Category Archives: Coaching

Creative people get stuck. Coaches get them unstuck.

Alone Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Neither literally  nor figuratively. “Alone” is an experience fast disappearing from our culture.  For an entire generation who grew up in sports teams, group after-school activities, study clubs, and went from that to living in college dorms, parties and more sports teams, there is a big surprise. When you have graduated, when you are done with work, you’ll find yourself alone. I know that people now have roommates instead of a studio apartment, I know that work is now a 24/7 activity, largely to avoid being alone, but sooner or later, you will find yourself alone.

One of my friends is terrified of being alone. She will do almost everything to avoid that evening spent alone. Call friends, spend four hours on Facebook, go on a date with someone she doesn’t like. All this because it’s better than being alone.

For some of us, alone is a time to recharge and regroup. After I’ve taught for eight hours, I need to spend time alone. But I’m in the vast minority.

Food52Whether it’s divorce, or death,  a fight, or just life, at some point you will be alone. And you can love it. You don’t have to live in dread or fear, being alone can be a delicious break from having people crowded around you, talking all the time.

Some early steps to comfort yourself when you are alone:

1. What do you like to do? Read? Cook? Hike? You can do almost anything alone that you used to do with friends. Except this time you can do it your way. An activity really can be all about you. You can hike at your pace, turn on your music, cook what you like. Take a deep breath and think–do you remember your preferences? Or are they blurred by what all your friends told you was right?

2. Quit looking at the clock. Instead, choose an activity and plan how to savor it. Decide which book to read. Spend some time choosing it. Decide where you want to read it. Outside? Inside on the couch, stretched out? Decide what is best for you. Then do it. Read till you are tired. Fall asleep. Wake up and keep reading. What did you like about the book? What didn’t you like?

3. Decide what you will eat. No more junk, on the run. Choose something you like that’s good for you. Make a grocery list. Go buy groceries. Cook it thoughtfully. Set the table. Sit at a table with candlelight. Play music if you like. You choose. The joy of preparing food and choosing what will nourish you deliberately is a deeply refreshing experience.

Those three are enough for now. Life alone is not something to be rushed, or avoided. There is much to learn when the journey has only your footprints along the path.

Note: When I searched for photos for this blog, all I could find was people alone, crying at dinner, or eating out of cans. Not even Google sees the joy of alone-ness.

–Quinn McDonald loves people, but she also loves being alone. Particularly after spending 12 hours on airplanes with 560 strangers this week.

In the Middle of Turmoil

My coaching client sighs. “I think I need to take a break from coaching. I’m so stressed at work and at home, I feel like I’m swimming in a riptide. Once I’m back safely on shore, I can have more ground under my feet and continue.”

I never force anyone to continue coaching, but when I hear this, I am hearing a need for coaching, not a break from it. I feel like saying, “There is no shore; your whole life is a river.” (I realize I shifted the metaphor from ocean to river.)

rapids_mountain_river__images_desktop_wallpaper-widePart of the need to “feel ground under your feet” is the word we use to describe someone stable and balanced: grounded.

We associate balance with control. With knowing what will happen next. But that’s largely an illusion driven by hope. We are always in the middle of something–a project, a crisis, a celebration, a decision, a career, an identity. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan, but it does mean that plans change, shift and become impossible without much warning.

Life is a river, and we are always floating, swimming, paddling. There is not a time when everything is suddenly perfect and the world stops so we can enjoy floating blissfully.

whirlpool-1-300x224Grabbing enjoyment when you recognize it is a skill that coaching teaches you. So is adapting to a fast-paced life and dealing with change without falling apart.

Coaching works in the middle of turmoil–because it mixes support with accountability, and courage with action. Coaching works best when the client is open to life and change, but it can help people adjust when the world is not stable under their feet. If it’s stable now, don’t expect it to stay that way. You won’t be surprised when change shoots under your feet.

-Quinn McDonald has had her share of change.

 

Procrastinating on Your Way to Your Dream

Yesterday I talked about re-examining the rules you make. To see if they still work. To see if you have outgrown them. Rules we make for ourselves are one way we stall on our way to reaching our dream.

If your dream is still dancing beyond your fingertips, if you have stalled on the way to getting your dream, maybe it’s time to take ask if you are procrastinating.  If you are a perfectionist, you are probably a procrastinator.  It’s keeping you from getting to your dream. Because you want the dream to be perfect before the new, perfect you seizes that perfect dream. Oh, and at the perfect time, too.  Psssst. . . that’s never going to happen.

