Practicing my other profession, this is the third installment of a series where I post some of my music mixes to kick start the weekend. Most tracks will be reminiscent of years past. And if you were born around 1969 or earlier, you may actually have memories from when these songs were first released 😉 I intentionally keep the mixes short and byte-size. Nowadays our attention spans are too short and our tastes are very selective!
Time to slow it down a bit. This mix is more of an eclectic blend including mild samplings from Africa, United Kingdom and Japan.
Music inspires. It’s the sound of creativity and the lyrical expression of self. It elicits movement and can influence across boundaries. Certain artists know how to push those boundaries, leaving a legacy and setting an example of what can be done by the creative spirit. As these posts are examples of my self expression, this is dedicated in memory of #prince (1958 – 2016)
Practicing my other profession, this is the second installment of a series where I post some of my music mixes to kick start the weekend. Most tracks will be reminiscent of years past. And if you were born around 1969 or earlier, you may actually have memories from when these songs were first released 😉 I intentionally keep the mixes short and byte-size. Nowadays our attention spans are too short and our tastes are very selective!
Going out a little early this week, so we might want to call this Thursday Throwback.
This weekend’s blend is a spicy mix of female vocals with some unusual twists. At 140 bpm, it has a bit of a kick.
This day means different things to different people. Resurrection, life after death, hope, and miracles are first to come to mind. On the secular side, it’s an observed holiday that allows us time off work to spend with our family and friends. For me it means a little of all those things. It also got me thinking about something we don’t often connect with Easter…creativity.
When I think about it, creativity is a very subtle part of the holiday. It’s below the surface but it’s there. For example, there’s a creative aspect in the Lenten practice of giving something up in order to make room for something new. On a more common level, kids tend to be very creative when it comes to coloring Easter eggs. Then, of course, there’s the dramatic story of new life and hope that gave birth to a whole new religion.
I like to think of days like today as a day of quiet reflection. A day to be grateful for your blessings and to appreciate the everyday miracles around us. A day to take stock of who we’ve become and the kind of person we want to be…then make conscious decisions on how we’d like to bridge the gap. A great example has been set. If a humble carpenter can change the world, how can we follow in those footsteps? I don’t see a need to be as dramatic, or to expect transformation after only the third day. It’s a process and you can feel good about taking a single small step in the right direction.
Let’s take a break from the hustle and bustle of the everyday routine. Maybe make an effort to unplug. No checking email, Facebook or Twitter…self-contradictory as this post may be. Be with your family and friends. Be present and enjoy the moment. New life is embodied in this simple act. Happy Easter everyone!
I’m at a good chapter in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Currently on “Week 8: Recovering a Sense of Strength”. There are several sections talking about the creative process. Some statements that stuck with me are as follows:
“At the heart of the anorexia of artistic avoidance is the denial of process. We like to focus on having learned a skill or on having made an artwork. This attention to final form ignores the fact that creativity lies not in the done but in the doing.”
“Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren.”
“…creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps.”
“One of our favorite things to do―instead of our art―is to contemplate the odds…In a creative career, thinking about the odds is a drink of emotional poison. It robs us of the dignity of art-as-process and puts us at the mercy of imagined powers out there. Taking this drink quickly leads to a severe and toxic emotional bender. It leads us to ask, “What’s the use?” instead of “What’s next?”
From The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Creativity―like human life itself―begins in darkness. We need to acknowledge this. All too often, we think only in terms of light: “And then the lightbulb went on and I got it!” It is true that insights may come to us as flashes. It is true that some of these flashes may be blinding. It is, however, also true that such bright ideas are preceded by a gestation period that is interior, murky, and completely necessary.
We speak often about ideas a brainchildren. What we do not realize is that brainchildren, like all babies, should not be dragged from the creative womb prematurely. Ideas, like stalactites and stalagmites, form in the dark inner cave of consciousness. They form in drips and drops, not by squared-off building blocks. We must learn to wait for an idea to hatch. Or, to use a gardening image, we must learn to not pull our ideas up by the roots to see if they are growing.
Mulling on the page is an artless art form. It is fooling around. It is doodling. It is the way that ideas slowly take shape and form until they are ready to help us see the light. All too often, we try to push, pull, outline, and control our ideas instead of letting them grow organically. The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.
Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise. All too often, when we say we want to be creative, we mean that we want to be able to be productive. Now, to be creative is to be productive–but by cooperating with the creative process, not forcing it.
As creative channels, we need to trust the darkness. We need to learn to gently mull instead of churning away like a little engine on a straight-ahead path. This mulling on the page can be very threatening. “I’ll never get any real ideas this way!” we fret.
Hatching an idea is a lot like baking bread. An idea needs to rise. If you poke at it too much in the beginning, if you keep checking on it, it will never rise. A loaf of bread or a cake, baking, must stay for a good long time in the darkness and safety of the oven. Open that oven too soon and the bread collapses–or the cake gets a hole in its middle because all the steam has rushed out of it. Creativity requires a respectful reticence.
