How I Quit Worrying And Started Creating

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For most of my life I struggled to create anything because I was always waiting for the conditions to be right. I was waiting for inspiration to strike, for the coffee to be brewed perfectly, for all my ideas to be worked out in my head, before I ever started. I felt this overwhelming sense that anything I created would never be as good as someone else’s. I was gripped with fear and self doubt and I was way too caught up in my head.

The problem was that I didn’t understand how creativity works. Instead of waiting for creativity and inspiration to strike I needed to learn to find a way to master the muse.

THERE ARE THREE WAYS TO DO THIS:

1) Narrow Your Options

Whether its time, materials or methods, finding a way to cut out all the possible options is key. One of the most successful musical albums I’ve ever created was produced in a week. Instead of endlessly wrestling with all the crazy ideas I had swimming around in my head for years I decided to simply record a solo piano album. I wrote, performed, mixed, and mastered the whole thing in seven days and people love it. By putting restrictions on myself it forced me to say no to a lot of decisions that could have normally caused me anxiety and wasted my time.

2) Make A Game Of It

Often times, creating our own deadlines or having someone who pushes us as a creative partner can help keep the juices flowing. Games are fun. When you’re playing a game the adrenaline kicks in and you get your mind off of being self conscious and all you care about is the game and winning.  The reason so many successful business people call what they do a ‘game’ is because it dehumanizes it and allows them to make choices based on winning and not on how it affects the people around them.  I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but what I’m saying is that if you’re having trouble being creative, tricking your brain into thinking what you’re doing is simply a game will help you have way less anxiety about getting things ‘right or wrong’.  It’s just a game, so let’s relax and have fun and watch the ideas start to flow.

3) Under Think It

You’ve heard it said, “don’t over think it”. Well, what does that mean? Over thinking is the curse we face where we take some information we’ve received and we start running down every potential scenario about what could go wrong. This is usually only a good idea for engineers at NASA and other dangerous professions where people’s lives are at stake. When it comes to brainstorming or trying to be creative don’t over think your options. Its easy to get analysis paralysis. Where you overanalyze so much you can’t actually make a decision. Instead, under think it. Stop considering that every idea is so valuable it has to be looked at through a microscope.

We often believe that creativity is this thing that comes out of nowhere that the gods impart to us. That in the midst of our boring uneventful day any moment some brilliant idea will come upon us and then that’s when we put in the work.

The truth is, creativity IS work. To create means to MAKE something. Creativity isn’t some abstract thing but its the process of making something. A creator is someone who brings things to life. Whether it be an idea, a project, a person, or a universe.

Too often, people will believe they aren’t creative. As though creativity is about having an original idea and everything they think of isn’t very ‘creative’.

Creativity is a byproduct of ‘the process’. 

We tend to think creativity is some abstract thing but its no different than work. The more you do the easier it gets and the more ideas flow.

JUST DO IT

If you ever went to Sunday School as a kid you’ll remember the Bible talking about how God created the world in six days, and then rested from his work. It wasn’t that He ran out of ideas but that the creative act needed a break.
If we could show up everyday and put the work in ideas would show up. The reason you don’t have any ideas is because you’re probably over thinking things and not being active to discipline yourself everyday to put in the work. As John Maxwell says, you “have uphill hopes and downhill habits”.

If you wait to get inspired to work out you’ll never get in shape physically. But work out daily, whether you feel like it or not, and when those moments come when you’re excited about exercise you’ll be in shape and enjoy it even more.

If you’re a writer. Write. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Some guys will write about their morning bowel movement just to put thoughts on paper. If you’re a painter. Then paint. Paint the sky. Paint a flower. Don’t wait to be inspired. Most of what you make won’t be great. So what? If you don’t consider yourself a writer or a painter then do those things anyway. Let go. Draw a picture of a tree. Now you’re an artist. Its that easy. Stop worrying about the quality of your work or what people will think. Just make things. Of course it sucks. Its like cooking. The more you do it, the more higher quality meals you eat, the more your taste buds will develop. The more refined your pallet becomes the better chef you’ll be. Art is the same way.  Increase your intake of quality and as you copy it and learn from it you’ll find your own tastes improving as you decide what you like and don’t like.