So put some traction in your action and grab that imperfect dream, because, after all, it is your dream and doesn’t have to be perfect.

Stop planning, stop talking to people about planning, and take one step toward your dream. Most of us spend too much time making up plans, planning for what could go wrong and then watching as problems surface and things do go wrong. Of course they do, when we keep looking for things to go wrong, we’ll find enough to barricade the dream. Time to take a lyric from Jackson Browne: “Better bring your own redemption when you come/ To the barricades of heaven where I’m from.”

Listen to your heart.

Listen to your heart.

Here’s the biggest thing I learned while I was re-creating my relationship with food: logic is wonderful. If you live in your head, logic sounds like real life. But until you bring emotion into it, you won’t act. Logic lays out the plan, but emotion fuels the action.

The worst emotion you can bring in is fear. It might be an emotion you know well, but it’s not inspiring. Bring in doing a small thing right. Bring in making small steps. Bring in congratulating yourself over small things. Look back and see how far you’ve come. Toward that beat up, crumpled, beloved dream that you are now clutching to your heart.

Update on Is It A Book: I’ve turned in a table of contents, I’ve turned in my sample pages. Right now the acquisitions editor is on vacation. It may be next week till the negotiations are done. I’m grateful to have a smart agent.

–Quinn McDonald is practicing patience as she waits. She horrible at it.

 

 

The Power of Blank Space

White space. If it’s not in your life you will feel crowded, hemmed in. What is white space? If you’ve ever planned design work, you consider both the space where there are words and images (message space) and the space that is empty–called “white space.”

White space is important. Too much copy and illustration, and the busy page exhausts you. You can’t read any of it. Too little white space and you feel lost and disconnected, not sure you understand what you are looking at.

If you know this already, you might explore “passive white space”–margins and spaces between paragraphs, and “active” white space, the space purposely designed to give your eyes and mind a rest.

whitespaceexample_no2-1If you are interested in how to use white space in design, read Larisa Thomason’s excellent article “The Use of White Space.” The image on the left is from that article.

So yesterday, when I was having a  terrible, no-good, horrible, really bad day (Judith Viorst knows about those days). I felt jammed up by 6 a.m., when I had a competitive assignment to hand in before I left for a teaching assignment.

I made some choices that changed the day. Here’s how I did it:

1. I stopped doing my work. Put the phone down, signed out of email. I needed to distance myself and my frustration.

2. I took a break. I got a glass of ice coffee, looked out the window  and did some deep breathing

3. I re-set priorities. This is the hard part. I had to call clients, work on projects, solve some problems. But I knew if I forced myself ahead with the considerable self-discipline I am capable of, I would do more damage than good. I’d make mistakes because I was frustrated; I’d miss correcting those mistakes because I was rushed. I’d create more mistakes and less forward motion.

4. I added white space to my day. I cut out some items I thought I had to do. I added a few administrative tasks that were more noodly, didn’t require a lot of brain power, but needed to be done. I added a half-hour of reading a magazine between tasks. Another spot of white space. I ran some errands. At the end of the day, I had accomplished some necessary items, hadn’t ruined client relationships and felt less harassed and frustrated.  I need to be clear here: I chose not to do some important things because the risk of doing them and failing was more probable than being able to push through them successfully. Yes, I put off the thing that has to be done, in order to save it. It is a hard decision to make, and exactly why adding white space is a life saver.

I now have a name for deliberately putting off work because I am emotionally incapable of doing it. This is very different from avoiding work, creating excuses, or not meeting a deadline because you didn’t get up early enough. You know the difference. My day was saved and ended well because I added emotional white space.

—Quinn McDonald  occasionally has to fight to nurture her ability to get work done.

Checking in on The Word of the Year

The year is touching the half-gone mark. How is your word serving you? Does it seem like a touchstone? A millstone tied to your ankle? Do you remember it?

Did you have to dredge it up like a boat mooring that’s been submerged all summer?

Your word for 2014 doesn’t have to stay the same for the whole year. If it’s not surprising you, helping you, teaching you, it may be time for a switch.

