bouncing back

7 hours online with tech support regarding

6 missing blog posts;

5 online chat sessions to restore

4 months of work;

3 day holiday weekend delayed the response time of the

2 entities that hold all of the power with my

1 measly website

 

I was starting to get better at showing up regularly to write and posting to my blog every Wednesday. Then I put the cart before the horse and tried to optimize too many things at once, and didn’t notice that my site had lost its mind. It went back to the dark ages. Something happened with some settings with my hosting site, and my site was suddenly sent back to how it was a year ago. They managed to fix it, but the last four months of posts were irretrievably lost.

It has been a lesson in keeping the main thing the main thing instead of jumping to finish things that aren’t immediately necessary. Instead of continuing to post regularly like I’m supposed to, I went dark for a while, then decided that I wanted everything to be awesome all at once. I tried to add products to my site by using a snazzy plugin that didn’t work. Had I been paying regular attention to my blog in its current state, plugging away one step at a time, I wouldn’t have lost all the work I had posted when I was showing up every week.

And, because I got a new computer and failed to save one essential document, I don’t have a backup file of said posts. Guys, don’t be an idiot like me. Save your stuff. I caught a brief glimpse of the ghost headlines of the posts that are forever lost, and here is what little I can piece together of the last several months:

5/4 – Defining Resistance, in which I remind readers what the theme of this blog is really all about: that invisible force that keeps you from improving and doing good work. It’s the opposite of the Muse; it is ease and comfort and wants to keep you mediocre.

5/11 – Instant Gratification, in which I discussed resistance in the form of wanting to see results right away rather than having the patience to hone a specific skill. Putting in your time and pushing yourself to do the work without seeing results right away is what will create success.

5/18 – Play: Being in the Moment was inspired by a gift I got from my mom for my birthday. It’s a Buddha Board, on which you paint with water and it evaporates. It’s a lesson in practice and letting go, that what you make doesn’t have to stand the test of time. Enjoying the act of doing something is valuable enough.

5/25 – Staying Inspired was a list of resources from which I find evergreen inspiration, such as nature and being open to hearing to other people’s stories.

6/15 – Resilience. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could remember anything about this post? Ironically, in trying to bounce back from this data loss, I can’t think of the contents for this particular week.

7/6- Trash and Treasure visited my experience of purging after reading Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” with the end goal of only owning things that bring you joy. The process and result brought with them a certain level of mental and emotional clarity that surprised me. To thoroughly and permanently detach yourself from things that don’t delight you, and to cherish those that do, is very freeing.

I don’t want this post to come across as an excuse for not showing up. I want it to be a cautionary tale to those who are frustrated by slow progress, and a reminder to save your work–even when it doesn’t seem worthwhile at the time. I want it to be a public pledge to you, dear reader, that I will commit to showing up regularly from now on–even if it sometimes feels futile. I’m gonna do it for you and I’m gonna do it for me, because defeating Resistance is the name of the game.

showing up when you’re sick

When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you. –Unknown

We all experience the occasional betrayal by our immune system. It’s yet another form of Resistance rearing its ugly head, trying to keep us from our important work. It’s very tempting to let this be an excuse to let ourselves off the hook. A missed day or two in favor of healing is not the end of the world, so long as it doesn’t cause you to fall irreparably behind. The important work is what we do when we really don’t feel like it. Encouragement, friends, for not letting illness derail you.

Resistance makes you stronger. Writing when you don’t feel like it is the best way to improve your writing habit. Showing up only when it’s easy doesn’t make you stronger. There will always be obstacles. Overcoming them is what makes you better at what you do.

Ride the high. Be inspired by your illness-induced stupor. Take advantage of the fact that your inner editor is too tired to give a crap and go wild. Write something you wouldn’t normally write, like maybe trying your hand at poetry. Or work your symptoms into a scene. Can you learn something about your character through how you currently feel?

Give yourself permission to suck. It’s always good to get the crap out to make way for better work. If you often feel like the words on the page are somehow too precious to throw out, this may be a good exercise in writing something that is meant to be scrapped. It’s cathartic to shred work sometimes. It takes the pressure off. Be happy to have work you don’t feel bad about shredding. Some days you just have to half-ass it. It’s still better than not showing up at all.

