Decided to read this again since the new organization I recently joined has had its challenges and is actively working through them. Interesting how I internalized more of the content this second time around since it’s more timely and relevant at this stage in my career. Unlike Patrick Lencioni’s other books which are more fable format, this was more of a traditional business book with practical tips and a roadmap to follow.
Fire-fighting. In some organizations, it seems to happen on a daily basis inevitably resulting in casualties along the way. You may even be one of them.
While there’s glory in being the Phoenix that rises from the ashes, we might be better off avoiding burnout in the first place.
Heeding the Signs
From an organizational perspective, what appears to be important can easily be sucking dry your most valuable resources. You might notice that days are filled with expensive back-to-back meetings. Perhaps, too much time is being spent on shiny objects and the next big thing. Projects start to drag and go well beyond budget. Every hour an executive is overreacting to some metric that missed its year-over-year comp. Left unchecked, your most valuable resource, your employees, will begin to disengage and fly on autopilot.
At an individual level, most days you’re stuck in back-to-back meetings filled with people that don’t even need to be there…including you. Because some industry expert said that X is going to be the next big thing, you’re suddenly asked to drop what you’re working on and get a new project started. Because the project doesn’t really align with the organization’s mission or values, there’s ongoing and endless debate about how to complete the project on time and within budget. You’re questioning why the project is even a priority and no one seems to have a good answer. Later you get blamed for the failure of the project even though you advised against it. After running around frantically trying to keep everyone happy, you feel exhausted and begin to disengage.
Making the shift from simply getting things done to focusing on doing the right things
What are the right things? Of course, that depends on the organization and the individual. Those who work in “fast-paced environments” are especially prone to resource-sucking tangents and running around in circles. Regardless, it’s important to occasionally pause and evaluate your current activities to assess whether your initiatives are moving you in the desired direction. Failure to do so can be quite costly. Some estimate this corporate waste could be costing the U.S. upwards of $3 trillion each year. (There are likely more impressive stats I could cite, but you get the point.) Exaggerated or not, that’s a lot of wasted Time, Talent, Energy.
If you’re feeling like you’re on fire—and not in a good way—it’s time to stop, drop and roll.
Stop, Drop and Roll
Stop: Unplug. Slow down. Go quiet. Get some sleep. Then with a clear head, take stock of your current resources and make sure you’re investing them in the right things. Are they serving your purpose? How much are they moving the needle in the right direction? Despite sunk costs, is any reallocation needed? Do you need to add a missing ingredient to the mix? Better yet, should you drop something unnecessary? These decisions can be tough, but that’s why you get paid the big bucks.
Drop: Keep what’s working and drop what’s not. That whole sunk cost mentality makes this easier said than done. Then, there’s the addictive juggling act. As an experienced “multi-tasker”, you like to juggle. You even think you’re pretty good at it. When balls start to drop, you might as well drop them intentionally. Focus on less but the most important.
And on the team side of things, trying to preserve relationships you’ve invested in can make letting go a challenge, even when the relationship is unhealthy. After you’ve done everything you can to make a relationship work, if someone is headed elsewhere, you’ll need to drop them off or let them off the bus. Switching roles, perhaps you need to get off the bus you’re riding.
The art of adding by subtraction is risky. Being smart about the process mitigates the risk. We are more nimble without the unnecessary baggage, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.
Roll: Once you put out any existing fires, prevention is the key moving forward. Make sure you have momentum in the right direction before you get on a roll.
Oftentimes, we set our own fires. With the daily noise, hustle, and bustle, our attention is distracted and we lose our way. Next thing you know, we’re backpedaling or just spinning our wheels. Sometimes we need to just roll with it, but most of the time, we should be paying attention, avoiding the unnecessary fires, and course-correcting.
In this fast-paced environment, we find ourselves in, it’s easy to catch on fire and burn out.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
Fires can be dramatic. Preventing them doesn’t have to be. Allocate some time today to remind yourself where and who you really want to be. Assess how you’re getting there and make any necessary adjustments.
Everyday alignment is not a big deal but it can make a big difference. Keep calm and roll on.
