Friday, April 16, 2010

Waiting for that total eclipse of the sun.

Three total solar eclipse expeditions and 15 years. That’s what it took for Einstein to prove his general theory of relativity. Those total solar eclipses, the long six-minute ones that Einstein needed to photograph—occur rarely. Often many years apart. So one would think that the time it took to put together expeditions around these rare occurrences is what held Einstein up. But in reality, time is what actually helped him.

The first time Einstein approached the astronomy community to put together an expedition, they were not exactly excited about the idea. When he was finally able to get one person interested, the expedition to Russia “failed.” Not only did clouds make it impossible to photograph the solar eclipse, but World War I had broken out, and the Russians seized the equipment. Einstein later realized that, had the expedition succeeded in photographing the eclipse, his career would have been ruined. At the time of this first endeavor, his formula was wrong, and the photographs would have discredited his theory.

Einstein’s journey, aired on PBS in the form of a documentary, is yet one more reminder that when it comes to creativity or any type of change, our perception of time means very little. Like most people with dreams and goals, I continually struggle with this concept. Because our creative ideas often come in bunches, sometimes we don’t know which ones to work on first or how we’ll find the time to work on them at all. For someone as impatient as me, constant reminders that time is on my side are extremely necessary. Even though time and again, my creative projects have shown me that ideas have a life of their own. And if we let them, they will let us know when they’re ready to be born.

Two years ago, I realized a life-long dream to travel to Cuba and interview the artists there. When I returned from my trip, I wrote a lengthy, passionate essay about my findings. Then I hit a block. People who read the essay said things like, “This is an important piece. You need to get it out there.” But that just blocked me more. I wasn’t sure how to incorporate the feedback I was getting or even where to publish the essay. And it felt urgent to get the information out there as soon as I could before predicted changes in the country would make the piece obsolete. The essay sat in my drawer for close to two years.

At a Cuban art exhibit one day, the essay, which had been sleeping nicely inside of me, began to get feisty. As I moved through the exhibit with my friend, I explained the history of the arts in Cuba and the symbolism in some of the pieces. I could feel the passion rising in my body as I spoke. Once again, I was trying to reverse typical misperceptions about Cuba. My voice grew stronger, my heart beat faster, a surge of energy vibrated in every cell in my body. My essay would not be ignored any longer.

At the museum, I noticed that the exhibit was sponsored by the Center for Cuban Studies in New York. This gave me an idea. At home, I began Google-searching the words “Cuban studies” to try to find a home for my essay. I not only discovered the various centers for Cuban studies around the world, but found an international journal that focused on researched essays on Cuba. Newly motivated, I sat down, edited the piece to the 5,000 word limit (with the help of a friend), added the required citations and submitted it in January of 2010.

As we move towards our dreams, we all have our own solar eclipse expeditions—things that slow us down or even block us for periods of time. Sometimes to help us incubate ideas further. Other times because we ourselves are not ready. We may not have the tools, habits or mindsets we need to help us create, overcome our fears, channel our emotions or handle a new way of life. Because many of us don’t hear about the time and effort that it takes most creative endeavors to come to fruition, we form unrealistic expectations and place unnecessary pressure on ourselves to succeed immediately.

I no longer wish for more time to work on my creative projects. Or for success to arrive any faster, from its apparent wanderings. I simply wish for the mental clarity and the ability to remain grounded enough to keep working on my projects little bits at a time. Taking small steps steadily, consistently, tenaciously. This deliberate process of tiny progressions is what eventually takes us to that ultimate eclipse of the sun. When our lives are changed forever. At just the right time.

Einstein’s third and famous attempt to prove his theory attracted seven different expeditions from various countries. Much had occurred in Einstein’s career by then, transforming him from an unknown physicist to a well-respected scientist. And two years after my trip to Cuba, I found out that my essay will be published in July of this year. Maybe the time for my solar eclipse has come. Or perhaps this is just another step towards the sun.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Creepy crawlers and the world of should.

