

It also has a name. Open label placebo. The field of open label placebo is currently being explored as a way to treat opiate addictions, chronic pain and other diseases that are difficult to treat.

Placebo is about ritual and symbols. The brain connects the taking of a pill, (or acupuncture/pressure/massage) with a specific goal. It can help treat pain but it can also help treat writers block, mental agility, or perhaps you could apply it to learning piano. 

I believe if I gave a placebo to a singing student experiencing stage fright in auditions it would work.

Losing your breath on stage or in audition is such a mental game, I don't see how it couldn't help. 

Read about this man's experience with extreme writers block and using open label placebo to help him. You can find that article here.

I find that just fascinating enough to see if I can apply it to my life. My morning meditation feels partly placebo in that if I haven't done it that morning I feel off. I've also started to have a cup of vegetable soup with each meal, morning, noon and night with the goal of instructing my body to heal itself from the inside out. 

Granted, that's not all placebo. Drinking dense vegetable soup three times daily is obviously going to have physiological effects on my body. But what if I connected the ritual of drinking soup to a mental image of it moving through my body and "patching" up all the rough spots. Would I get less sick?

What if I bought a specific type of tea that I drank daily 30 minutes before working on my play? Would I be more productive and focused? 

I'm not sure but it's worth the experiment. I'll report back!

 

The state of flow and the S-town song

I had a pretty sucky day yesterday.

In the evening though I got it together enough to continue work on a song that I wrote one month ago on a rainy Sunday.

I didn't write the song for any other reason than I was inspired by the podcast S-Town about a man named John who desperately hates the town he lives in but can't seem to find his way out. Until he does. I'll leave it at that in case you haven't heard it. 

To listen click here. You won't be sorry.

Looking for some inspiration to practice my writing skills I gave myself a 1/2 hour to write the lyrics. I wanted to practice writing the same way I choreograph, quickly and with little hesitation. That was the only reason for the time limit. In the end I probably spent about an hour on the lyrics. I wasn't able to do it in a half hour but that's probably better.

I ran out of time that day so after writing the lyrics I only had time to jot down a few chords and get the basic sound I wanted. Last night as it was pouring down rain and I was feeling rather maudlin (the feel of S-town) so I sat down at the piano and attempted part two of the song. 

An hour flew by.

I felt cleansed.

I didn't think of anything else but singing and playing and enjoying myself in that moment. There is no attachment to the song. I am not writing for some end result. It is just practice. Creative practice for the sake of practice. Something I rarely allow myself to do when meeting deadlines or other peoples ideas of creativity.

I've studied flow in the past and I can achieve a state of flow relatively easy when I'm singing, dancing, or playing the piano. Since I know flow is a relatively easy state for me to achieve I guess I have to ask why I don't do it more often?

Especially when you consider the research.

Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile and author of "The Progress Principle", concludes people who reach a flow state can feel the effects of productivity, creativity and happiness for up to three days later. Three days?! Well that sounds worth it!

The guy who literally wrote the book on flow not so ironically called "Finding Flow" is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (Easy for you to say LOL.) Here's what he say about how we find flow.

“Flow happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”

When I write music I feel as if I am doing something very natural. At the same time, I am not that great at the piano. I hang on for dear life as I play trying to will myself to find new and interesting chords. Layering in the chords, the lyrics and finally the melody I feel like I'm doing one giant crossword puzzle and the result is a state of flow.

The end result is creative contentment. 

There are ten factors that are involved in a state of flow.

1. Having clear goals about what you want to achieve
2. Concentration and focus
3. Participating in an intrinsically rewarding activity
4. Losing feelings of self-consciousness
5. Timelessness; losing track of time passing
6. Being able to immediately judge your own progress; instant feedback on your performance
7. Knowing that your skills align with the goals of the task
8. Feeling control over the situation and the outcome
9. Lack of awareness of physical needs
10. Complete focus on the activity itself

Csikszentmihalyi's book is quite dense, fyi. That doesn't mean you shouldn't read it but full disclosure I only got through about 1/2 and then supplemented with a few podcasts, some blog posts and his TED talk which you can listen here.

Here is the song I worked on today. For now I'll call it "Take what you want". 

The below books are affiliate links which means I get a kickback from Amazon at no charge to you! Thanks for your support!

Perfect posture for an aligned life

Alignment: To arrange in a straight line, or in the correct and appropriate relative positions.

I'm working hard to dedicate myself to core principles that help me align my mind, body, and soul.

We do yoga, pilates, core strength, Feldenkrais, Bosu Ball, wobble board and so many other techniques to get our body into alignment. Why?

