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When it’s Time to Step Out of Line

what does it take to make change?

The other day I walked into a Starbucks to grab a drink. The line wasn’t bad, but the four people in it made an awkward formation parallel, rather than perpendicular to the front door. I thought it was odd that they weren’t queued up toward the door like at most coffee shops, but whatever; I fell in line. What happened next, a totally mundane series of events, fomented a clarion moment for me.

As I stood in this awkwardly aligned row, right up against a shelf of mugs, I watched as another woman walked in. She took one look at us, an odd arrangement of humans in a sharp, crowded angle and grimaced, then walked toward me and queued up behind.

I caught her eye as she strolled over and smiling, rolled my eyes. “I know, I thought the same thing, what’s with this line?” I said. We laughed.

The guy in front of me turned around, “yeah, I thought so too.” We laughed again.

Yet we all stayed in line.

Now the line was blocking the milk and sugar station. It began to bother me. One more person in line and this was going to get awkward, real fast.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a harried looking woman on her cell, flanked by two frolicking school-age kids, about to open the door and walk in. I thought of the old man sitting at the table next to the milk and sugar station. These kids would be all over him in a moment. This was a ridiculous predicament, I thought. So, why are we doing this? Why are we staying here?

I had to do something.

“Hey, let’s just fix this real quick,” I said, just before the mom and brood walked in.

I scurried over to where the line should have been. Everyone followed, even the guy in front of me. It’s was a little uncomfortable to tell strangers (or ask them) what to do, but despite my own fear that they’d see me as a bossy busybody, no one seemed to mind. In fact, we all exchanged words about how we should have done this from the beginning. So why hadn’t we?

As I waited to order my flat white, I couldn’t help thinking about how many times I do this in my own life–stay in a situation that someone else created just because I’m too distracted, or too afraid to change it.

Now, I realize this is a freakin’ line at a coffee shop, not a revolution, and there have been plenty of times where I did not have the nerve to change a dang thing. But there was some value in unpacking this microcosm of American life.

After all, what do big changes consist of if not a series of small ones?

As soon as I walked in that day, despite seeing that the line was a mess, I still got into line because I innately didn’t want to upset the social structure, aka didn’t want to be judged as the pushy ass who wants lines to be perfect. I was worried about what people would think, plain and simple.

Once I was in line I knew we’d soon block the sugar and milk station, which made me a little more anxious because there’s just no reason to do that in a perfectly large enough Starbucks. (Again, people-pleaser/social construct subconscious thinking.) And yet, I still said and did nothing.

We need Me Too moments

When the woman behind me walked in to the store with the very same look of confusion that I had when I had walked in, it sparked an unconscious change in me. There was a “me too” moment between us.

And then, because we expressed it out loud, the man in front of us joined in our “me too” moment.

As writers, readers, and artists—heck as human beings—we strive for these “me too” moments.

We touch upon them and even massage them, because of our primal human need for understanding and connection. Belonging. It is a truly beautiful thing to be connected, even if it’s just to a stranger at Starbucks. And especially when we live in a world so divided by politics, beliefs, judgment, and the dehumanizing buffer of rapid-fire technology and information.

Connection is key. We need writers and artists more than ever because they are our connectors. They aren’t motivated by money for money’s sake, like most every other message we hear, but by making sense of or expressing the world around us. Not that they can’t or shouldn’t make money–clearly I don’t believe that! But they are motivated and create from a place that is deeper and wider and more thoughtful than corporate structures and mass-market coffee shops. They speak to us through pathways that transcend other communication methods.

stronger together

How bad does it have to get?

This is a question a lot of us have asked ourselves lately.

Here’s where the story gets uncomfortable. When the woman with the rowdy kids is about to come into the fray and make what was only a mild problem—an odd line of people blocking the milk and sugar—into a more uncomfortable issue: kids unnecessarily jumping up and down next to the old gentleman at the table next to the station, I finally took action.

We all have these moments when the family is going to walk in—in other words someone lobs some shit at the fan–where we either choose to fix the problem, or speak up, or simply stay in line.

Too often in my own life I’ve waited to the point where things were so uncomfortable that I had to take action. Sometimes I even went beyond that point and wallowed in the misery I should have left behind long ago.

Decisive Change and Connection

I’d like to be the person who would have walked in and kindly changed the line as soon as she saw it. It wouldn’t have taken much, really. Maybe a little uncomfortable social interaction, but that’s it. The line would be queued up with the natural flow again.

Honestly though, I think most of us would opt to not upset the coffee cart. Until of course, we reach our own personal catalyst point. That point where the sugar and milk station becomes blocked or the harried mother and her rambunctious kids walk in, or worse.

I truly believe though, that real change and courage to act often begins with connection. It was the connection that my line-mates and I made that gave me the confidence to change the situation. My unconscious human desire to be connected or liked by my fellow humans, when fulfilled, allowed me to then lead a (admittedly minor) change.

Why then do people who are accepted and integrated into their own social groups still avoid speaking up or leading change? There are tons of groups rallying around causes, or beliefs, or political affiliations, and yet for the most part, most of us remain in line.

Sometimes, connection alone isn’t enough.

There’s another reason that people don’t act, and that’s because we’re thinking about what we’ll order, or checking our Instagram on our smartphones, or puzzling out how we’re going to pay for that expensive dental work, or about whether our kid will pass the third grade.

