Category Archives: Coaching

Creative people get stuck. Coaches get them unstuck.

Blooming Late and Loving It

Kids want to grow up fast. Do what adults do. Feel powerful. Unfortunately, most adults don’t feel so powerful. They feel helpless, burdened with responsibility but not so much authority.

A true late bloomer: this organ pipe cactus blooms at night.

A true late bloomer: this organ pipe cactus blooms at night. © Quinn McDonald, 2014

I skipped grades when I was younger, got out of high school early and college really early. It didn’t make any difference, of course.

Every job made me “start over” and “prove myself.” For years, I thought this was a lack of ability on my part to show I was smart and capable. It took years to figure out that all the proof rested on thorny cultural facets–that women deserve less pay, that women need to prove themselves more than men, that women as seen as weak and hysterical.

Worse, I was a late bloomer. The youngest in my class, and slow to develop curves, I had to use wit, humor and smarts to negotiate my life. Unfortunately, I was also impatient, perfectionistic and, well, angry at all this nonsense.  Why couldn’t employers just use my skills? That attitude didn’t help.

As I got older, I began to see the advantage of being a late bloomer. You draw different battle lines in different places. You waste less energy. You spend more time solving the real problem–the underlying problem, rather than the superficial drama. In fact, you don’t care about the drama so much any more. You’ve seen so much drama, little of it fresh, and most of it is not about you.

As a late bloomer, you give up the need to prove who you are by words, and focus on doing. What you do becomes your proof statement, and people interested in results begin to pay attention. People interested in externals still shrill loudly, but it matters less, because there are those results. (My favorite was the woman who looked at my generous hips and hissed, “If you can’t control what you put in your mouth, how can you control the people who work for you?” to which I replied, ” Not a problem, as I wasn’t planning on eating them.”)

Now that I own my business, I am grateful to have been a late bloomer. I know how to pace a project, I know how to separate “urgent” from “important.” I stay calm when others amp the histrionics, as I’m not interested in the attention. I get work done. I work with a better quality of people. Yes, many years were spent fraught and living in disappointment. But I’m a late bloomer and life is good.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She travels the Americas, teaching.

When “Sorry” Isn’t Enough

The insult was sharp. It hurt. It had come from a friend and I mentioned my hurt. She looked at me, shrugged and said “Sorry!” in a voice that indicated it was a learned response, not something she felt. And sure enough, a week later she did the same thing.

“Before you say ‘Sorry,'” I said, “I need to hear what you are going to do so this doesn’t happen again.” She was puzzled. “I said ‘Sorry'” she said. “What else can I do?”

76dcbbb3cc36cc94e8671814fe17107bAn apology is not a self-absolution. It’s the first step, not the last.  If you don’t want to change your behavior, you can be sorry for hurting someone’s feelings, but unless your behavior changes, you may wind up friendless.

An apology doesn’t guarantee reconciliation, either. Don’t know what else to say? Ask the person what specifically you did to hurt them. Ask about their hurt—was it connected to something you’ve done before? Was it something from their past that was brought up? Asking questions is a great way to move an apology from words into action.

Ask what your friend would like to see you do or say to repair the damage you did. There may not be anything specific, but just asking shows your willingness to admit you inflicted pain and that you want to make a change.

If you can’t take the action, discuss what you can do. If your friend asks too much, talk about that.

Your behavior identifies you. You can choose and act in ways that identify you as a good friend, someone who is willing to admit a mistake and work your way past it. Or you can shrug and say, “Sorry” and assume the rest is up to the people you know you.

—Quinn McDonald knows the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. And knows how wide that distance can be.

Practice Safe Vex

This weekend, some people I follow on Facebook were involved in a kerfuffle. A lot of small things went wrong, and it made a big mess. No names are mentioned in this story, because who said it is not important. How it was handled is important because a lot went wrong that didn’t have to.

rottenecard_56115622_vsk543fkyzHere is the bare-bones story: Person X, well-known in X’s field, was on an airplane. X was seated next to an overweight person. X and the overweight person had a discussion (not a happy one) about who could use what part of the armrest and seat. X is slender and took, then posted photos on Facebook of the overweight person taking up more than her seat and added some unhappy comments.