The truth is that this is how to raise the best ideas. Let them grow in dark and mystery. Let them form on the roof of our consciousness. Let them hit the page in droplets. Trusting this slow and seemingly random drip, we will be startled one day by the flash of “Oh! That’s it!”
From page 219 of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron:
“The morning pages and artist dates must be experienced in order to be explained, just as reading a book about jogging is not the same as putting on your Nikes and heading out to the running track. Map is not your territory, and without reference points from within your own experience, you cannot extrapolate what the morning pages and artist dates can do for you.”
Observing My Creative Process
Since I stopped spending so much in the office and working outside of normal hours, I’ve had a chance to reconnect with my creative side. I got back into mixing music and acting out my other side – DJ ReCreator. I took the leap and started publishing my writing. This blog is one example but I’ve also built up my confidence to share some of my posts on LinkedIn Pulse. Experiments in the kitchen have also been fun though it’s been more scripted by other people’s recipes and not my own creations.
All these areas have been creative outlets for me and have brought more balance to my spirit. I’m happier now. Less and less, I’m not displaying what I learned is the “angry artist” that arises from being stifled and held back. I don’t like being grumpy. Caro and the kids don’t like being around me when I am. Who can blame them. I’m just glad they’ve been patient with me as it took me a long time to find my way “back home.”
Anyway, while I’ve been spending time on my creative projects, I take mental notes of my process and try to get a better understanding of what brings out my best. I also note habits that seem to undermine the process.
It really is more about the process than the product. When I focus too much on the product and the recognition I hope to get from it, I lose my way. Enjoying the journey and not worrying too much about the destination is where I’ve been most myself. So here are some observations regarding the process from my own experience (They seem to reflect the truth in Julia Cameron’s words):
I’ll occasionally have bursts of inspiration where the ideas or words just gush out and I almost can’t keep up. This usually happens during free association or when I’m writing my morning pages. More often, though, I get an idea that feels like a good seed, so I plant it and let it grow at it’s own pace until it’s ready to blossom.
When I’m focused too much on the product versus the process, I get tempted to share something prematurely. I’m learning that my best outcomes are a result of nurturing over time. Maintaining environments and conditions conducive to growth (i.e. balanced and inclusive of all the right elements).
By letting things simmer and rest, I’m able to go back with fresh perspective. This allows me to refine and fill in where needed.
If I’m ever afraid to express something, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter if some people don’t like what I’m doing. If the process serves it purpose and I’m the only one who benefits directly, that’s enough. Worrying about what other people will think is self-sabotaging. Actually, it’s when I don’t worry about putting my true self out there, that I seem to connect with others in a more magical way…at least based on the feedback I’ve received in those instances.
My gut has been a good indicator of whether or not something is ready. Going against it has rarely been a good idea.
Quotes on Creativity
‘Trust that still, small voice that says. “This might work and I’ll try it.”‘
― Diane Mariechild
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
― Albert Einstein
“Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown.”
― Claude Bernard
“I cannot expect even my own art to provide all of the answers–only to hope it keeps asking the right questions.”
― Grace Hartigan
“Art? You just do it.”
― Martin Ritt
“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”
― Linus Pauling
“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”
― Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Remember first that everything you think, say, and do is a reflection of what you’ve decided about yourself; a statement of Who You Are; an act of creation in your deciding who you want to be.”
― Neale Donald Walsch
“Intelligence looks for what is known to solve problems. Creativity looks for what is unknown to discover possibilities.”
― Simon Sinek
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
Being in the zone―or in the state of flow―is often associated with a special kind of focus. And that focus lends itself to extraordinary performance. You know the feeling. The stars are aligned and you experience a suspended moment of clarity. Everything clicks and it feels like you can do no wrong. Even complex situations are managed with ease as you naturally adjust to all variables in real-time. Every decision, every movement is graceful and appears effortless. While often associated with sports, this happens just as much at work, or in any other activity that requires focus in order to perform well.
It seems like some people are able to get in the zone on demand. It’s like they flip an internal switch and then they’re able to stay in the zone until the task at hand is done. Amazing to watch these people in action. What others find challenging, they make look easy. I used to admire these stars from a distance and wonder how I too could learn to flip that switch.
Locus of Control / Circle of Influence
Before my career even started, I was fortunate to have picked up a copy of the classic 7 Habits by Stephen Covey. Habit 1 gave me insight into how people were able to get in the zone. I started seeing the zone as what Covey called your Circle of Influence. Being in the zone meant having an internal locus of control. In other words, I thought that having a primary focus on the things you can control―and attributing outcomes to those ‘controllables’―had a direct correlation with peak performance. Covey emphasized exercising your ability to choose and being proactive versus reactive. This concept has served me well throughout my career. Even if luck had a large part to do with it, applying this concept has brought me good luck.