We are distracted. And we live in a culture designed to distract us from what is most important.

From the moment we wake up to the moment we drift off to sleep we’re distracted with a million different thoughts, emotions, and corporate messages.

In fact, we Americans spend nearly 10 hours a day exposed to media (versus just 5.2 hours in 1945)*. And in those hours, we are exposed to nearly 400 advertisements.

That’s per day.

Those figures don’t even account for the more subversive messaging and advertising infused into just about everything we consume these days. And they don’t even touch the bait-and-switch tactics of our dear president, who deftly causes reality-TV style distractions while pushing through his real agenda in the background.

This insidious mass distraction tactic (and it is a tactic) is described so well by my whip-smart colleague Ellie Robins, in her recent piece for the LA Times, where she points out a root the pathological manipulation that’s long been embedded in our society:

“This school of sales was invented by Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, the “father of PR”…and an engine of early consumerism. Bernays drew on his uncle’s work to sell products by appealing to humans’ innermost desires — for freedom, for instance; for a certain way of life. Next he set his sights on restructuring American democracy itself. In Bernays’ view, humans were irrational and highly manipulable, making true democracy dangerous. His ideal was to hold up the illusion of democratic empowerment while curbing democratic impulses through a voracious cycle of consumerism that would pique and then sate people’s desires.

Under this consumerist vision of democracy, freedom is a brand to be bought, rather than a natural state or one to be achieved by active engagement in civic affairs. The Airstream that Flett so uncritically presents is the ultimate brand of this bought freedom.”

In the midst of all of this calculated distraction, we often don’t even notice that something is off, or if we do, it’s too late; we don’t feel like dealing with it, don’t have the energy to, or we’re afraid to.

Meanwhile, when the real shit is hitting the fan all over our world it often feels like soundbites.

Of course it hurts; it breaks our hearts. I’ve always been one to take on the weight of the world–but that’s not sustainable either. In fact, I don’t think we’re equipped to handle the entire world’s pain, but that’s another story.

We’re so busy and overwhelmed with everything our own lives how can we find the energy and dedication it would take to change things?

This is where Bernays’ philosophies are woven so deeply into American culture, so much so that we literally do not have the energy leftover from our daily lives to bring about the change we need.

Until it affects us directly, which is often too late. 

Until the mom with the rambunctious kids walks into the coffee shop, in other words, when global warming drastically affects our own food sources, or we can’t get the medical treatment we need because of our messed up healthcare system, or our kids can’t move out because living wage is jacked and they’re in student debt up to their eyeballs, or our own son gets killed by police brutality.

Will it be enough for us to step out of line and lead change?

I hope so. I want to believe it. Some people are already doing it.

The women and men who stepped out of line recently and exposed the men in power for who they are—sexual predators—are line-changers. The disabled who raise their voices to open our eyes are line-changers. People of color who are telling us, screaming at us to pay attention to the discrimination and brutality that happens to them every day are line-changers. Men who face the roots of their skewed sense of masculinity and expose it, are line-changers.

Protesters with signs in LAWe have to care about human rights as much as the megalomaniacs care about money and power.

We have to get clear. We need more socially conscious people in power.

Again, I reflect on that moment of connection I had with my fellow line-mates at Starbucks (and yes, the irony of being in the belly of a corporate giant in that moment is not lost) and wonder how I might change my life in order to shift to less distraction and fear of social consequences to creating and seeking connection through worthwhile ideas, art, and knowledge, instead of the din of social media, news cycles, and celebrity buzz.

We can’t really escape the issues, challenges, or even distracting joys of our daily lives. And I don’t think we should completely anyway. But we can limit the bullshit we consume AND we can change our mindsets.

We’re living in a time of unprecedented information overload. Most of the thoughts bouncing around in our brains are pointless distractions, planted there by others. And with social media, we’re tapping on our pleasure-centers so often we almost can’t remember what it feels like to just be present.

The connection to community and other humans we’re so haphazardly and desperately seeking in social media and media at large could be much more effectively fulfilled in real life connections with other human beings. That and deeper self-knowledge.

We need to listen and seek knowledge. And those of us who can take action, must. Those of use who have the ability and privilege of speaking up, must. Sadly, my white voice will be listened to more than that of my latina sister, and less than that of my white brother. Let’s not forget that privilege is real, but changeable. But we must do this together, in whatever ways we can carve out–for writers and creatives that often means we’re most effective in our given arts.

I believe we were given those gifts to change our world. But we cannot fully realize it unless we clear the mental clutter and become relentless in our pursuit of giving power to the people.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to pull away from media while using it to still bring a message of inspiring, burning hope. I don’t have the answers yet. One-by-one I’ll work to shed the things that keep me in this rigged system of placating bullshit. I’ll listen more closely to what the people who are being hurt are telling me.

I think more and more I need to focus on the things that build up my resolve and make connections with others through what we have in common, rather than looking for what divides us. Because we have much bigger changes to make and it ain’t going to happen if we all stay in this wonky bullshit line.

I’m not sure there were ever any real glory days in this country—certainly not for those who weren’t in power— but that doesn’t mean we can’t begin to create them now.

I want to be a line-changer. Not a distraction-maker. How about you?

