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Posts tagged ‘letting go’

Coach, You Gotta Walk the Talk

CommunityAs a creativity coach, I have an obligation to walk the talk. It’s important to me that my coaching strategies come not just from training and books, but from real-life experience and an active personal practice. If I were to champion the virtues of an early morning creative practice, for example, while I was secretly sleeping until noon and hadn’t flexed a creative muscle in years, I’m pretty sure that most of you would call me a fraud. And I’d have to agree.

In this vein, I recently came to an important decision.

I often work with clients who struggle with extreme shortages of time but are seemingly unable to edit anything out of their schedules. Looking in as an outsider, it’s not hard for me to identify items that might merit the chopping block in order to free up time for creative work. While I can make gentle suggestions, ultimately, those decisions can’t come from me; they have to come from the client’s own shifting perspective. That shift requires looking at everything with openness and a willingness to see beyond “I can’t.”

This year, like many of my clients, I found myself in the position of having too much to do — way too much to do — and being unable to see how I might do less. “But it’s all good, important, relevant stuff!” I told myself. “I’ve already gotten rid of the obvious things!” (Volunteering for the PTA, for example. Duh.)

Many of you know that in January of this year, I opened Open Studio Groton, a brick-and-mortar studio here in Massachusetts, with my dear friend and business partner Ellen Olson-Brown. Open Studio was launched as a place where people in our community could connect, create, and grow. Looking back over the year, we have an amazing collection of successes to celebrate. Connections have been made over ideas, projects, and conversations. Artwork, manuscripts, businesses, friendships — all were created in our cozy little space. Individuals connected and grew in their own ways: some developed into stronger writers through our writers’ workshops and writers’ groups, some became more flexible yogis through Buddha Nest Yoga, some enjoyed our other diverse offerings, from blacksmithing to writing a personal creed. Four talented artists had shows in our space. Personal friendships were formed; our community grew stronger.

To our surprise, our little experiment turned out to be sustainable. We hit the black in late spring, even while we were still refining our elevator speech. (“What *is* Open Studio, anyway?”) But over the months, we often scrambled to keep all of our many studio balls in the air. The marketing alone, as with any business, was a considerable undertaking. (“Crap! I need to write that press release within the hour!”) Other areas of my life were neglected this year. One of you dear readers even wrote to me to inquire about what happened to my formerly monthly newsletter — which was just one of several sacrifices (my garden, my sanity, and the folding of clean laundry were a few others) that I didn’t want to make.

Ellen and I both have other businesses to take care of (in addition to coaching I own an editorial services business — and Ellen is a children’s book author and children’s yoga instructor). Open Studio made so much sense, bringing together so many of our passions — and it still makes sense. But in the space of a week this fall, we went from planning 2013 to acknowledging that if the two of us wanted to stay sane, we needed to pull back, take stock, and reaffirm our primary commitments.

It isn’t easy to let go of something when it’s relevant to your life work, the community supports your efforts, and you’ve already launched on your planned trajectory. But the inescapable truth is that there are only 168 hours in the week. When there are too many things to fit in your box, you have to take something out. In this instance, you can’t actually get a bigger box. It’s really that simple.

And so it became clear that while the studio as a business is sustainable, the time that it requires on both of our parts is not. As I sometimes remind clients, “You can have it all, just not all at once.” My threshold for investing personal energy — and time — has to have a finer filter. Because energy, like time, is finite. I am committed to my personal writing practice. I am committed to my coaching work. I am committed to my editorial business. I am committed to my family. I am committed to myself: reading, yoga, breathing. I am committed to moving slowly enough that I can savor where I’m at. Because if I’m not savoring, what’s the point?

The studio will close on December 31 and Ellen and I will turn with renewed focus to all the other things requiring our attention. But we’ll have a few more ounces of focus at our disposal, and a few more minutes at hand. Hopefully, we’ll do a better job with everything that remains. Most importantly, we’ll celebrate the success of 2012, and affirm the value of doing a little less — and doing it well.