From Chiro.org

"Improper body alignment limits function, and thus it is a concern of everyone regardless of occupation, activities, environment, body type, sex, or age."

Body alignment refers to how we stand, sit, and walk, but what if we apply this concept to our lives?

Just like an out of alignment body will limit your function, so too will an out of balanced life. 

Being out of alignment will

  • skew your outcome.
  • slow you down your growth.
  • result in mistakes and often injury.

We can properly align our spines by engaging different muscles in order to find the best posture for our bodies.

Does it come overnight? Is it the same for everyone? Do we use each muscle the same amount?

No. No. And no.

Learning how to properly stand or sit takes time and effort.

In order to sit correctly over a period of time you need to use a balance of lower back muscles combined with engagement of your lower abdominals. If you're used to slouching over at your desk this may feel difficult and uncomfortable at first but over a period of time it begins to feel right.  Aligned.

We have to find our "best life posture" in our daily lives in order to work towards a perfectly aligned life.

From Physopedia.com

"Posture is attained as a result of coordinated action of various muscles working to maintain stability."

I find my best "life posture" is attained when I engage each of my "life core muscles" during my day. Each one of us has a different set of life core muscles. They will change over time depending on life circumstances, health, and age. I've had difficulty learning when to adjust my core muscles. Trust me, it becomes more obvious in your 40's and as you get older. The good news though is that you get better at the practice with age.

Currently these are my seven life core muscles:

  • Focus
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Learning
  • Thinking
  • Creation
  • Rest

Keeping these seven life core muscles working together isn't easy for me because I've made a habit of busy days, procrastination, skipping step, taking shortcuts and working one life core muscle too hard over another. If I do this I get sick, depressed, manic, testy, pudgy, or too thin, and also don't sleep. The stakes for me are pretty high.

If I pay attention to each life core muscle I achieve a balanced day.

The more I learn to engage these life core muscles I am able develop a practice which results in personal and professional growth.

On my most focused days I try to work my life core muscles in a certain order.  That "almost" perfectly aligned day looks like this.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 1: FOCUS 

6 am: 20 minute morning meditation followed by a reward of a mug of tea curled up in bed with the morning news while I wait for the kids to get up. Linking my meditation to a cozy reward has really worked for me.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 2: EXERCISE

9 or 10 am: One hour of exercise, usually a group dance class so I can engage with others and feel part of a community.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 3: NUTRITION 

11 am: I think about food for the day. I am learning that in my 40's my body feels best when I eat small meals, about 150-200 calories at a time. I try to nourish my body before it enters the out of control hunger phase. If I don't I quickly drop out of alignment which literally shows up immediately as my stomach bloats and then will remain for the rest of the day. Nutrition is one of the most difficult muscles for me to keep under control, so I am working on minuscule alignment adjustments to help myself stay engaged.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 4: LEARNING

Mid morning: While I do my daily chores of walking the dog, kitchen clean up, cooking and tidying the house, I am usually listening to a book or a podcast. This is my daily "learning" and it helps my brain mull over what I will create that day or later on in the week, or maybe in the upcoming year. I enjoy learning, which I never really did as a child. The difference as an adult is that I focus on what interests me.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 5: THINKING

Midday: This is a new muscle for me. I am working the practice of being an original thinker. I try to take ten minutes in the middle of the day while I sit and think with a pad and a paper and idea generate. You could call it an idea brainstorm or in my case a brain dump. I have so many ideas in my head. If I write them down while not putting much pressure on what the ideas or thoughts are but instead just flex that muscle I feel more whole.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 6: CREATION

After lunch I take time to create. Currently my daily blog post plus one more creation that I'm "allowed" to work on. I've allowed myself only one other project at a tim(30 days at a time) in order to keep my mind in alignment. If I allow myself to do more it will immediately throw something else out of alignment. My second creation that day has to be kept small and succinct. If I want it to be a large project overall, it will have to become that over the month or the year, not in that day! That would be working too many muscles!

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 7: REST 

This doesn't mean literal rest although it could mean that. This is a difficult muscle for me. I tend to want to multitask and continue working other muscles while I'm supposed to be giving my mind and body a rest. If I have stayed mostly in alignment in the beginning of the day I have an easier time letting myself rest. Regardless, I have to pick up kids at 3 so trying to use any of my other life core muscles at that point is fairly useless. I need to focus on helping my kids work their core muscles. While they play, or practice guitar, or draw, eat, complain, or whatever it is kids do, I try to either do it with them or I read a book, lie down for a bit, relieve my mind of thinking about the other core muscles. If I don't give myself a break I start to obsess and get out of alignment.