An alternate world exists alongside the one of our desires. Alongside the world that serves our ultimate good and higher purpose, is the world of should. And there it stood in front of me. Behind me. And all around me. In the form of doctors and lawyers and judges and financial consultants. To a passerby, it may have appeared as if I was simply socializing at a bar. But I was at my 25th high school reunion where everyone had followed the path that I “should” have taken. If I wanted to live up to my family’s expectations and everyone else’s definition of success. The one I sort of took for a while. Marriage, children, lucrative career. In the midst of building my new life one step at a time, I must admit that the world of should sent me into a mental tail spin.

And the funny thing is that I watch it all the time. As my clients journey from one world to the next and then back again. They often start off in the world of should, quite convinced that what they should be doing is what they want to be doing. As we work together, they discover that they can create a different world if they open themselves up to new possibilities. If they let themselves look honestly at what isn’t working in their lives and become aware of their true dreams.

Sheila was a yoga teacher who was working at a spa giving massages. When I asked her, during our first session together, if she was happy with giving massages, she said yes. In our second session, Sheila realized that she really resented giving massages as well as her work at the spa. By session three, she not only decided to open up her own yoga studio and to reduce her massage practice significantly, but had found a space for her new business.

As I worked with Sheila on her marketing plan, it was clear when the creepy crawlers came marching back in. Creepy crawlers are messengers from the world of should, testing us, hoping they can take us back with them. The tone in my clients’ voices usually gives me a clue in knowing if they’re speaking their truth or are being taken to the creepy crawler party. All of sudden, they lose energy and their voices become somewhat constricted.

Sheila and I were brainstorming on marketing ideas. She mentioned one that just didn’t seem quite right: offering yoga classes to children. Suggested by a friend, the idea was a throwback to something Sheila should have enjoyed based on her elementary education background. But when I questioned her about it, it neither met with her mission for her business nor excited her. When she started talking about creating community activities in her studio, Sheila’s voice and energy levels went back up. She dropped the children’s class idea.

The creepy crawlers come to visit me all the time. I should get some corporate clients. I should do more workshops. I should forget about my dreams and, like that bar-full of high school acquaintances, go get a high-paying job. But I know that if I greet the creepy crawlers and then let them go on their way, other possibilities will come in to surprise me as they always do. Possibilities that are in line with my intuition and dreams and are right for me at the moment. The key is to keep following our intuition. Trust it even when there is no evidence that it’s the right direction except that feeling in our fingers, stomachs and toes. The universe eventually delivers signposts along the way.

So when you start doubting yourself (as we all do), make sure you have some reminders and supporters you can turn to. A mission statement, an affirmation, someone who truly understands what you’re doing. Constant reminders give us the strength to show those creepy crawlers to the door and turn our backs to the world of should. There’s just no place for them in the life we’re meant to live.

Questions that help bar the creepy crawlers from coming in and throwing a party:

  • Is your idea in line with your mission or your new life?
  • Will it attract your perfect customer? Will it help you create the new life you want?
  • Does it excite you or is it something you think you should or need to do?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Washing away your dust. An interview with Laura Wellem, displaced employee turned mixed media artist.

I met Laura Wellem at the Avondale Estates Art Fair in Atlanta earlier this year. Vibrant images of trees and figures on canvases and furniture drew me and my friend into her booth. Taking a closer look, we realized that Laura cleverly incorporated magazine cut-outs to create her multi-dimensional designs. Laura’s art is not only intriguing, but she also has a beautiful story to tell. After being laid off, Laura “washed away the dust of everyday life” and let her interest in art guide her towards a completely new journey. And her “why not” attitude has brought her to surprising places beyond what she could have ever imagined for herself. But I’ll let her tell you the rest…

What is your professional background and what led you to this art form? Where did you find the inspiration?

