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!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Butterfly wings and wood nymphs…hello FREEDOM!

Years ago, when I was leaving a full-time corporate job for the second time in my life to pursue unknown endeavors, a colleague gave me an inspiration stone with the word FREEDOM engraved on it. Even though I thought I knew what it meant at the time, today I have developed a very intimate relationship with the word.

As I coach myself and others through transition, I’ve learned that the most important part of change goes on in the mind. How we see ourselves and what we believe affects everything. I’ve noticed that most of us don’t have a great opinion of who we are and have little faith in turning things around. That’s ok. Because there are many tools to remedy this malady. And one of the best ones is the use of visuals. Guided imagery, vision boards, visualization exercises, expressive painting. While I practice all of these methods, I’ve discovered yet another transformative visual tool that’s worked wonders for me through my own personal evolution. Engaging with a camera.

I was blessed with a boyfriend who is a talented photographer and Photoshop expert. Before I met him, I had never loved being in front of a camera. In fact, I had trouble smiling, and I still hate the first picture he ever took of me—my smile looks forced and I look a little annoyed (which I’m pretty sure I was). But Jim kept taking pictures. And all of a sudden, I was able to let loose. At the Botanical Gardens in Atlanta, I was suddenly a butterfly. In the woods of Dahlonega, I became a wood nymph. And for my birthday, Jim gave me a DVD of pictures of me set to music. Some he had taken, some were from before we met. I cried when I saw it. He had captured me, my true essence, and given it to me as a gift.

The name of the piano piece he used as background music was Stanton Lanier’s Freedom. And I looked free, completely full of love and free. Many people in my life were under the impression that I had always been free—that I did what I wanted when I wanted, had no fears at all. But I knew better. I knew what my real fears were and they were real. I was terrified of pursuing my true passions for fear of becoming penniless, homeless and, worst of all, dependent on others. But seeing those pictures of me were amazing. I could see who I was, who I wanted to be and who I could be.

Practicing some type of visualization helps us change our perceptions of what is, gives us a better understanding of ourselves and can transform self-doubt into self-confidence. “We believe what we see,” my expressive art teacher used to tell her students. But more than that, if we actively engage with the visual, then it becomes even more powerful—a form of mind sculpting.

Try whatever visual method works best for you. Create a vision board of the life you’ve always wanted (there are many cool ways to create vision boards these days) or take 30 seconds to visualize yourself being who you want to be. But if you’d like to try engaging with a camera and are afraid, here are some ideas that might work for you…

  • Play with striking different poses when you’re alone. Pretend you’re different characters and feel the difference between them and you.
  • When you feel comfortable with that, do them in front of the mirror.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable having a friend take pictures of you, practice playing with your camera’s self-timer. Remember no one ever has to see these photos but you.
  • If you feel more courageous, create a DVD of photos of yourself or consider having a vision photo made.

Whatever you choose to do, remember to capture the essence of what you desire for yourself. Is it freedom, self-confidence, a life full of wonder? Chances are you already have some of this already in your life, and it might be living right inside of you. You just may not be able to see it. Bringing it out into your visual consciousness will make it easier to see, grasp and believe it is possible.

Today, I don’t feel like I need someone else to show me my own inner beauty (although I will purr happily if I receive a great compliment). But I still have days full of doubts, when I feel fear creeping in to settle in on its old stomping grounds. On those days, I look at the picture of the wood nymph hanging on my wall. I see her looking straight at the camera with complete confidence, free of any worry or concern. I dare you, she seems to say to FEAR. And I remember she lives inside of me. That I can find her and let her out whenever I want to. That her strength and courage is who I’ve always been. And continue to be. FREEDOM at last!

