My Rules for the Creative Sandbox have been a foundation of my full-color creative life over the past five years. The poster hangs on the wall of my studio, and I refer to it almost daily. My mini-course, Creative Sandbox 101, has helped over 1,000 people get their creative mojo working. [Read more…]
You know those creators who just crank stuff out like they’re breathing it? The ones who say, “I paint/write/make music/build macaroni sculptures because I can’t NOT paint/write/make music/build macaroni sculptures! It’s like air to me — I’d die without it!”?
If you’re NOT that person, this post is for you.
(The rest of you can go on your merry way. I’ll be back soon with another post that is for you, too.)
“Geez, louise, I’m not like that,” you think, [Read more…]
Ah, perfectionist paralysis — I know it well. It’s that belief that nothing I create is, or ever could be, good enough.
It’s what kept me NOT creating for decades.
And it’s epidemic!
If you’ve ever found yourself NOT creating, mired in resistance because your gremlins have convinced you that your writing/art/music/macaroni sculptures just weren’t good enough, this is for YOU. Read on…
Do you have a favorite musician, or writer or artist? Someone whose work touches you deeply, who moves and inspires you?
Maybe someone whose work got you through a tough time.
Or compelled you to think in a new way.
Or makes you smile as you pass it in the hall every day.
Or just jazzes you up when you need a little jazzing.
Now, let me ask you, how would your life be different – be lacking – without their creative contribution? [Read more…]
One from the archives, originally published on 11/13/12. Given that “what’s the point?” is the number one reason I hear for creativity not having a bigger place in people’s lives, this one felt ripe for a revisit. Enjoy! xo,Melissa
Years ago, when I was still a fairly new calligrapher, a contingent from my south Bay Area calligraphy guild, Pacific Scribes, took a field trip to the San Francisco Public Library, where we were treated to a private viewing of several calligraphic treasures from the Harrison Collection.
(Richard Harrison was a local calligrapher, and a collector of calligraphy, who donated his entire collection to the library in 1963. The collection contains nearly 1,000 examples of modern calligraphy, including manuscripts, broadsides, handwritten books, fine prints, drawings and sketches.
Now anyone [Read more…]
As a creativity instigator, my first objective is simply to get people creating, but there’s another key element to living a creative life, which I believe is equally important: sharing your work.
If we feel resistance to creating in the first place, for most of us the resistance to sharing what we create is about a zillion times stronger.
After all, it’s [Read more…]
There are so many reasons people cite for why creativity doesn’t hold a bigger place in their lives.
Time is certainly a big one — I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have way too much to do and not enough time to do it in.
Then there’s self-doubt — the gremlin voices that tell you you’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough, and certainly never as good as your heroes, so why bother? And who do you think you are to even try, anyway?
And then there’s the nagging sense of [Read more…]
One from the archives! Originally published on December 1, 2011, this post is worthy of a revisit, and especially timely, in light of the re-opening (on January 20th!) of Your Big, Bold, Creative Life Academy! Enjoy. xo,Melissa
The mugger had a firm grip on my ankles.
“NO!” I screamed, flipping onto my right hip and yanking my left leg back. I kicked back out sharply while pulling up my right leg, smashing his hand in the process. “NO!”
I flipped to my other side and repeated the process, yanking and kicking and scraping, bicycling my legs as best I could with a 180 pound man hanging onto them.
In the background, I was aware of his partner looming, even [Read more…]
Memory (cue the harp music):
Music camp, a dozen years ago. I’m watching in awe (and not a little envy) as another camper performs in the student concert.
She seems so relaxed and confident onstage. She owns the stage, has the audience in the palm of her hand. How does she do it, I wonder?
I’m careful not to let anyone know, but I harbor a secret fantasy of being able to perform like that. Maybe even being paid to sing!
Of course, I know this is impossible, but that doesn’t stop me dreaming. In my dreams I sing for appreciative audiences around the country. [Read more…]
Time for a classic from the archives, originally published on November 9, 2013.
Raise your hand if you love being criticized.
Yeah, I thought not. Me, either. Who does?
If you want to live a big, bold, creative life, however, one of the first orders of business is learning how to deal with criticism, because the bigger and bolder you get, the more attention and feedback you’re going to get, both positive and negative.
The only other option is to stay small and timid, hiding under your shell, but that’s the opposite of living a big, bold, creative life, so it’s not really an option at all.
