Category Archives: Coaching

Creative people get stuck. Coaches get them unstuck.

Check That Progress

To-do lists are my saving grace. I love them. I keep them, work them, check them off and grin. Occasionally, I am guilty of putting things on my to-do list that I have already done, just so I can check it off and feel like I’ve started doing something.

strugglequoteThe trouble with that, of course, is you are never satisfied, always living in the next step, and striving ahead without a break. It’s exhausting. And I still love them.

Which is why I started a to-don’t list, often before I travel, so give myself permission to put some work on hold so I can actually live in the present and do the work at hand–traveling.

Now I’ve come up with something almost as fun as a to-do list: a “it’s done” list. Research shows that a real boost to meaningful work is keeping track of progress. What went right. What you did that was smart. What worked well. Most of us don’t do that. If things work out, we just keep going. There’s no learning in that.

True, I learn a lot by making mistakes. The reason? When things go right, I just workInProgress-150x150breeze ahead. When I stumble and fall, I have to figure out what went wrong, how it went wrong and how to notice it early enough next time not to do it again.

Imagine if you did that for getting it right. Progress is an important step in meaning-making. Knowing you have made progress and admitting it, even taking satisfaction in it, is another thing entirely. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to keep track of what went right. Your good decisions. Your progress. See if more of them don’t start showing up.

—Quinn McDonald is moving forward on several projects.

 

 

It’s Time to Say “No”

Next week is Thanksgiving, and the season of weird requests begins.

“I’m bringing my friend along to Thanksgiving dinner. She doesn’t eat meat, milk, eggs, wheat, vegetables that begin with a “b,” or anything red or brown. You won’t mind, will you–cooking her a special meal?”

“You are going to his parents this year? We have a tradition that you always come here for Thanksgiving, but go ahead. We can eat alone.”

This is the time of year when you brush off your spine and develop the ability to say, “No.” Even better is saying “No” and meaning it.

Of course you want to be compassionate, friendly and helpful. But right at the 9168751-black-orange-white-private-property-hanging-signedge of those characteristics is a boundary. And the boundary marker is “No.”

If you have trouble saying it, you can add, “I’d love to help, but . . .No.” You do not owe explanations past that one word. It takes strength and courage to say it, and I’ve failed many times. And each time I didn’t honor my boundary, I paid a price. Sometimes I overextend what I can do and regret it. Sometimes I cave and say Yes and then do a bad job, which is worse than saying No.

You do not have to say, “I need to spend a whole morning in bed, so I can’t bake six pies for you,” because the other person will not accept that as a good reason. So don’t give a reason. Simply stick to “I’m so sorry, but No.” The holidays will run a lot smoother. And you will feel a lot healthier.

-Quinn McDonald knows the power of paying attention to your limits.

 

Define Yourself By What You Are

Language reflects the culture. We make up words, we abandon them. And there are fads in the language–awesome used to be an important word, indicating deep emotion. Now it’s a filler word, like “ummm” or “OK.”

We’ve also begun to use negatives to frame our possibilities. We say, “I don’t 7747no sign - jobhouseunderstand,” instead of “Could you explain it again?” Or, “We close at 5 p.m.” instead of “We are open till 5 p.m.” The other day someone agreed with me by saying “You aren’t wrong.”

The other day, I found myself reciting a list of what I cannot eat to a befuddled waiter. Had I listed what I can eat, which is a much shorter list, he would have been able to know what was in the kitchen and find a match. Instead, hearing only what I could not eat, he stared at me blankly.

YES_sign1It’s easy to let the negative creep into how we think of ourselves. And then we begin to define ourselves by what we don’t like, won’t accept, reject outright, or want to distance ourselves from. “I don’t like country music,” doesn’t define your musical taste–it tells someone what you won’t put up with.

It’s far more exciting and clarifying to define yourself through positives–what you like, what you want to do, what your plans are. Defend what you like and what you want to protect and project. It clears your head and your heart. Being clear on what you want, who you are is such a more positive way to face the world.

—Quinn McDonald is fascinated by language and how it defines us.

 

 

Pace Yourself

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Trees and the moon, Fort Worden, Washington. © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

The long and winding road (including airplane aisles) has gotten the best of my exercise routine. If I’m getting up at 5 a.m. in Dallas, my body thinks it’s 3 a.m. I’m not going to push my luck and run on a treadmill.

When I’m in Flagstaff at dawn, I’m not walking in freezing weather in an unfamiliar neighborhood. But I’ve been home for three days, so it’s back to the discipline of to-do lists and travel laundry, chores that didn’t get done while I was gone, and answering accumulated emails. And walking.

When I started out this morning, my knees protested. They began to convince me that a short walk around the block would be enough. I told them that the airplane rides and teaching yesterday had been long, so they might be creaky today. Halfway around the park one of my knees began to send threatening messages–serious pain every step. I thought of turning back. And then I had another idea. I slowed down. Stopped. Stretched by standing on my toes. And began to walk slowly ahead.

The other knee chimed in, encouraging me to turn back, go home. I took another step ahead. Slowly. No longer in aerobic territory. Hardly classifying in the exercise category at all. But it was forward motion. I continued at this snail’s pace around the rest of the park.

Cloud stepping-stones. © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved

Cloud stepping-stones. © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved

At the intersection, I stepped off the curb. No pain. I walked deliberately across the street. Worked just fine. With each block I stepped it up a speed–first purposeful,  then stride, then arm-swinging walking, then aerobic walking. Letting my knees catch up with my determination had done the trick. No complaints from them for the rest of the three-mile walk.