 


*According to a 2014 Media Dynamics, Inc. study.

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Inspiration is for Freakin’ Amateurs

Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. -Chuck Close

I realize this is a funny thing to say given that my work is largely infused with inspiration/motivation, but you’ll see what I’m really getting at. As writers and/or artists, we know that 90% of the battle is just putting your damn butt in the chair to write, or picking up the paintbrush (or pencil), or whatever implement you use to create. Yet all too often we expect this flash of inspiration to hit us like a gift from the gods.

Sure sometimes that happens, but more often than not it’s a slow build.

For me, creative writing, especially nonfiction about my life, is often an arduous process. There’s the occasional moment where the clouds part and the Universe says, “here you go, honey,” as they hand me a nugget of flow.

But usually, it pretty much goes like this:

 

As a kid I was a good student. I hated disappointing anyone almost as much as I hated being anything less than perfect. For the most part I got straight A’s. I was highly disappointed in myself if I didn’t.

Classmates would often remark that I was “so smart” or how they wished they could get A’s like I did. Frankly, this kind of pissed me off. Sure, on the surface this was a compliment, but underneath was the assumption that I just had some special gift that they didn’t. Bear with me, I know I sound like a bragging asshole right now.

I spent hours studying, doing drills, and practicing to earn those grades. In fact, in fourth grade when I got my first D ever (ironically, in spelling), Dad and I worked every night for months to bring that up to an A.

I was lucky that my parents definitely passed down their genetic propensity for traditional intelligence (make no mistake there are many different types of intelligence), but after that, it was up to me to get the grades even in subjects that felt like my brain was being torn apart. I’m looking at you math and conceptual physics!

In seventh grade this girl Mary and I competed for the best grades, we were often neck-in-neck for who had the best percentage A. This was when I realized there were smarter, harder working kids than me. She wanted it more and maybe she was smarter than me, too. I backed down a bit from my quest for perfection and sometimes settled for B’s or C’s (conceptual physics, you bitch). If I couldn’t be THE best, I’d get by with my reasonable best.

The thing is, I never applied this drive to physical activity as a kid. When it came to sports of most kinds, I was riddled with self-doubt and self-pity. If I couldn’t hit the ball, run fast enough, or catch often enough I just gave up. I needed to be at the top, and if I couldn’t I bowed out. It didn’t occur to me that hard work might just get me to “decent” eventually. I understood how to apply hardwork to school, but not as much to other things.

~

Fast forward twenty-some years to when I started out at UCLA X Writers Program. I entered thinking I was a pretty good writer who just needed to learn some tools in order to write better. From my first class, I realized I was an amateur. I was not even close to the top tier. Again, I wanted to be THE best. 

I secretly dreamed of being the next Joan Didion, or Mary Karr, until I realized I would likely not only would have to work for decades, but also was not born with their level of talent either.

Something had shifted. After a brief mourning period around not being born a golden child, I was able to better fight the urge to be perfect. I cared so much about becoming a better writer. Writing was something I’d wanted to learn since high school, and now I was finally doing it. I wanted to learn as much as possible, and push myself to my best, but not THE best. 

The initial momentum of my dream to become a writer propelled me, but it was the revisiting of it that got me through the hundreds of edits and thousands of hours of writing. I still feel as if I have a long way to go, but now just being on the path is enough to keep me going.

~

I liken creative work to walking. When you’re doing the work, you often feel as if you’re just staring at your feet as they step over the earth. You’re not sure where things are going, or even where you’ve been. There’s beauty in that presence, but if you don’t look up occasionally you’ll likely fall off a cliff or wander into a bad neighborhood.

On the other hand, if all you do is look up and around and your surroundings, looking for inspiration or motivation, you’ll never effectively see the path that leads you to your goals. And we all know the path is always a winding one.

I think then that our best bet is to do both. Observe what’s happening in our world, look forward toward our goals, our ultimate vision, as we call it in my personal branding course.  But we must also remember to look down at our feet, be in the moment, so we don’t stumble over that rock, or we can step over that brook, or clear out those branches that have fallen to block our path.

The rewards are all around us and even within the work of our path. But it’s that combination of steps, moving forward–the daily work–that leads us closer to our dreams, while that looking up that reminds us why we’re here.  

The more we do the work, the more inspiration follows. We don’t have to be the best, but when we are relentless in the pursuit of our calling, dream, or purpose, our most inspired work bursts forth.

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Stop Wondering What to Do with Your Life

Last year my daughter, then a junior in high school, was having serious anxiety over impending college doom. See, nowadays they put an insane amount of pressure on kids to decide what they want to do for a career, pick a four-year school, and run headlong into their (often ill-conceived) goals.

Problem is, many–I’d venture to guess it’s the majority actually–don’t know what the hell they want to do with their lives.

Let’s be honest now and admit that many adults still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I think I was like thirty-two, when I finally figured it out.

There are a mess of opinions out there as to whether you should follow your passion, or even have one; just take a steady job and do what you love on the side; or heck that if you find your passion you’ll never work a day in your life.

#truthbomb: No one answer works for everyone. Click To Tweet

But I hope to give you some solid advice that I’ve gleaned from years of research and teaching. Buckle up, Buttercup!