I’d chosen “scatter” and it is the word that has gotten the most mileage since I started words of the year. I wanted to try out new ideas, techniques, coaching styles. I wanted to write and draw, do collage, teach, re-design my studio, find a sport I like so I can do more of it. I’m exhausted. I also wanted to start a newsletter, network, build an audience, find a niche, create a Facebook Page for Inner Hero seekers. It was overwhelming and I knew I’d do poorly on most of it. Because most of it wasn’t grounded on any one value, one idea.

I’m not sorry I chose “scatter” –I learned a huge amount, including my limits.

An old-school distilling device.

An old-school distilling device.

So I’m stepping up to say I’m changing my word. Halfway through the year, I have experienced the joys and perils of “scatter” as much as I needed to.

I’m choosing “distill.” Almost the opposite of scatter.

I’ve filled the pot on the left with ideas, techniques, to-do lists, explorations and experiments. Now I’m going to think things through, let them ripen in the glow of the Operating System of the Universe and see what drips out. This feels really good.

I’ve been doing minimalist collages and that feels like it needs more time and development. So do some classes–writing classes–poetry and capturing some personal Truth–what each of us know about our life, but have wasted time allowing others to define for us.  And finally, I want to honor the Inner Hero.

How is your work serving you? Is it time for a Mid-Summer Change of Heart (and Word)?

-–Quinn McDonald is watching summer settle in and is emotionally estivating.

 

 

 

Choosing When You Can’t

A friend was trying to decide whether to stay in a relationship or go. There were plenty of reasons to leave–she didn’t feel heard, she felt belittled, her boyfriend didn’t want to go for counseling and didn’t want her to go either. On the other hand, she had spent  years in the relationship and had put effort into making it work. Her boyfriend was funny and made her laugh, even at herself. Pros and cons, on paper, seemed about equal.

Image from People Passionate.com

Image from People Passionate.com

To stay or to leave? Would leaving seem like giving up? Was she being a quitter instead of someone who worked on her relationships? Was staying in a bad relationship a sign she didn’t care about herself? Couldn’t admit she had made a mistake and move on?

My friend was tortured with her choices. And she kept piling up more reasons on both sides of the issue, but not getting closer to a decision.

“I should be able to sort this out by myself,”she  said. “I don’t know how come I can’t make a decision.”

Decision-making is tough because with the decision comes the consequence. Either staying or leaving brings on next steps.  Often the steps are unclear. So decision making becomes murky.

I gave my friend a coin. “Heads you stay, tails you leave,” I said.
“You’re kidding, right?” she said, looking at me as if I were a sheep on a bicycle, playing a violin.
“Well, this is the simplest way for you to get to a decision. It takes over-thinking out of the problem. Let’s see what happens,” I said.

Image from BelasBrightIdeas.com

Image from BelasBrightIdeas.com

She flipped the coin. Heads. She broke into tears. Hurts and agonies months in the making poured out. I handed her a tissue. At the end of the sobbing came the sentence, “I can’t stay. I’ll die if I stay.” As soon as she sobbed it out, Anne had her answer. By coming up with endless possibilities and choices, Anne has suppressed the answer she already knew. By taking over-thinking out of the pattern that she had developed, she suddenly collided with her emotions and knew the answer she had been suppressing.

My friend left the relationship, and although there were many tears and a few hard days and nights, over time she knew the decision had been right. Looking back she saw that a lot of her indecision was rooted in not wanting to change because change made her feel as uncertain as she felt in staying.

It’s not the tossing of the coin that helped her make a decision, but the emotions that follow it. Emotions often inform clear decisions, because they allow you to focus on what is important to you.

We often block our values because we are scared of honoring them. The coin toss works, even if you know about its purpose, because it make your own feelings clear to you. Our ability to provide many scenarios of the future blocks a clear view sometimes, and tapping into raw emotions provides the only clear view. A coin toss will put you in touch with what you are hiding from yourself. The coin isn’t leading you, the coin gives you permission to see one decision and gauge your choices instead of balancing one pro with another con.

It clears the way to sorting through the issue at hand instead of the fear of making a decision.

-Quinn McDonald is making a lot of decisions about the workbook she is creating for a client. She feels conflicted.

Changing Like a Butterfly

The caterpillar is programmed by destiny to spin a cocoon and emerge a butterfly. No one knows if the caterpillar is aware of what happens during the process. No one knows if the butterfly remembers being a caterpillar.

"Learning to Fly" © Quinn McDonald  Collage: Monsoon Papers, handmade paper, sun-bleached paper, ink on mixed media paper.