A few early comments took X’s side, making harsh statements against overweight people. Then, the tide turned.  The comments fell into different areas:

  • criticizing someone’s weight and blaming them for it
  • putting a person’s photo on Facebook without permission
  • defending the privacy of a timeline on Facebook
  • the idea that “you can say what you want in your own space on Facebook”

Lessons to learn from this embarrassing story:

We live in a public world. It’s hard to avoid being photographed, quoted and posted on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and a hundred other social media sites. You have every right to stand up for yourself and not allow yourself to be photographed. I understand that if you are in a public space, you don’t have an expectation of privacy, but this is not a legal matter, it’s an ethical one.

Legal and ethical are not the same. There may be no law against doing 5580292534_1a744e1dd5something, but that doesn’t make it right or good. It’s just not illegal. It could be hurtful, cause embarrassment, or crush someone’s spirit. Now we are in ethics.

Some basic social media rules:

  • Don’t photograph private people in a public space and post those photos without the person’s permission.
  • Posting anything on Facebook makes it public. Even if you post it just to your friends and family, they can re-post it and make it public. That’s how “going viral” starts.
  • Everyone has biases. They are best kept to yourself. Once you air those biases, you have labeled yourself. People have amazingly long memories about gaffes and biases.

Person X apologized by saying she had not thought the incident through. And she said she should not have posted the photos.

Many people replied that she could post whatever she wanted on Facebook, since it was on her own timeline. They seemed to have missed that what you post on your timeline winds up on other people’s news feeds. And can be passed on.

And about that freedom of speech thing? Every privilege comes with a responsibility. Yes, you can say what you want. But every post, every spoken sentence carries a consequence. You can say what you want, but people will also say what they want. So don’t expect to get nothing but support just because you are expressing your opinion.

If you are angry, do not act in anger. Think through the story and how it will appear to others. In other words, practice Safe Vex.

—Quinn McDonald knows a lot about putting your foot in your mouth. She’s had a lot of practice. She also knows that fat people are the last group that can still be victimized as a group sport. That’s cruel.

 

 

 

Growing Without Pushing

The biggest surprise over the last dozen years of owning my business is—just like real  life—you can’t force things to happen. For most of my adult, corporate life, I thought that’s how you got things done. Pushed against resistance till the resistance collapsed and you “won.” Negotiate hard until the opposition caved and I “won.” I sure wasted a lot of time doing that.

Battle-of-Vimeiro_edited-11

Not every skirmish needs to be turned into a war that must be won.

An example: I’m a good writer. Experienced, nuanced, clear. After decades of writing, I should be. I deserve to be paid for that ability and expertise. When a client says, “We’re not paying you what you asked for, we’re paying you half. We pay our other writers less, you shouldn’t be asking for that much,” I no longer force back by piling up my experience and subject knowledge. Nope.

Instead, I nod and say, “I understand your budget can’t stretch to cover my fee. I wish you every success on the job with another, less expensive writer. Thank you for considering me,” and head toward the door. Notice it’s a statement of fact, not anger or threat. I rarely make it to the door before I’m called back. “Maybe we can arrange something.” Good, let’s talk.

Another example: Occasionally, I’m asked to speak to new coaches on choosing a niche. I’m supposed to explain how I chose my niche, and how others can choose theirs. There is no secret. I didn’t sit down and think over what niche I would develop. It worked the other way around. I looked at the people around me, the ones naturally present already, and built by offering what they needed from what I could do.