COPY THE MASTERS

For those that believe they aren’t creative enough you need to ask yourself if your definition of creativity is wrong. Maybe you’ve been thinking about making a Youtube video or a short film, but you ‘don’t have any ideas’. Perhaps you want to draw something or sew a quilt but you don’t have any ideas.

First of all, you probably lack the skill and craft to truly be original so stop worrying about it. Just copy others. Look at other artists or businesses or ideas out there and see what moves you emotionally. Get inspired that way. Copy everything you can. When you feel you’ve mastered one style of something change it up and explore another. Eventually, your skill and craft, and the time invested, will give you the tools needed to branch out on your own.

You’ll start thinking of a song you’ve been writing in the style of Elton John but you love this Stevie Wonder lick and how Metallica kicks off that anthem you’ve listening to. You’ll start combining and blending things. You’ll eventually find your own voice.
Sitting around and waiting for that epiphany to hit is the surest way to frustration. Your brain isn’t wired that way. It needs references and experiences like a well you draw from, to give you the resources to create.  Fill your well from lots of different sources and you’ll never run out of water.

If creativity is the work, then your life experiences are the tools needed to bring that work to life. As you add to your life experiences and put in the work eventually you’ll start to find your own voice and begin coming up with something original and unique.  Until then, just relax and play and have fun. Some people don’t do that. They are original geniuses who create masterpieces out of thin air. Those people are immortal gods that the rest of us just marvel at. That’s not you and that’s not me. We are mere mortals. Embrace it and go make your art.

FINAL THOUGHTS

For me, the three steps above have been a tremendous help in freeing up my mind to simply embrace the moment and put in the work.  When I realized that creativity was simply the act of making something I no longer worried about the outcome but focused more on the journey.  There is a huge metaphor for life here.  Stop worrying about the goal and simply use it to chart the direction you walk.

The real joy is in the travel not the destination anyway.

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How Do I Reinvent My Life?

Ever have moments where you feel like you’ve changed or outgrown your friends, place you live, or job? Maybe the clothes you wear no longer feel like a reflection of you and you’re beginning to wonder about making a fresh start. It’s possible you’re needing to reinvent your life. In this episode we discuss asking the right question to help you on that journey.

How To Develop More Empathy For Strangers

I’m an introvert.  Small talk and cocktail parties are not really my thing.  In fact, for a long time just being in a crowd of people would be mentally and emotionally exhausting.  I would usually want to finish up the conversation and then run into my office or a side room and hide out so I could recharge.  I almost always felt guilty especially as someone who worked in ministry positions at churches or in politics because people have high expectations of leaders and how they spend their time with the crowds.  I wanted to care about so and so’s story about the gout but I just couldn’t spend two hours listening to that over and over from so many people… you think I’m kidding, but this is church life.

The hardest part was when I was in a space where I was writing or thinking or working on something and someone would interrupt.  When I’m in the flow of deep work there’s nothing more frustrating than being distracted.  Coming out of that zen like meditative work flow is jarring to my system.  Many times, unless you’re on fire, my interest level in your crisis is going to be minimal at best.  If you’re on fire, don’t be surprised if I simply hand you a fire extinguisher and let you handle the problem yourself as I get back to my book.

All that being said, one of the things I noticed years ago was that after I went through a deep personal financial crisis (one of many in my life) when I came out of that and was running one of our businesses I had developed incredible sympathy for folks who were struggling financially themselves.  I knew firsthand how painful it was and how debilitating it could feel as a parent and provider for your family.  Sympathy is a pretty normal response for most of us after we’ve gone through a season of pain.  Empathy though, the ability to appreciate someone’s situation even though we don’t have first hand experience with it, is something else entirely.

After one of my own self evaluation periods that I occasionally go through I realized I needed to work on my own ability to be more empathetic.  To appreciate the journey other people are on.  To ‘walk in another man’s shoes’ so to speak.  As someone who could sympathize with your financial hurt it made it much easier for me to sit with people as they told me their stories.  I didn’t find myself as exhausted as before and seemed to actually have more energy because I had an opportunity not necessarily to help but to give them an emotional shoulder to vent their hurts on.  It was life changing.  I realized if I could become more empathetic, not just sympathetic, it didn’t matter if someone was telling me the story of their gout flareup, my own reaction to it would be more life giving instead of life draining.

