Three Steps to Success!

In last week’s post I laid bare my own insecurities as a creative person pursuing success. I talked about how we (creatives) tend to define success as (1) having an audience, (2) getting applause and (3) achieving acclaim. But this week I’d like to disrupt these assumptions.

I believe there is a way to do our work, be fulfilled, and achieve success without an audience or applause!

Sound strange? Read on!

Enjoy the process

First of all, you have to do your work for the love of it. Whether you sing, play an instrument paint, write or draw, if you’re only doing it in order to get something—money, praise or fame—then you’d do better in sales. True creatives do their work because of a compulsion that transcends tangible rewards. If you get enjoyment from the very act of creation, whether people are around or not, then every time you sit down to practice your craft, you win!

Be your own audience.

When you’re in the audience you have a different perspective on the performance than if you’re performing. That perspective is important.  After going through the creation process, step back from what you’ve created and examine it as if it wasn’t made by you. The only way to do this is to give yourself some time. Walk away from it, forget about it (as best you can) and only return to it when you can do so with fresh eyes. If you do, you will likely find ways to make it better. You know how great you feel right after you’ve made something? Let that feeling fade—it’s infatuation and it can be misleading. By putting some distance between it and you, you are removing yourself from the emotion which is necessary for creation, but bad for revision.

Think like an athlete…kind of

Athletes are focused on winning and they’re success or failure is measured by how much better they are than their competitors, but for artists, being motivated by comparison is a death sentence! To measure your success by the standard of others in your field is to secure your sense of failure! Why? Because you will never be them! And there will always be someone who does it better, earns more awards or makes more money than you. Not only that, to measure my success by the standard of other writers is to constantly chase a moving target! There are too many writers in the world, and far too many standards of “good writing” against which to measure my own ability.

However, there is another characteristic of a true athlete that I do think is valuable to imitate. While training, athletes don’t look at their competitor’s achievements. They look at their own.  A runner trains to beat his/her own best time. Basketball players practice making more shots today than they did yesterday. Gymnasts challenge themselves to increasingly difficult moves—but the standard is theirs.

If you’ve enjoyed the process, then critiqued your work at a distance, you are in the best possible position to determine the next level to pursue. To do so without the pressure to best someone else’s best is to free yourself to achieve your own best!  As Chrystal Hurst says “run your race.” Focus more on improving your skills than on promoting them.

Those singers on American Idol didn’t spend enough time with the process. They took the cake from the oven too fast and it flopped! Or, to use a gardening metaphor, they failed to cultivate their craft.

I love what Lara Casey says:

“Cultivating an intentional life is…faith in action. It means planting dreams in faith, even when we don’t know exactly how those dreams will grow—or if they will grow at all. But the possibility is worth the planting”

Did you catch that? Dreams are worth planting whether they grow or not! How can this be? Because there is something to be gained from the process that has nothing to do with your audience and everything to do with you! How will you be changed by your own work? How will the effort and difficulties you face make you stronger? This is how you achieve success and accomplish your dreams. You do your work. Period.

“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” (Proverbs 3:13-14)

 

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

When You’re Stuck in the Waiting Place, Call the Doctor!

If I had a top 10 list of my favorite books, there is one that easily rises to the top…Oh the Places You Will Go by none other than that genius of a poet, Dr. Suess! I love this book because of how masterfully it balances whimsy and weight. Dr. Suess just had a knack for telling a childlike story while delving into the depths of what makes us all human! It was positively magical.

When I stumbled upon this treasure, I was sitting in a classroom full of third graders. I and other parents had volunteered to read to my daughter’s class and I had dutifully come to offer my contribution to the day of literacy. But, as one of the parents read, I was only half listening because the children were restless. Then something caught my ear …

You have brains in your head

You have feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself

Any direction you choose

It was so catchy! Then, there were other phrases that seemed quite profound…

Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.

Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t

Because sometimes you won’t

It so perfectly captured my own reality that I wasn’t sure I had heard it right. Was this Dr. Suess? Was this actually a book for third graders? I had to get my own copy! And when I did, I came to the “waiting” page and almost cried:

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go…

It’s exactly where I was–the waiting place–uncertain about the future and questioning the past. These simple lines said it all. Then, just like he says, the barometer shifted and things were moving again! Since then I’ve soared and I’ve crashed, but the place where I’ve lingered again and again is


… you’ll be best of the best.

… you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t,

It’s the perpetual cycle—the daily roller coaster:

  • Every day the thorn of doubt pokes me in my side making me uncomfortable with success.
  • Every day doubt stops me cold as my fingers hover over the keyboard. My thoughts are a blur and my mind as vacuous as the glowing screen.
  • Every day I question my ability to fulfill a very specific dream that exists only in my imagination, and I can’t seem to step off the merry-go-round. I move in a direction that only circles me back to where I started and I’m dizzy from the ride.

But Dr. Suess is unphased.

I’m sorry to say so

But, sadly, it’s true

That Bang-ups

And Hang-ups

Can happen to you.

Yet, like all our favorite stories, Oh the Places you will Go has a happy ending. “You will succeed” he assures us. “98 ¾ percent guaranteed.” And every time I close the cover of my favorite book, I’m encouraged to keep going.

So should you.

 

Terror or Thrill? You Decide!

Last week I shared a story —The Surprise— that I wrote in response to Brian Klem and Zachary Petit’s Bootcamp of Writing Prompts. If you missed it, read it here. But, I didn’t have an ending! I was hoping some of you would give me your ideas, but…no such luck. So, after giving it some thought, here’s the conclusion I came to:

Conclusion to “The Surprise”

You know, I’m a people person–always friendly, always offering helpful advice. So, when I began receiving these little gifts, I was sure that it was somebody’s way of saying “thanks.”

I deserved it!

But when I opened that file drawer, the lid covering a box inside slid back and something leaped out at me! Swiping at its fur, I screamed as an acrid aroma wafted into the air and my eyes began to burn.

I didn’t deserve this.

(The End)

Writing can be fun, but it can also be hard. J.K. Rowling says:

“The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.”

But we can’t let the blank page intimidate us!

“I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent–and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise.” (Malcolm Gladwell)

This wisdom gives me courage to keep writing. How about you? Stay tuned! Next week, more creative inspiration.

Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (NIV)

Cover photo courtesy of Warren Wong on Unsplash