“Learning to Fly” © Quinn McDonald Collage: Monsoon Papers, handmade paper, sun-bleached paper, ink on mixed media paper.

People are different. We don’t develop a chrysalis, change and emerge, fully different. Ours is a harder way–small steps every day. We change because we keep choosing t0, day by day, decision by decision. Despite the advice and change-back messages from reluctant friends.

It is hard, making the choice to change. It means we deliberately give up one thing to choose another, often unknown.  It means we risk losing friends who don’t want to get to know us all over again in our new forms.  Some friends will turn around or branch off.  We can’t control their decision not to change.  The line between controlling our own lives and not controlling others’ lives is often blurry.

For some of us, the change is emotional. We choose to forgive bad parenting, and accept what we did get, and thrive despite of it. We choose to leave a job that pays well but doesn’t meet our values.

Our transformations are as amazing as a caterpillar’s. For all of us who have survived, who have chosen to heal ourselves, to push into growth,  to keep going no matter how hard, we have chosen a life of growth and transformation.

We know change is possible and sustainable. Sometimes it’s a secret. Sometimes we reinvent ourselves several times. We can have more than one career, one set of friends, or one job in a lifetime. It’s the same you, with all your emotional baggage, but you have chosen different destination. The one that leads to satisfaction. Maybe happiness.

–Quinn McDonald knows that the longer it takes a butterfly to get out of the chrysalis, the stronger the butterfly becomes and the longer it will live.

 

Your Creative Work and Your Story

You are a story-teller. Even if you are not a writer, your life tells a story. It is your story. You get to tell it. If you start adding pieces of other people’s story, your plot line will suffer. If you start telling it to please others, and change your story for their approval, your story drifts and disconnects from you.

Poem1Today, while doing a demo of Monsoon Papers, someone asked me if the pieces of paper could be framed as is.

“Sure,” I said, “if that’s what you want. I see the pieces as colors and textures to use in collage or art journals.” The woman asked if I had any pieces of my artwork made with Monsoon Papers with me. I did. I showed her a piece (not the one shown here). She looked and asked what it meant. I invited her to explore what the image meant to her. She frowned slightly and said, “A good piece of art speaks for itself. And this one needs you to tell me what it means. So there is something incomplete about it.”

What a surprising statement. How can art speak for itself? A realistic drawing might be of something recognizable, but even that leaves a lot open for interpretation.

Good art and good stories do not always speak for themselves. They leave the door open for content (which the artist supplies) and context (which the viewer supplies). Together, the same image can mean something entirely different to several viewers.

I found a great poem by Billy Collins that explains this perfectly:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hod it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all thy want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins, Sailing Alone Around the Room

-–Quinn McDonald realizes how much she has to learn every time she asks someone else to speak and she listens to them.

Re-visiting Creality

TJ's avatar. That, and her beloved pretzels.

TJ’s avatar. That, and her beloved pretzels.

Note from QuinnCreative:  In 2011, TJ Goerlitz, contributor to the Inner Hero book, guest-hosted a post on creality. I’m a big fan of TJ’s work (and blog, Studio Mailbox). She has a sharp wit and a  wonderful talent in describing the fun and frustrations of being an artist.  Her experience of being an American mother in Germany made coffee come out my nose more than once.  TJ and I have discussed creative topics, and she first used the term “creality” to describe. . .well, here, I’ll let her tell it. Again. Just as she did in 2011.

*
Before I begin, please let me say that although creality is something I “made up” I’m convinced that it’s very real.   The hardest part of inventing stuff (besides the stereotypical bad hair) is deciding how to define the invention.  Is it a concept?  An affliction?  A tangible thing?

In my initial post on creality I tried to define it although I’m the first to admit it’s a bit rough.  And it focuses only on how I experience creality which tends to be in the negative sense.

zwischenraumThe Germans use the term zwischenraum to literally mean “between space.”   In traditional printing, the little flat spacer that was used between the words in a line of type is also called a “zwischenraum.”

Creality is much like the literal German printer’s zwischenraum except it’s invisible.  Creality is the space that’s sitting between the idea you have in your head and the outcome of whatever you just made while attempting to manifest your idea.

Creality can be experienced in a negative or positive sense.  There are times when your created result exceeds your initial expectations and you might respond to it with terms such as; happy accident, the unfolding process, or better than imagined!

crealitylineIf you’re hardwired like myself however, you might be experiencing creality in a primarily negative sense.  We’re the ones responding to our creations with terms like; dissimilarity or variance.  Which also sometimes masquerades as “I’m so disappointed with this shit.” And in the event that the creality spacer for a particular project just happens to be huge, some might call it a mutation or in other circles an “epic frigging failure.”