Plan ahead. When you’re well, try to stay ahead by keeping a schedule and writing more than your daily quota. This will give you some wiggle room when unexpected things arise, like illness or an emergency. If you have deadlines, make sure you have content well ahead of time. Anticipate that things will crop up and don’t wait until the last minute. If you stay ahead, there will be margin for you to have a day or two of down time without having to do too much catching up later.

Let go of the little things. Eliminate any unnecessary activities. Most things can be postponed for a couple of days. Avoid cleaning, cooking, gardening, or anything else you might be tempted to do. The world won’t crumble if you don’t do everything you’d normally do when you’re well. Call in reinforcements if you need to. If someone can help with a meal or kids, that will give you the time you need to rest and knock out a few words–even if it’s nothing more than a haiku about how messy your house is.

Don’t give up! Even if you feel like you want to die, or just sleep all day, don’t give yourself permission to break the chain of showing up every day. You’re allowed to write garbage. Just show up a little bit. It’s okay; we’re all human. But even if you show up and just do the bare minimum that ends up being thrown away, it will make you feel better about yourself that you’ve accomplished what you promised yourself you would do. If writing has become as much of a habit as breathing, it will make you feel worse if you don’t do it. Keeping the chain going will lift your spirits because you didn’t give up. You may even find that just jotting down a few words–even if they don’t make a lot of sense–may put you into a state of flow that takes your mind off of how awful you feel.

Take care of yourself. Don’t prolong your illness by not resting or listening to your body. Do what you can, but don’t create more stress by expecting to knock it out of the park. You can only come back swinging if you let yourself get 100% better. You won’t do yourself or anyone else any favors by pretending you’re not sick. The sooner you rest, the sooner you’ll get better.

Happy writing, and feel better, champ!

perfectionism (series recap)

The last few weeks have been a series of posts on the various aspects of perfectionism as resistance. This week I want to pull them all together and recap how we can overcome the offshoots of perfectionism that keep us from doing important work.

Paralysis

  • Many of us don’t start something because we have this perfect idea of the outcome that we’re afraid we won’t attain. We are so afraid of going the wrong direction that we go nowhere.
  • Fear of failure a vicious cycle that can be broken by repeated failure, otherwise known as practice.
  • We long for purpose and meaning in what we do. For this we need a plan in order to prevent paralysis. Preparing for our work equips us for success.
  • Identity: sometimes we are daunted by the idea that our work will define us. What’s more important is to consistently do work you enjoy, regardless of how you will be perceived by others.

Procrastination

  • For creatives, procrastination can stem from caring so much about the outcome that we’re paralyzed from even starting because we’re afraid of doing something less than perfect. The longer you wait to do something, the more you build up in your head and hold it to an unattainable standard.
  • Proficiency in anything is only possible with lots of practice.
  • You’ll go further taking one step every day than you will staring at the chasm you intend to overcome in a single jump. Don’t be so intimidated by the distance that you don’t make that first step.

Consistency

  • Having a routine makes you more likely to get things done because you don’t have to waste time deciding what needs to be done.
  • If you want to build momentum and avoid flaking out on what you need to do, show up every day and don’t break the chain.
  • Practice constantly. Create prolific amounts of work to hone your skills every single day.
  • “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”   –Mark Twain
  • Others see the story of you and your work by what you consistently do.

What do you struggle with when it comes to just doing the work? What prevents you from consistently creating? When do you feel tempted to break the chain? Drop me an email and let me know what kinds of resistance you face in your creative work.

seamless-chrome-chain

perfectionism, part three: consistency

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”   –Mark Twain A huge part of what stunts creative work is the feeling that we need to do perfect work instead of prolific amounts of work. In last week’s post about procrastination as it relates to perfectionism, … Continue reading perfectionism, part three: consistency

perfectionism, part two: procrastination

You’ll go further taking one step every day than you will staring at the chasm you intend to overcome in a single jump.