It’s an easier life if you don’t  have to put your shoulders down and bull your way through. It’s far more rewarding to work with your natural gifts, with people who are already around you. By heightening talents you have in situations that present themselves, there is less damage to your spirit and more building of your strengths. Less grinding, more polishing. Less spinning, more weaving. It’s a good life.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She’s also a life– and creativity coach who helps people when they are stuck. She can’t help everyone, and doesn’t fight it.

Controlling the Tricky Muse

Cesar Millan may be the Dog Whisperer, but his method works well for the

From Laura Maris' Pampered Pups website.

From Laura Maris’ Pampered Pups website.

unruly, leash-tugging creative urge we call a Muse, as well. You know that creative Muse–the one you desperately want in your life, but that disappears around the corner and won’t come when called. When it does show up, it runs you ragged. You are off to buy materials and supplies, while your Muse stays at home, piling choices on your studio table, and running you ragged with ideas, projects and commitments that you can’t manage.

You are in charge of your own creative output.

The Dog Whisperer has a formula. If you’ve watched the show, you already know what it is. It’s on his website: “Through my fulfillment formula exercise, then discipline, and finally, affection.  As the human pack leader, you must set rules, boundaries, and limitations and always project a calm-assertive energy.”

0The “calm-assertive energy” comes first. It’s not about being a control freak, it’s knowing that you are the calm leader of your creative energy and your studio. If you are in control, the studio is not running you and you aren’t searching for pieces of a project. You aren’t forever using the excuse that you have a coupon and heading out to the craft store. You are centered and know your project.

You set the rules, boundaries and limitations for your studio. Here are some good ones to start with:

  • Know what your project is.
  • Know what your project is not. If you are going to create a journal page, don’t worry about creating the whole journal.
  • Leave the studio set up so you can begin. Nothing saps energy faster than having to spend an hour cleaning the studio and another finding what you want to work on.
  • Put extra materials away. It’s distracting to see unfinished project lying around.
  • Set a time to start and be there to start the project.
  • If you have an appointment, set a timer to remind you when to stop. You can’t work deeply if you keep having to check on the clock.
  • Keep a paper and pencil around to take notes as you work. Once you get to the studio, you will immediately think of “work” that needs to get done before you start. Stay in the studio, make a to-do list. The laundry will still be there when you leave.

The rest of Millan’s ideas work just as well: exercise, discipline, affection.

Exercise is a way to burn off tension in your body. It makes room for creative ideas. While you are exercising, a part of your brain is problem solving. That’s good for your brain and your body. Allow that to happen often, and you will approach a project with eagerness, without a lot of the adrenaline energy that’s exhausting.

Discipline is not punishment. Discipline allows space and time for deep, meaningful work. Discipline allows you to turn off the phone, shut the computer off and head for the studio. Discipline is a set time to work without guilt or fear. Discipline is consistency–knowing what is going to happen. It’s not a wild streak of cleaning the studio one day and spending three hours looking for just the right piece of paper. Discipline is an approach to creative time that includes knowing what will happen–you will work meaningfully, for a set amount of time, on a regular basis.

Affection is allowing yourself to feel good about yourself and your work. Affection is allowing yourself to try and fail, to try something different, to follow a thought or idea until it works or until you know why it doesn’t. Affection for yourself is allowing your growth at your own rate, not at your best friend’s rate. It’s taking the “just” out of your vocabulary, as in, “I just painted this scene.”

Just as Cesar Millan projects a calm, assertive pack-leader image to his dogs, you can project a calm, assertive creative leader image to your muse and your studio. You’ll be surprised at how well it works.

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who works with visual and performing  artists to help them find, manage and develop their creativity.

 

 

10 Commonplace Journal Ideas

For more than a week, I’ve posted about journaling and Writing Yourself Whole. It’s not always easy to keep a journal, so why do it? Who cares? Who will ever look at all that writing? The answer is simple: this is your life. You are keeping track of it. Your journals are not for your children to admire, your friends to share, and strangers to copy.

A personal favorite: create a calendar page with interesting things you did. For blank days, erase the pencil lines (haven't done that yet). For others, ink them in.