Oh, and by the way. Stay tuned for my next newsletter. ;-)

(Ellen Olson-Brown contributed more than a few words to this post. Thanks, E.)

Four Simple Ways to Create More and Worry Less

Sometimes creative angst gets the better of us. How often do you find yourself thinking “I don’t have enough time,” or “My work’s not good enough,” or “I’ll never reach my creative goals”? Here are four simple ways to avoid those minefields and stay focused on what really matters: your creative work.

1. Turn rejection into affirmation. With practice, you can reframe rejection so that it actually affirms your creativity, rather than causes injury. Here’s how. Simply put, you can’t get rejected if you haven’t had the courage to send your work out into the world. And you can’t send your work out into the world if you haven’t reached a level of completion and polish that makes you believe your work has legs. And your work can’t have legs if you haven’t put yourself at your desk or easel or studio bench and actually done the work, for however many hours it took. So at its most basic level, each rejection is evidence that you have done your work and sent it out into the world. This is something to celebrate. Rejections simply mean: Yes! I’m doing my work. I was brave enough to send it out into the world, and this “rejection” is simply an affirmation that I am a working artist. I celebrate that fact, and now I turn back to my work in progress.

If this sounds like a tall order, just try it. Over time, you’ll be amazed by how easy it becomes — to the point that you accept rejection as simply part of the process.

2. Move the goalpost into your sphere of influence. Shift your focus away from things you can’t control and onto the things you can. You might decide that you’re going to get your novel published next year. But instead of putting your focus entirely on something that you can’t ultimately control, move the goalposts into a domain that is solidly within your circle of influence. For example: Instead of deciding that you will get your novel accepted for publication next year (which may or may not happen, regardless of your best work, killer query letter, and an introduction to your cousin’s agent), decide that your goal will be to query 50 agents and 30 publishers from the pool of publishers who accept unagented manuscripts. You might start with those who accept simultaneous submissions so that it doesn’t take five years to hit your quota. Keep careful track of your submissions — via your own spreadsheet system or an online submission tracking tool — and when you hit your quotas, celebrate. The only two things you can really control are:

a)   Creating your best work.

b)   Playing the numbers game to get your work in front of as many sets of eyes as it takes.

If you feel discouraged by this process, go back and read #1 above.

3. Establish a regular creative practice. If you’re not already doing your creative work every day, or nearly every day, now’s the time to start. Think it’s impossible to find at least 30 minutes for your creative work on a regular basis? If that’s true—unless you’ve just had a baby or are dealing with a major illness or life event—consider keeping a time log for a few days in order to see where your time is really going. It’s more than likely that there’s something you can pare down on (TV, Facebook, sleep) in order to fit in a regular practice window. If your schedule is so hairy that you can’t commit to a set time every day (which would be ideal, as schedule creates habit and habit breeds productivity) at least commit to a set amount of time every day. When “life happens” and you have to skip practice, don’t beat yourself up about it—just show up tomorrow.

Working regularly may be the most beneficial thing you can do for your creative bandwidth. When you work every day, you learn to show up for creative practice even when you don’t feel like it—even when the muse is off in Bermuda, the house is a mess, the bills need to be paid, and your best friend wants to take you out to lunch. Just show up at your appointed time and do the work. Creative practice is a sacred commitment for those who make meaning through art. If something brilliant comes out along the way, so much the better. But brilliance isn’t the point; showing up is the point. Making meaning through your creative practice is the point. A regular creative practice helps you stay focused on process, rather than outcome.

4. Get comfy with crotchety Aunt Zelda. Our anxiety about creative fear is often more paralyzing than the fear itself. If you can accept that fear and self-doubt are inevitable parts of the process—and are things that even wildly successful writers, artists, and performers grapple with—you will diminish the negative power of insecurity. Try to develop a mantra to use when doubts arise. “Oh, it’s you again, Aunt Zelda. I see you’ve come back for another visit. Sit down and have a cup of tea over here while I carry on with my creative practice.” By acknowledging the fearsome inner critic of Aunt Zelda, and not resisting her arrival, you are free to move ahead. You might even be able to summon up a bit of empathy for Aunt Zelda, who has nothing better to do than drive all over town in her ancient Oldsmobile, just looking for the next person she can inject with fear, doubt, and perhaps even a wholesale existential crisis. Just say, “Thanks, but no,” to Aunt Zelda and stay focused on your creative process. Remember: Just because Aunt Zelda shows up doesn’t mean you have to get into her aging Oldsmobile and go for a ride.