The other day as I was reflecting on procrastination, I had the thought that maybe procrastination isn’t about caring too little about something to see it through. I believe the opposite is often true, that it comes from caring so much that we get paralyzed by the idea of not completing it to the perfect level that we had hoped to attain (see part one). It may be a combination of that and caring more about the peripheral consequences of not finishing the thing you’re putting on hold. I care so much about writing, but I don’t do it as regularly as I ought because I’m afraid of it not being perfect. Of course it will never be perfect. But I do it because I said I was going to, because I want to be a writer, and because when I do it I feel like I’m in my element. The consequences of not writing include letting myself down, falling back on my promise (explicit or not) to my readers to post every week, and putting my reputation at stake. In school, my grades and diploma were at stake, in addition to my identity and reputation among my peers and professors. It can be very daunting when doing what you love feels like it includes holding your identity in the balance.

Rarely do we think of the consequences of procrastinating. Generally, there’s just an overall guilt of not doing that thing. When I do remember how silly it is to put off doing something I love or to which I (for better or worse) attach my identity, I have to remember that I only get better with practice. It’s stupid to be paralyzed by perfectionism. That next thing that you’re going to do is just one of many thousands of iterations you should be performing to hone that skill. Always strive for excellence, but it’s absurd to expect to sit down and turn out a masterpiece in one shot. Each member of an orchestra tunes up and practices before each performance. They don’t just show up and play a note-perfect symphony. Excellent musicians practice constantly. They stay sharp by practicing scales and rudiments every single time they pick up their instrument. They don’t become virtuosos by thinking scales are something they learned as a kid and therefore don’t need anymore. Proficiency is only possible with practice. The same is true for athletes, painters, actors, singers, writers, newscasters, carpenters–literally any skilled person became skilled because of repetition.

Not every painting that every famous painter did was their piece de resistance either. The great ones in anything showed up to their work every day. Sure, they were probably perfectionists, too. But those who excel at what they do only got to that level because they overcame that mental hang-up and just did it over and over and over again. They probably hated even their best works. Just keep doing your craft and the next thing you make will overshadow the last thing. When you sit down to do your work, remind yourself that this is not your Guernica or Sistine Chapel. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you create something. Everything has been done, but anything you do will have your unique spin on it. Put in your time doing the rudiments in preparation for the good work that will come out of you. But get over the idea that you have to turn out your masterpiece.

Picasso said, “the less Art there is in painting, the more painting there is.” In other words, quit thinking everything you do has to be a significant piece of art and just shut up and do it. The more you romanticize the medium, the more you’re likely to be too intimidated to do it. (More on that in a later post.) Forget about external judgments, definitions or standards lest they leave you too overwhelmed to even start. Picasso averaged at least two paintings per day in his lifetime. How many of those were ever seen by anyone but himself? Jimi Hendrix, who only lived to the age of 27, made around 70 albums. Mozart composed over 600 pieces in his lifetime and certainly wasn’t famous until later in life. Charles Schulz created nearly 18,000 Charlie Brown comic strips before he died. You better believe they all practiced their craft every day without fail and weren’t paralyzed by the thought that each next thing had to be their masterpiece.

You’ve heard it said that sometimes people spend their whole lives with their masterpiece still in them because they were afraid to try; or what’s just as disappointing, they obsess so much about creating their one big thing that they miss the fact that they might have already succeeded. Maybe you were so focused on what you thought it would be that you already created what the world sees as your masterpiece, but you didn’t see it because it didn’t come about how you’d imagined. Instead of a singular piece, it came about as the result of practicing and doing your work every single day. Maybe a work you’ve already done resonated with someone, or simply your dedication to doing the work consistently resonated with someone. A closet full of unused canvases is a huge waste compared to the small amount the paint “wasted” on what you might think is a failure of a painting. But you practiced. A blank page is sadder than a bad poem. Every artist has done loads of bad work before they became masters. The common denominator is that every single day they shut out the negative inner voice that told them they weren’t good enough and did it anyway.