A personal favorite: create a calendar page with interesting things you did. For blank days, erase the pencil lines (haven’t done that yet). Ink borders around others for variety. Notice the lack of “art appeal.” This is an idea book, not an art show to be shared.

The journal you keep is to document your life. To prove you were alive. To write history the way you experienced it. Many of us don’t watch news because we are overwhelmed. Our own lives overwhelm us. Journaling puts you in control. Write about what happened at work, how you reacted, what you really thought. Putting it down helps us look at our reactions, our emotions, at arm’s length.

What else can you put in a journal? I’m a big fan of a Commonplace Journal--a journal that connects closely to what happens to you every day. Here are some ideas of what to put in a journal that will make it interesting to you:

1. Weather. Rain, sunshine, wind changes how we see the world and how we feel about it. A bright crisp day brings on different thoughts than low clouds and rain. Write down the temperature, the kind of day it was, and how you felt.

2. Movies. Glue the ticket stub into your journal and write a few sentences about the content and your level of enjoyment. You can do the same for movies you watch at home. Was it a good plot? Were the characters believable? Did you like a character or hate another one?

3. Food. I’m not talking about a food diary. What did you eat that was

Pieces from a business trip to Dallas. The bag has "Inspiration" printed on it, and I've put fortunes from fortune cookies into it.  Also on the desk: a feather and a butterfly that ended his journey in my pool.

Pieces from a business trip to Dallas. The bag has “Inspiration” printed on it, and I’ve put fortunes from fortune cookies into it. Also on the desk: a feather and a butterfly that ended his journey in my pool.

delicious? Do you remember what you had for breakfast? Is food an enjoyable experiences or just something to get over with? What was your favorite snack today? What would you like to remember to cook more often?

4. Music. What did you listen to that made you feel like dancing or singing? Do you have a favorite singer or performer? If you could create a soundtrack to your life, what five songs would you include? Maybe you don’t listen to music or even like it much. What’s the background noise to your life?

5. What’s the cost? How much did you pay for a tank of gas? How much for milk? Eggs? Liptstick? The price of the small chunks of life rises and falls, but it also creates a sort of set point in your life.  Compare the price to a gallon of milk to a gallon of gas and think about what you get from each. As you get older, you will think things are different than they used to be. Now you’ll be able to check.

6. Titles. Create a whole page of titles you like. Book titles, song titles, the names of restaurants, hair salons, or any other name or title that makes you smile or think. You fill it as you go along. Keeping it all on one page gives you a fascinating look at your sense of humor.

7. Maps and diagrams. Where did you go? What route did you take? Do you always take the same road to work? To the store? What other route could you take, even if it is longer or slower? Is speed the most important part of travel? What does that mean about your sense of time or necessity?

8. Quotes. Not just famous quotes you come across, although that’s handy to write down. What people in your life said that made sense, was funny, was ridiculous. What you said in return. Keeping track of dialogue makes you a better listener, a smarter speaker, and a wiser soul.

9. What catches your eye? Ads, headlines, photos, good designs. Cut them out of magazines, or photograph them and print them out.  I photograph the wallpaper in hotels. I’m amazed at how many of them are interesting abstract designs.

10. Spend time in your journal. Look back over old journals. Has your taste changed? Your ideas? The music you like? Your life is a mosaic and you can decide on the shape and color you want it to take. Watching it change over time is part of growth.

Keeping a journal doesn’t require daily deep soul-searching. It’s a way to keep track of the tiny grit that you turn into the pearls of your life.

Here’s an article on the difference between a visual journal and a commonplace journal.

–Quinn McDonald is a journaler and a creativity coach.

No Prince Charming

If you are a woman of a certain age, you were brought up on the idea that you must downplay your talents and wait to be discovered. No tall poppies. (Just heard that expression for the first time.) You took that belief into school, hoping

"Tall Poppies." Gelli plate collage. © Quinn McDonald

“Tall Poppies.” Gelli plate collage. © Quinn McDonald

your teacher would discover you. Mostly your teacher didn’t. She was busy paying attention to noisy, loud, and rambunctious kids.