The sky is falling

There’s a real stigma about death and dying, especially in America. It’s often impolite to speak of it. So let me be that a-hole. The truth is, we’re all going to die at some point. Nobody wants to hear it, but our time on earth is limited.

Strip that social moré away though, and death becomes a natural part of life. It’s an integral cycle that ties us in with the history of humanity itself.

What’s truly amazing though, is how much potential we have to live bigger these days. Many of the social constraints, limitations, or disadvantages of previous generations have been stripped away, or are fading into the distance. While we still have a ways to go, we live at a time where we have luxuries like women’s rights, running water, and dentists.

These modernizations potentially free us up to be able to create the life we truly want. Each of us has the option to make an impact; to help others and ourselves. We have the choice to live to our greatest potential.

And yet, how many of us actually do it?

We’re gonna live forever

The thing is, for most of our lives, death feels far off.

It’s like knowing we’ll age, but not realizing it’s happening until those age spots and crow’s feet appear in the mirror. It often doesn’t feel real until it happens.

Most of us suffer from the delusion of reprieve, in which we see the realities of life and death, yet somehow secretly believe that it’s not going to happen to us, and that somehow at the last moment we’ll be whisked away from death.

Obviously, we can’t spend each day worrying about our mortality, that would defeat the purpose of life. But the problem with avoiding it is that so many of us wait until it’s too late to say what we needed to say, or do what really wanted to do.

A deathbed story

So i’m going to tell you a story, one I’ve adapted from Les Brown:

Fast forward your life to the point where you’re on your deathbed (keep reading, it will get better, I swear). You’re laying there and you know there’s not much time left. All of the sudden several people walk in, people you’ve known your whole life yet never took the time to get to know on a deeper level. Each one of them represents one of your talents, passions, and ideas.

Maybe the first represents that book you wanted to write–the one that scared you into paralysis. Maybe the second is learning to dance salsa, and the third is starting that business you always wanted to try.

Whatever they represent to you, imagine you’re lying there and each and every thing you felt pulled to do, the hopes and dreams of your life, staring down at you.

One by one they open their mouths and softly they say, “We were born with you, we were the gifts you were meant to share with the world, but you never used us. And now we will die with you!”

Take a moment and let that scene sink in.

Wait, there’s more to you

I’m willing to bet, that right now you have so much more to give this world than what you are currently are. I’ll even venture that deep down below fears, excuses, and denial, you know exactly what some of these things are that you’re meant to do in your short time on this planet.

When I first heard that story I wept. Who am I kidding? I cry every time I hear it. I cried as I wrote it. And I do because I cannot bear the thought of dying like that, with all of those ideas and gifts left unused.

We’ve all got that gift or talent, or idea we’ve been imbued with since birth. So why the fuck aren’t we using them?

Busy and scared

Lawd knows, there’s so much to do. We’re distracted by our never-ending to-do lists, celebrity drama, stupid world leaders, and an overwhelming amount of information. (Did you know the average person is inundated with 100,000 pieces of information each day?)

And yet, at the end of our lives most of those things will not matter to us.

I know I won’t be on my deathbed thinking, I’m so glad I always paid my cable bill on time, or I’m so glad I spent hours of my life on Facebook.

We live in a corporate message driven world, guided by what we think we should buy to fill the gap of desire in our souls.

Shedding the busy-ness only goes so far though, because at the root of distraction are two best friends: Fear and Addiction.

If we’re honest, most of us are a little bit (or a lotta bit) addicted to TV, social media, and the internet, just to name a few “busy” makers. But in the end it’s our choice every time. For most of us it’s a choice we’ve come to make on autopilot. Its as if our reptilian brains are in control. Oh wait, they are.

Which brings me to addiction’s best friend, the worst four-letter word ever: Fear.

About a decade ago a colleague from my business women’s group mentioned that she was training to become a life coach. Her training centered around busting through fears to create the life you really want. It was based on the philosophy of the book, Fearless Living.

She said that she was nearing the end of her program and that she was doing 12 week coaching for a few people for free. She offered me one of the spots. The thought of free coaching was appealing, but I told her, “I’m pretty motivated, I don’t think I have a lot of fears left to conquor.”

Kindly and wisely, she said, “that’s okay, even if you don’t, you might be surprised at how many subconscious fears people have.”

So I did the twelve weeks. Boy, let me tell you: it was then that I noticed that pretty much every decision I made on a daily basis came from some fear, whether tiny or huge. Things like:

  • not wanting my hair cut like a “mom” because I wanted to be seen as a cool young mom;
  • letting my ex walk all over me because I was afraid he’d retaliate;
  • not standing up for myself when a client stiffed me, because I feared I’d never be able to replace them.

The list goes on and on. But the point is that we are often unconscious of the role fear plays in keeping us from living up to our true worth and purpose.

Whether we busy ourselves with social media because of FOMO, or we stay in our “secure” boring/comfort zone job because we fear financial ruin, or we don’t pursue that crazy idea because we’re afraid of being judged, or we don’t speak up because we fear we might be wrong, or we don’t write that one book because we don’t want to fail, or we don’t take salsa dancing classes because we don’t want to look like “idiots” or even beginners; it all comes back to fear.

Don’t freak, move

I know how hard it is to face the reality that maybe you’ve been half living your life, or that fear has been ruling it. Obviously, I’ve totally been there. It took me years to realize how I’d squandered my innate gifts and purpose(s) because of my fear of being worthless.