Many of us spend our time thinking about things outside of our control. (Things that are in our circle of concern, but outside of our circle of influence.) We may want to change something without having the ability to do anything about it. Whether it’s the weather or the economic/political climate, some things are just not in our circle of control. We might not have any influence over certain things today, but it’s possible to take steps towards someday being able to.
Expanding Your Circle of Influence
To grow our circle of influence, it’s important to practice things just outside of our comfort zone. Not way out, just enough to make us stretch. Things that will help us grow but are still within reasonable reach. With enough exposure and practice in those areas, if they’re meaningful to you, they will eventually become second nature and part of your circle of control. This happens organically to some degree. What separates the ordinary from the extraordinary is intention and proactive behavior.
By maintaining an internal locus of control and working in the zone, you create momentum and waves. I like to consider each phase of my career a wave that I ride as well as I can for as long as it lasts. In the past 25 years, I’ve had 6 or so significant career changes, or waves (metaphorically speaking.) With each role, I got in my zone and made the most of each wave I caught. Sometimes it would get choppy and I would get worked, but I’d keep charging ahead. When it was cranking, I felt the flow and did my thing.
“It feels like the moment you’re in is where you’re supposed to be…”
Each ride made me better at what I did and as I grew professionally, so did my circle of influence. Those rides were good while they lasted, but every chapter has a beginning and an end, and even big waves have to end sometime.
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
…is what Marshall Goldsmith titled one of his books. He talked about growing as an executive by evolving rather than following the same formula for success that has gotten you this far. We’re all tempted to rinse and repeat when we find an approach or method that works for us. This never lasts though. Things change–conditions, inputs, reactions, etc. What works today will not necessarily work tomorrow, or next month, or next year. There’s also a tendency for successful people to form bad habits that can defeat and unravel any good that they’ve done. One of those bad habits Goldsmith calls “clinging to the past – the need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past.” In doing so, we’re basically shifting our locus of control from internal to external.
My transition between waves varied. In some cases, I was able to piggy-back off the previous experience. In other situations, I had to start fresh.
There was a point in my management career when I was really in the zone. I stayed focused on the things I could actually control. I took on projects that I knew I could influence, hired the right people and followed the principles that I knew would bring results. Everything fell into place. I was promoted 3 times in 3 years. Stepping stone after stepping stone I climbed, eventually accepting the role of Vice President of Marketing. Then the environment changed – steppings stones became stumbling blocks.
Instead of reassessment, I tried harder to follow the formula that worked for me in the past…it wasn’t working anymore. I kept hitting a brick wall. At first, I kept pounding my head against the wall thinking I could eventually break through. That just caused pain. Then I tried finding a ladder that got me over similar walls I had encountered before. This time, there were no ladders to be found. It took me a while to realize it, but now I see that the wall was there for a different reason. Time to go in a different direction.
Adjusting to Change
New directions and unchartered territory can be scary. Fear of the unknown is natural. As you step out of your comfort zone, you have to deal with the unfamiliar. This is one of those moments where ‘the rubber hits the road’ and how you choose to respond determines how easily you’ll be able to acclimate.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” “Step out of your comfort zone.” Whatever version you’ve heard, I know it’s cliché. Maybe because repetition is actually required for it to become effective and for the message to hit home.
The more we practice stepping out of our comfort zone, the less daunting these changes are. We get used to embracing change rather than fighting it. When this becomes second nature, you can still be “in the zone” even though you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. Because you’ve done it enough times where you accept it as par for the course. You’re no longer paralyzed by that fear.
“To be outstanding, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
As you advance through your career, stay focused on what you’re good at, the things that are important to you and that you’re passionate about. This will help keep you in the zone and boost your performance. Ride those waves for as long as they last and your circle of influence will continue to expand. Opportunities and resources that were once out of reach begin to enter your circle, fueling success in a virtuous cycle. Success begets further success…until it doesn’t.
Relish these moments in the zone. They tend to be fleeting. Athletes can get into a slump. Careers might hit a glass ceiling. When your wave crashes and it’s time to look for your next ride, acknowledge that the rinse and repeat formula may not work anymore. You’ll need to accept change and be comfortable with it.
“The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.”
— Josh Waitzkin
Good athletes know this. Successful professionals know this. The difference between just knowing and actually doing is the key to keeping the door open and unlocking the gate to flow. Remember to make time regularly to ‘sharpen the saw’ and do things outside of your comfort zone. Step out and stretch. Do something good that makes you uncomfortable. There will come a time when you’ll need to make a more drastic change in your career and this practice will come in handy. When work or life throws you a curve ball, you’ll be more ready for anything that comes your way if you regularly practice stepping out of your comfort zone. You might swing and miss. That’s ok. That’s how we learn when it’s time to switch it up. Before you know it, you’ll be hitting those curve balls out of the park and making it look effortless.