Later on, you hoped the CEO would notice you and promote you. Nope, that didn’t happen either.

Maybe you hoped that the perfect man would come and wake you from your waiting coma with a kiss and a “happily ever after.” You would be taken care of, elevated onto a pedestal and thrive.

Yeah, that doesn’t happen either.  No one is going to discover you, they are waiting to be discovered by someone else. No one is going to sweep you off your feet, promote you, or make you feel special.

Not because you aren’t special. You may well be. But because everyone is busy with their own work.

52319518If you want to be noticed, promoted, honored, and loved, you are going to have to do the work yourself. The first step is being lovable, honorable, promotable. And also Remarkable and noticeable.

The second step is to admit to yourself that you are lovable, honorable, promotable, remarkable and noticeable. If you don’t believe it, no one else will.

The third thing is to decide what you want and go after it. No one brings you anything on a silver platter. Overnight success takes 10 years to happen.  Word of mouth will kick in about four years after mouths start to mention you.

When you are focused and working on something that excites you, you become exciting. Helping others helps widen your connections. Defining your own success helps you focus on your goal and drop the effort-drainers that don’t get you there. Speaking up helps you find heroes and role models.

Not everyone can be a rock star. But everyone can define personal success and work toward it. Working toward it brings it closer. Which is much better than waiting for someone else to notice what you need and then bring you the wrong thing.

—Quinn McDonald likes the idea of tall poppies.

 

 

 

Taking a Compliment

“What a nice blouse!”

“This old rag? I just wear it to clean house.”
screen-shot-2014-02-27-at-10-13-14If you are a woman, you are familiar with this. (Men take compliments more easily). But for women, a compliment has to be denied, shoved back, or minimized.

At an art show, I complimented an artist on her work. “It’s really easy,” she replied, “I just threw some paint on the canvas.” I’ll bet she didn’t, and once she diminished her own work, I found the price a bit high. After all, if she really “just threw paint” on the canvas, it took no planning or thought.

Of course she worked hard on the canvas. Of course she worried about it. But the 3632-What-Happens-When-A-Girl-Refuses-A-Compliment-Funny-SMS-Conversation-Picturesecond a compliment floats her way, she had to pretend to be someone with no talent, who happens to make a living painting. Why? Because it hurts to admit one has talent, skills, beauty, intelligence, or even good taste. If you own your attributes, you are responsible for them. All the time.

All that may seem like too much work. So we bat away compliments. We don’t want to own them. Most women have also been trained to be humble–particularly older women. We don’t want to seem “full of ourselves,” or risk a “swelled head.” So we deny, deny, deny.

Eventually we believe that we are talentless shlubs who can barely breathe and cross the street at the same time. That doesn’t serve anyone.

First, when you get a compliment, all you need to do is smile, and say, “Thank you!” It’s not hard to do this is you immediately think that you are making the person who paid you the complement happy.

Then, there’s a bit of work to do on yourself. Why don’t you want to be talented, smart, loving, or whatever you got a compliment for? What meaning do you attach to a compliment that makes you shrink from it? Pretend, for the next hour, the compliment is true. Just for an hour. Then you can give it up. If you still want to.

P.S. It helps to give a compliment if you make it about you instead.  “Seeing you in that blouse will make me happy all day,” is a compliment that’s hard to turn down.

I read a great quote  the other day. It wasn’t attributed, so I can’t send a compliment to anyone for writing it: “It took me a long time to discover who I was not, only then did I discover who I was.”

P.S. For language lovers. “Compliment” (with an i) means a kind expression or praise. You can remember that it’s spelled with an “i” because it’s nice to receive one and nice also has an i in it.

Complement (with an e) is something that fills up or completes something else. “The book cover art was a perfect complement to the chilling story inside.” It means to complete.