The piece above originally appeared as a guest post at the fabulous Bliss Habits.

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Kelly: Weekly Challenge…What’s Next?

dog days

The dog days of summer are upon us, and the leaves of my gerbera daisies have browned along the edges, having long given up having the energy to bloom.  These dog days bring about the start of Fall term in my world, which usually brings about a renewed sense of energy for me. Yet this year, it has not.  Today is the first day of Fall term, and instead of feeling invigorated and ready for the start of a new year, I’m tired, hot, overscheduled and, as I set up a tent and lugged around 30 cases of water and drinks for Welcome Back at 7:30 this morning, sorely missing my staff person whose position was recently eliminated.

I spent a good part of the weekend doing what I so rarely do: absolutely nothing but sit on the couch and watch movies (well okay, in between six loads of laundry and a few updates on my website). I really needed that down time.  The girls lounged around with me, and DH took some good long naps, not feeling well.  Over the course of the weekend, I did a lot of thinking about what’s important and what’s not…what’s needed to keep me happy and what just weighs me down.  Being overscheduled is nothing new in my world, and as a working mother, much of it is out of my hands, but I’ve hit the point where I need to take some things back to make the required parts of the juggle a little more manageable.  I find that I probably spend a little too much time online, and while some of that is necessary to manage my online business presence and keep up with good friends who are far away, some of it is voluntary.  It’s those voluntary parts I need to let go of to make room for those more important things…like more time with my kids and more time to make art just for me and no one else, the kind of art I don’t have to worry about keeping an inventory of for the Riverside Arts Market and my juried shows…the kind of art I can make with my girls…the kind of art that just lets me play without feeling the pressure of a deadline.

One of those voluntary things I’ll be letting go of is my role as team leader for our North Florida Craft Revolution Etsy team.  I’m proud of the blog I created and manage for the team, but I’m also tired of having it all rest on me; I spend more time on the team blog than I do marketing my own work, and that seems a bit backwards, don’t you think?  Another of those things is this weekly challenge.  I’ve enjoyed keeping it going, yet submissions have dwindled without that $10 Amazon prize carrot, and it’s become a struggle to make sure there’s at least one entry each week.  I do this with a catch in my heart because I’ve gained much through this community, but my time is becoming more and more precious.  So with this, I bid you adieu, weekly challenge.  Should someone else want to take over the coordination, I’ll participate when I can.  

It’s scary to let things go sometimes, isn’t it? I know it is for me.  Since I’ve started blogging I’ve come across more and more blogs that talk about being true to your authentic self.  I have to admit, at first I thought that was a bunch of baloney.  I’m very much a “what you see is what you get” and “it is what it is” kinda girl.  Yet there are pieces of that authenticity movement, if you want to call it that, that have hit home with me.  And maybe the biggest part is taking charge of your life, doing the things that mean the most to you, letting go of the things that don’t matter, and finding that balance between managing your day-to-day real life while still reaching for your dreams.  It’s in my nature to juggle, so I know that won’t change, but I am working towards not having quite so many balls in the air at once.   

Kelly: Humming John Lennon

gypsy-moon1The girls and I lay down and stared at the moon and the stars last night, all cuddled up like three little ladybugs, telling stories. We weren’t outside. No, we were laying in Sarah’s bed, staring up at this particular moon and stars you see here. Aren’t they fabulous? This now covers our attic access, which just so happens to be in the girls’ room, courtesy of my friend Gypsy who came for a visit earlier this week. Not the best picture, but the best I could do shooting up while laying in Sarah’s bed! Gypsy, her apprentice Michelle, and I spent two days doing some painting, having some heart-to-hearts and enjoying a sunny Florida afternoon in Fernandina Beach gallery hopping and scarfing down some awesome barbecue at the Happy Tomato Café (highly recommended if you are ever in Fernandina!). Gypsy’s visit was definitely food for the soul for me.