For 20 years, I worked for a television rep firm that sold advertising time for national television stations. Day after day, I crunched numbers on my computer in a windowless office, and although I was grateful to be employed, I knew that I longed for more. To bring some life to my corporate environment, I painted and hung a colorful canvas with an Anais Nin quote, “Then the time came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” The day before I was laid off, I read that quote while talking on the phone and said to my sister, “I just can’t do this another 20 years.” In less than 24 hours, my life changed.

My job was very left-brain oriented, so when I was laid off I used the opportunity to explore my right brain. I began painting with acrylics but wanted to add another dimension. I’ve always admired mixed media, quilting, mosaic and collage in other artists’ work and wanted to experiment with color and texture. Since magazines are colorful and plentiful, I used them for the tree canopies and cut them into circles for a contemporary look. When I was a girl, my friends and I would cut out images from magazines and glue them on a poster board. In retrospect, my work is an extension of that.

Did you always consider yourself creative? Were you an artistic child?

I enjoyed art in elementary school, but I wouldn’t say that I was a “natural.” I took art classes in high school more from a desire to be artistic rather than any realization that I was creative already. My high school art teacher opened up my perception of what being an artist means. I always felt that because I wasn’t able to paint a traditional landscape or portrait, that I wasn’t a “real” artist. My teacher told me that not every canvas has to look like a photograph; that’s what photography is for. That was very liberating for me. Over the years, I’ve painted on anything and everything—clothing, furniture, canvas and even people—yet it wasn’t until this past year that I truly embraced the fact that I am an artist.

I often say that if you take small steps towards your dreams and creative passions, you never know where they’ll take you—many times you end up in places more wonderful than you could have ever imagined. You’re a great example of this. Tell me about some of the things that happened for you.

I began making art for myself, then eventually for friends and family. They were the ones who encouraged me to try and sell my work. I had always enjoyed going to art festivals, but I decided to try a few smaller markets to see if anyone was even interested in what I was doing. Whenever an event came up, I’d participate with the attitude, “Why not? Ya’ never know what could come from it.” I never said to myself, “My goal is to be in a gallery…I want to win an award…” My creative journey has taken me places I never thought I’d go. In the year since I was laid off, I’ve appeared on Good Day Atlanta, became a published artist by designing a book cover, showed in an art gallery, received a commission for the Decorators Showhouse for the Cure, was featured in the North DeKalb Neighbor newspaper and won a Third Place Award (and check!) at the Downtown Atlanta Festival. When I began, I had no idea these things were even possible. It makes me excited to find out what next year’s gonna bring.

Could you tell me a little about your creative process?

It takes several steps before I even get to the canvas, and I usually work on several at once. I spend hours pulling pages from magazines and days making circles. I create organically, so although I may be inspired initially by a color or an image, as I continue to work sometimes a piece will end up with a theme that was never originally intended. I just let it go, free flowing. Some of my most creative ideas have evolved from covering up a portion (or in some cases, an entire canvas) that I didn’t like. That’s the beauty of art: they aren’t “mistakes,” just part of the creative process. Once I begin a canvas, I have a tendency to become so focused that I’ll stay up all night or until I’m physically exhausted. For that reason, I also have several days when I need some down time. Besides, in addition to creating original art, I also have to research events and submit applications, advertise, market, promote, photograph my work, as well as sell and ship it. I am also the web designer, motivator, muse and roadie too!

Your artwork is green in nature. How did you become an eco-friendly artist and begin involving your community in your art?

Even though I've always loved creating things (not just art, but storage and furniture too) out of whatever I’ve had on hand, I didn't start out to be an eco-friendly artist. Now, I'm constantly looking for new ways to incorporate recycling into my pieces. I’ve often said that if necessity is the mother of invention, then being a single parent is the mother of creativity. No money for art supplies? I just look in my closets, junk drawers, storage room, garage and recycling bins to see what I can use. I have always had a gift for looking at something ordinary and seeing the possibility for something extraordinary. Also, many of my neighbors are senior citizens, and they were more than happy to pass along their magazines for two reasons: 1) they are sweet and supportive of me as an artist, 2) it also significantly lightens their recycling bin load! They’re not only saving the environment and supporting the arts, they’re also helping an unemployed, single mom too…good karma!