--Quinn McDonald has some problems with complements herself. That’s why she writes about it.

Cutting Short Studio Time

Yesterday, I mentioned having a ritual to get you into the studio. Today we are going to take a look at why we leave the studio before we are done–emotionally or physically.

20130303-211539Whether you write or draw, paint or sew, at some point you put down your work and leave the studio. That instant is significant in your creative building. What happens in your head and heart just as you leave the studio defines how easy it is to come back and work again.

If you have trouble returning regularly, and you think of the studio fondly while you are in a meeting or watching soccer practice,  you have a priority conflict. But if you find yourself doing laundry, dusting or making the bed, it’s not a priority problem, you are putting off going to the studio.

There are many reasons we put off going back in. The first thing my coaching

Fully realized dustbunnies.

Fully realized dust bunnies.

clients usually mention is fear of failure. But I don’t think so. I think we fear success. If we do something wonderful in the studio, we are responsible for it. We have to own our own creativity, our creation and the power of being a creator. Better to search for dust bunnies than be powerful. Owning our own power is often hard, even if we want to be famous or recognized. Because once we have created something, there is responsibility in creating more. Doing it again. Competing to outdo ourselves.  Explaining success. Easier just to let it slide.

Sometimes we leave the studio right before a breakthrough, before that Aha! Moment changes our lives. It is so much easier to cut short the revelation, the hard truth, the secret we hide. Ah, but what we resist, persists. And then refusing to return seems like a good idea. We need to “take a break,” or we need to “work it out.” Take your break in the studio. Work out your truth in the studio. Because no place else is your studio–the space dedicated to your own creation, your own growth. That’s where the magic happens–right after the sweat and fear. Stay. Wait for the magic. Give it a chance.

Tomorrow: Tips for returning to the studio with anticipation.

-Quinn McDonald has experience studio reluctance. That’s the only time her house is clean.

Dust bunny image: http://rubyreusable.com/artblog/?cat=110
Comfort zone image: http://www.proteinandpumps.com/breaking-out-of-my-comfort-zone/

 

Rituals Work

If you work in an office, you have a morning routine. Whether you get up and shower or get up and exercise, have breakfast and then shower, you do the same thing every morning. You probably have your moves timed down to the exact second, either by a clock or your TV.  You get out of the house and to the office on time.

children-3Creating a ritual for art is exactly the same thing as a routine for work. A ritual legitimizes your effort, eliminates distractions and assigns a top priority to your artwork. As long as your artwork doesn’t have a priority higher than the laundry or watching TV, it won’t get done. And you strengthen the priority every day of your life, by repeating what you did before.

Your art work is powerful, but not powerful enough to overcome your resistance and drag you into your studio. You have to do the work. And that means shifting priorities. To art. Why is that worth it? Because art makes meaning in your life. It helps you understand yourself, your world, your journey. It’s also sometimes uncomfortable  to face the meaning you make in art, so it’s easy to shove it aside. The art you make is not always the way it’s portrayed on Facebook, elegant and surrounded by a glowing light. Art can be messy, painful and revealing–of thoughts you wanted to bury.

The ritual doesn’t have to be complex. Decide ahead of time when you will do art.Green-Art-Studios-Weaving-Studio-537x368 Choose a whole hour. Set a timer to ring 10 minutes before you want to go to the studio to give yourself time to quit what you are doing. Make a cup of coffee or tea, grab the cup and head to the studio. No excuses.

Once you start your new habit, it will first get much harder to meet your ritual. The phone will ring, the kids will demand your attention, a crisis will erupt. Keep to your schedule. In about a week, it will suddenly get easier.

Your morning routine works because your job brings in money and you have given it permission to take over your life. Give your art a chance, too. It brings meaning to your life. And as my mantra says, “you don’t find meaning in life, you make meaning in your life.” Give meaning a chance.

—Quinn McDonald has her own ritual for getting to the studio. Some days it’s still uncomfortable.