“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
– Mark Twain
In this achievement, results-driven culture that we find ourselves in, it can be easy to get caught up in the craze. With the focus on movement, there’s an inherent lack of focus on being still. Taking time to pause and reflect. Doing nothing. As Benjamin Hardy eloquently describes in The Harsh Truth Of Rapid Personal Growth, there is the Law of Opposites, where it’s impossible to appreciate things like the sweetness of success unless you’ve tasted the bitterness of defeat.
In my personal experience, I’ve learned the hard way that getting important things done and making big strides forward are easier and faster when I make time to do the opposite. Time to stop and pause. Time to rest. When we choose not to do this, sometimes it’s imposed upon us like my Career Break.
Since then I’ve had a chance to revisit some lessons learned long ago while I was working abroad. Concepts first introduced to me while reading Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh— a fun way to get acquainted with Taoism, particularly Yin and Yang.
For anyone not already familiar with Yin and Yang, here’s a translated excerpt from the Tao Te Ching to help provide some context:
When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.
To oversimplify what can be a much deeper interpretation of the concept, I see the main takeaways as balance, flow and wholeness.
Like many others, I also feel the pressure to keep moving, to make it happen, to do what it takes. Not too long ago, I would do 14 hour work days with only 4 hours of sleep. Push, push, push without taking time to rest, rest, rest. Always being plugged in so I wouldn’t lose any connections. Recently, I’ve significantly changed my pace.
There is a natural ebb and flow as day turns into night and night into day. When we fight against the natural rhythm, we invite disharmony and imbalance. At work this can lead to burnout or loss of personal mojo. At home, fatigue makes us impatient and fosters a dysfunctional environment. Within ourselves, we lose clarity and creativity. None of this is particularly appealing yet we continue to force flow without respecting ebb.
“Life is full of ebbs and flows. Trust that when things are slow or not going the way you’d like, there’s something positive coming your way. Things are in the works, the universe is shifting, and all the seeds you plant will come to bloom in their right time. Take care of yourself, trust in the process and stop trying to force things.” — Stephenie Zamora
Whether you occasionally do ‘a complete unplug’ as suggested by Neil Pasriche, or simply listen to Depeche Mode and Enjoy the Silence every once and a while, rest is not only vital for your overall balance, you’d be surprised at how much more productive you are after you re-engage. As Jim Lore and Tony Schwartz are quoted, “The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal.”
Going Full Circle
Before I got caught in the ‘the busy trap,’ I used to enjoy sleeping in and taking long naps. I’d wake up fully recharged and filled with fresh ideas. Full of energy, I’d actually follow through and see those ideas to completion, one step at a time.
Settling into my career, I got too caught up in the wave and would try to ride the momentum too long. Forcing flow when it was time to ebb. Focusing only on Yang and neglecting Yin. Not making time to enjoy the silence.
At the extreme end, I eventually lost my mojo, burned out and received the dreaded pink slip after years of climbing the corporate ladder.
I don’t regret it though. It was the sign I needed to reset. And the experience has given me more appreciation for a simpler life…and more naps. That might sound a bit like the other extreme, but for now, it’s the needed Yin to counter-balance the Yang life I had been living.
My One Thing now is wholeness to improve the flow.
“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” — Tim Kreider in his New York Times article, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”
Fortunately, cultural shifts seem to be moving in a similar direction. You may have noticed as well. Perhaps you’ve joined the ranks of Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution. Or you’re following Arianna Huffington’s Sleep Revolution.
Take a break, get some rest, and I’ll see you on the other side.
A month ago it started. I would have about 5 weeks to myself and thought about how much I could get done while my wife and three kids were in Argentina traveling and visiting with family during summer vacation.
An entire month of extra ‘me time.’
That time is now almost over. I pick them up from the airport next week. My time alone didn’t go as planned, but I did learn a couple things from reflecting on how I spent it.
To start the 5 weeks, I reviewed my Honey-Do List and made several lists of my own. I like lists. They give me focus. They give me an outline of steps to take. It feels good to check items off the list and say “Done.”