Learning effective tools for dealing with criticism is so important that I devote an entire module of Your Big, Bold, Creative Life Academy to it. And let me tell you, I was happy to have those tools at the ready this morning, when my business partner, Cory, forwarded the following email to me, which he’d received in response to our Creative Insurgents podcast.
Just watched Episode One. GREAT idea! But WAY too much talking. Want specifics, not Melissa’s self-indulgent blathering on about the creative process, the nature of insurgency, etc. We are not all morons like Minnie. Give me specific ideas soon or will not be attending another!
Ouch. In one fell swoop, this lady, whom I’ll call Z, accused me of being a self-indulgent blatherer who treats listeners like morons, and called Minnie a moron.
I’d be lying to you if I said this did not hurt me.
The truth is, words can and do hurt, and if I did not have power tools for neutralizing the effect of attacks like this, I’d have shut down operations years ago and moved into a yurt in the Yukon Territory. (Well, actually, perhaps an island in the Pacific, where the weather’s better.)
The reason that this particular criticism stung, though, is the same reason any criticism stings: it touched a nerve.
Someone, at some point early in my development, told me I was selfish, and I believed them. Someone, at some point, told me I talked too much. (Girls, after all, should be quiet and retiring! Girls should not make noise, solicit attention, or seek the limelight — no, siree! Girls should smile and look pretty, and that’s it.)
If I didn’t already have these old wounds, Z’s words would have meant nothing. If, rather than attacking me for my “self-indulgent blathering on,” Z had made fun of my red hair, say, or attacked me for being too cheerful, her arrow would have bounced right off. I don’t have old hurts around being a redhead or too cheerful, so it’s much easier for me to maintain neutrality around those things.
Call me “self-indulgent,” though, or sneer that I “blather on,” and the part of me that wonders if I really am and do those things wants to curl up and hide. Forever.
Thankfully, I’ve got some tools to help keep those arrows from slicing too deeply. Tools that you can use, too.
Tool #1: Know your hair triggers.
Simply knowing the negative beliefs I fear might be true about myself helps me to stay neutral when I receive criticisms aimed right at those beliefs. I’m less likely to spiral into a blob of self-doubt, convinced I should spend the rest of my days in solitary confinement, when I can recognize that, oh, my buttons just got pushed!
How do you discover your hair triggers? Simply ask yourself, “What criticism do you most fear receiving?”
If a particular criticism really pushes your buttons, if you’d just die if someone said X about you, it’s a sure sign that some part of you fears or believes that X is really true.
But just because you fear it or believe it does not make it so.
Do you have evidence that X is really true? What is the evidence that you do have?
Whenever I feel myself sliding into my old fear that I’m selfish, for example, I remind myself of all the evidence to the contrary: the many friends, acquaintances, students, clients, subscribers, who reflect back to me on a regular basis that I’m generous and thoughtful, rather than selfish.
That may not be everyone’s experience of me — clearly, it’s not Z’s experience — but that doesn’t really tell me anything about me. Instead, it tells me about her.
Which brings me to:
Tool #2: Separate fact from interpretation
I got a piece of negative feedback. So let’s look at this rationally. What does this feedback tell me about the person criticizing?
Let’s take a look. Here’s what I learned from this missive from Z:
1) Z likes the idea of the podcast, but feels there was too much talking in Episode One. (Note: I’m not sure what a podcast is supposed to contain besides talking, but that’s another story.) She wants specifics (whatever that means).
2) Z is not my Right People.
3) Z seems to feel that the threat of her non-attendance matters to Cory (whether this is true or not, I don’t know — I haven’t asked Cory).
4) Z is the kind of person who insults other people behind their backs (she chose to tell Cory that I’m a self-indulgent blatherer, and that she considers Minnie a moron, rather than telling us directly herself).
5) Z is the kind of person who says one thing, but does another: signing off with “Respectfully,” after writing a letter that was anything but respectful.
Now, in Z’s defense, it may be that she was having a very bad day. Perhaps when she wrote her email she had just stubbed her toe, or was suffering from intestinal cramping. Or maybe her dog had just died. We cannot know.
I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I will assume that Z is a really nice person most of the time, like most people. Even really nice people can flame someone in a bad moment. I’ve been known, in the heat of passion, to click send on a message that I never would have sent had cooler heads prevailed. (Soooo embarrassing…)
The point here is not to make fun of Z, but to bring some reason into play when on the receiving end of nastiness. The real question is this:
How do we know whose feedback and criticism to pay attention to, and whose to ignore?