Right now, so many people are paralyzed by fear of being laid off and of what comes after. You turned your experience into an opportunity to focus on your creative side. What did you do or say to yourself to get yourself to work on your projects without getting blocked or scared?

Who says I never get blocked…or scared? My fears come from being so overwhelmed by all the ideas I have swirling around in my mind, that I just don’t have enough energy, time or talent to bring them all to life. I have to stop and listen to my heart and birth whichever project is going to bring me the most joy, instead of trying to make the most money. The first time I truly revealed myself in my art, I was afraid that no one would purchase, relate or even care what I had to say. That first “outing” was at the Fourth Friday Art Stroll in Castleberry Hill, which is a community rich with an eclectic array of artists. It was a very successful event for me, both artistically and financially. I was grateful that I allowed myself to take that leap of faith. I think that many artists live in fear. At some point, it’s part of the process, but we also live in hope, in possibility. Whenever I’m blocked artistically I listen to music, read and reconnect with family and friends…living my life is what inspires me most. Eventually, the creativity starts flowing again.

You’ve described some very typical blocks that arise during the creative process and wonderful ways to overcome them. Do you have any advice to those out there who are facing layoffs, in the midst of a major life change or who don’t think they’re creative in any way?

I’d never have had the time, energy or inspiration to do all I’ve done this past year if I were still sitting behind that desk. It has definitely been challenging, but it’s also been intoxicating and rewarding. I’m still looking for the stability that a traditional job offers; only this time I hope to find it in a creative environment.

My journey has been filled with many successes, but also a few failures, yet I keep participating. I think that’s key: keep going, don’t give up. I surround myself with inspiring people, images, art, words, quotes, books, music. I’m basically a positive person and my art reflects that. Oh I have been rejected, or “not invited” as they like to say, to as many arts festivals as I’ve been accepted to. I don’t take it personally. Either I’ll get in eventually or I won’t. There are always other festivals. They can always say no, but they’ll never say yes if I don’t apply. One of my favorite songs is by Pete Belasco, “Keep on, keepin’ on…,” and that’s what I’ve been doing.

Many people think they aren’t creative because they can’t draw, but that doesn’t define whether you’re an artist or not. You can express your creativity by the way you tell a story, write your blog, wear your hair and clothes, decorate your home, prepare meals, set your table, work in your garden, wrap packages, write an email or even by what you post on your MySpace and Facebook pages. Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” If it isn’t art, then find whatever it is that washes away your dust.

Great advice Laura! Thanks so much for sharing your story and your wisdom!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

When broken shutters, hives and heartache lead the way to grace.

My camera reminded me.

I was on Cape Cod, sitting on the beach, trying to ignore a severe allergic rash that came out of nowhere, on the heels of my slow recovery from the lethal MRSA infection. On the heels of the final breakup of my two-year relationship. No, it was not a good month for me.

Little red bumps covered my chest, legs and arms. My feet, lips and ears were swollen beyond recognition. To keep my mind off of the pain and itchiness in my body, I decided to pick up my camera and take some pictures. After years of bringing my camera on various travels and leaving it in my suitcase because I couldn’t be bothered (it distracted me from the present moment, and I took bad pictures to boot!), a photographer friend had encouraged me so much that I now look forward to capturing what I see. Thank you, Friend.

I took out my camera, turned it on and looked at the digital display. Instead of the flowers I had been looking at, I saw a partial image—diagonal black lines framing the shot. I turned the camera around and looked at the lens. The shutter was half open. Great, I thought. Now this?!