Lists are also a source of great anxiety and a misleading tool if used improperly.
My to-do lists usually contain a mix of items that fall into opposing camps: creative vs. maintenance, recharging vs. charging ahead, big and time-consuming vs. quick hits.
Taking a breath and thinking back on the past four weeks, here are some observations.
Maintenance items and quick hits lure me away from the more important things. With every check off the list, I feel like I’m getting a lot done in a short period of time. I gain momentum which leads me to the next quick hit. I go through the day thinking I’m getting a lot done, but at the end of the day it ends up being the trivial many versus the vital few.
Lists focusing on Doing rather than Purpose are like a big helping of empty calories. Short-lived satisfaction without any long-term sustenance. The day ends with regret from just spinning my wheels and not really getting anywhere meaningful. The negative effect of shifting my focus on what’s past — regretting a day lost — also distracts me from being at peace and appreciating the present moment. This perpetuates a vicious cycle.
With the one week I have left, here are the changes I’m committing to.
First Things First, as Stephen Covey would say. Or if I can only get one thing done, making the priority my “One Thing” as Gary Keller wrote. The maintenance work still needs to get done, but I’ll put the big rocks in my jar first and then let the sandy maintenance items fill in the remaining space.
Follow some advice from James Altucher and time-block my day based on balanced themes instead of to-do lists. By aligning daily choices to address what’s important for my spiritual, emotional, mental and physical needs, I’ll be more likely to make healthy decisions on how I spend the time. These are the four big rocks (themes) for me.
Put Into Practice
All fine in theory. But what would this look like from day to day?
This post is one example. In the beginning of “Me Time” I had planned to use the extra time to write about and publish several ideas piling up in my drafts folder. Four weeks later my list of ideas is even bigger, but I didn’t complete a single post. Today, I traded-off a few hours of maintenance items to sit down and follow-through on something that simultaneously feeds my spiritual, emotional and mental needs. As I wind down this article, I not only feel good about checking something off my original list, I also feel nourished. I made time to recharge my energy and be creative.
For all the other scenarios out there — for whatever you might be personally experiencing — the one take-away is this. Shift your focus from simply doing, to doing the right things.
As Greg McKeown says in Essentialism, narrow your focus to what’s essentially important to you and be willing to trade-off the trivial many (e.g. checking my phone every other minute, staying up late binge watching Netflix, etc. in my case.)
In The One Thing, Gary Keller recommends we ask ourselves some variation of the following question, “What’s the one thing I can do today/this week/this month to [insert context for family, career, exercise, whatever applies to you] such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?”
Using my personal example, I asked “What’s the one thing I can do today for my peace of mind, body and soul such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?” My answer: Block out a couple of hours to reflect, collect my thoughts, then write about them.
As I close, I already feel the nourishment kicking in. I still have a lot of necessary chores to do, but I’ll get to them in between more important things. Instead of rushing back to attack my to-do list, I’m going to take the dog for a nice leisurely walk (without my phone) to enjoy the sun, the warm breeze and the simple pleasure of pausing to sniff the roses.
As a semi-retired DJ, I’ve always known the high that comes from the right music at the right time. Music really is like a powerful drug. It can take you back in time where a particular song anchors memories from the past. It has the power to transform ordinary moments into special events. And this affective influence can touch the heart, the mind as well as the body.
Some of my favorite songs not only make you feel good, they’re good for you. More than words, there is harmony between [lyrics with substance] and [melody that moves].
Here are some samples. No prescription needed.
Antidepressant or Stress Relief
“I, recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone, yeah
I, recommend walking around naked in your living room, yeah
Swallow it down (what a jagged little pill)
It feels so good (swimming in your stomach)
Wait until the dust settles
You live you learn, you love you learn
You cry you learn, you lose you learn
You bleed you learn, you scream you learn
I, recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone
I certainly do
I, recommend sticking your foot in your mouth at any time
“So basically all I need
Is to be everything but me
And some implants
Somehow that don’t make much sense
I must be out of my head
If I think, that I am governed by material things.