The longer you wait to do something, the more you build up in your head and hold it to an unattainable standard. The ten unedited journal pages your write for your eyes only have more value than the book you intend to write. The small steps taken to hone your craft are valuable and help add up to the greater works ahead. You’ll go further taking one step every day than you will staring at the chasm you intend to overcome in a single jump. Don’t be so intimidated by the distance that you don’t make that first step. That step itself may make a difference to someone, and it will certainly build momentum in your skill.

perfectionism, part one: paralysis

If not knowing what you want to do with the rest of your life paralyzes you so much that you don’t create at all, that’s not only settling for mediocrity but it’s also a complete waste of your uniqueness. You say no to joy any time you expect something to define your life path.

I’ve lately begun to confront a glaring truth in my life: as long as there’s a substantial obstacle or thing to be done, I can ignore everything else until that thing is taken care of. I can tell myself that I don’t need to deal with X until after Y, where X can represent anything vying for my attention, and Y can represent any of the “shoulds” in my life such as painting, finishing a book I started, vending at a craft fair, taking a class, or even writing a blog post. The biggest Y for me currently is figuring out what specific skills I should hone down in order to freelance. I keep the fact that I don’t know what to niche down and focus on like a dangling carrot perpetually in front of me, because as long as I don’t know what exactly I should be doing, I don’t have a responsibility to work specifically toward that goal. It’s a perennial excuse. As long as there’s one thing hanging over my head, I can ignore other problems in my life. It’s so silly.

The plank in my eye that prevents me from pursuing my life calling—or career, passion, or whatever you want to call it—is my indecision. The absence of a clear, unmistakable sign from the universe telling me what one thing I should be doing with my life is the excuse I keep in my pocket that allows me to wash my hands of the responsibility to show up every day and work hard at something specific outside of my day job. Being wishy-washy allows me to continue being wishy-washy. If I half-heartedly pursue several of my interests, I can just coast on a cushion of hobbies for the rest of my life. I can enjoy all of them and not feel pressured to excel at any of them, all the while feeling a pang of guilt that can never be truly ignored.

All of this is procrastination on a larger scale, which stems from perfectionism, which itself is likely an offshoot of a fear of being wrong. Many of us don’t start something because we have this perfect idea of the outcome that we’re afraid we won’t attain. We’re uncertain that we’ll be able to live up to our own standards or that we’re taking the right path. We are so afraid of going the wrong direction that we go nowhere. The resulting guilt from knowing in your heart that inactivity is even worse than making a mistake perpetuates the cycle of paralysis. Instead of moving forward through the mistakes that will make us better and take us in a more positive direction, we wallow in guilt and fear of failure. It’s a vicious cycle that can be broken by repeated failure, otherwise known as practice.

There will always be a voice telling you to pick something, to do better, to find purpose; and that same voice will tell you there is no purpose, that your work doesn’t matter, that you’ve chosen the wrong path, that nobody cares. You’ll be stuck in an infinite loop of self-sabotage until you learn to ignore the voice of Resistance. You quiet that negativity and doubt by showing up, even if you don’t know yet what exactly you’re showing up to do. Preparation and willingness to create invites the muse to come in and play and banish that voice that ridicules your desire to be something.

It’s amazing how often we creative folk need to be reminded to just create every day. Just do something every day that you enjoy doing. That doesn’t have to define your life and you don’t have to figure out how to make that thing you enjoy into a career. In due time that may reveal itself, but in the meantime just show up and do what makes you happy. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Being daunted by the fact that you haven’t found a box to put yourself in seems utterly ridiculous if you really think about it. If not knowing what you want to do with the rest of your life paralyzes you so much that you don’t create at all, that’s not only settling for mediocrity but it’s also a complete waste of your uniqueness. You say no to joy any time you expect something to define your life path. Can’t you just write because you like to write? Paint because you like to paint? Just play with some medium because you find it fun? If you want to make a thing, for heaven’s sake make that thing because it brings you joy. Don’t try to figure out how you’re going to sell that thing or worry if people will understand that thing or if there’s a career path for making that thing. Just make the damn thing and call it good because that was where the muse called and you answered. You showed up. You showed up and made a thing and it was fun. Do it again tomorrow. Do it again for the next 363 days after that and see if you’re still holding that stick with a carrot in front of yourself.