I tried turning the camera off. Turning it back on. Off. On. The shutter would only open halfway. I was bummed. I knew I needed a new camera, but I wasn’t ready to make an investment at that point in time. Plus, there wasn’t much I could do about it on the beach. I felt irritability very clearly turning into irritation. I sat on the sand, pouting, while my friend lay down and went to sleep.

With no one to talk to and nothing to do, I turned the camera on again. And then I remembered. So what if the shutter doesn’t open all the way? You can still take pictures. Actually, this is kind of cool. My creative voice had returned. I started taking pictures, enjoying the new angle imposed by the half-closed shutter. Framing the shots in a way that would fit nicely inside a diagonal shape. What could I see? What couldn’t I see? It was fascinating.

After a few minutes of taking pictures, the shutter opened all the way on its own. And I was back to playing with the full picture. But now things were different. My world had shifted. I felt like I could take more chances. I lay down on the sand to shoot the beach scenery from a different perspective. The sand itself presented a cool-looking crab leg, some grass, a perfect red goldfish cracker—all for me to shoot.

When things change unexpectedly, we ask ourselves how can we go on? Quite simply. By going on. Maybe shifting direction a bit. Gently. Doing the best we can. In the midst of my Benadryl haze, I had forgotten momentarily. That from a halfway open shutter, light still shines in. Once we stop reacting to change and sit quietly with all of our broken shutters, hives and heartache, new opportunities reveal themselves to us. We realize that this very moment is exactly as it should be in all of its imperfection. Giving us the opportunity to experience life from a different angle.

In appreciating what we are able to see, create and capture from this different place, things right themselves along the way. Not only do they right themselves, but our world becomes richer, more beautiful. As we travel through times of deep imperfection, we gain confidence, become more courageous and daring in the process. Because we’ll always remember that once our world seemed to close in on us, and we were still able to move ahead and create something amazing. And as we did so, the world opened up and gifted us with grace.


When I returned from Cape Cod, I started working on a project with an organization that helps youth deal with grief and loss. And as if preparing me for this important work, the universe seemed to direct me to two films on this subject: an amazing Japanese film called Departures and a subtle Italian film called Quiet Chaos. In these films, the protagonists respond to unexpected loss by making their own changes and patiently experiencing the discomfort of it all. In so doing, they let their new lives unfold before them and lead them to unforeseen beauty, love and grace.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bunny ears are calling.

About a month ago, I received an email from an elementary school classmate who miraculously remembered me from the days when I was a real blonde. And it prompted me to go back to my old photo albums. There I was sitting among a bunch of fellow second-graders wearing paper bunny ears on their heads. I, on the other hand, had been assigned a violet-colored paper bonnet that perfectly matched my skirt outfit. It was as if my teachers knew better than to give me anything remotely silly. But I still looked concerned, scrunching my eyebrows together. I was an intense child. An adult captured in a child’s body. And only as I grew older did I begin the journey to find the child who, today, lives in a woman’s body. Who is now no more than a moment away on any given day. But too many of us forget about that child once we’re grown. And some interesting things happen when we do.

I knew I’d met my match when I met my client Max. Max had been conceptualizing a book for the past six years but, according to him, he just couldn’t start writing. We had met by mere coincidence working together on another project, and when he found out that I was a creativity coach, he took it as a sign to get started. He was excited and grateful to share his idea with someone for the first time and to begin taking himself more seriously. At 40 years old, Max had decided it was time to grow up and begin pursuing all of his goals. “The fact that I've decided to take this book seriously makes me feel ‘mature,'" he wrote to me after our first session together.

For the first two weeks, Max and I worked on breaking down his projects into tiny steps and building up his creative confidence and understanding around the writing process. But during our third session together, Max realized the major cause of his resistance. “I’ve been thinking of this book as an adult project,” he told me. “The more serious I make it, the more blocked I’m getting.” I had noticed during our sessions that Max used the word “seriously” very often and was putting a lot of pressure on himself to grow up. All of sudden, he realized that the words he’d been using were not his own. They were the voices of his parents. Max loves Lego and roller-coasters and looks at the world with a child’s sense of curiosity—spending hours researching various details for his book and jotting down notes using different colored pens. “I’m not them,” he acknowledged, “I actually love kid stuff.” That day, we extended our session. And Max began to write.