The only way out from the guilt, fear, or sadness is to say, “no more!” And take the risk of really living. Whatever that means for you.

It doesn’t mean you need to run out and do everything on your bucket list (unless it does). It just means that it’s time to begin.

Crawl if you’re not ready to walk. But baby, do something.

Start before you’re ready, and before you have it all figured out. Take small risks because little changes have better, lasting results than drastically trying to change everything at once.

Remember the story about your deathbed? Guess what? It’s time to change the story.

A different kind of deathbed story

This time imagine now you’re lying on your deathbed, but now  you’re basking in the contentment of knowing that you’ve fulfilled your purposes on this earth. You have this sense of peace that you’ve done what you needed to do. Can you feel it? It’s like a warm blanket on a cool night. You’ve done the things that most pulled your heartstrings and now you can rest easy.

  • What are these things you imagined you did? Think about it.
  • Then write those things down on a sheet of paper and put it somewhere where you’ll remember to look at it.
  • Review that list every morning and let those ideas marinate in your brainpan for a few days.
  • Set yourself a deadline to pick the first one you want to work toward. And begin to take small actions.
Little conscious steps down the right path are much better than strides down the wrong one. Click To Tweet

Once you make the decision and commitment to pursue what you’re meant to do, whatever that is, you’ll begin to feel the deep river of fulfillment begin to trickle and flow into your daily life. It’s a feeling unlike anything else.

So here’s the two-ton question: What do you want to be known for? What will you do with this one life you have?

It’s okay to not know. I won’t judge you. But it’s kind of like going on a trip and not having a destination planned. If your goal is to just explore that’s great, but if you want to create a fulfilling career, live up to your potential, or want people to understand what you’re trying to do in your life or business, you need to have vision.

Maybe you like your life the way it is. That’s cool. But if you have a flickering desire for more, if you have some dreams, start taking action.

And if you’re wondering how my daughter is doing, she’s much more at peace knowing she will start community college next year and take a little extra time to tune-in to what she wants. I’m very proud of her.


Three ways I can help you:  Enroll in my personal branding course, book a one-on-one branding consultation with me, or sign up for my weekly email newsletter.


Image credit: Photo by Maxime Bhm on Unsplash
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You’re Irresistible, You Just Don’t Realize It

Everyone has that special something that makes them oh-so-attractive to the right people. Sure there are the folks that are attractive to just about everyone, but I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about us–the everyday people who also have raving fans (even if they’re only your moms, or best friends, for now).

Let’s think about your career in the context of dating and relationships.

If you’re looking for your soul mate aka The One, I’m going to go ahead and boil down the myriad of self-help books to two things you’d likely do: First you’d figure out what you’re looking for in a mate, maybe  make a list of everything you’re hoping for. Next you’d take a good hard look at yourself and see whether you match up to that ideal partner, or whether you may need to do a little work on yourself before you’re ready for them, or will become irresistible to them.

Personal branding is a lot like that. When it comes to your creative career, whether you’re a writer, a painter, or a blogger–it’s no different. You need people who want your work/you. But you also don’t want to sell your soul, or sell out to get that audience. In order to attract them, you need to understand (and maybe pump up) the traits that will pull them toward you.

So now that you’ve got that, let’s step away from our soul mate metaphor for a moment and talk about your creative work.

Of course, the work you produce has a ton to do with whether or not people will want more of it, but identifying what it is so amazing about both you and your work is essential to tweaking that homing beacon that will attract them.

Without sitting by the mirror pool like good old Narcissus for too long, let’s take a look at a few ways we can focus on that second part of enthralling our “soul mate” audience: ourselves. Here are some quick ways to gather insights into why you’re so kick-ass, without feeling like a total asshole about it.

Gather Info

Take a moment and think back, or even look back at emails or notes, or whatever, from those who have said nice things about your work (or you). What did they say? Usually, there are some common threads. These are often clues to just what things make you and your work so appealing. Make a list. And circle commonalities.

I have a Feel Good folder where I keep nice things people have said to me, cards, art, etc. to help boost my confidence during low moments and remind myself of my strengths. I highly recommend creating your own version.

Listen to Compliments

Instead of eschewing compliments, from now on just start listening when people compliment you, take note of it, and of course, thank them kindly.

More often than not, if someone has taken the time and energy to compliment you, it is genuine. It’s often a lot more awkward to speak up that than we realize, so when someone breaks the barrier of silence to tell you why they love you or your work, for gosh-sakes, listen.

Ask More Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Pick a select group of people who like your work, or have said nice things in the past, and ask if you can pick their brain for just a couple minutes. Tell them you’re working on becoming your best self and producing more of your best work and that you’d love to hear their advice.

Here are some good questions to ask:

  • What do they like best about you/your work?
  • What/how does it make them feel?
  • How does it add value to their lives?

Get to Know Thyself

Next, go internal. Get real with the WHY of your work.

Why do you do this stuff anyway? Perhaps, it fulfills you, or maybe it pays the bills. Heck, if you’re lucky, both.

Once you’ve written down a few reasons, go another layer or two deeper and keep asking WHY.

Why does it fulfill you? Why is it good that it pays the bills? You get the idea.