I really like Brené Brown’s way of looking at it. In her book, Daring Greatly, she talks about those of us who are making work and putting it out there in the world being like the gladiators who are fighting in the arena. There might be thousands of people in the stands screaming, “You’re a wimp! You can’t fight your way out of a paper bag!” but they’re not in the arena themselves, are they?
It’s easy to fling attacks from the sidelines, but that feedback is rarely useful to the gladiators themselves.
“I will accept criticism,” says Brené Brown, “from people who are also out there in the arena getting their ass kicked.”
Is Z in the arena getting her ass kicked? Is her opinion something truly useful for me?
No and no.
If Z were a fellow podcaster offering a suggestion that she thought would improve our podcast and bring us more devoted fans, that would be one thing. But a name-caller offers me no useful data.
So with those two tools from my Dealing With Criticism Toolbox, I un-paralyzed myself, wrote this blog post, and got on with my day. I hope you find it helpful. It would make me happy if Z’s crappy note composted down into fertilizer for something good.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
“I didn’t do it,” she said. She looked ashamed and embarrassed, the way a small child would look when confessing to a something she knows will earn her a spanking.
I was on one of the check-in calls for my Great ClutterBust, meeting with participants in a private video conference room to share what clutterbusting goals we’d accomplished since the last call, and what we intended to accomplish before the next call.
We clutterbust all kinds of things in the Great ClutterBust: physical stuff, digital files and email, cluttered schedules, habits we’d like to change, as well as tasks that have been weighing on us — what I refer to as “to-do-list” clutter.
Alice was reporting back on the “to-do list” clutterbusting she’d committed to doing since our last check-in. Her goal was to put 15 minutes each day into a project she’d been procrastinating on, her part of a PTA event that several people were waiting on before they could move forward.
That was back on Friday. Now it was Monday. Both Saturday and Sunday had gone by, and she hadn’t even touched the thing, and now she was feeling pretty badly about it.
It was clearly time for some impromptu coaching and a motivational pep talk.
(Officially, check-in/report-back calls in the Great ClutterBust are no more than five to fifteen minutes — just enough time for everyone to check-in and/or report back, before we log out to get down to work. However, the best-kept secret about my group programs is that on our group calls participants often get spotlight coaching or “pick-my-brain” consulting that you’d normally have to book a one-on-one session for. Shhh — don’t tell anyone! 😉 )
Check-in calls for the Great ClutterBust aren’t recorded, so alas I cannot share my spontaneous rally cry with you, but I want to share some of the points I touched on, in the hopes that it will help you keep going after your own big goals, whatever they are.
It’s Not Your Fault, But…
Poor Alice was beating herself up pretty badly about failing — yet again — to stick with her commitment. She was convinced that she was a hopeless case, and she had plenty of ammo to bolster her argument:
- She’s dyslexic (and her commitment involved reading, which is hard for her).
- Her aunt recently died and left Alice in charge of her estate, which takes up a lot of time and energy.
- She’s going through a rough divorce, and has a lot of paperwork to deal with for that, which also takes up a lot of time and energy.
I mean, it’s not really her fault, right?
Well, true and not true. Those circumstances are real, and they pose some pretty big challenges.
However, pointing to these as good reasons for not following through on a 15-minute commitment misses the point entirely.
That is called making an excuse, and I call BS.
Circumstance or Commitment?
The truth is, it’s a choice. Circumstances are always going to conspire to make it hard. You can choose to let your circumstances keep you from reaching your goals, or you can choose to let your commitment rule the day.
Oh, how tempting it is to make excuses, though! We all do it at one time or another. I am no exception.
For a good decade, I never got to my art table to create unless it was at the behest of a client. Every day I rolled my eyes and gnashed my teeth and pouted like a toddler about it, but hey, it wasn’t my fault — I was crazy busy! I had to work so hard to scrape out a living that I simply did not have time to make art for me!
Ahem. I lived with this lie for over ten years, until I finally copped to the truth: it wasn’t a matter of having the time, it was a matter of making the time.
Blaming my circumstances is called making an excuse, and I call BS.
Detective, Scientist, Bodyguard, Cheerleader
The thing is, everyone has challenges and obstacles that get in their way. Some people have ADHD, or chronic fatigue, or other physical limitations, or crazy family responsibilities that tie them in knots. These things are real, and they make things hard, but our job is not to lie down and let those annoying circumstances get the better of us.
Our job is to put ourselves under a microscope and figure out what will help us overcome those challenges and get past those obstacles!