In reality, Max had started the writing process six years ago—thinking, researching and writing notebooks-full of ideas. But Max didn’t give himself credit for any of this work. And the minute he began dictating to himself that it was time to get serious, the act of writing became overwhelming. His child-self rebelled, stomped his foot and said no. Max now realized that it was actually ok to be a kid. And that he had the ability to be a gentler parent to himself moving forward.

During our last session, Max began to feel a little more comfortable in his child’s skin. He had embarked on a process of shifting his thinking. “I’m a 40 year old child. I’m actually a kid performing an adult action,” he said. Max had finally found his own voice and given himself permission to have fun. A week after that final session, I received an email from him: “Whoo hoo....I started writing my book yesterday at 3:50 am and I'm LOVING IT!!!” And I completely understood his exhilaration. The pure joy of play.

Being a child is an important part of letting our creativity flow out of us, as well as living with more joy. But there are two parts of being a child: the creative, fun-loving quality and the rebellious one. And it’s important to know which is coming up for us on any given day. We can learn to nurture the creative child by making our projects as fun as possible. Using crayons to write, making a mess on canvas, celebrating those little glitches that look like mistakes. And just like parents praising their children’s creations, we must also take the time to acknowledge all that our child has done, at whatever stage he or she is in any project. Other times, when we feel resistance come up, we may need to indulge the rebellious child just for a little while. A few minutes of good feet stomping or TV watching is sometimes enough to get her to come out and play again.

The older I get and the more I work on creative projects, the more connected I become with my own childlike spirit. It’s as if I’m aging backwards. And I feel fortunate for that. To learn to play, especially as adults, is a gift we all need to grant ourselves. Every day if possible. While I was once serious during playful activities, today I make it a point to add an element of play to my most grown-up tasks. I wear a toy tiara on my head when I file or pay bills. I keep a pack of crayons in my backpack. And if someone were to offer me the chance to wear some bunny ears, I’d definitely jump at the opportunity.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Trust me...there's pollen on your wings!

“Do you think they know?” I asked.

“Know what?”

“That they carry pollen on their wings?”

My friend and I were walking around Callaway Gardens, on the Rhododendron Trail with no rhododendrons blooming as of yet. We had just walked out of the butterfly conservatory where 1,000 tropical butterflies fly around freely among cool-looking plants and waterfalls. I had just learned how the butterfly carries pollen on its wings, how it plays a crucial role in propagating life in the plant kingdom. And it reminded me of the great impact each of us makes in this world—often unbeknownst to us—by simply being, merely breathing, flying about our own day-to-day business. I wondered how many of us, during these difficult times of unemployment and cutbacks, are actually celebrating the innate value of living. And how many of us are berating ourselves for not being more productive, more successful, more, more, more something.

A colleague of mine told me about one of her clients who had lost his job after working his entire life—40 years—in a corporation. His retirement funds are so depleted that he can’t be a source of financial support to his children anymore. His whole sense of self is now in question. He’s not sure how to relate to his children.

In no other country in the world is our sense of self-worth so tied to the workplace and our ability to generate revenue as it is in the US. So it’s only natural that a change of such great magnitude would make any of us question who we are and what value we contribute. But it’s precisely at times like these that we must remember the butterfly.

In his book Reflections, Henry Miller writes, “The birth of the butterfly is one of the most mysterious and miraculous things in biology…He lived a useful and productive life, the life of a worm. And he had to die a worm in order to be born an angel.”