Gypsy (otherwise known as Lizz Hundley) is a wonderfully free spirit, making her way in the world while living life to the fullest each and every moment. I’ve been trying to do that more lately, too. In case you haven’t read my comment in my Dodging Curve Balls post, I got good news from the surgeon Monday, so I’m going to be fine for now. Dr. H met with the radiologist and pathologist again and decided that sometimes radiologists and pathologists are a little too quick to recommend further surgery in cases like mine. He wants to wait a bit and re-evaluate in six months. I’m glad Dr. S sent me for that surgery consult as a second opinion.

These past few weeks have made me slow down a bit, though, and I think that’s good. Between this little health scare and learning of a friend’s death by a massive heart attack at the ripe old age of 39, I’ve definitely taken a step back from my usual going in eight different directions. When we started the February Finish-a-thon, my “I can do anything” self took over. I definitely didn’t need to add another thing to my plate, but I went ahead and signed on anyway with the goal of creating a new affordably priced pendant line in preparation for the kickoff of the Riverside Arts Market April 4. Well, today’s February 20 and I haven’t made a one. Heck, I haven’t even gotten around to photographing all the new pieces I finished in November and December! My workshop has been sorely neglected. But I’ve decided that that’s really okay (and that seems to be a realization hitting a few of us right now). Yep, I’ve decided that’s just fine because what I have been doing instead? Just hanging out…and I’ve really been needing to just hang out. I’ve been hanging out with DH and the girls…hanging out on the dock looking at the river…hanging out with my furry four-legged friends…hanging out with all the art currently leaning against the walls of my great room waiting for me to rehang it all…hanging out with my students on Facebook (I actually had to learn Facebook for work!). I’ve been moving at a snail’s pace, and it’s been nice.

blue-doorI’ve been keeping up with our running comments on the February Finish-a-thon post. Obviously, since I’ve made zero progress, I haven’t had much news to post, but I’ve tried to be encouraging to the rest of you. I have noticed one thing coming through though. This is truly an incredible group of women, but from my prospective anyway, I think we all have “superwoman disease.” We think we can do it all, and we get frustrated with ourselves, our self-imposed deadlines, and our self-inflicted failures and misgivings when life gets in the way (okay, go ahead and throw darts at me if you think I’m wrong :-) ).

I refuse to do that anymore. Life should not be what gets in the way. Life should be what it’s all about. It should be about taking a few days off to spend time with a good friend and go chow down on some barbecue. It should be about making up stories about the things we see in a whimsical painting of the moon and stars while cuddling up with our children. It should be about creating simply for creating’s sake, not for a deadline hanging over our heads. And don’t tell me you can’t do this because you’re too busy dealing with the kids, ladies…we’re all in that boat together. Sure, sometimes deadlines are necessary, and I’m not knocking the idea at all; I think it was a good one to give a kick in the pants if needed. But for me a deadline takes all the joy out of creating. It becomes a “I must do this to meet my deadline” instead of a “Hey, I wanna try this just for fun.”

There’s definitely been some good wisdom in the comments, all from different perspectives, but as I mentioned in one of my comments, something Kristine said has struck the biggest chord with me: “So I’m taking a step back and giving myself a break. I’m taking pleasure in my daily accomplishments and no longer obsessing over what I need to accomplish by the end of the month. It’s a journey, not a sprint.” Yep, it is a journey, not a sprint. I shared a John Lennon quote in my “Keeping Calm and Carrying On” post on my Happy Shack blog last week, and it bears repeating here: “Life is what happens to you while you’re too busy making other plans.” And life in general is the best part of the journey. Don’t let it be what gets in the way; make it what counts most instead. Go live it.

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