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

How Failure Can Help You Succeed

I love graduation season! It’s so awesome to celebrate the successes of family and loved ones.  This year we celebrated my niece who graduated with her master’s degree in Public Administration from American University. This girl is extraordinary! She’s charming and beautiful, as comfortable on the floor with her baby cousins as she is at an elegant table with dignitaries. She’s traveled the world and navigated influential political circles, and if you met her you might assume the path to success was laid out for her from the very beginning—that she is destined to be great.

But that’s not quite true.

I mean, she is destined to be great, but the path has not always been clear. You see, in high school she struggled to stay focused. In college, she did not—at first—balance well the responsibilities of school and social life. Like so many young people on their own for the first time, my girl finished her second year of undergrad behind the 8 ball!

Yet, despite her failures, she was, even then, moving in the direction of her destiny.  Although it was not apparent, something was happening.  She was growing up. She was figuring it out and preparing…

The path that led to her eventual success is one with which we are all familiar. Whether you’re 18 or 40, you can, no doubt, point to times when you’ve made poor choices or no choices! Perhaps you failed to start tasks or failed at tasks you started.  Failure is demoralizing, so we tend to avoid experiencing–and certainly avoid discussing—it.  We would rather pretend it doesn’t exist, or steer ourselves towards paths that are less risky—but at what cost? In his book Produced by Faith, Devon Franklin says “It is tempting to give ourselves an easy excuse not to audaciously pursue the career of our dreams [but] whoever said that faith was safe?” In other words, rather than avoiding or being ashamed of our failures, perhaps we should simply glean from them. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Winston Churchill)

As my niece worked through her personal and academic challenges, she also learned that every experience eventually works together for good. Circumstances, too, can push us to make the choice we might not have had the courage—or the will—to do otherwise. For her, it was stepping onto campus and into her junior year of college alone!  The friends who’d been with her since freshman year were gone. For the first time she was face to face with herself and God’s purpose, with no distractions.

And that’s when it clicked.

The years of meandering culminated in two years of focus and hard work that not only propelled her out of undergrad with honors, but also into a prestigious graduate program with full financial support!

What circumstances are you facing that might be pushing you towards positive action? Have you avoided failure or shied away from the lessons that your failures might teach? Don’t let present or past failures immobilize you. Let them propel you! It may just be a matter of time before it clicks!

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Cover image by Canva

It’s Time to Say Goodbye!

So, you may have noticed, if you’re a follower of this blog, that posts have stretched farther and farther apart lately. When we started this journey I was full of ideas! They flowed like a river, onto the page and out to your electronic devices. Granted, over the past two years, there have been some interruptions to this flow, but for the most part I have been able to find inspiration almost everywhere! Then came January 2019! This year has brought many changes—mostly positive—but it seems that I lost my footing. Somehow, I drifted off the path and away from the destination that I intended.

So, it’s time to bring it back!  Books & Coffee is for writers and creative people, like you, looking for inspiration, tips and tools for maintaining your creative flow.  But, even those of you who wouldn’t call yourself “writers” can identify with striving for something that is elusive—whatever it is you associate with success. For writers, it’s a book deal or publication, for others it’s just having your hard work recognized and valued. Whatever your gift, you long for the fulfillment of putting it to use and doing it well, yet sometimes struggle with both.

I get it! That’s why we’re here—to work through those difficulties and celebrate the successes.

With that goal in mind, today—and for the next few weeks—we’re going to tackle one enemy that is familiar to all writers—WRITERS BLOCK! Some say it’s an imaginary foe, but anyone who’s struggled with something knows it’s a thing when it keeps you from attaining your goal, even if–perhaps, especially if–it’s all in your mind!

But we’re not letting this one hold us anymore. Maybe your captor isn’t Writer’s Block, it doesn’t matter. You will discover that writing in and of itself is a powerful weapon. Want to give it a try? Here’s what you do:

  1. Put your butt in a chair
  2. Put your fingers on a keyboard (or, if your old school, grab a pen and paper!).
  3. Say bye-bye–literally!

Write a letter breaking up with Writer’s Block (or whatever “it” is). Start with, “Dear _______, it’s not you, it’s me …”.

Here’s mine:

Dear Writer’s Block,

It’s not you, it’s me:

I’ve allowed you to control me.
I’ve allowed you to make me feel inadequate.
I’ve allowed you to tell me I can’t.

But no more. I will not allow you to hurt me, hold me or tell me I’m nothing. You will no longer have the control over me that you once had, because I have been weak in the past, but I’m strong now. I’ve learned how to defeat you. I’ve been thinking about you and fretting over you all these weeks and months, but I have finally realized I don’t have to. In fact, focusing on you is what has kept me bound! Instead, I’m going to focus on me. And instead of looking at myself through your eyes, I am looking at myself through the lens of my Creator. You say I’m nobody, He says I’m somebody. He says I can be so much stronger than I am if I just walk away from you. It has been hard, because you’re very persuasive, but this is it! This is me taking the first step away…

Away from abuse
Away from turmoil
Away from defeat

I can do this. I can be what I was created to be as long as I stay away from you.


So, peace out.

What do you need to break up with? Write it in your journal or on a sheet of paper that you will tear into a million little pieces. It’s up to you. Just do it!

Maybe your break-up will inspire someone else to walk away from an unhealthy situation, share your break-up letter in the comments!

Next week: What would you do if someone started leaving little gifts on your desk every day? Come back next week and we’ll see if we can unlock the mystery!

Until next time, Happy Writing!


“Breaking up with Writer’s Block” from Brian Klems and Zachary Petit’s Bootcamp of Writing Prompts

Cover Photo by jurien huggins on Unsplash