So I decided I’m
The definition of fly
And if you want to know why
I know what money can’t buy
Don’t go believing the hype
There’s no runway in the sky
And no way you could be fly
Not if it costs you a dime.”
“You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”
“Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten”
“Now better men, than me have failed
Drinking from that unholy grail
(Now check it out)
I’ve got her, and she got me
And you’ve got that butt, but I kindly gotta be like
Oh baby, no baby, you got me all wrong baby
My baby’s already got all of my love
So nah nah Honey, I’m good
I could have another but I probably should not
I’ve got somebody at home, and if I stay I might not leave alone
No, honey, I’m good
I could have another but I probably should not
I’ve got to bid you adieu
To another I will stay true
(oo oo I will stay true)
(who who I will stay true)
Oh, I’m sure ya, sure ya will make somebody’s night
But oh, I assure ya assure ya, it sure as hell’s not mine”
“Young mom on her own
She needs a little help got nowhere to go
She’s lookin’ for a job, lookin’ for a way out
’Cause a half-way house will never be a home
At night she whispers to her baby girl
Someday we’ll find a place here in this world
This is our temporary home
It’s not where we belong
Windows in rooms that we’re passin’ through
This is just a stop, on the way to where we’re going
I’m not afraid because I know this is our
“I know sometimes you’re feeling lost
It’s hard to find your place in it all
But you don’t have to fear
Even when you mess up
You always got my love
I’m always right here
Come what may
Don’t look back forget yesterday
It’s not where you come from
It’s where you belong
Nothin’ I would trade
I wouldn’t have it any other way
By love and you’re wanted
So never feel alone
You are home with me
Right where you belong
Don’t matter where you’ve been
You’re here for a reason”
— Kari Kimmel, Where You Belong
“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” — Billy Joel
Mixing and Sharing Medication
Even if you’re already feeling pretty good, music can amplify that. When I DJ, the desired effect is to mix music that lifts your spirits and makes you move. When I’m in the zone, I can alter your frame of mind, enhance your mood and get you dancing instinctively. The right songs act as a catalyst. As everything comes together just right, we share the high. The act of sharing the experience — grooving and dancing together — can bridge differences between time and space, language and culture.
JT sums up the feeling quite nicely…
“I got this feeling, inside my bones
It goes electric, wavey when I turn it on
All through my city, all through my home
We’re flying up, no ceiling, when we in our zone
I got that sunshine in my pocket
Got that good soul in my feet
I feel that hot blood in my body when it drops, ooh
I can’t take my eyes up off it, moving so phenomenally
Room on lock the way we rock it, so don’t stop…
I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance
I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance, come on
Ooh, it’s something magical
It’s in the air, it’s in my blood, it’s rushing on
Don’t need no reason, don’t need control
I fly so high, no ceiling, when I’m in my zone”
Now that you’ve had some samples, here’s your prescription:
Assess your mood, pick a theme and create a soundtrack. You may even share your playlist on Spotify. (There are links to my playlists at the end.) For whatever ails you…cue up your playlist. Plug in. Take a lyrical hit (or two). And call me in the morning.
You have undoubtedly been inspired by a piece of music either because of the lyrics or the melodic composition. I’m always looking to take another hit and add it to my playlist. Please share in the comments section.
When I was much younger, I had many lofty goals. Each one was accompanied by dreams about what life would be like if that goal were accomplished. Sometimes I would get sucked in by people who claimed to have a shortcut. No regrets though. I learned to fail quickly and to move on, learning what didn’t work. There are smarter ways than trial and error, and I’m sure some people actually do get lucky, but rarely have I seen anything meaningful happen overnight, even when it appears that way.
