Category: success (page 1 of 2)

365 small steps

Saying out loud what your goals are is necessary in order to calibrate your journey towards them. Daily steps, however small they seem, will get you closer to your goal; communicating about it with other people keeps letting you know whether you’re on the right track.

As this hits the internet, I will be on my way to Austin, Texas for the second seanwes Conference. I went last year, and it is no overstatement to say that it was life-changing. I learned so much, and met the most wonderful people. The clarity I received from intimate conversations is priceless. It’s safe to say I would not have made the progress I made this year if not for those conversations. I know I have a long way to go, but I feel such a huge weight off my shoulders knowing that I’m making forward progress. Prior to this time last year, I felt anxious, directionless, like I was treading water.

This time last year:

  • I was taking all kinds of self-inventory tests and reading all manner of books and articles designed to help me figure out what my “element” is, what specific thing I’m good at and want to pursue.
  • I had a hundred different things I wanted to do and was anxiously dabbling in each of them with no particular direction, wondering which of them was going to be the thing.
  • I was really hoping to quit my day job really soon.
  • I don’t even remember what was going on with my website, but I know that it was pretty sad stuff.
  • I couldn’t say in one sentence what I’m all about. “Well, I sell crochet stuff sometimes, I’m a sign artist for my day job, but what I really want to do is write and illustrate, but don’t really have the energy to be creative when I get home from work.”
  • I had janky business cards that I wasn’t thrilled about handing out.
  • I would not have been able to answer 9 Key Questions for Building a Successful Brand Foundation.

Now, going into this year’s conference:

  • Thanks in great part to the conversations I had last year, I know exactly what I want to do for at least the next couple of years (i.e., I have an elevator pitch): I will write and illustrate a series of books that make the concepts of the Great Books accessible to children.
  • I have a focused direction for multiple products.
  • I have regular content that I’m putting up on my website and social media.
  • I still don’t want to stay at the day job for the rest of my life, but am comforted that it is a great place to be while I overlap.
  • I have a professionally designed logo and web elements that bring clarity to my website, products, and business cards (which are now mini bookmarks with a sample of my hand lettering and an email address linked to my domain–instead of the old gmail address I’ve had since college).
  • I also got some great clarity from hand-letterer Lauren Hom’s ten-week Passion to Paid course. She and the students in the class helped me define a side project that propelled me into my current conceptualization of a book-themed product line/curriculum.

I know I still need to work on:

  • Building an audience. I don’t have much of a following yet, but this is a good thing at this stage. It needs to be the first step before I launch any products, and it gives me the freedom to write my books/create products/build my brand in the meantime. I can find my voice and have room to establish myself without the pressure to “perform” for a large audience.
  • Incorporating my awesome new design elements into my products and web presence, and create a landing page with a specific launch date.
  • Actually write the books…and all that entails (writing, editing, illustrating, publishing, marketing, distributing).
  • Reach out to influencers within the realm in which I want to establish myself.
  • Share and curate my work more regularly, as well as set strict deadlines.

Apologies that this has been a me-centered post, but I share this in the hope that it inspires someone who is where I was a year ago, or where I am now looking into the future. I can’t stress greatly enough the value of community. You need to step outside of your own point of view in order to get real clarity.

Daily journaling helps, too, but saying out loud what your goals are is necessary in order to calibrate your journey towards them. Daily steps, however small they seem, will get you closer to your goal; communicating about it with other people keeps letting you know whether you’re on the right track. One step a day doesn’t seem like much…until you’ve done it for a year.

I’m excited to see what insights will come during this conference and am excited for what the coming year will bring.

What are you working on now that didn’t seem possible a year ago? What have you learned? What steps do you look forward to making toward your goals in the coming year?

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fill your glass by focusing

Sometimes I pull myself in too many directions. If I’m working on the one thing I tell myself needs to get done today, inevitably I’ll want to do something else. I like to fool myself into thinking that I’m multi-tasking, but that doesn’t really exist.

You literally can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. Focus, by definition, is having a single object very clearly in view. Many things will vie for your attention, but they can’t all have it. Choose one thing at a time, or it will all be blurry.

If you’re going to do something well, give it your full attention. Go all in on one thing instead of being a jack of all trades. Don’t half-ass a bunch of things instead of doing one thing well.

Me, trying to do all of the things

I think of it like filling glasses. Imagine a coffee shop. You’d expect them to sell a small range of coffee and coffee-related beverages, right? Now imagine that you order a cup of coffee, and while the barista is fulfilling your order, he goes off and starts filling another cup with soda. Then he decides that he’d like to make a batch of lemonade and start filling cups with that. Before long there’s a long line of cups, each getting a different kind of beverage. But there’s only one barista, so only one cup is getting filled at a time. Each cup is only getting a few drops at a time because the real goal is to fill that first cup of coffee.

If you’re the customer, you’re pretty pissed by now that you haven’t been given your coffee. It’s a coffee joint, so the expectation is that they’re going to deliver coffee.

