Tag: consistency

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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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.

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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, I compared this to taking continuous steps rather than making a single, intimidating leap. There are habits creatives can adopt to keep on a consistent schedule of creating and keep that daunting beast of perfectionism at bay.

Routine

Many highly focused people, especially creatives, maintain consistency by creating rigid daily routines. My grandfather was very routine-driven. Every evening he would shave, shower, and get into his pajamas. Then he would fix himself a small stack of cheese and saltines, which he ate while he made his to-do list for the following day on a pocket-sized memo pad. During his lunchtime, he would check off what he had done so far that day, then revisit the list in the evening. If anything wasn’t done, he carried it over to tomorrow’s list. He knew exactly what needed to be done the next day, so he could just wake up and start doing them without having to waste time deciding where to start or devising a plan of action. He created momentum for getting things done every day because his consistency eliminated any guesswork for what would need to be done when he showed up to the tasks every morning.

Having too much freedom can invite paralysis. Narrowing your focus ahead of time makes tasks easier to check off your list, so you will be more likely to accomplish them. Eliminate as many choices as possible so you’re not overwhelmed, and be specific about your to-do list for the next day. Having tomorrow’s tasks in mind when you go to bed allows your subconscious to mull it over all night and wake up in the morning with a fresh perspective.

Don’t Break the Chain

Developing a consistent habit keeps you from crashing and burning when you just don’t feel like showing up. Jerry Seinfeld is credited with the technique of “not breaking the chain.” In short, if you want to be motivated to improve at something, mark off on a calendar each day that you’ve shown up and done that thing. Once you see a chain of marked off days, you won’t want to see an unmarked day on the calendar. You don’t want to see that you’ve broken your promise to yourself. You want to keep the chain going as long as possible. Once you break one link, it’s easy to let yourself break another one. The longer the chain, the more motivated you’ll be to keep it going. Show up every day to maintain momentum and keep Resistance at bay. Say yes every single day to the activity that’s most important to you.

Often like begets like. When I start writing, I get ideas for several more things I want to write about. That creates an idea snowball. Conversely, if I skip a weekly post or my daily writing, it’s way too easy to let myself flake out on consecutive days. Want momentum and endless ideas? Keep the yes going.

Practice, Practice, Practice

If you haven’t read the book Art and Fear, please stop reading and go buy it or check it out at your local library. You can read it in a couple of hours and it will change your life. In it, we are told the parable of two groups of ceramics students. One group was to be judged solely on the quality of their work, the other on quantity. While the quality group focused their efforts on creating one perfect pot, the other group turned out so many iterations that they got really good at it. Because they had so much more practice than the quality group, the quantity group ended up producing a higher quality.

clay-pots-jodhpur

There’s an old Chinese parable along the same lines. A king commissioned an artist to paint a picture of a rooster. After a year, the artist had still not come through with the painting and the king complained. The artist painted him a perfect rooster on the spot. The king responded, “If you can paint a perfect rooster in five minutes, why has it taken so long for you to give me this painting?” The artist shows the king to his studio, where there are stacks of thousands of rooster paintings. He tells the king, “It has taken me a year to be able to paint a perfect rooster in five minutes.”

rooster2

When we get hung up on perfectionism over just showing up and practicing consistently, we can miss the big picture. We get better by doing. Rarely will our work be up to our own standards, but we can only hope to excel by doing it thousands of times. Ira Glass states it nicely:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

It’s not a matter of choosing either quality or quantity. Quantity begets quality. Don’t let perfectionism keep you from producing work that may not meet your standards. Don’t make perfectionism your goal; you can only hope to get any closer to it by producing lots and lots of (probably bad) work. Every work you treat as practice is another step further in your growth as a creative.

Consistency Defines You

Here’s a related thought from an earlier post about permission :

Consistency is what gives you permission to call yourself something. You can call yourself whatever you want; it’s what you actually do that people will notice and identify you by. Who you are isn’t defined by whether or not you’re getting attention, or if somebody picked you out of a lineup of other people vying for attention, or somebody telling you that you’re good enough. You are what you consistently do…when you show up every day, you are showing up to the same world as everyone else, but you are showing up with your story.