Different types of visual tools:

  • Vision board – typically collages that depict your dreams. Some people use 4x6 index cards for mini boards that show one theme each, so they can carry them with them as visual reminders. Contact me if you’d like to join a vision boarding group. I’d be happy to lead one.
  • Mind movies – pre-made movies you can download with different inspirational messages: http://www.mindmovies.com/DownloadPreMades.html
  • Altars – a physical space that depicts your wishes, desires and prayers. Check out Emiella Kaufman’s altars http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=103254&id=631655469&l=42f09
  • Expressive painting – intuitive painting technique that sometimes includes dialoguing with and embodying elements of your work. Aviva Gold wrote Painting from the Source and holds many workshops and trainings: http://paintingfromthesource.com/
  • Mind sculpting – a type of guided imagery that involves all of the senses (often used by professional athletes). Dr. Robert Mauer’s book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life describes mind sculpting really well.
  • Custom inspirational DVDs and vision photos – compilation of photos of yourself set to music or a photo of yourself photoshopped into a setting that depicts your true essence. Check out Jim Sichinolfi’s work: http://www.essephoto.com/
  • Guided imagery – Sanaya Roman has great guided imageries in her book Spiritual Growth. She also has a number of audio meditations you can purchase on her website: http://www.orindaben.com/. Jill Badonsky also sells a guided imagery CD: http://www.themuseisin.com/muse_store.html

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hop, skip and jump through change. My interview with Jill Badonsky, author of Awe-Manac.

I had been searching for a coaching training program for a long time when I came across Jill Badonsky’s website. I was in the midst of my own major life transition, dropping my MFA program after leaving my marketing career behind. Now what? I had always wanted to coach others. But I needed to learn to coach myself first. When I spoke to Jill over the phone, I knew she understood exactly what we all go through when we’re trying to make any type of change—even if it’s writing that great children’s book that’s been living inside of you since you were six. You want to do it, but somehow you end up watching Project Runway instead.

I signed up for Jill’s Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching program and learned to overcome the overwhelming feelings that kept blocking me. Just like me, Jill is a corporate drop-out, and she’s now a successful author, coach and artist. During my training, I got to read her first book, The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard). Now she’s just completed her second—The Awe-Manac, A Daily Dose of Wonder. And she’s taken the time to answer some of my questions about it. Both of Jill’s books are fun, inspiring and give us simple tools that help us adopt more nurturing, compassionate and playful ways to handle whatever we’re facing—because that’s really the only way to keep hopping excitedly through change, make the jump over to the other side and continue skipping happily along.

Interview with Jill

Rita: One of my favorite quotes in your book is by Mark Twain: “Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.” So many of us don’t allow ourselves to play and, all of a sudden, our creative projects, and life itself, become way too serious. Did you always find it easy to connect with your child self and if not, what was that process like for you and how did it affect your creativity?

Jill: That's one of my favorite quotes too!
Playing has always been easy for me as a result of a screwed up childhood where my parents forgot I was there so I just decided to vanish into a world of my own making. I just recently came out of it with a harsh awakening at age 49 but by then the whole style of play, fun, and not getting too serious about ANYTHING was already installed. I have to thank my talented and negligent parents for this gift. It has served me in many ways namely my life is fun most of the time despite what's happening around me… except for those occasional inconvenient things like grieving, taxes, and keeping track of my keys.

I needed to make both of my books fun in order for me to write them. All my programs, services and publications have an element of humor which I believe contributes to their effectiveness.

I included a tool called KidStuff in the Kaizen-Muse creativity coaching curriculum I teach… which you just became certified in, because it's so important to our success in the creative process.

Rita: The Awe-Manac is so playful and fun, yet so powerful in its undertaking. By encouraging us to celebrate the things we’re not normally conditioned to celebrate, it helps us shift our thinking from those negative voices we all hear to gratitude, creativity, lightness and laughter. What inspired you to write this book?

Jill: Thank you! I was inspired by having the need to shift my thinking from the negative voices we all hear to gratitude, creativity, lightness and laughter … I wrote the book for myself as I slipped into a rough time in my life, knowing that I'm not so special that what would help me wouldn't help others as well.

Plus it was a hell of a lot of fun doing the research, inventing the potions, creating illustrations and basing it on a take-off of The Farmer's Almanac. It became a festive game of filling in the blanks once I had the structure.

Rita: How do you think the Awe-Manac can help people who are going through life transition or change?

Jill: Life transition and change are times of overwhelm where we can easily lose sight of the joy there is in small moments because we are caught up in stress. Having only a page to read daily breaks down a program of inspiration in doable doses that can over time keep someone grounded in a clear and relaxing place. The prompts and quotes suggest lightness of thought and I know that's what I need during life transitions.

Rita: What things did you do or say to yourself that helped you the most when you were transitioning from your corporate career to a creative life?

Jill: Great question.

