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

Are You at Peace or in Pieces?

When I think about the story of Mary and her alabaster box, I am struck not only by her action, but also by her position. She is on the ground—in pieces–at Jesus’ feet–unlike Simon who sits pridefully at Jesus’ side. The contrast between these two is stark. As a religious leader, Simon assumes a position of entitlement. He serves alongside Jesus as His equal and has no sense of the lordship of Christ. Mary, on the other hand, is demeaned by the religious leaders and scorned by her community. No one sees her as worthy of any position except the gutter. Yet, it is because of her position of disadvantage that she is esteemed by the Savior. “Blessed are the meek,” the Bible says, “for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Simon didn’t hunger or thirst. He was seated at the table! Mary was the uninvited guest, she had not been offered a plate.

Can you relate?

I know I can. I often feel like Mary as I pursue my dreams. Unlike others who are seated at the table, I’m on the ground in pieces! Struggling with writer’s block, daunted by writing challenges, uncertain how and unable to establish a platform. Like Mary, I’m not esteemed in this industry. Maybe I’m not scorned, but I’m certainly not visible!

But perhaps the lesson is that, rather than striving to sit at the table, I should, first, get down on the floor.  Rather than chasing fame and glory, I should first be content with service and support. While society may snub their noses at the “meek,” turning my intentions away from my own objectives and towards another’s turns society’s logic on its head! That’s how it works, you know? It’s not that we’re destined to live in the pit, but that taking this posture prepares us for the palace. Without first being humble–maybe even humiliated, we may not be able to handle the challenges of success. 

What encourages me is knowing that God sees. In fact, this story suggests that it is when I am the most vulnerable and the least able to help myself that he is able to do his greatest work!  Could my disadvantage be an advantage? Mary’s was. Simon felt no need for a savior, so he received what he came for. Mary emptied herself in the puddle of perfume at Jesus’ feet and left the banquet in peace.

What will this look like in your own life? Think about emptying yourself first, then watch God fill you beyond what you thought possible!

Happy Monday.

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Quote by Nicole Reed.

Cover photo by Daria Litvinova 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.