Of course the days vary. I gave you my best day. Sometimes I have to go to the doctor, a hair appointment, or a dance class that's at 5 pm not 10 am. In that case I restructure my day to allow myself to address each life core muscle.

Do I fail? Yes! All the time. But as I practice more and more each day I start to feel those uncomfortable muscles becoming stronger. As a result I start to click.

Your life core muscles may be way different than mine. You may find that you can start with mine and then build upon that. Some of your muscles might be underdeveloped and some may be overdeveloped. Some may be just right.

Remember the goal! Find your own best life posture through engaging your life core muscles daily in order to work towards your perfect life alignment.

Now I have a question for ya. Are you sitting up straight?

It's a hit! Oh wait...nevermind.

Most of my professional creative life I've been thinking about my big "hit".

It's a little embarrassing to admit that but because this blog is about creative self reflection with the intent of helping others at my expense, I'll go ahead admit that.

My quest for "the hit" has been in several different arenas, resulting in a wide body of work but lacking consistency. 

My closest hit thus far has probably been the publishing and Los Angeles premier of Real Housewives The Musical. I wrote it to be a hit. 

It was not a hit.

It's good and I'm proud of it. Admittedly it was not going to change the world and that was never the intention. The aim was to make a light hearted musical comedy based on a brand that is a...what?

A hit.

There is a common trend among hit books, movies (barring franchises), indie films, viral videos, blog posts, or breakout music. Most of them are surprise hits. The author is often surprised that they became popular.

Still the quest for writing a hit seems to be a trend among most creatives wanting to break in.

I ask these two questions of myself.

  • Do I want to write a hit to be noticed?
  • Do I want to write a hit for the money?

Answer: I want to write a hit in order to be noticed, in order to make money, in order to be able to do the work again.

Let me ask another question.

  • Would I rather write a wildly popular hit that paid me, oh I don't know, three million dollars and never work again OR produce a somewhat popular mid-sized bump of something that gives me 1000 true fans that would allow me to create a body of work over time?

Answer: I'll take the 1000 fans.

  • Would I want both?

Answer: Yes, obviously, but that's just not very realistic.

If my ego wasn't involved would my creative mind would be satisfied with the daily process of creation?

No. I'm not interested in being part of the longest tail in the equation. I aim to be in the middle of the tail so I can actually make a living. Don't know about the long tail? Read about it here. 

I don't need to make a ton of money. I do need to make money. I also need to make the money I believe I am talented enough to make. It is after all what makes me a professional creative by definition. 

Here's what I know.

If you spend all your time thinking about writing a hit then you may miss the nuance, the quirk, the individualism you bring to your creative project.

A majority of people buy one or two books a year. Did you know that? That seems low doesn't it? 

The point is, if most people buy ONE book during the course of the year, what are the chances that they're going to buy YOUR book? 

Perhaps you're better off creating a body of work that 1000 people will buy? It's the theory of 1000 true fans by Kevin Kelly. Read about that here.

Those 1000 people will tell their friends and it becomes 3000, and then 10,000.

Then you got yourself a career. 

You may even become an international best selling author like my friend Lyndsay.

Lyndsay Faye is a great example of this. In 2004 Lindsay and I did the world premier of Andrew Lippa's "A Little Princess" at Theatreworks Silicon Valley. She is a ridiculously talented pop and opera singer but along the course of her career found out that she is a kick ass novelist who has made her amazingly steady career within the niche world of mystery novels. 

This is not the story of a hit.

This is the story of a young actress who moved to New York and found herself with free days because her day job restaurant was knocked down by bulldozers. She started to write and launched herself into an almost seventeen year career as a novelist.

How did she do that? 

I'm guessing she didn't set off to write a hit. She set off on a creative pursuit. She loved Sherlock Holmes as a child and turned that passion into a full fledged career. Five books later and nine short stories later her career is on fire. Her latest book, Jane Steele reimagines the victorian character Jane Eyre as a killer who strikes out at men who have abused her. Amazing right?!  The movie rights to Jane Steele have been purchased by movie producer Chris Columbus. Exciting!

Lyndsay is a reminder to keep your eye on the work rather than the outcome. Sure, it takes an extreme amount of focus, solitude and discipline but it makes for a much more dynamic body of work.

If it produces a hit in the process? Well all the better!

Now let's get back to work.


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Do you have to be an a$$hole to be a creative genius?

Today I am talking about assholes.

Everyone's got em' but you don't have to be one. (Sorry...not dainty enough?)