What you do on a consistent basis is what identifies you to others. The work that you do the most is what sets you apart.

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permission

The only difference between you and the people you’re comparing yourself to (and asking permission from) is that they’ve put themselves out there. Did they ask your permission?

I still struggle greatly with allowing myself to pursue what my gut tells me to, but a couple years ago I had a moment of great clarity: I found myself in tears because I realized that I’m always asking for permission for everything. Permission is huge for me, and I’d love to get at the psychological underpinnings of the habit to seek outside affirmation. Am I that riddled with self-doubt? I not only seek permission for things I want to do; for whatever reason I always feel the need to rationalize the things I have to do.

Recently I got hit with an insane workload at my day job (more on this later). Normally, I would feel super stressed out by this, but I find myself unusually calm. I figured it’s because it’s work that I know so well I could do it in my sleep, so breaking it up into manageable chunks and just showing up and doing it isn’t all that daunting. But the sheer volume of the work really is daunting. So what’s different? Why don’t I feel all that anxious? I think it’s that I have permission to put all of my time into the task at hand. My boss made sure I’d have time to do the job instead of being expected to do a bunch of other tasks each day. So I can walk into work with no surprises, and with the tacit agreement that everyone knows that I’m supposed to work on this one big job.

Doing what you’ve been told to do feels safe. Doing something that you want to do is scary. There’s definitely fear behind needing permission. Fear of disapproval, of failure, of looking foolish, of being alone, or of believing that your endeavors aren’t really worthwhile. But only you have the power to be you, and only you can give yourself permission to be your full self. There’s no reason you should seek someone else’s permission to be yourself. You have to be the catalyst, and you have to keep the momentum going. You can’t be authentic if you’re waiting for someone else to tell you what you should do or who you should be. So every story you write, decision you make, drawing you draw—every step you take that you gave yourself permission to take—is what gets the momentum of your success going. The more you keep going, the less you’ll care about what other people think. You will have found your path and your voice and your stride and your rhythm, and no one can tell you it’s wrong and no one can take it from you. So “you do you,” as they say, because no one else can.

Consistency is what gives you permission to call yourself something.

I still have a hard time giving myself permission to call myself an artist, even if others label me as such. I’m only beginning to come around to the idea that I can call myself a writer because I write. I get up every morning and write. It’s something I do every day. I write every day, so I’m a writer. I don’t really “do art” every single day, so I don’t feel justified calling myself that. Consistency is what gives you permission to call yourself something. You can call yourself whatever you want; it’s what you actually do that people will notice and identify you by. Who you are isn’t defined by whether or not you’re getting attention, or if somebody picked you out of a lineup of other people vying for attention, or somebody telling you that you’re good enough. You are what you consistently do. Everyone else is too worried about themselves to give you permission to be you, so don’t bother living for anyone else’s approval. Chances are, whatever it is your heart is telling you to do isn’t going to end in mass destruction. If you’re adding to the good, you’re adding to the good, even if no one praises you for it, even if no one notices.

So quit hiding behind the excuse that what you’re doing isn’t polished. Everyone’s life is a work in progress. But it doesn’t add to the good if you don’t put it out there. The only difference between you and the people you’re comparing yourself to (and asking permission from) is that they’ve put themselves out there. Did they ask your permission? Maybe you won’t change the world, but playing it safe and keeping yourself to yourself doesn’t change the world either. When you show up every day, you are showing up to the same world as everyone else, but you are showing up with your story.

When I think back and try to recall any regrets in my life, i can only think that there are many times I didn’t push myself to my full potential. I wasted time waiting for someone to tell me what to do. Any time I’ve put my authentic self forward and did what I wanted to do without permission, it has only ever been a good result. Permission is an illusion. My only regrets are when I’ve not showed up, when I haven’t fully participated in life. I own the power to show up and follow my gut when I own the fact that I’m the author of my reality. I don’t need your permission to do great things. You don’t need my permission to be excellent. You are because you do. Do your thing every day.

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