Category Archives: Coaching

Creative people get stuck. Coaches get them unstuck.

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.

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.