I've just listened to an uncomfortable interview with the original TED founder Richard Saul Wurman on Design Matters with Debbie Millman. He sold TED (Technology Education Design) to Chris Anderson in 2002. Thank god.

My first opinion, he's an asshole. 

My second opinion, he is a creative genius.

My third opinion, being an asshole is the lazy mans way of achieving greatness. 

I know it seems contrary to call people like Ernest Hemingway, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, perhaps Kanye West and maybe Jeff Bezos, lazy.  (I don't really know that Jeff is an asshole to be honest, but there is an Entrepreneur.com article on him entitled "Why it pays to be a jerk like Jeff Bezos" so sounds like I'm on the right track.

In my mind being a creative genius does not give you a pass to be a jerk.

Call me idealistic but I'm of the belief that a true creative genius can find a way to make huge leaps, take decisive action, have the confidence to break out of the mold and in turn share that confidence out into the world in order to encourage others to innovate and share. Art is built upon art. There is plenty of innovation to go around and it seems like you would get more done if you had people on your side during the process. That doesn't mean you have to be small, overbearingly gracious, or quiet. You just don't need to ruin everyone else's life in the process of solving the worlds problems. 

Back to Richard Saul who recounted that neither the principal of his high-school nor any of the teachers shook his hand at graduation. He said it was because they knew he was smarter than all of them.

If we asked his teachers why they wouldn't shake his hand I'm guessing they'd respond "Because he was an asshole."

This directly ties into my post yesterday about having a happy versus meaningful life. If I were to ask Richard Saul whether or not he lived a happy or meaningful life he would most likely respond by saying that was a stupid question. (That's how he responded to many of Debbie Millman's questions.)

This jerkish response has something behind it that seems obvious to me.

People who are confronted with their own accountability turn those types of questions around on the other person when they feel fear. I've had this experience with people in my life and naturally I've had my own moments of assholery. When I have acted this way it is always out of fear. 

Here is something interesting.

Although narcissist types tend to identify themselves as highly creative, a 2010 Cornell and Stanford study suggests that narcissists are no more creative than the rest of us BUT they tend to fake it better than the majority. That make sense. Fake it till ya make it.

It has also been shown that being a jerk within a group does hinder creativity in the long run.

Assholes tend to rise to the top because their confidence overwhelms the room. They use dominance, authority, and their lack of empathy to fool people into thinking they are good leaders.

Admittedly, I've done that before.

Would the TED conferences be as successful today if Richard Saul Wurman were still in charge? No way. TED is all about the free exchange of ideas. 

Still, as I write this I'm not convinced that the world doesn't need these asshole types of people to push us forward in the world. 

But to feel better about humanity it's good to note that Charles Darwin was considered a really nice guy. I don't know, that just makes me feel better.

I think we will see a downward trend of assholes in creative leadership because you can't get away with anything on the internet anymore. It's accountability on a massive stage. Just as we've seen with the #metoo and #timesup movements, I think the creative leaders of the world will suddenly find themselves held accountable. 

Let's hope so. 

 

 

 

 

 

A Happy Life or a Meaningful Life?

Having children makes people less happy. It's called the parenting happiness gap and depending on what country you live in the happiness gap travels up or down. 

This seems pretty obvious to me. Day to day my children cause a ton of stress. That's just a given. But over the long haul parenting is immensely satisfying. It is also a gift in itself to take a step outside of yourself and literally keep someone else alive. 

American parents post the largest gap. Policies like subsidized health care and paid maternity leave make a big difference. Read about it here.

But here is the real question I'm asking today.

What is the difference between a happy life and a meaningful life?

A quote from Steven Pinker's book "Enlightenment Now" which I heard on Debbie Millman's Design Matters podcast:

"People that lead happy but not necessarily meaningful lives have all their needs satisfied. They're healthy, they have enough money and feel good a lot of the time. People who lead meaningful lives may enjoy none of these boons. Happy people live in the present. Those with meaningful lives have a narrative about their past and a plan for the future. Those with happy but meaningless lives are takers and beneficiaries. Those with meaningful and unhappy lives are givers and benefactors. Parents get meaning from their children but not necessarily happiness. Time spent with friends makes a life happier. Time spent with loved ones makes a life more meaningful. Stress, worry, arguments, challenges and struggles make a life unhappier but more meaningful. It's not like people with meaningful lives masochistically go looking for trouble, but that they pursue ambitious goals. Finally, meaning is about expressing rather than satisfying the self. It is enhanced by activities that define the person and build a reputation." 