Many of us are shedding our visibly productive lives right now, and we may not be sure where we’re headed, what it all means. It feels unbearably uncomfortable at times as we try to reinvent who we are. Our progress seems slow, as we build new businesses or look for new jobs or just sit and ponder what to do next. But if we consider this period in our lives as time spent in a chrysalis, our perspective changes. It becomes a time of quiet introspection—learning to value ourselves by looking deep within, to connect with others as our true selves, to find meaning in everyday acts. Instead of filling with anxiety and fear, we can look at this period of time as an unbelievable opportunity for growth, preparing us for the next stage in our lives—one that’s fuller and more meaningful.

In the great transformation that occurs, we begin to take flight. It may take a while for us to learn to use our new wings and bopping from flower to flower may seem meaningless and even frustrating at first. As we look inward to learn who we’ve become in the process, we’ll see that our lives were never about the money, that the work we did before wasn’t that important, but that following the joy in our souls every day always leads us to where we need to be. And one day, we may actually see the pollen falling from our wings—our greater life purpose revealed to us. It was there all along.

Photography by Esse Photo

Monday, March 30, 2009

Priceless wisdom from a box of turnovers and a $60 outfit.

On Sunday, I was standing in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s when the cashier asked the guy in front of me if he had been doing something fun that day. “Yes!” the man smiled widely. As it turns out, he was a statistician who had been researching whether good mental health made us live longer or if it was the other way around. “I just proved that it’s both. Good mental health does make us live longer, but physical fitness causes good mental health as well.” Then, Cashier John started giving me party tips, confirming that the mushroom turnovers I had chosen were indeed fabulous and explaining the best way to make Caprese salad.

Lately, all I hear from the people around me is, “I don’t have the time to… I don’t have the money to…” My colleague, who owns an agency and loves body building and works out religiously, told me last week that she’s at the office longer than ever and has cut her workout time significantly. A friend who’s starting a new business is working 12-hour days and doesn’t have the time to meditate or do Qi Gong any more. Another friend cut her yoga classes out altogether. The list goes on forever. And even I find myself trying to work longer hours when I know that often longer doesn’t bring better or more results. Even though I’ve learned this lesson over and over again, I seem to constantly forget it in the midst of the desperation I feel all around me these days.

Last year, I cut my income by more than 75% to pursue my own creative projects. And for a time, I cut it by 100%. There were many fearful, overwhelming days for me, especially since I wasn’t entirely sure what projects I was going to do or where they would take me. On a very weepy day, my friend called me and asked if I would go shopping with her. Could I afford another non-productive day? I asked myself. Since my mood was so low, it was probably going to be difficult for me to stay focused on any one project anyway and I could really use some good company. So off I went to my new favorite store, Old Navy. I had given up shopping at Ann Taylor and Nordstroms the year before. I spent the day and $60 to buy a pair of pants and three tops. And enjoyed lunch with a great friend and colleague. The next day: priceless. I woke up, put on my new outfit and felt rejuvenated. I was ready to tackle my life and my projects once again.

During these mentally and financially challenging times, the “I have no time or money” attitude is probably the worst mindset we can take on. It’s as if we’ve constricted ourselves, focused only on productivity, straining for new business and job leads and forgotten about some of the basic ways to instill a sense of balanced well-being. The results of this forced cut-back mentality are depression, self-doubt and frustration. Does the money come in any faster? No. On the contrary. That’s why it’s so important, during times like these, to actively work on shifting our mindset from deprivation and desperation to patience and playful perseverance. Besides extending our life span, acting compassionately towards ourselves enables us to achieve whatever we want in the easiest, fastest way possible. It’s a learning process, but here are some ways that help cultivate this new attitude.

Tell yourself you have time. On the days I remember to tell myself I have all the time I need, the hours seem to extend on and on. The act of telling ourselves that we don’t have time automatically makes it so. It puts us in a state of fear, creating unnecessary agitation and lack of focus. Our best work does not come from here. If you can actually forget about time and let yourself relax and enjoy the process, your work will flow more easily, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished a great deal and you may actually have time to do the other things you love.