I’ve adjusted my expectations accordingly. For example, I’ve always wanted to become a writer and publish a book. I used to think it would happen after some whirlwind of inspiration poured over blank pages while I retreated to some remote cabin by a lake. Now, instead of hoping to be a published author with my first book becoming an instant bestseller, I just write a little every day. Baby steps. I don’t even write with a book as the final product in mind. I write just to write, and to use my words to document experiences and thoughts that inspire me. One day, I shifted from private morning pages to public blog posts. That was scary for me. Then I took a chance and submitted an article for consideration on LinkedIn Pulse. (I was scared to hit submit and my mouse hovered over the button for what seemed like forever.) As I read and re-read that first draft submitted, I was embarrassed to think that anyone could now actually read my raw writing. I continued to edit, tweak and refine until I couldn’t think of anything else to improve. Then I walked away knowing I put forth my best. It was good enough to know that I did it despite being scared. (It did get featured by the way. Beginner’s luck.)
Not sure what the next steps will be. I’ll take it one step at a time, one article at a time. I’ll continue to learn what I can from each step. Confidence builds with each stride and it feels good. Regardless of whether or not I eventually author and publish a book, I’m having fun learning from doing.
“A day at a time, a page a time, my daily three pages have unknotted career, life, and love. They’ve shown me a path where there was no path, and I follow it now, trusting that if I do, the path will continue.”
— Julia Cameron regarding Morning Pages in her book Walking Around the World
In the business world, I learned about the concept of kaizen— continuous improvement. Translated from Japanese and in general terms, it simply means change for the better. The aspect of ‘continuous’ is important to me though. It aligns with my step by step approach. And I think smaller steps might actually be more effective in the long run.
I like how James Altucher describes his daily practice and his balanced way of striving to be just 1% better each day. The idea of taking larger goals and breaking them down into very bite-size chunks has resonated with me.
Putting this approach into practice has transformed my loftier goals from daunting to do-able. As one Chinese Proverb puts it, “To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.” Taking smaller steps not only helps you get started but also helps you keep going.
The Benefits of Breaking It Down
easier to get started
less stressful and no longer overwhelming
flexible by design
encouraging to make progress even gradually
more focus on the present than the future
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”
— Mark Twain
Breaking Things Down by Context
Whether it’s getting in shape, starting a new job, or learning any new skill, I break it down and find that I accomplish a lot more in a lot less time than I expected.
step by step
brick by brick
line by line
layer by layer
repetition by rep
one task at a time
one lesson at a time
one breath at a time
one day at a time
Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing. – William Shakespeare
Success, achievement and accomplishment are all great things, but the pleasure is usually short-lived. There’s something more lasting about the time and effort spent getting there. Perhaps there’s magic in the anticipation as you work. (Or maybe because you get a natural hit of dopamine with every step you take towards your goals. So I’ve read.) I agree with Gary Keller who—in his bestseller The One Thing—says, “Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment.”
“…when you can see mastery as a path you go down instead of a destination you arrive at, it starts to feel accessible and attainable. Most assume mastery is an end result, but at its core, mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience.”
— Gary Keller, The One Thing
Over time, I’ve learned to appreciate the journey more than the destination. I find joy in the process towards something. No need to wait until you get there. It’s just as important to enjoy the experience along the way. What takes away from that enjoyment is the temptation to hurry up and arrive already. While I strive for better, I remind myself to be thankful for what I’ve already accomplished and the good fortune I already have.
Read the chapter on “Effort Counts Twice” from Grit by Angela Duckworth and wanted to add some relevant quotes and notes.
“…the most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary.” — Angela Duckworth
“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together produce excellence.” — Dan Chambliss
“So what is the reality of greatness? Nietzsche came to the same conclusion Dan Chambliss did. Great things are accomplished by those ‘people whose thinking is active in one direction, who employ everything as material, who always zealously observe their own inner life and that of others, who perceive everywhere models and incentives, who never tire of combining together the means available to them.” — Angela Duckworth
It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve read that when it comes to writing, it’s important to write even when you’re not inspired. To write even when you think there’s nothing noteworthy. To just “show up.” I haven’t done that consistently for the past month or so, at least not publicly. Although not everyday, I’ve been writing my morning pages more often. This is done in the Journey app and is my private journal. (If you’re interested in keeping a journal, I highly recommend this app.)
