Overcoming one of our greatest obstacles: ourselves

Our lives are determined not just by what we think but how we think.

Before I started writing I used to believe I couldn’t write. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that my high school papers, after being graded, had so much red ink on them that they looked like someone dragged a freshly killed animal over them. It was traumatic for me. And add the fact that I grew up in an immigrant family where English was a third language and Dr. Seuss wasn’t read to me, I thought I was doomed to be a poor wordsmith.

That frame of mind followed me all the way through college, into my career, and got worse when I started a creative agency, and reached all the way into my midlife.

But I was wrong.

See, in the cradle of our minds we nurture something that forms us all. It’s weened in the shadows of our psyche, hidden, growing into an idea or narrative that chokes our dreams and kills opportunities because we are often too afraid to challenge it.

This “how” we think is a framework of thinking that we all possess. They are the ideas that we have about ourselves and others and the world, that guide us.

They exist in the forms of memories, stories, experiences, phrases spoken to us in anger by loved ones, past failures, etc. And they hold incredible power of us.

Once I heard about puppies that someone was training and they used a gate to keep them in the kitchen. And one time, when the puppies were playing with the gate, testing the limits, it fell on them. And never again did they try to test that barrier. They were terrified of it even when they out grew it and towered over it; they dared not cross it.

We are those puppies. And we all have gates in our lives.

Even if we’ve outgrown them, they still feel like they tower over us and can hurt us, even if we can clearly see that all we need to do is jump a little and we would easily clear it. But, instead, the gate traps us.

But it’s not the gate that traps us but how we think of it.

You see, the puppies weren’t trapped by the physical gate. It was their idea of the gate that was trapping them.

The same was true of me: it wasn’t my bloodied high school papers and growing up immigrant that kept me from writing—no. It was my idea of myself that did that. And it held me back from doing what I enjoyed, loved, all because I was afraid of something I had outgrown.

What are your gates?

It can be anything. I’ve had friends who believed they couldn’t get married, or that they couldn’t be happy, or that they couldn’t get fit, or that God wouldn’t forgive them, or that the world is ending. Maybe you’re wondering if you can make it through this pandemic. There are endless options of the gates that imprison us.

To find out what they are, an exercise you can do it just to write down all of the things that you believe you can’t do but enjoy doing. Take time to slow down and really parse through your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and actually put them down either in your device or even on paper with a pen. Doing that will help you practice awareness. Wake yourself up to the way you see yourself. You don’t need to write Pulitzer Prize winning work. You just need to document your observations so that you can read it and reflect on the ideas and stories that are barricading you.

Also, you can’t do it alone. Often, we need help. For me, it was my wife and God. I felt like there was divine assistance that sparked my mind to see the possibilities, then my wife fanned the flame. There was a God given desire to write. And my wife had heard my musings and love for words and encouraged me.

“I can’t…” is too often said about this or that dream or possibility. But more often than not, it’s just a gate that fell on you when you were young.

It’s time to jump the gate.

Lots of love,

John


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You are not an imposter

You’re not an imposter; you’re just in-process.

You might be a father learning to parent, an employee who is progressing in your career, an entrepreneur hustling to survive, or a couple trying to forge a healthy marriage. That’s good; that’s great.

Life is a process.

Anytime you try something, do something, go somewhere, you’re not going to be an expert, specialist, authority, master.

And it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong, like you’re “faking it.” But you’re not.

For anyone to become a master, you have to be a beginner. You have to muddle through, practice, attempt, fail, then try again and improve.

You’re in-process.

There’s nothing more real than that.

Even experts still need to learn and feel like imposters, because we’re all continuing to learn, grow, and become.

See, to do anything, everyone is an “imposter.” Everyone is between a beginner and expert, student and teacher, birth and death.

And that’s a great place to be. That’s where the adventure is, learnings are found, discoveries are made—life is lived.

So just because you don’t know as much as you want to or feel out of your depth or lack clarity on the future, that doesn’t make you lesser.

It just means you’re on a great journey to better things.

The key is to keep moving forward.