Chances are, as you keep digging you’ll uncover more of the core of what motivates you to create in this world. And the more in touch you are with this purpose, the more it will ring true in your work and life and the more you’ll attract the right people.

Own Your Bad [Irresistible] Self

Your next step, once you’ve begun to understand what makes you so darn wonderful is to start thinking about ways you can serve others with your amazingness.

What actions can you take to help serve your ideal people better?

I firmly believe that when we act on the things that drive us, utilizing the talents and skills we have, to add beauty and insight to our world, the more we naturally step into more effective ways to reach the people who really need both us and our work.

I’ve also created a handy-dandy free worksheet download to help you really dig into this exercise and own your irresistible self.

So go ahead and download the free worksheet & find out what makes you so damn irresistible:

 

What makes you irresistible?

Find out now, download the free worksheet:


What makes you irresistible - find out
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Why Wonder Woman’s Naïveté is Important (for Everyone)

“She was too naïve.” I’ve heard this complaint from so many friends, even my daughter, after watching the new Wonder Woman movie. I get it. It was uncomfortable to see this powerful woman completely unaware of her power, sexuality, and equally naive to the corrosive properties of the dark side of human nature. But to me, it made perfect sense.

So often I think we’re taught to equate success and power with the expectation that we’re innately uber powerful and bold, but for many of us badassery is an evolution. We’re not all born kicking ass and taking names.

It took decades for me to move from wallflower to butt-kicker. Heck, I’m still working on it.  Every. Damn. Day.

I grew up in a strict evangelical-fundamentalist enclave where a woman’s place was in service to her husband and children. Feminism (or any kind of true equality) was a dirty word.

In high school I walked around, head down, watching my feet, with my boyfriend, wearing Christian t-shirts emblazoned with sayings like “No Jesus. No Peace.” I’d wake up at 5:30AM to read my Bible and pray, for fear I’d backslide and lose my salvation if I didn’t work hard enough at it. I began to orient my every move around my boyfriend who would eventually become my ex-husband. My vows to him included a line that I would “follow wherever he led.”

I lived in a constant state of blind fear, utterly unaware to the expanse that my life could have outside of this bubble world.

Over the years, I grew up and away from the strictures of a faith that no longer served me. It took years for a mindset of powerlessness to indoctrinate me, so it only makes sense that it would take years to claw my way out of those limiting beliefs.

Just like Diana Prince, I saw the world through a sheltered upbringing, naive to the realities of modern life–both the good and the bad. But in some ways my upbringing, like Diana’s, prepared me for the battles of real life. The ability to commit to a disciplined life, to share what I believed even though I was scared, helped me for what lied ahead.

I used to call my life “Murphy’s Life” because, for years I felt like I was the perpetual target of a machine-gun firing shit sandwiches at my head. Between divorce, money issues, multiple health issues, deaths of loved ones, and too many things to name here, the experiences that challenged my beliefs catalyzed me to my shift from a lowly servant mindset to that of a woman who takes charge. As it turned out, strength, courage, and wisdom had always been there, deep down. I just didn’t know it yet.

[Spoiler] Throughout the film, we anticipate that Aries will find Diana. The stronger she gets, the closer he gets.

In the final battle scene of the movie, Diana loses a loved one and must face her impossible foe.  She’s on her back, pinned to the ground. It seems hopeless. She can decide to give up, or get up. Our hero breaks through what she thought she believed about herself (and the world) and taps into more power than she realized she had.

For me, that moment came when I had to make the hardest decision of my life: taking my children away from their father. My ex was abusing drugs and mentally abusing our children (and me). The stronger I got, the worse he got. It took me longer than I’d care to admit to patch together the courage to stand up to him. I’m sure I looked like a damned wimp; I sure felt like one. But after so many years of being under his control, pinned to the ground of my own life, I finally realized it had to stop.

For Diana, it took saving the world, to step into her power. For me it was the same, I had to save my world–my children. Les Brown says of being knocked down, that if you can look up, you can get up. And so I finally did. I got up, and strapped on my own villain-kicking boots in order to protect my children from their own father.

The things is, we humans ARE so much more powerful than we believe. We are blind to our own strengths and capabilities. But I truly believe we can become our own heros. And our world needs more of us.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman gives us a beautifully faceted hero, one whom we watch evolve into claiming her own latent power.

We’re all a different places in our life’s journey. We were or are all naive in some ways, and definitely–at some point–to our own super powers.

I think superhero movies are so popular right now because so many of us feel powerless against the myriad of injustices in our plugged-in, overwrought, global society. If we’re meant to draw inspiration from superheroes, if these fantastical myths are meant to give us hope and strength then this Wonder Woman is the hero we’ve been waiting for. Because when shit got real, she did not stop.

Sure it sounds cheesy, or even cringe-worthy, but here goes: be the hero of your own life. There’s so much more to you than you realize. You don’t have to feel like a badass to start being one.

Get up and into your life, trusting that you’ve got what it takes, and you’ll see that strength, courage, and wisdom has been there  inside you all along.

 

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Nine Traits of Astonishingly Successful Authors

In a market of ideas, why do some take off while others don’t? Why do some authors have mega status while others continue plodding on in obscurity, or with only moderate success?