As creatives, it can sometimes feel impossible to just hone in on one thing. But if you’ve declared to your audience that you’re going to do something, you had better deliver.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t do all of the things that you love. Make time for things that fulfill you and scratch your creative itch. Just be sure that you’re making forward progress in the thing you want to be known for, and share things that feed that. You don’t have to project all of the things you do; it’s confusing enough for people notice what other people are all about. Make it easy on them by being clear about what you do…then do more of that.

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the most important defense against resistance

The single most important thing you can do to defeat creative resistance is to get the focus off of yourself and get around people who think bigger than you do.

Find your tribe

I had been so keen on finding what I wanted to niche down into and find out what I was good at outside of my day job that I was elbow deep in assessment tests and books about finding my element. Instead of trying to find my element, I should have been trying to find my tribe. I recently attended the very first seanwes conference in Austin, Texas. I’ve been listening to the seanwes podcast and a part of its online Community for about a year and a half. These are people who think bigger. I was intimidated going into the conference because so many of them are killing it in their chosen industry, and here I am not knowing what I want to do with my life.

When you’re talking to the right people, your floundering introduction of who you are and what you’re about gets abbreviated quickly. I went into the conference with something like, “My day job is as a sign artist for Trader Joe’s, but on the side I also like to write, draw, hand letter, and sometimes I sell crochet stuff and…” Then someone would say something like, “Oh I love Trader Joe’s! What kind of writing do you do? What are you working on?” If you do this more than once, you’ve gotta come up with a better elevator pitch.

I started saying that something I had thought about doing was writing and illustrating a series of books for children that broke down into digestible chunks the key concepts in the Great Books of western civilization, such as Plato, Augustine, Kierkegaard, Emerson, etc. When this was the part of my muddy introduction that people responded to, I tossed out the window the other ideas rattling around in my head that I wasn’t truly on fire about.

Get outside of your own head

If you’re being shy, you’re thinking about yourself. This was my problem in trying to figure out what I might be good at. I am an introvert in the extreme, but these were people I had interacted with online and knew they were people I just had to know in person. I already loved these individuals, and that made it so much easier to walk up and talk to them. I had to stop being selfish, stop being a wallflower.

Yes, I wanted to get the most out of this conference by engaging with people and building relationships. Yes, I wanted clarity for my own vision. But what happens when you get outside your own head and talk to others is that you see their vision, too. It magnifies what you’re doing. It empowers you to think about how you might serve a much bigger purpose, solve a much bigger problem, and to help more people.

That, in the end, is what it’s all about: how can I serve more people? Stop being shy and engage with others about your vision so you can better serve your audience. Serve your audience for the purpose of growing them and helping even more people. Do what you do because you love people.

Get a bigger vision

Get a bigger vision, then talk about it. Talk about it a lot. Once I put it out there that I wanted to do this illustrated Great Books series for children, people said, “Yes, do that!” The more I shared, the more feedback I got and the bigger that vision became. I started to see that the real reason I wanted to do this was to normalize what seems like big, daunting ideas for a younger audience so they’re not intimidated when they reach high school or college.

Sean McCabe often says, “Normalize what seems big to you. Think in bigger units.” Perhaps this would be more than a book series. It could be a whole curriculum. It could potentially change the way we educate young people. If understanding Plato’s cave analogy is normal in elementary school, think how much deeper students can dive into those primary texts when they’re in high school or college.

I went into the conference with very little focus as far as what I wanted to do outside of my day job. By day two, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and started taking action on it right away. By day three, it was a bigger calling than I could have imagined. I never would have imagined it if not for connecting with people who get it. I never would have imagined it if I didn’t have the guts to share that little seed of an idea.

Imagine if I had let shyness prevent me from going to the conference in the first place (I almost did). Sean also said, “The only thing holding you back is the smallness of your ideas.” Get a bigger mission so you can take massive action, be known, and help more people. You’re not being selfish by wanting to do big things and talking about your dreams; you’re being selfish by keeping them from others.


Don’t be afraid of success

Only you can build your dream. Talk about your vision, get the right people on board, get out of your own way and work your ass off on that thing. Focus hard on that one thing and build a bonfire that can’t be ignored. Get known so you can do more. Walt Disney said, “We don’t make movies to make money. We make money to make more movies.” The money you make enables you to do bigger things, so don’t be afraid to make as much as you can. It’s not greedy because it’s not about you. It’s an enabler of your bigger purpose.

Keep it positive

Even though everyone at the conference was light years ahead of me in their pursuits, I never once felt an ounce of judgement or embarrassment that I wasn’t at their level. Everyone was there to improve their game, and the atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive.These individuals are successful because there’s a team of successful people cheering them on. They are super humble about their success, too, so it’s very common to see high-functioning creatives struggling with impostor syndrome or the occasional hater.