This is hard. There’s no way around it. But if you want to get on with your important work; if you don’t want to find yourself on your death bed, lamenting all the things you didn’t do because you let circumstances get in the way, putting yourself under a microscope is your job.
Your job is to be a detective and a scientist and a bodyguard and a cheerleader all wrapped into one.
Detective: Look for clues as to what helps to keep you on track, and what pulls you off.
Scientist: Experiment to see if this or that tactic is helpful, analyze the results, and tweak, tweak, tweak.
Bodyguard: Build up your “saying no” muscles, to guard yourself against the many and sundry distractions and temptations that perpetually conspire to keep you away from the important work that is yours to do.
Cheerleader: Cheer yourself on when the going gets tough.
And expect to keep stumbling. A lot.
Get Comfortable with Discomfort & Get Back On the Wagon
Here’s the rub:
Stumbling over and over and over again does not mean you are hopeless! It simply means that you haven’t yet found the right combination of tactics and systems and structures.
It simply means you need to be persistent.
This is profoundly uncomfortable, but there is profound discomfort to be found in just about anything worth doing in life.
Success inevitably lies in your ability to get comfortable with discomfort.
And your willingness to get back on the wagon when you stumble, because, as I mentioned, you will stumble. A lot.
Remember: of all the practices we engage in, the most important practice is just getting back on the wagon.
Self-Compassion Is Always Key
Part and parcel with getting back on the wagon is my Golden Formula:
Self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good.
When your inner detective looks for clues and your inner scientist experiments and analyzes the data, this is self-awareness. Your inner bodyguard and inner cheerleader are the self-compassion piece, which is just as important as self-awareness — and arguably even more important!
In fact, as Kristin Neff, the world’s foremost researcher on self-compassion has pointed out, there are three elements to self-compassion, of which mindfulness/self-awareness is the first:
- Mindfulness: noticing what you’ve done (or haven’t done) and how you’re feeling as a result.
- An acknowledgment of common humanity: reminding yourself that you are human, and that everyone blows it sometimes. It’s okay to be fallible.
- Self-kindness: forgiving yourself for missing the mark, and offering yourself love and comfort.
When you blow a commitment, your first thought may be, “You stupid lame-o! You blew it again! What is wrong with you?!” but I am here to tell you to stop this kind of self-talk, pronto!
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but my advice is to stop beating yourself up and start loving yourself up. As I told Alice on the call, beating yourself up is never helpful, and is, in fact, counter-productive. Self-compassion is key.
Most people believe that using a big stick (ie, self-blame, beating oneself up) is the only way to keep themselves from dissipating into a pathetic blob. Contrary to popular belief, however, studies (such as this one and this one) show that people who forgive themselves for missing the mark on occasion not only get back on track more quickly than those who wallow in self-blame, but they also achieve much greater long-term success at their goals.
Those who wallow in self-blame when they stumble simply spiral into a cycle of bad feelings and failure, from which it’s hard to emerge.
When I miss the mark and blow a commitment, I used to beat myself up shamelessly. You know what my reaction is now?
“Oops. Time to take a fresh start.”
Whatever commitment I’ve blown — to do my daily meditation, or play in the Creative Sandbox, or meet that self-imposed deadline to get a blog post done — I notice how I’m feeling, acknowledge that I’m human, forgive myself, and re-commit. No lamentations or lashings, just love myself up and correct forward.
Truly, the longer I live, the more I am strengthened in my understanding that self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good.
Alice is just like you and me and every other person on this planet: a fallible human being, facing a unique set of challenges and obstacles that make it really, really hard to achieve her goals.
Alice is going to keep stumbling, as are you and I. This is not the problem. The problem is when we lie down and surrender.
Never surrender. It may take you a thousand tries to figure out how to deal with your unique circumstances. And after you finally figure out what works, it may at some point stop working, requiring you to go right back to Square One!
As the Japanese proverb goes, though, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
Perseverence, baby. Perseverence.
I’m cheering you on.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
Metaphorically speaking, that is.
See, it seems I have a never-ending supply of false stories that I believe in.
I call them self-installed glass ceilings.
Glass ceilings, because they limit not just what I can do, but what I believe I can do. Self-installed, because ultimately I am the one who subscribes to these stories — I’m the one holding myself back.
And ultimately I am the only one who can bust the glass ceilings, too.
Want some examples?
I don’t have the moneymaking gene — other people can make money, but not me.
Creativity is reserved only for the special few, not for regular folks like me.
Writing is hard, I’m not good at it, and that means I should quit.