The literary market fascinates me. There’s this vast ocean of books, ebooks, audiobooks, etc.  published each year and just a handful of them hit it BIG. I won’t pretend to guess that I know the reasons, but thinking about this got me wondering if there are some common traits among bestselling authors.

I think if there was a magic formula we’d know. We’d know because only be those who fit that formula would get books published. But as a writer trying to make it–and by that I mean support myself with my art–I do keep my eyes peeled and my ears open to what seems to set wildly successful authors apart.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past few years or so in my work with writers, and participating in writing seminars, networking, workshops, and of course, my own research.

To be sure, this kind of mind-blowing success–I’m talking JK Rowling, John Grisham, Elizabeth Gilbert level–is not likely to just happen to most of us, but it can’t hurt to know what these authors have in common.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

#1 They write a lot. And often they have been for a while. One of the big fallacies that I wish that some successful people would stop perpetuating is the idea that they just tried something and it worked. Sure there are those lucky ducks who get rich quick. I’m not saying luck never has anything to do with it.

But read enough success stories, or listen to enough podcasts like How I Built This or Being Boss and you’ll notice a pattern that successful people worked really hard for it. Whether it was practice, trial and error, or getting a degree, more often than not, it takes time and commitment.

There’s a reason they say “building” a reputation and not “sprouting” a reputation.

Neil Gaiman offers this advice, “Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.”  (Here’s his full commencement address at The University of the Arts: http://www.uarts.edu/neil-gaiman-keynote-address-2012)

But before you go quitting your job, please read on.

#2 They submit/pitch a lot and are in it for the long game. One of the stories that has encouraged me the most is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk where she shares how she submitted her writing to publications for almost SIX YEARS before getting something published. That’s a long fucking time to wait. And that’s real commitment.

#3 They believed in their project(s). We’ve all heard certain authors say that they didn’t think anyone would actually publish their work. This is one of those moments where I wonder if their hindsight is really 20/20.

Who writes for so long and submits proposal after proposal if they think they have absolutely no hope?

It’s likely best not to have expectations, but I have a hunch that they believed someone would say yes, eventually.

When asked about her faith in her first Harry Potter book, before it was published, J K Rowling said, “You know, I can say this now, I was quite diffident about saying it for a long time. But I did have a belief, with Harry, that the difficult thing would be persuading someone to take it, because it didn’t fit. People said children’s books had to be half the length, and what an old-fashioned subject, a boarding school. I did have this feeling that the difficult thing would be persuading someone to publish it – but that if it was, people would like it.

(Read the full interview here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/28/conversation-lauren-laverne-jk-rowling-interview )

#4 They stood for something. Often something different/unique. These famous authors have instant recognition in our minds. We know them for their style, their voice, their subject matter, or persona of writing. I think a big reason many authors don’t get there is because they aren’t deeply rooted in who they are, what they offer, what/who they stand for, or what they seek to understand. Aka they don’t know what their brand is.

This of course, is of utmost importance in the stories we write as well. Depth of plot and character, as well as intimate knowledge of themes and what both you and your writing is about is key.

#5 They are as tenacious as fuck. They made time for their writing, they got agents, they created book proposals, they wrote essays, or stories, or whatever. The point is, they didn’t make excuses for finding the time to finish their work. They did the work. Stephen King wrote every night after his two day jobs, in the laundry room, on a makeshift desk his wife made for him.

#6 They are focused. Maybe this one could be combined with the point just above, but I want to emphasize it. Perhaps because I need to remind myself of this so often. I love ideas, always have. But the problem is, I find myself jumping on too many of them and doing way too many disparate things, which makes me fall behind on finishing the things I’ve already started.

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” –Ray Bradbury

What is clear is that all of these fabulously successful writers carve out time to write, consistently. They make it a priority.

#7 Most of them had day jobs, so there’s no excuse. JK Rowling was a single mom with a low-paying job who was on state assistance while she wrote the first Harry Potter book. I try to remind myself of this when I’d rather be working out a storyline than getting my other/paid work done.

Besides I think writing in a vacuum often produces navel-gazing, academic, philosophic work, whereas having other obligations while writing, however you do it (doesn’t have to be a day job), produces richer writing and more interesting work.

Here’s what Maya Angelou said, in an interview with Harvard Business Review:

Interviewer: “When you were working at those early jobs, did you ever envision what you would become?”

Maya: “No, but I didn’t think I wouldn’t. I somehow got the feeling early on that if human beings did a thing, I could study it and try to do some of it too. And one thing led to another. If I had not studied Latin in school, I wouldn’t have found it as easy to comprehend the structure of language. Had I not danced, I might never have really listened to music and known I could compose something. You see? I understood early that not everything I did wasn’t going to be a masterpiece, but I would try to do it the best I knew how. I’ve listened to an inner voice and had enough courage to try unknown things. And I think everything in its time.”

And that brings us to what I think is one of the most important points of success.

#8 They had really great ideas/stories that were usually well executed. It seems to me that more often than not their stories or ideas were not only great, but were well crafted. How many times have you read a book, seen a movie, or watched a TV show and thought, well it was a good premise, but it lacked [fill in the blank]? These BIG successful books, essays, screenplays, etc. are (with definite exceptions) excellent ideas, well played.

I think we often underestimate the power of great ideas.