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This Is One of the Smartest Things You Can Do

To get smarter you have to feel stupid, sometimes. You ask the obvious question, repeat something back, relearn something you think you should have already learned.

Sure, it can be embarrassing. But, to learn you have to be open to learning. And that means you’re not the master but the pupil, not the teacher but the student, not the expert but the amateur. But it’s worth it.

Your mind will bud, bloom, and flourish. And learning isn’t a flower that dies, it can blossom for a lifetime and can even leave an imprint on your friends, family, neighbors, strangers, and, even, future generations.

You see, the secret to getting smarter is forgetting about looking smarter, but loving knowledge so much that you don’t care about looking stupid to gain it.

That’s the smartest thing you can do.


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Create better work by doing this

Sometimes doing nothing is the best way to create something great: The creative process isn’t just about work; it’s about rest.

Your mind needs time to recuperate, recover, be restored. It does that through sleep and daydreaming—doing nothing.

That means staring off into space, looking out the window, letting your mind wander, dozing off to sleep, not thinking.

That’s when your mind is connecting the dots, forming new ideas, dreaming dreams. It’s when your thoughts go beyond thinking, and you’re unconsciously creating magic, in your subconscious, seeing concepts you could never see while fully conscious.

That’s the mystery of creating.

We are better able to see when our eyes aren’t focused. When our minds are cloudy clarity strikes. For, when we rest, our brains rework our work.

Winston Churchill understood that. He was one of the most prolific creators ever, and he took an hour every afternoon to sit somewhere and doze off with a cigar pinched in his lips.

Yes, take your vacations and play, explore, and see. And, of course, sleep well, getting at least eight hours a night. But that’s not the rest I’m talking about here.

You need to take short breaks.

Like Churchill (but maybe without the cigar), allow yourself a little regular break to unplug during the day to let your eyes glaze over and your mind roam. Don’t think about what you’re working on, deadlines, anything. Think about nothing.

And you will find your energy returning, creativity bursting, and ideas flowing.

Magic will happen.

 

 

 

The worst thing that happens to you often can lead to the best results

Sometimes the worst things that happen to us are the best opportunities. They are the gateways to greatness.

Giving up is always an option. Or, you can fight and find a way through the difficulty.

The former will lead to the status quo or worse. The latter can irrevocably change your life for the better.

When I got fired from the only job I was qualified for, my first position out of graduate school, I wanted to slink away and die. I was trained to be a pastor of a church. Then, I was terminated. But, oddly enough, that helped me to become an entrepreneur.

What about you? Have you been beaten down, hurt, unjustly treated, fired? Maybe you’re tempted to give up. I get it.

But you don’t have to. You can take one step at a time, day after day, facing your fears and uncertainty, moving forward and upward.

But it all starts with not giving up and fighting.

Ghengis Khan’s (affiliate) life changed irrevocably when a rival tribe kidnapped his wife. Instead of letting her go and finding a new wife (what most men in his culture and time did, especially at his level, insignificant and impoverished), he did the unthinkable. He raised a fighting party and battled to win her back. He won.

And that decision was one of the most significant steps that helped him build the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

You may not want to be an emperor, but you want to win. You want to overcome your challenges.

The best place to start is here.

Don’t give up. Then, fight.

You can.

Rise.

When creating feels impossible, you need to know this

Creating can feel like fighting nature: Impossible. Making that painting, writing that novel or blog post or, sometimes, even a sentence can make us break into a cold sweat.

And it’s tempting to think, “Oh, I’ll just wait for inspiration to hit,” like a kid holding a kite as he waits for a strong wind to pick up on a deathly still day in the Midwest. You might be there for months, still waiting.

Don’t do that. It won’t serve you at all. Instead, do this.

Make something crappy.

That’s right. Just pick up a shovel and shovel some metaphorical crap all over your canvas, paper, screen, or whatever you’re trying to create on. If it stinks like something ungodly, don’t stop, keep it going.

Because making crap is often exactly what you need to do to create something beautiful. Any great artist or creator whom you admire did just that. Look at how they started or some of their early work. Or, if you only see their good stuff, then they destroyed all of the work they hated and were embarrassed by. But, believe me, it is there. It is terrible. It doesn’t look right: The proportions are off, the pacing is wonky, it’s dark in the places it should be light and light in the areas it should be dark. It’s crap.