I’ve been focused on other things so I don’t regret taking a break from my public posts. After a couple months of regular posting, I started to feel like I was forcing topics and spending too much time in front of the keyboard. To regain some balance, I intentionally walked away from it to spend more time with the family for a while. Now I’m feeling the itch again. This time I’m going to adjust my approach a bit based on things I’ve picked up during my first dive into blogging.
Here are some things I’ve observed about my approach and what I think could be areas of improvement…
Even if I don’t publish a post regularly, it’s important to write my morning pages every day. Morning pages don’t need to be polished. They don’t even need to be coherent. Since the journal is for me to unload and clarify my thoughts, it serves that purpose well without having to take too much time. To improve, I’d like to shoot for one public post every couple of weeks on average, and to write my morning pages every day.
The stats behind each post can be addicting. I tend to be overly concerned with the numbers and the outcomes rather than just enjoying the process. This seems to corrupt my creative spirit as I become overly concerned with what others might think. While the statistics and analytics provide some useful insights, scheduling a weekly or monthly analysis would probably be enough.
While it seems to be a good practice to re-post the same article across multiple channels, it’s become obvious that some topics are just better left where it better fits the audience. At the very least, it’s important not to copy and paste. I’ve found that making adjustments to the intro or context, depending on the audience, sets up the same article to be better received. Similar to public speaking, it’s critical to speak to the interests of the specific audience. No matter how universal I think the topic may be, I still need to frame it a little differently from channel to channel.
Blogging is more fun as a conversation. I used to write like a monologue. If anyone commented, the most I would do is “like” their comment. After taking time to actually respond thoughtfully to each comment, the entire experience has become a lot more rewarding.
I write best in the early morning when everyone in the house is still sleeping. There are very few distractions and my mind is still fresh. It also helps when I get enough sleep (for me, that means 7-8 hours) and when I read a good book before bed the night before. The challenge for me has been to consistently sleep enough. When I’m trying to write on 6 or less hours of sleep, the right flow just isn’t there.
I will adjust my approach moving forward to validate or disprove any of these initial observations and thoughts.
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.”
It’s been a few days since I’ve logged an entry into this journal. Time to catch up. I’ve got the day off today so my theme today is “back to balance.” This is why…
After Sofia’s birthday last Sunday, I had a spurt of LinkedIn/Blog writing. Mostly LinkedIn this past week. It started Sunday night and then I wanted to ride the wave while I had momentum. It helped that the first post about “Reflections on a Career Break” was received pretty well and got several likes, comments and private messages.
I wasn’t comfortable just having one post associated with my profile so I set a goal of 3 before taking a break from LinkedIn publishing. I met my goal of 3 by republishing/editing my blog post on “The Annual Performance Review” and then a couple of days ago, I wrote “Simply Effective Leadership” around the Don Draper quote.
All of this had an associated cost and trade-offs. I didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked. I didn’t spend time doing things like exercise, cooking, Duolingo or just chilling with the family. Any “free” time I had I spent writing and obsessing over the stats. I’ve attached a screenshot of the stats for the three posts after 6 days. My ego wanted reassurance that my writing was getting views and being liked. Comments were icing on the cake.
In the beginning, it was invigorating and I felt like the creative juices were flowing again — a renewed zest for life and ideas for the future. Towards the end of the week, though, I was sensing the stress levels elevate. It was similar to when I would be thinking about work all the time and wanting to keep plugging away at something. The problem before, and it seems to be happening again now, is that forcing it forward had diminishing returns and a greater cost with every push. It was getting extreme to the point where Caro and the kids would stop by the desk and mention how much time I was spending with the writing thing. Even one of my coworkers said, “Donn, you’re so active on LinkedIn! I keep getting alerts…” It was a little embarrassing and I took it as a sign to lay off the social channels for a while. If I can help myself, this might be the last post for a while. (I can hear your sighs of relief.)
So that’s why today’s theme is “back to balance”. I need to sharpen the saw. To focus on other areas such as physical, spiritual and emotional. The last week has been primarily mental exercise. There may be nothing wrong with the occasional deep dive into something, but it’s important to come up for air. Wouldn’t want to drown in my own excitement.