When you face creative work, you may hear the same complaints from your heart–it’s too hard, you need a rest, it’s not great timing. Don’t leave the studio. Slow down, put hand to paper in an exercise, then begin to move slowly ahead. Push ahead to do some thinking about what you are creating, pick up the pace, and keep moving. Pushing ahead clears the road, and the mind. You can push through the frustration and reluctance. You can. If you leave the studio, it will be that much harder to come back to it.

-–Quinn McDonald talks to her knees frequently. She keeps them in action pretty much the same way she encourages her coaching clients to stay in action.

Sleep: Discipline is Needed

When I”m overloaded with work, the first thing I do is cut my sleep short. Waking doesn’t require an alarm clock in the summer,  cats know that first light means food, so lacking opposable thumbs, they wake me. The earlier the sun comes up, the earlier I get up, often at 4:30 a.m. Luckily, now that the nights are longer, the fur beasts snooze till I get up.

The heart is where the juice starts. © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved.

The heart is where the juice starts. © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved.

Trouble is, I’m a night person. I can easily work till past midnight, but not if I have to get up to teach, usually around 5 a.m.

I cannot burn the candle at both ends. Sure, it makes a lovely light, but a lovely light is no longer enough. I need combustion to fuel the day. So, I’m forcing the discipline of an earlier bed time. It rarely works, but it’s necessary. I’ve been through it before.

Self-discipline is rarely amusing or fun. But it is the heart of success, whatever your success might be. Without a good rest, without rich and complex dreams, we become shaky and weak. It’s harder to think, to plan, to appreciate, to imagine the future. It’s impossible to concentrate, to do good work without enough sleep.

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those splendid people who can live on five hours of sleep. I need seven, and eight is welcome.

Knowing what you need and giving it to yourself is not self-indulgence. It is a discipline you need for happiness and to thrive.

Check out these 10 signs of sleep deprivation.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach whose energy drains without enough sleep. There is always a well that needs filling, isn’t there?

 

 

 

Not Hanging On So Hard

An article in The New York Times reports, “Most girls won’t admit this, but they’d rather you hit on their significant other than their best friend.” (New York Times, ST-2, October 26, 2014).  The article says the advice columnist Julie Klam says  (via the magazine Dame) “When she introduces two friends to each other who she thinks will bond, she says, ‘Now, you may not go off and be friends without me.’ And they laugh . . . and I say, ‘I’m not kidding. No shoppng trips or going out for a drink after work.'”

I read the story twice without believing it. And then I did. Of course, this is Screen-Shot-2013-03-26-at-12.41.36-PMfear-based thinking, which is driven by control. And if we lose control of our friends, no telling what will happen. We might be alone. Someone might have a better time than we are. Control is not the best foundation for friendship.

Friends come and go. Some last many years, some a few weeks. Friends are not obligated to check in with anyone to make sure they get approval of their lunch companions.

We don’t own our friends anymore than we own the trees in our yard. And that’s a great way to think of our friendship–like trees. Trees protect us from too much heat, and they require some care to thrive. They put down roots and allow us to stand on them to see the future. Trees change, and require work. So do friends. But we don’t own people anymore than we own the trees that other people see, enjoy and share the shade of.

Patrol your friends and you’ll spend your whole life watching for infractions, keeping spreadsheets on time spent and what it means. Friends don’t thrive all that well with rules, time-enforcing and feelings of ownership. They do better with understanding and introductions to other people in your life. Of course we all need to set boundaries, but a good friend will help you and understand you.

And that sounds like thriving all the way around.

—Quinn McDonald loves the trees in her yard as well as her friends, who have lots of other friends she doesn’t know. And that’s fine with her.

 

Notes from the Commonplace Book: Success

Note: If you don’t know about Commonplace Book or Journal, you can read about what goes into one, what mine looks like, 10 things you can put in yours if you want to start one, or the difference between a commonplace and visual journal.

Mine commonplace book is stuffed with notes and today, I thought I’d take the string of notes I have on success and put it here. Un-edited, just ideas I’ve jotted down on success. Some may resonate, some may sound completely wild or untrue to your experiences.

Comment, head off to your own journal to rant, or just think. It’s Friday and Halloween and I know you are busy.

Fear of success takes several forms
1. If I become successful, will it be enough? Don’t I have to become more successful then, and more after that? Too much work, don’t want all that.

2. Success breeds responsibility, like this:  If I become really successful, I’ll have to hire people—a bookkeeper, an admin—and what if I can’t support them? What if my income is reduced too much in the effort of supporting them? Gasp, choke.

3. Lack of definition of success. “Success” is a faraway goal. Here’s how my coaching clients tackle this thorny problem:  I can always run toward success and enjoy the chase. But if I catch it, like a dog chasing a car, what do I actually DO with it?  If I actually succeed, what if I don’t please my parents or get accepted by my friends? Most people want enough money to live on, but wealth isn’t what looks like success or happiness to them. And if they claim to be successful, their neighbors and friends will point out how ridiculous it is to call yourself “successful,” because you aren’t obviously wealthy. So it’s easier to avoid success.

I think of myself as successful because I’ve had a business for 12 years and have always managed to pay the bills, really love the variety of my work, meeting new people with different ideas, and being able to say No to those whose core values don’t line up with mine. But few people would agree that I’m “successful.” My success is based on my happiness and the ability to take some very strange talents I have and make a living from them, rather than celebrity or piles of cash.

4. Our consumer culture has a lot to do with “permission” in people’s lives. More of us look to the people around us–at work, mostly, where people are also in competition with us–for validation. No one who is in competition with you is going to help you be successful unless it also helps them.

5. Deserving success. This is very tied into #3 above, but it is for people pleasers who cannot define success for themselves. They don’t trust their gut, so they allow people to define success for them. So, of course, they are never successful. If you are, people may be jealous or hate you, and that’s not success. This is a really vicious cycle, but important.

—Quinn McDonald coaches people who fear success.

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.