Successful people don’t spend an ounce of energy tearing others down. –Sean McCabe

Sean also made a great point that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s irrelevance. If you’re successful enough to be noticed by a lot of people, you’ll elicit strong opinions on both ends of the spectrum. If you remain in the middle, you’re not putting yourself out there enough to be known or for people to care either way. But when people say hateful things, remember that it’s not about you at all. If they’re spending their energy tearing you down, they themselves are not successful. Don’t let someone else’s opinion limit you.


When creative Resistance has you up against a wall, try shifting your focus. It’s not about you. Are you stuck in a rut because you’re navel gazing? Remember that whatever your dream or passion, in the end it’s always about serving other people. Any money you make beyond what you need to survive is to equip yourself to serve others with what you do. Your unique talents aren’t merely for your own enjoyment, they are to do big things in the service of an audience. When you have people tearing you down, remember that it’s not about you. When you’re struggling with moving forward, get around a group of people who can bring perspective to your struggle. The world deserves what you have to offer, so put yourself out there. We are built for community. It’s your duty to share yourself and your gifts.

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fear of futility

Do you ever get tired of feeling guilty for not producing enough? For me, in the middle of National Novel Writing Month, this novel writing business is proving to be something hanging over my head rather than an enjoyable activity; I feel like I’m letting it defeat me.

Life is too short to not do something meaningful, but it will feel a lot longer than you’d like if you continually beat yourself up for not being perfect. It’s a catch-22. You will never meet your own standards, and that subconscious idea that perfection is the goal is completely paralyzing. Isn’t it better to just get something done rather than beat yourself up over something that you barely even started?

I know I have these unspoken, arbitrary, lofty standards. But what’s the point of such high standards if I’m incapable of meeting them? If I’m so afraid of failure that I never accomplish anything? If I have nothing to show for all my showing up, then I have failed. If I just do it I have succeeded. Isn’t the latter easier? What is keeping me from just doing the work to even 75% of my standards? There’s time for revision later. Why can’t I just do it? What am I so afraid of? Why do I feel like I’m not even capable? There are millions of people in the world doing what I’m doing. I know I can do it just as well or better than most of them, but not all of them. Being the best isn’t even the point. So what is it that causes me so much anxiety and paralysis?

It’s Resistance with a capital R. I’ve been showing up every day and trying to get out of my own way so the muse can show up. Shouldn’t that be enough to banish Resistance? Why is it still rearing its ugly head? What psychological roadblocks am I not seeing? It’s not fear of success, because finishing the first draft of a novel doesn’t really require anything of me after it’s done. I can roll with it or not. It can’t be the fear of failure because the only way to fail at writing is to not write. A draft is malleable. I can always fix what isn’t perfect. There are only words, and my only failure is not putting them on the page. I’m sure part if it is that little nagging dark force telling me that this isn’t what I should be doing. I should give up. I’m not a writer. I should either move on to some other creative pursuit (which I also won’t be good at) or just give up. Resistance is manifesting itself as both inadequacy and futility. What’s the point of all of this? My work doesn’t matter. My work won’t matter. So what’s the point of doing it? Why show up every day and pour my heart out? What are my blood, sweat, and tears going to accomplish in the end? I struggle to find the meaning and purpose in any of it. Who am I helping by showing up to write every day?

Somewhat ironically, the novel I’m struggling to write deals with immortality and youth. I ask myself why a character would want to live much longer, even with the benefits of youth. My thought was that many people wouldn’t know how to handle living more than a hundred years, that only those with an exceptional sense of purpose and joy would want to go on living. If you outlived all of your loved ones, what would keep you going? Albert Camus said that it takes more courage to live than to commit suicide, and that happiness (even for Sisyphus) is to enjoy your work in spite of the apparent futility of existence. I think the drive to create is stronger than the desire for immortality. Creativity, in one form or another, is where souls find their purpose. It’s how we make sense out of the lives we are living, and helps us and others enjoy that life. It brings context and clarifies meaning for us as we try to imagine what forever might be like. The need to create is a very strong human calling, and when I feel creatively blocked, I start to lose my sense of purpose, direction, joy, and meaning. Guilt creeps in.

Piled on top of personal guilt is the public shame of not having a word count on the NaNoWriMo site for my novel. This feels like a huge failure. Maybe it is a failure at the moment, but the entire project hasn’t failed. I am not a failure. I am a person who matters, who loves to write, and will write my heart out. Even if it feels like it doesn’t matter. Defeat is a mindset. The only thing causing me to fail is the idea that I’m not good enough. If I show up and write in spite of that voice in my head, I’ve won.

It’s frustrating to say that the cure for creative block is to just create, but time and again that’s the answer that reveals itself. Feel like you can’t do it? Just show up and do it. Simply doing anything creative usually helps to make the guilt of creative block go away, even if it’s not related to what you want to accomplish. If you’ve been staring at a blank page for a while, get up and go outside with your sketch book or make some bread. Every act of making something helps to bring you back to your center and remind you of the joy of creating without the pressure of meaning or perfection. It’s in your DNA to create, so find something–however small and seemingly insignificant–to make that makes you happy and don’t feel guilty about counting that as a success. It’s part of showing up to your work. If you showed up, you’ve won.

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