  1. "Thanks for sharing but I'm doing this anyway," (said to voices of fear that were there daily for a few years)
  2. I never want to work for someone else again (said in a stubborn voice like a bratty child).
  3. I just looked at the small step in front of me and trusted that if I completed it, my intuition would lead me to the next step. That said, I needed to learn that the process is so not linear and to accept and welcome detours, lapses, bridge trolls, flying monkeys, dead-ends masquerading as opportunities and eventual, thorough-ways filled with the blessings inherent in taking risks in the name of a higher purpose.
Rita: I know you believe there is a strong connection between spirituality and creativity. Can you explain your thoughts on this?

Jill: To me: being a creator, listening to and expressing an inner call from a higher purpose, using some of the talents with which I was born, being immersed in a process that results in me being a better person, and sharing inspiration, humor, and wisdom are all both spiritual and creative.

Thank you Jill!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Expose your belly even if, even when…

I find those little dogs with the loud barks to be really funny. Every time I see one, I’m tempted to say, “Dude, the bark isn’t working for you. You’re still little.” So of course I loved the story that Rama Berch, founder of Svaroopa yoga, told a room full of yogis one weekend. Whenever her poodle saw people walking on the sidewalk in front of Rama’s house, the dog ran out to them, and instead of barking, she lay down and exposed her belly. “No one could ever resist giving her exactly what she wanted. Old and young, men and women would stop to scratch that belly.”

The story reminded me of one of my coaching clients, who recently let go of her bark in favor of exposing her belly. When I first met Anna, she said she felt paralyzed and overwhelmed. She’d created a wonderful non-profit but didn’t know how to take it or herself to the next level—the work ahead was daunting. And the fear of disappointing those who relied on her prevented Anna from taking the actions needed to grow the organization beyond a one-woman show. “I feel like I’m running in place,” she told me on our introductory call. “I don’t feel like the organization can function without me, and I’m just one person doing it all. That’s just not enough.” Her voice tense and her speech rapid, I could almost hear the anxiety marching back and forth in her head.

More than anything, Anna wanted to develop the resources and platform needed to realize the vision for her non-profit: creating a healing place for the community. But Anna was also terrified of anyone seeing her as less than perfect and fully competent at all times. She had imprisoned herself in the image of strength she had created, and the amount of pressure was paralyzing.

On our third session together, Anna blew me away. She had started to open up and rely on others. During the time we worked together, Anna was invited to present two grant proposals. Instead of writing the same type of grant proposal she was used to presenting, she decided to start from scratch, asking her board members for input. “It was liberating and powerful,” she said, “to invite others in.”

For her second grant, the sponsoring foundation invited non-profit participants to meet with its executives and openly discuss proposals face-to-face, in order to increase the likelihood of acceptance. Nobody signed up, except Anna. “For the first time in my life,” she told me the day before her meeting, “I’m going in there without my perfect grant proposal already written. Instead, I’m going to ask questions on how to do this the best way for my organization.”

So what transpired between coaching sessions one and three? Anna had been working on shifting her thinking to begin honoring and valuing herself and all that she’d been able to accomplish. From that new place of self-worth, she was able to put her ego aside for the sake of her bigger vision to help others. “I decided I didn’t want to run a personality-driven organization. I started acting in the best interest of the people I serve by being honest about what I can do and what I need help with. And I’m letting people know that I’m only one person, instead of letting them think that I’m running a huge organization.” Anna now sounded confident and relaxed as she described her work.

I was awed, inspired and energized by Anna’s change. Because I knew that what I had witnessed was human potential at its best. Despite our full-grown human bodies, many of us tend to behave as if we are five-inch-tall yappy dogs. And I know that at times I can be the smallest and yappiest of them all. Because we feel so small in a big, scary world, we use an insistent bark as our shield. The bark is the familiar ego, and too many of us get stuck living from there. Rather than making us look big and strong, it keeps us from letting go and allowing our creative projects, visions and dreams to unfold.

Anna and I haven’t had our last session together yet, but I did get an email saying that the grant meeting was “AWESOME.” I tend to believe that this is just the first of many wonderful moments and milestones. The more honest and open we are about who we really are and what we’re trying to do, the more things we wish for come easily and happily along. And the greater peace we feel inside. Thank you, Anna, for proving that the best things happen to us when we expose our bellies to other six-foot humans…even when we may feel five inches tall inside.