I’ve bought into each one of the false stories above — and a lot more, too — keeping myself hunched over, playing the victim. Those self-installed glass ceilings kept me from moving forward, and provided a very convenient excuse, too!
Here are some others:
I need big chunks of time to do my creative thing; I can’t possibly get anything worthwhile accomplished in less than three hours.
My studio will always be a horrendous cluttercave; I’m incapable of creating a spacious, low-clutter work space.
I can’t sing.
Yep, I’ve believed fiercely in each of the above, too. All lies — glass ceilings that I’ve installed over my own head. Thankfully, though, I shattered them all, proved each one of them false, once I realized what they were.
How to Smash a Self-Installed Glass Ceiling
The great thing about shattering self-installed glass ceilings is that just realizing that one is there does a good deal of the work for you.
Simply accepting that a story is a lie sends a network of cracks running through the glass, making it much easier to dismantle.
The tricky thing is that self-installed glass ceilings are hard to see, being transparent.
If you believe, for example, that creativity is reserved only for the few, not for regular folks like you and me, well, it feels like The Truth, doesn’t it? It’s hard to recognize it for what it is: a story, a belief, a self-installed glass ceiling.
But once you’ve recognized one self-installed glass ceiling in your life, you start to become better at noticing others.
Or, at least, let’s just say you’re maybe more aware that they might be there. Glass is still transparent, after all.
My Latest Glass-Smashing Adventure
Every time I find a new self-installed glass ceiling, I get a little jolt of glee (along with a hefty dose of embarrassment. “Really? I believed that?“)
Just the other day I found another glass ceiling. I’ve been shopping around for a looper — a device to allow me to record and layer audio “loops” of my voice and my ukulele (or any other sound, really), in order to compose and improvise new songs.
This is pretty silly, but the truth is, I got stuck on this false story that I needed a particular kind of looper in order to get started. Since my ultimate goal is to be able to perform onstage, and even improvise live with a looper, I thought I needed on of these or one of these.
So I spent a lot of time reading reviews, researching which looper is better for what I want to do, thinking about where I wanted to put my hard-earned money.
Meanwhile (this is the really embarrassing part), a number of people had told me that there are very inexpensive apps (including free) that allow you to loop on your iPhone, but that info went in one ear and out the other.
No, I thought, I had to wait until I had the perfect tool.
This is sort of like saying you can’t possibly write unless you have the perfect fountain pen and 100% rag paper; or until you have a MacBook Air and an antique roll-top desk.
Hogwash. Just pick up whatever tool is around and start writing.
It’s like saying you can’t make art until you have a complete set of the best oil paints, an expensive easel, and a full set of natural bristle brushes, in a studio with North light, overlooking the ocean.
Nonsense. Grab a paper napkin and a ball point pen and draw, dammit!
The conditions do not have to be perfect in order to start! They just have to be good enough. And you just have to start.
Thankfully, in all of the time I spent researching (time, I will note, that I could have spent looping), I was reminded that, hey, there are inexpensive apps for that!
So I downloaded a few to my phone and got started.
Bam! Self-installed glass ceiling shattered!
I’ve been looping almost every day ever since, “making messes in the Creative Sandbox” and having a blast.
Here’s today’s experiment:
Do my looping apps let me do everything I need? No, I’ll need some additional equipment in order to perform live, but in the meantime, I’m starting to build up some skills and figure out how this looping thing works, which I’d have to do before I could roll it out in a live performance anyway.
But in the meantime, instead of spending two or three more years stalling, I’m looping. (If you want to hear more of what I’ve been up to, in the spirit of embracing imperfectionism [egad — all I can hear is the places I’m out of pitch!], I’ve been sharing my experiments — you can find them here on the blog, or you can follow me over on SoundCloud.)
Here’s to shattering self-installed glass ceilings! I hope this inspires you to grab a metaphorical baseball bat and smash some of your own.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
As a creativity instigator, my mission is to empower people to feed their creative hungers. It doesn’t end there, though. Once you’re happily creating, there is another step: to share your work.
Not everything has to be shared, of course. The contents of a private journal, practice paintings, rehearsal sessions — our creations need a period of privacy to fully blossom. Fear of judgment can paralyze creativity, so it’s important that every creator has space and time to incubate away from the scrutiny of others.
What I see over and over again, though, is that creators stay in this hidden incubation phase for way too long.
“I’m not good enough yet,” they say. “I’ll share my work when it’s better.” [Read more…]