My next question is can you have both? 

My quest for a meaningful life is currently out of balance with my happy life. I've always been one to push myself beyond what I believe I'm capable of in order to create a life that is full of meaning. Currently I'm in a happiness holding pattern as I learn to sit inside that uncomfortableness and wrestle with my meaningful life.  

In conversation over dinner this weekend a friend said to me: "Why not just enjoy being happy with your life?"

My answer: "Why would you not want to pursue meaning?" 

Friend: "At the result of being unhappy?"

Me: "Maybe".

Is a meaningful life more important to me (and maybe you?) than happiness?

My gut says yes. That sounds crazy to me, but I think it's the truth. 

Just like my decision to have children and all the grief that comes along with it (money, time, mental strain and stress), my decision to choose a creative life over- I don't know what we call it...a simple life?- is infinitely troublemaking. 

Now don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with a simple life. I hesitate to even use that word. It sounds demeaning and I don't mean it to. What I mean by simple is the ability to lead a life that stays in the present. A life that's not overly complicated and simple at it's core. That actually sounds wonderful and if I could be satisfied with that then I'd be, well...happy. Yet I pursue meaning and as a result often feel pressure, nervousness, fear and exhilaration at my potential as my creative soul searches for more. 

So how to merge meaningfulness with happiness? 

I re-read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art I was reminded of two of my favorite quotes.

The first quote.

“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.” 

The second quote.

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don't do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself,. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got.” 

Heady stuff huh? It sounds dramatic because it is. By giving into, as Steven Pressfield calls resistance, you are giving up that which you are meant to be doing. In turn that causes unhappiness and lack of meaning.

Well that's a double whammy isn't it?

Not following the path that I know I need to go down because I'm afraid? Well that is the ultimate doom for me. Is it for you?

But there is hope!

With each day I do the actual work I gain more confidence towards my ultimate calling. The crazy thing is I have no idea what that is quite yet. I suppose I've spent the first twenty years of my professional creative life laying the plans for the next chapter. For the first time in my life I'm allowing myself the space for my creative muse to figure that out for me. 

It may not change the world, but it will change me and that is enough.

I believe I've caught myself just in time. I'm at the intersection of fear, constraint, discipline and courage. 

Sometimes a good old crisis can launch us into this arena. Why not use it to our advantage?

I'll end today's post with one more quote from "The War of Art." If you haven't read it, why not give it a go? If you've already read it I recommend going back and re-reading. I learned that I wasn't ready for all the lessons found inside as I was five years ago. You may find the same.

“. . . None of us are born as passive generic blobs waiting for the world to stamp its imprint on us. Instead we show up possessing already a highly refined and individuated soul.

Another way of thinking of it is: We're not born with unlimited choices.

We can't be anything we want to be.

We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we're stuck with it.

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” 

Let's go find out who that person is, do the work and become it.


Below are affiliate links for the above mentioned books which means I get a kick back from Amazon at no cost to you! Here is a great podcast episode with Steven Pinker and one of my very favorite podcasts, Design Matters with Debbie Millman. You can listen to that  here. 

Create your Personal Mission Statement using Essentialism

Today I'm working on developing a personal mission statement.

I'm getting help from Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, called essential intent.

The tenants of Essential Intent:

  • Inspirational and concrete.
  • Meaningful and measurable.
  • One decision that settles a thousand later decisions.

Creating a mission statement for myself seems overwhelming since I'm not a person who likes to commit to any one thing. However, because I think this contributes to my indecisiveness and results in unhappiness, I therefore should create a mission statement.

Hey! You should too. We'll do it together.

The rules. 

1. No fancy words. Keep it simple.

2. Keep it specific and actionable.

3. Make it inspirational.

4. It has to be easily measured.

Here's a formula that author William Arruda suggests.

The value you create + who you're creating it for + the expected outcome.

I'm going to pretend that I am the CEO of Molly Bell. You know what? I AM the CEO of Molly Bell so that works out pretty well.

Let's put Arruda's formula to the test.

  • The value I create: I create personal connection through creativity.
  • Who I am creating it for: Myself and for those who wish to live a more fulfilled life through the lens of creativity.
  • The expected outcome: A balanced life rooted in inspiration.

So yeah. I guess the keyword for me is creative huh? 

Now to create Molly Bell Inc.'s mission statement using essential intent.

"I create content and products through the lens of creativity in order for me and others to live a balanced daily life rooted in inspiration."

Ooh. I like it. 

This exercise gives me clarity in understanding what I should say yes to and more importantly what I should say no to. 

Did I abide by the rules? 