In order to do this I came up with my own exercise which was to Imagine Everyone I Met Was A Member of My Family.  This sounds silly but it was actually really life changing.  Even if you aren’t particularly close to your family we all love the idea of family and what it means. Seeing the cashier at Starbucks as my cousin, or the old lady on the side of the road as my grandma, or the grumpy mechanic at the shop as my crazy uncle Larry (you get the idea), was like a mind meld.  I found myself looking at strangers completely different.  I don’t have a particularly high ‘feeling’ side (on the MBTI scale) but by looking at people this way I found myself wanting to give hugs, to encourage, to throw an arm around someone’s shoulder and sit and listen to their stories for as long as they wanted.  I mean, this was my aunt working behind the counter and I know how hard she works trying to put food on the table for her family.  She messed up my order and is wasting my time?  That’s okay.  She’s family.  I haven’t seen her in years.  She’s a little crazy but… she’s family.

You get the idea.

Like I said earlier, regardless of how you feel towards your own family I challenge you to try this.  When you’re at the store or walking down the street start looking at people and tell yourself, ‘that’s my mom, that’s my aunt, there’s my grandpa’  I promise it’ll change the way you see the world.  Are there bad people out there?  Yeah.  And those bad people are someone’s son, daughter, brother etc.  When you see strangers as family members it’ll make you more empathetic to the journey each of takes and cause you to have a new appreciation for the struggle of life.  Empathy among strangers is one of the greatest skill sets human beings can develop.  See the world as your family and you’ll begin to realize that one of our biggest challenges as a society is that we simply need more love from one another.

I’m still an introvert.  That hasn’t changed.  But what developing empathy has taught me is how to be an even better listener and to genuinely take an interest in the people around me.  I’m fascinated by stories and struggle and life.  As someone who spends a lot of time reading and writing stories the best skill I can have is empathy for my characters (whether good or bad) and the people around me in my day to day.  This is why so many artists tend to fight for causes that a lot of other people find disturbing.  Empathy teaches you there is no such thing as black and white.  Empathy lives in the gray. Picking sides and an ‘us vs. them’ mentality is not empathy its narrow-mindedness.  Good art forces us to be more empathetic.

Being more empathetic is being a good human being.

It’s Time To Stop The Self Publishing Harrasment

I’m always amazed at the number of people who still make comments about authors who self publish as not being legit.  Or perhaps its authors themselves who will put their own material out with a secret fantasy of landing a huge book deal.  There are even highly successful authors that will still get mentioned as having self published their first book and then landed a deal, as though they were anointed or something.

To me, this is ridiculous. If for no other reason than simply look at YouTube.  No one watching a YouTube video thinks, ‘Wow, this is a great daily vlog, hopefully one day this guy will get picked up by a TV network so he can have a real career.”  The reason?  We’ve become completely conditioned to the idea of online video being a legitimate form of artistic expression especially as its launched the careers of thousands.  The artist or creator has total control over the outcome.  If its not well done or there are things we don’t like about it we either stop watching or we ignore that part of it because we like the rest of the material.

Whether its fan fiction sites, blogging, or the rise of ebooks self-publishing is here to stay.  Authors should stop feeling guilty for writing and putting out their own stuff.  A poorly designed cover, or bad grammar, are no longer deterrents to finding readers.  What people are interested in is an idea or point of view.  Authors who write and put out their own material should view themselves like YouTubers.

Write as best you can, with the resources you have available, and your audience will come.

You Have Permission To Fail

You have permission to fail. You are allowed to create art no one likes. You are allowed to build a business that goes bankrupt. You are allowed to fall in love and have your heart broken. If you spend your life running from potential failure you’ll never really be alive. Get out there and make a million mistakes. We’re all improvising and figuring this out as we go along so don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Stay away from people who have never tried and failed. They typically go by the name of ‘expert’. They are liars and frauds.