Tell yourself that financial abundance is on its way. Acknowledge whatever opportunities are coming your way, even if they’re not generating revenue yet. New leads and interest in your work are confirmation that you’re on the right path. Expressing gratitude for these prospects increases their frequency and makes them realize more quickly.

Learn that projects and events have their own timing. No matter how much you try sometimes, there comes a point when you have to wait for the things you want to happen on their own. When a project doesn’t progress the way you expected it to, do the best you can and then let go. And trust that it will be completed in the right time. Focus on doing something else you love for a while and see what transpires. Working persistently and calmly in a new direction reduces fear, unblocks your creative energy and opens the space for desired events to evolve in their own time. There’s always a reason, a better time, a better way for those things to happen for you.

Create resentment, gratitude and credit lists regularly. I use a combination of these lists—adopted from the Kaizen-Muse coaching program—with myself and my clients to create a shift in thinking. A resentment list entails writing down everything that’s bothering you in the form of “I resent…, I resent…” Writing down the negative gets it out of your body and mind and creates space for better things to come. I personally tear and burn mine. Once you’ve released your resentments, sit down and write a list of things you’re grateful for. You can even include things that haven’t happened yet. Moving from resentment to gratitude is a powerful exercise. By the time I’m done, I feel more optimistic and motivated. You can also create lists of things you give yourself credit for so you can see how much you’re really doing in your life—including work-related and personal actions and thoughts. You can update these lists daily or weekly or whenever you feel you’ve lost the sense of forward motion. This exercise increases confidence, patience and perseverance.

Keep taking good care of yourself. Cutting back during these times is understandable and necessary for most of us. But make sure you don’t eliminate the things you really need. Making ourselves feel deprived affects our mental attitude negatively. If you need new shoes because your back starts to hurt, go get them. And if you need to talk to someone other than friends and family, explore coaching and counseling services. Many coaches and counselors offer affordable or sliding scale fees.

Make yourself feel special on a regular basis. Sometimes we think that if we’re not earning money, we don’t deserve to treat ourselves. But if you follow poet Anne Sexton’s advice to “love your self’s self wherever it lives,” you’ll begin to value and honor yourself no matter what your circumstance is. And your self requires and deserves good treatment in order to do all that you expect from it. Remember that pampering yourself doesn’t have to cost money. Do little things that make you feel good and special. Buy yourself one flower. Make yourself a cup of your favorite tea. Spend time with a good friend. And if you can afford it, get an occasional massage or pedicure.

Engage in physical, mind-body types of exercise. Physical movement helps us clear our thinking, analytical minds and moves us into our intuitive, creative sides. Because I generate so many ideas during my morning walks, I now consider them part of my workday. Eastern modalities like yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi use physical movement to calm the mind. And meditation, Reiki, and breathing techniques further complement these physical practices. Taking a few minutes to engage in physical and mind-body exercises regularly will help relieve stress, get you more in tune with your true self, tap into your creativity and let you work more effectively.

Play creatively and like a child. Express yourself through painting, writing, cooking or any other creative activity that calls to you. If you let yourself play without thinking, you’ll be surprised what you might see on your canvas or computer screen. Creative activities provide a great release and connect you to a deeper part of yourself. And if you let yourself engage in child’s play, coloring or hula-hooping for instance, you’ll find a sense of renewed joy you may have thought you lost in your adult life. Five to fifteen minutes at a time is all you need.

Taking care of your mental and physical well-being during these times is priceless. Whether that means working out, doing some yoga or spending a few dollars to pamper yourself, do it. Not necessarily every day, but your body and mind will tell you when you need it most. Listen to them. Put everything else aside, and do what you tell yourself. Your mental, physical and emotional selves have a lot of wisdom. And if you don’t believe them, believe the university statistician who will soon be publishing his data: good mental health and good physical health will make you live longer. So go ahead, go to Trader Joe’s, spend a couple of bucks on the mushroom turnovers, split them with a good friend. And get ready for a long life!