#9 They often felt a higher calling to write. One more quote from Maya Angelou, to sum this point up: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

Whether you or I ever get to the top of our mountains, I think Ms. Angelou’s advice is always good.  If you love what you’re doing, even if you’re making your money elsewhere, you’ll enjoy this life more anyway.

Here’s hoping that someday, your name will be in lights. Or at least that you get to do more of what you love.

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Free Your Creativity with a Low Information Diet

Low Information DietI’m one of those people who naturally wants to do 4.5 million things almost all the time. Life is full of possibilities and opportunities and, let’s face it, there’s never been a time when so much information has been so available. Did I mention I’ll also love researching the hell out of things?

But, as the saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” If I want to actually get anywhere I have to pare down.

This was a big realization to me as a I began to pursue my dream of becoming a writer and speaker. Honestly, it’s been something I have been working on ever since I read The Four-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss, back in 2008. This book changed the way I would forever think of life optimization and work–you should read it. But let’s get at the point here.

One big ‘ole important step to figuring out what you want and how to get it is by clearing your mind of distraction. Easier said than done, I know.

Post-election, I’m realizing how much more I need to do this lately. I can feel my stomach turn and my shoulders tense when I see yet one more story about Trump.

Every time I’ve gone on an information diet, whether it’s for a week, or a month I feel more at peace, more focused, and happier. It’s helped me focus on what I really want, and take bigger strides to making it a reality.

We humans aren’t meant to carry all the information that is lobbed at us every day; and science is starting to show us just how bad this problem is.

So here is the Tim Ferriss Low Information Diet, in short:

  1. No newspapers, audio books, podcasts, magazines.
  2. No news websites
  3. No TV (or YouTube), except one hour of purely pleasure viewing each night.
  4. No reading books, except one hour of fiction pleasure reading.
  5. No browsing the internet, unless it’s completely necessary.

These are pretty strict, and in the beginning, people (me, ahem) often need to go on this drastic diet in order to “reset” their information addiction. Here’s my personal version, for right now:

  1. Only check social media accounts twice/day (yeah, I’m that bad)
  2. Only listen to story-driven podcasts (like Modern Love, The Moth, and Dear Sugar), limiting “work” podcasts (like How I Built This, BinderCast, etc.) to once per week.
  3. TV: Only Netflix and Amazon (no advertisements)

I find that if I don’t go on social media much I don’t end up browsing around the interwebs aimlessly. And I don’t get caught up in the next crazy political headline.

Think about starting your own version of a Low Information Diet. And tell me how it goes!

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7 Great Non-profits to Donate to on #GivingTuesday

Today is #GivingTuesday and there are so many charities to give to.  How do you choose?

I think we all must give with our own heartstrings in mind.  What causes pull at you?

My personal top picks:

Someone Cares Soup Kitchen

My family knows from experience that the people who run and volunteer at this organization are making a difference for those who are homeless or living in poverty. http://www.someonecareskitchen.org/

BinderCon (Out of the Binders, Inc.)

This awesome non-profit helps women and gender non-conforming writers learn, network, and grow. They are working to balance the huge gender gap in the journalism and literary worlds. (I also work and volunteer for this organization.)

https://www.crowdrise.com/outofthebindersdecem/fundraiser/bindercon

1888

1888 is a local 501 (c) 3 literary and cultural organization, founded by my friend & colleague, Kevin Staniec. They develop educational programs, produce collaborative projects and publish literature from around the world.

http://1888.center/support

UNAIDS (Today is also World AIDS Day)

Fighting one of the worst diseases on our planet, UNAIDs is working to END AIDS in our generation.

https://donations.unaids.org/

The Global Fund for Women

This organization campaigns for  women’s right to live free from violence, slavery, and discrimination; to be educated; to own property; to vote; and to earn a fair and equal wage.

http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/

Arts Orange County

This organization supports and builds awareness for the arts in Orange County, CA

http://www.artsoc.org/

Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA)

This charter public school offers exceptional arts and academic education to children in varying arts disciplines, regardless of their economic status.

Donate through their Hearts for the Arts campaign >

And hey, if you aren’t in a position to donate today just help spread the word. Every voice matters and every dollar counts for these worthwhile organizations.

 

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fear or love

A friend posted this on Facebook today and I had to share it with you. Jim Carrey is one of my favorite comedians, but he is also profound.

Go ahead, ask the Universe for what you really want. Work toward it, let go of how it comes to pass. Have faith.

Do what you were meant to do.

If you want to see the speech from which these excerpts came, check it out here:

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Make it Happen

Mariah Carey’s self-titled album (her debut album actually) was the first CD I owned.  I can still remember sitting on our back deck one summer, at dusk. Our brand new black boombox that had a–wait for it–CD player, was set near the steps.  I peeled the cellophane wrapper of the CD and in a rare moment of secular-music-listening-pleasure, I heard Mariah’s stunning voice, clearer than any radio broadcast.

I still love me some Mimi (even though she ditched her curly hair) and when this song popped up on my Pandora feed today I just had to share with you.  It is one of my faves from that era.  A time in my life when I felt small, but had big dreams.

So keep going y’all!  I know I am.  I am making this happen. And for the first time in my life, I feel like I am living to my potential.  I hope you are too!

“If you believe in yourself enough

And know what you want
You’re gonna make it happen
Make it happen”