So when you feel embarrassed or ashamed, remember that almost every creative person goes through what you do. Not every piece is a masterpiece. Few of them are; many of them are mediocre. Most of them probably smell like a farm on a hot, humid summer day.

Can’t write a sentence? Don’t worry about it. Jot down a fragment. Scribble a word, misspelled. Just get it out of you. Then do it again and again. And before you know it, a sentence will form right before your eyes. It will be ugly, but it will be there. Don’t worry about how bad it is because you can go back later and make it fuller, simpler, better.

Beauty isn’t formed from perfection, no; it’s cultivated in awful, embarrassing, smelly stuff. Creating is like gardening. To create, you have to kneel into the dirt and dump fertilizer down, spreading it around with your hands. It’s not neat and tidy, clean and easy. It’s dirty. You’re in crap. It gets all over you. But that’s what makes your garden grow and flourish.

Crap is what feeds your creativity. It will make your work grow.

So pick up your shovel and start piling it on. Just do it.

And not only will your work bloom.

You will too.

One of the best things you can do to create

Sometimes to make creative work, the thing we need most is this. Rest.

You’re at your desk, sweating (metaphorically) and pounding away (literally) trying to get a good idea, but the only thing you produce is nothing. “Maybe I just need to work harder,” you might say to yourself. And still, nothing happens. So you do the only thing left to do—despair.

Maybe you’ve been there. I have.

Creating is hard work. And cracking the whip harder on ourselves isn’t effective. Or worse, it’s counterproductive.

That’s just when you need to say no to your inner medieval monk and throw away the whip. Then, roll your chair back, step away from your desk, and go for a walk, get a donut and coffee, or, better yet, go skydiving or horseback riding. If you’ve never meditated, try it. Why not? It’s scientifically known to help your brain operate better, heal even. If that’s not your cup of tea, have a cup of tea. Or visit your local museum. Get moved by others’ creativity. Whatever you do, get away from your work. The farther you go, the better.

And in those moments of being away, your mind will be recovering and working without you even trying. Often it’s when we are resting and having fun that the best ideas hit us. Inspiration strikes when we least expect it—like love. It can’t be forced. It can only be fostered, wooed. So take yourself on a nice date. Play. Laugh. Enjoy.

And when you return to your desk, you won’t be sweating and pounding.

You will be creating.

For, rest works.

This is what you need to create

Uninterrupted time is the fodder for creativity. As yeast is to bread, solitude is to the creative process—essential.

Without the quiet moments and lingering stillness, words that move us wouldn’t be as moving, paintings that stir us wouldn’t be as stirring, inventions that help us wouldn’t be as helpful.

Creation best happens in the quiet while you are lost in your thoughts, connecting disparate ideas, forming new ones. That occurs when no one else is stirring, during the twilight mornings before the dawn breaks or long after others are fast asleep. When they rest, you work.

You seek silence because you know that’s when inspiration roars.

It’s in those moments, you get lost in the matter at hand, discovering a deep satisfaction, mesmerized by the task, as you enter a state of flow; and it’s just you and the work, dancing freely.

Being alone can be more than just productive; it has been known to produce tears, weeping even. We can’t be isolated for too long. We are meant to be with others, connected.

Yet, solitude helps us connect with humanity differently. It may not be like grabbing coffee with a friend, looking into their eyes as they speak, hugging them as they go; it’s a different kind of connection. What we create enters into the meta-conversation. It’s making a statement to the world. It’s the act of handing others something useful, compelling, beautiful.

When we create, we give the world ourselves.

In solitude, we love.

Improve your life one day at a time

We all want to get better, reach our goals, live better lives.

But getting there is so freaking hard.

When we think about growing a business, getting healthy, getting a promotion, saving for retirement, etc. it can feel daunting, overwhelming. And no matter how much we don’t want to, we can end up quitting.

But we can change that by doing this.

Focus on today.

Continue reading “Improve your life one day at a time”