1. Simple? Yes, no weird lofty words.

2. Actionable? Yep, I build content and products.

3. Is it inspiring? I'd say yes. Who doesn't want to live a creative life?

4. Is it measurable? Yes, that is why I chose the word DAILY. Cultivating creative techniques to use daily in my life is something that makes my life infinitely happier and on track.

To recap.

  • The value you create: 
  • Who you are creating it for:
  • What is the expected outcome?

Remember to keep it simple, actionable, inspiring, and measurable. Enjoy creating your own kick ass mission statement!

 

 

I cannot convince you

I move at a fast pace. I talk fast, I turn fast, I walk fast and yes it truly bothers me when someone strolls two steps behind me. It. Is. So. Annoying.

Keep up.

But this past year as I overly expressed myself- okay basically screamed from the rooftops LISTEN TO ME! NOTICE ME! GO AS FAST LIKE ME!- I started to see the pattern of me insisting that other people listen to me. Follow my advice.

Why the frick' am I doing that when I can't help myself? I'll tell ya why. Cuz it's easier for me to focus on other people rather than myself.

Here we go.

I cannot convince you that you will be unbelievably changed by having the guts to take a dance fitness class that will push your mind and body all because you can't stand to make an ass out of yourself.

I cannot convince you that the economy is changing and there will be no job left for you because you've moved yourself out of the market.

I cannot convince you that your company should be curating your own content on the internet and you should be learning all about the new marketing efforts that a competing smaller company is doing and eventually will land them ahead of the game and not you.

I will not tell you that same thing goes for singers. Painters. Comedians. Sales people. 

I will not tell you that you should break the rules first and ask for forgiveness later. 

But I'm telling you that okay? Old norms don't matter.

But I'm not telling you that, remember? (I say while slapping myself in the face).

Alright alright, I get what you're thinking-and now here are the other things I am not telling you.

I cannot convince you that standing right there in front of you is a mentor that will rapidly accelerate your life into something you've been complaining about for years and you simply need to ask this future mentor to help you.

I cannot convince you that it's important to set parental controls on your kids phone because you'd rather have know idea what your child is doing and you may regret it in the future. But I will tell you my child is not going to hang with yours as much. 

I cannot convince you that you should take your child's phone out of the bedroom at night because indeed they are sending me an email at 2 am. 

I cannot convince you that the reason you're not in a relationship is because you're not spending time listening, like ever-ever, and people want to talk about themselves. I mean work the system, my god.

I know. I can be bitchy. 

The truth is I really do think about those sort of things. It's maddening. How about we brand me Mean Molly? MM for short.

Except now...I'm stopping. As in- Full. Stop.

Because I have realized this past year that I should stay out of your mother f'n frickin' flippin' beeeeeeeezzzzzzz-wax. 

Here's the truth that I've stumbled upon in this my gigantic year of a 41 year old mid-life crisis.

PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO BE PUSHED INTO OPPORTUNITIES. They need to discover them on their own.

This. Is. So. Annoying. To. Me.  It would be so much faster if they allowed the help. But stop. STOP.

Who am I to judge? It has taken me 20+ years to get to this part of my life. AND I'M NO LONGER GETTING PAID FOR THE BULK OF MY WORK.

And guess what?

I am happier.

Yes, for f*cks sake, I am worried. I am terrified, each day and everyday that this grand experiment of writing at home, simplifying, trying not to die early, trying like hell to be authentic without pissing people off, is going to result in...well, nothing. It looms over me, crushing my spirit. Especially at the end of a long day. Especially at night.

I would wake up over it in the middle of the night, except I'm currently on Ambien for this crazy thing called bipolar 2 that has roared into my life like a mack truck. And after not sleeping for almost a decade, I look forward to taking drugs each night so I can get the shi*t out of my head that plays on repeat during the day. It's bliss. 

And yet I continue on like a brave little soldier. I'm a BLS you guys.

BUT, I will no longer tell you what you should do. I WILL tell you what I would do. How I've done it. How I've struggled against it. How I've pushed through it. How I'm embarrassed. 

Because I could be wrong about you.

Or, maybe I'm right about you? But you're on your own path. I get it now. 

Enough said. You go be you boo. I'll be over here being me and the truth will set us free. 

But I'm not telling you that.

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7 tools I use to combat the issues that scare me

My last post was super depressing. 7 things that scare the shi*t out of me. Sorry...but never fear I'm a glass is half full type of gal, and here are my 7 tools to conquer fears of moving forward with new goals.

