Category: work (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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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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what pain are you willing to sustain?

What pain do you want to sustain? What pursuit is important enough to you (what do you want enough) that you can endure the pain associated with it? What are you willing to risk in order to pursue what you love?

I would like the pain of pushing myself to write more and more words. Two months ago I started waking up earlier to write at least 500 words a day. That quickly started to feel like far too little, so I made it a thousand words every morning. If I want to be a writer, I need to increase that challenge any time it stops feeling difficult. My average word count for 120 days of showing up at 4am is well below a thousand words a day. I need to step up my game. The challenge of pushing myself harder is so worth it because that means I’ve grown and am growing. In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about finding that sweet spot on a sliding scale between comfort and pain that keeps you growing. We have to be challenged just enough to continually improve.

I think I could handle the pain of rejection over and over again if it meant that I was putting myself out there enough to get noticed. I don’t create enough to actually submit my work to publishers, galleries, or contests. Every time I think about submitting to a short story contest or something of that ilk, I’m always disappointed by the backlog of old work that I have. I need to be creating new content. I love the reward of pushing through ideas and watching the word count grow. I love when a character becomes so solidified that you can hear exactly how they would say something, and the characters can practically write the scenes themselves.

I’m willing to suffer trolls and negative feedback because that means my ideas have landed on someone. That means someone is listening. That means I’ve said something substantial enough for someone to disagree. That means I’ve been putting myself out there and haven’t been safe or neutral. I got my first troll on Twitter a few weeks ago. I haven’t posted much and I don’t have many followers (nor do I follow many people), but some random person felt the need to question my post, which means that they read it, disagreed, and wanted to engage. The guy was a douche and a career troll, so that made it very easy not to take it personally or to engage with him back. But that means I made it onto someone’s radar.

I’m even willing to risk the embarrassment of going through the old journal I just dug out of my nightstand if it means sparking some kind of story. I’m not even sure how back it goes, but it certainly hasn’t been touched in years. I’m a little afraid to open it, but I would like to start using a physical journal again. It’s a nice leather bound one, and there’s something about ritual and tangible artifacts that make the act of creating feel so romantic. But I’m not as free on the written page as I feel I can be in a password protected digital document. There’s no security on paper. Not that I have anything at all to hide, but as a creative it feels risky to do the necessary thing of being honest and vulnerable.

I’m also willing to put myself out here on my blog every week, even if no one reads it. It can be disheartening to show up and do the work if it feels like it doesn’t matter yet. But if the work is important enough to you, you do it even if there’s no audience. Whatever your passion is, you have to love the doing, not just the results. You have to take the process and the leg work and being a nobody for a while and love the work enough to still keep doing it every day even if there’s no reward for it.

My wish for everyone is that they find that one thing that lights them up enough to endure the nitty gritty even if it doesn’t result in the warm and fuzzy. What makes you show up every day, even when no one is looking? What pain are you willing to sustain?

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the zen of bridge building

Would you rather have a slow-roasted meal or a microwaved one? Good things take time.

We are often encouraged to “dream big,” but following the right path for you doesn’t have to be this big, revolutionary endeavor. Rather, it’s a series of single steps in the right direction. Whether it’s quitting your day job or training for a marathon, the process is gradual, not one grand dramatic act. I’ve been reading Jeff Goins’ book “The Art of Work.” In the fourth chapter, he says that too many people put all their energy into making the leap rather than building the bridge. The beauty of bridges is that you don’t have to see way into the distance where you want to land; you can take it one step at a time.

“First, we flirt with [our dreams] from afar. Then we fantasize, imagining what life will be like when we are united with what we love, without ever doing any real work. We wait, building up courage, and save all our passion for the big day when we will abandon everything and go for it. And finally, we take the leap.

Sometimes, though, we don’t make it to the other side. We fall on our faces. Doing our best to pick ourselves up, we dust ourselves off and try again. But if this happens enough, we begin to tell ourselves a familiar story. We remind ourselves that the world is a cold, cruel place, and maybe there’s no room in it for my dream. We get disillusioned and make the worst mistake you can make with a calling: we save all our energy for the leap instead of building a bridge.” (emphasis mine)

This idea of one step at a time coexists nicely with the kaizen mindset. Anyone who has worked at Trader Joe’s or Toyota can tell you that “kaizen” means improvement by gradual steps. Like the “work smarter not harder” adage we’ve all heard, kaizen is a Japanese philosophy that means “good change.” You can make things a little better every single day by constantly refining your process. It’s a very deliberate way of shaving off time and unnecessaries in order to optimize the things you regularly do, whittling away anything that detracts from keeping the main thing the main thing. It’s very much like a river defining its path over a once rough terrain; it may take years, but eventually the path is smooth, well-defined, beautiful, and strong. It is also not unlike building a bridge, one step at a time, to cross a river that we may not be able to jump across.

As it relates to writing, I recently learned that the famous author Graham Greene only writes 500 words a day and stops, even if it’s in the middle of a sentence. That struck me as a small number of words for a successful writer (this blog post is longer than that), but also made me feel better about where I am as a fledgling writer. Just showing up and taking a step is keeping you on the path to your dream. Every book starts with one word, then words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, then chapters, then a whole novel. But no one writes a novel overnight. No one takes a big leap and suddenly a prolific work is accomplished. It takes time and work and a daily decision to take a step and keep going.

It’s easy to psyche ourselves out and feel overwhelmed when we dream big. That’s because we want it now and we want it so much that we start thinking about what sacrifices we can make to achieve that big dream. But if it’s a worthy dream, be prepared to nurture it with hard work and lots of time. Dream as big as you can, but take comfort in the idea that you don’t have to have every step in place right now. Just take the next step in the right direction. Repeat.

The path will more than likely change as you go, but you’ll be better for it. If a rock is in a river’s path, it doesn’t stop the river; the river goes around it and keeps going. Make your own process the best it can be every day. Great things take time, so be patient grasshopper.

What dream seems distant to you right now? What is the next step you need to take?

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