For years, I thought two things could be the culprit for my episodes of my negative creality:  either my ideas were too idealistic or my skills were too remedial to achieve my desired result.  Both reasons put the blame on my own shoulders.

Yet over the years I started recognizing the same problem in every creative person I met! And I’m talking about all the creative fields:  actors, writers, cooks, painters.  The only difference being that we express it differently depending on our personalities and our perceptions.

crealitycard1All this might sound super nuts-o.  But I feel it would be helpful to other creatives to simply know about this phenomenon.  I’m willing to bet that very few things have ever been brought to completion exactly as imagined or planned.  And the power of knowing this ahead of time might just really help us not be so attached to the original idea in the first place.

Imagine if from the very beginning we could say to ourselves, “hey look.  I know exactly how I want 70 percent of this to turn out.  So let’s get that right and I’ll cut you some slack on the other 30.”  Wouldn’t that be the better way to start out instead of rigidly attempting to achieve something that isn’t going to hit 100 percent anyway?

*Insert fine print.*  Obviously the dialog above is probably not the best plan if you’re an architect or a heart surgeon.  Clearly we don’t want walls falling over or blood spurting out of our stitches when we sneeze.  What I’m talking about is journaling.  Quilting.  Self portraits.  Photography.  Wedding cakes.  Writing.  The kind of stuff where the consequences of creative liberties aren’t typically death.

Being aware of creality spacers can give you a whole new perspective.  For instance, have you ever taken on commission work where the client didn’t like the outcome despite the fact that you were sure that you created something to specification?  Although it’s possible that your interpretation of their request was way off or that your work in general is total crap, there’s also the possibility that you got yourself all messed up in their creality!  The point is, knowing about creality can help you stop blaming yourself for undesired outcomes.  And c’mon; who doesn’t appreciate something besides ourselves that can take the blame?

Here’s some more thoughts for you:

  • Negative creality is directly proportional to the degree in which you are attached to your original idea.
  • Creality can be especially painful for high achievers, and those who “set the bar high.”And sadly this has nothing to do with actual creative skill.  This has to do with a mentality that if you do not reach “the goal” then you have failed.
  • Creality doesn’t have to be painful or negative.  It can be a positive experience for those who can detach from their original ideas.
  • Creality spacers shrink in size and emotional significance at the same speed as which we forget the original concepts.
  • Thinking of your original idea as a catalyst instead of a rigid plan will help turn a potential negative creality experience into a positive one.

The only way I’ve been successful in handling my negative creality is to separate myself from the work.  And I specifically mean hiding whatever I just made in a spot where I know I won’t re-discover it for a few weeks.  I have never resurrected something and still been disappointed.  In fact, I’m normally really confused why I was so pissed off at it when I made it.

Distance is creality’s enemy!!

You can follow TJ on Facebook.
You can tour TJ’s studio in her blogpost. Hey, she cleaned up just for the post.

–Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who has suffered from Creality and been delighted by its surprises. She re-read this and realized some people may not have seen it. A wonderful re-run and thanks, again, TJ.

Postcard Play

The busy and focued iHanna is doing another postcard swap. Having missed the last one, I signed up for this one. You can sign up till April 28, 2014.

Not being able to decide on one direction, I chose two completely different types of cards, and made about half a dozen of each. The requirement was 10, but making two extra gives me some choices–or two extra postcards to send to someone else. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know how much I love making and sending postcards.

Here are some of the chicken series. All these cards still need to be pressed flat.

card1This one is made from a constellation atlas. The red parts are Monsoon papers.

card2Another chicken collaged from hand-printed papers and a bit of Monsoon paper (the grass.)

card3The chicken body is made of suminagashi-printed paper. The beak, comb and wattle are hand-printed papers from a Gelli Plate. The grass is a section of Monsoon paper.

The other series are ink drops on watercolor paper. When they dried, I printed quotes on them.

card4The quote: “It’s hard to have a life of creation if you have created a life of maintenance.” –Barbara Winter

card5Another quote that speaks to the work of creativity. “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” –Roald Dahl

Quinn McDonald believes in magic and chooses the rockier life of creativity over maintenance. She is easily bored but also easily amused. She is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.