1. Fear: I think of all the people waiting for me to fail.  

Hellooooooooo? This is so irrational. Who are these people? And do I really think they're sitting there waiting? God, how annoying of me. Most people don't even know what the hell I do. Flash-mobs, funny videos, "you do musicals?" How adorable. I've had multiple people ask me how play practice was going. That's just a few people. Most everyone else are super supportive. 

Instead of thinking about these imaginary people, I think of all the people I may help, and focus my work and content on them. Sounds like an easy tool and it is. And if someone happens to be waiting in the wings for me to fail, well I'll give them the number of my therapist. She's expensive though.

2. I'm afraid I'm not perceived as an authority figure on the subject.

Being perceived as an authority figure takes time. I combat this self-inflicted stress by simply posting daily, weekly on a new subject or idea until I feel the authority myself. The truth is everyone has imposter syndrome. I get through it by setting mini-goals. Each day I am constantly learning on the job. I'm good at that despite graduating high-school with a 2.9. Don't even ask about my SAT score. I basically filled in the bubbles in a pattern. Good thing I can sing.

The great news is it does not take long to gain authority. This is because only about 10% of people actually take action on trying new things. Most people think about it. If you can get through the initial uncomfortableness of imposter syndrome you'll often surprise yourself and realize, hey I know more about this idea than I thought. And you'll be able to launch that authority into something great.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Why not you? Someone will always be smarter,  have degree after degree of studying certain subjects, but never really resonate with people because they lack people skills. Well I got me plenty of that and I'm willing to bet you have something that sets you apart and makes you special. The trick is seeing your expertise through your own lens. I may not have a degree in certain disciplines, but I do have experience and a lot of it. By concentrating on that expertise you know in your heart, in your bones that you understand the nuance of your discipline better than most and you can move past this fear. Authority achieved. If you believe in myself, others will too.

3. I think that the people on Facebook are the only people I'll ever reach.

Facebook has really done us a disservice because it feels like high school all over again. There's those with the perfect house, those with the perfect children and worst of all those so called lurkers that don't say a thing and then turn around and say "I hardly use Facebook". Yeah right. I ain't buying it. Okay, I'm getting  a little bitchy, sorry.

It's just one giant flashback for me. I played in the marching band and my uniform was brown. Enough said. Instead of focusing my efforts on FB right now, I'm leaning into Instagram and then will move to YouTube. (Oh, god that's daunting, I only have 14 subscribers. Live video here I come!)

I'll move it to the FB platform when I feel confident in my efforts. It's just a little trick as I gain authority. No shame in that. Do what you have to do to feel confident.

4. I'm worried that I'm too old.

This is a fear that I have had many 25 and 30 year olds say to me and I say "What?! I'm forty-one. I'm totally hip aren't I?" Crickets. I think we all think this and it's just part of the human psyche. It's a trick in our mind. My mom got her pilates certification at age 60, how awesome is that?

We must constantly evolve, reinvent, keep our minds sharp, always learn and understand that this is a fallacy. Plenty of people break the mold of expectations. Last week in my U-jam class there was an 80 year old man. I was struck by how he could do single single double knee on count (if you're a dancer you get it amIright?) and I thought, "That guy was IS a dancer." Also, he didn't have a care in the world as to who was watching him. Inspiring. It made me feel so much better to think I will always have the ability to learn new things and teach others how to do the same. I plan to be 80 and taking dance class.

5. I'm worried about the comments I'll receive from the haters.

I learned a big lesson from my girlfriend today when she texted me about vocalizing this fear so much in public. I'm putting negative energy out into the universe by saying this in public places like Instagram or Facebook. No one is really thinking about it and neither should I. Done with that now. You should be too.

6. I'm worried I'll run out of money.

Okay, this is a real fear because it's expensive in the Bay Area but one of my goals in life is to learn how to budget better. Plenty of people live on a budget. I need to make a sacrifice in order to attain the level of success I want. Here's a good opportunity to do just that. Also, I need to just leave my debit card at home.

7. And last but not least, why me? Is my ego be so big that I think I should have something to say that others will benefit from?

Well yes, it is. I think it's healthy and I use it to my advantage. My intuition is leading me to take risks and need to follow it. I consider myself a leader and teacher and that's just fine. As you'll start to notice I'm starting to move from talking about myself so much and into teaching others what I know. I'm the expert in this here arena and I'm going to own that. I intend to take that on with clarity and no apologies. And frankly, I don't want to be morbid but I don't know how long my life will be. I may not be one of those people who live to 99. I want to share it now. I'm not being dramatic, I'm just being honest. It's a real fear of mine that'll I'll waste my energy worried about keeping my ego in check. Instead, I'll keep my intention honest and let that lead the way.

Let's all make an agreement to live authentically and share what we know. The world will be better off for it. Day by day the fear will dissipate and knowledge will peak through.

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7 things that scare the sh*t out of me when doing something new

Just like everyone else I get scared sh*tless when trying something new. I was hoping that my early 40's would bring about a  new sense of security and I could launch myself into whatever it is I'm looking for. To be Oprah? 

Okay, I'll say it: I want to be the Oprah of the world wide webs. Is that too much to ask people? But I'm sure Oprah gets scared. Call me Oprah, I'll totally talk you through it. Here are seven bothersome issues I think about when starting a new venture, which because I'm sometimes mentally off my rocker happens each time I get a new idea-that's about 100 a day. Ugh, that's a lot of mental energy. I'm tired of myself already. Okay, here we go.

1. I think of all the people waiting for me to fail. I know. Why am I even thinking that people are thinking of me? They're not. They are literally too busy worrying about their own shi*t while I spin out about what they're thinking of little ol' me. 

2. I'm afraid I'm not perceived as an authority figure on the subject. Usually that one is true. I'm not an authority figure on most of the things I try. But for fricks sake you guys, we literally have a reality television/realtor/porn star lover who likes to be spanked by someone other than his wife with a Forbes magazine in the Oval Office. (Do you capitalize Oval and Office?- too lazy to look that up). Why am I worried about being perceived as an expert on most subjects when I could probably run the presidency better? Come on, you could too. The truth is most people are making it up and they learn along the way becoming authority figures as they work. (Okay- not astronaut's and those types of smarties but you get what I mean). Also- I just had to look up how to spell astronaut. Tragic.

3. I think that the people on Facebook are the only people I'll ever reach. Why do I do that? And why does that bother me? I feel like I'm never going to be able to expand past my reach. It scares me to think that this bubble I've created around me of people who look at my daily goings on will be the only people that ever really care what I have to say. At the same time I also worried that the people in this bubble don't care about what I have to say. How the F does that make sense? I'm basically damned if I do and damned if I don't and then make a u-turn to start again at #1. Most people are too busy worrying about if their son is looking at naked girlz on the internet. Oh, just me? And yes, he spelled it girlz with a Z. That was a while ago though- which is even further embarrassing because it was a while ago. Don't judge me. It'll happen to you too.

4. I'm worried that I'm too old. What?! But 40 is the new 30! You know what? Someone who was 60 said that, obviously. I feel like I'm running out of time to try new things. And don't send me that article about all the celebrity people who "made it" after they were 40. This is my time to talk about my real fears (and maybe yours), and I'm going to lay down and roll around in them. I'll tell you how I combat my fears in the next post to make us all feel better.

5. I'm worried about the comments I'll receive from the haters. We all know when you become successful you get hate comments. I don't even like having a fight with a neighbor, it makes me so uncomfortable. How will I feel when someone says I've got cellulite on my face? Okay you got me- I stole that line from Amy Schumer. I wish I had her career although I don't really want to talk about my vagina that much. Also, she's not even 40 yet. Jesus, I'm screwed. 

6. I'm worried I'll run out of money. Or not make enough money, worried it'll take me five years to make money, not because we don't have enough money but because I have a real problem with not staying on budget and thinking too impulsively. Not like, "I have to have this Prada purse", something I'll never understand you guys. Why would I want to spend money on a $2000 purse when I could buy 3 new sweatshirts, two pillows, a lamp, some sunglasses, organic pretzels because I'm starving, a new i-phone cover, and new shoes that are accidentally a size too small at Target that I forget to return because I'm disorganized? I mean come on. 

7. And last but not least, why me? Is my ego be so big that I think I should have something to say that others will benefit from? Wouldn't it be so much easier to stay in the corner with my new Target sweatshirt that says "Good Vibes Only" pissed off that I'm afraid of my own shadow?

God, I'm so depressed right now. And starving. I've literally made myself hungry getting stressed by all that I've written down here. I'm gonna go have some eggs and a 60 calorie piece of toast, get my sh*t together and I'll combat all the fear with a 7 ideas to get past this doom and gloom. Don't worry, the ego-centric Molly will be back in a flash. See you soon.

Update

I did get it together and made my list of  7 tools I use to combat the issues that scare me. I'm good at that...you know, making myself get all scared and then boom I shake it out of me and get my grit together and bam bam bam, kill those freakin' monsters. It'll make all of us feel better from this doom and gloom. 

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