Tag Archives: change

Reading Isn’t Believing

As a blog omnivore, I read a lot of advice, thoughts, and beliefs of other writers and artists. It’s a big world, populated by writers of every emotional and spiritual stripe (and rant).

Smart-is-when-you-believe-half-of-what-you-hearThe last two days, I’ve been reading about other people’s success stories about blogging and book promoting. (I have a tendency to read about what’s on my plate). Interesting what happens in my brain (maybe yours, too) when we read something new that we don’t agree with. The other person must be smarter. Particularly if we don’t know them. Because no matter what our experience is, surely the other person is smarter, richer, wiser, and a better all-around human being. (Inner critic alert).

I’m amazed at my own gullibility. “Content is no longer king,” says one blogger, and I gobble up his article, afraid that one of my basic truths has vanished. “The reader is king!” he proudly proclaims, “content doesn’t really matter.” Oh. And what is King Reader reading? Content. And why will King Reader read the content? Because it is interesting to King Reader. So, finish the circle, content is still king.

“If you are still doing book signings, you are over 60 and a dinosaur,” says another blogger. Her idea is that everything is virtual, and social networking is the only action that sells books.

I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure people buy books for lots of reasons, and a good reason is to meet the person who wrote it and talk to them if they are available. And that means I want to make myself available. Because people who are satisfied tell others. (Not as many as people who are unsatisfied, which is motivation enough.) But can’t I do both? The Inner Hero book had two launches (one in California and one locally in Phoenix) and is having a fun run on several people’s blogs.

Before you believe everything you read (I call this “the last person I talked to is an expert” syndrome) run it through your value-meter. I’ve been writing for a long time, and content matters. If an article is cheap starchy filler, I leave faster than a barefoot pedestrian crosses a freshly-tarred street.

imagesMy value-meter knows that meeting people face to face and hearing their stories is what made me write my book in the first place. I heard so many people say, “I’m not really good at anything” while hungering to make meaning in life,  it was impossible for me not to write the book.

Of course, I also learn a lot from reading blogs.  I’m happy to explore new ideas, and I’m a big fan of change. But change for change’s sake rarely sticks. Change is fueled by current failure, pain, or general misery.  What makes change possible is that the current plan isn’t working.

What works for someone else might not work for me. And if it doesn’t match what I know to be true from my own life, it’s probably not true for me. My life is a big circle, and I invite a lot of people in. But it doesn’t mean I have to follow them around in circles.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach whose coaching practice is based on working with deeply-held values and, well, change.

Facing Change

Hear the word “change” and you are likely to break out in a sweat. We like things the way they are. Even if we don’t like the way things are, it’s better than what we don’t know.

change-4-1imepycWhat makes change so awful?  One answer is that we are not up to the task of facing change. Feeling not ready is the inevitable companion to change. So is feeling awkward, ungainly, not suited for the task. What makes change so awful is the lack of adjustment time. . No chance to look chic and unsurprised. Change catches you by surprise, with your shoes untied.

Change throws us into a formal party while we are still wearing our emotional play clothes. Suddenly, what seemed appropriate for the emotional playground doesn’t fit into the serious polished-shoe environment we wake up in. We are caught off-guard. And off-guard,  without time to plan, we go back to old emotions, old ways of behavior.

My coaching practice is rooted in helping people survive change. Then thrive with it. But it’s not easy, and there can be a lot of tears first. Change is not always a friend.

When change whips around us, it’s a windstorm of confusion, decisions, and often paperwork—all within a tight deadline. You get laid off, and must choose a generous package with a non-disclosure signature or no package and a sense of righteousness. A loved one is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, the kind that destroys plans, futures, whole families. What decisions are right? What decisions are right now?

The second part of change we hate is the strong belief that everyone’s life should be easy and steady. A change that isn’t pleasant is a threat to security. We are rooted in the belief that life needs to be the same every day. And by “same” I mean sunny, emotionally fun, and upbeat. That’s an unrealistic expectation of any life. A big part of life is making it through rough spots and building up experiences.

Change doesn’t always mean bad news, but even good change can look like bad news. Teaching clients to deal with change often starts with learning how to stay calm. Harder than it sounds. But once you’ve learned that, you can see change as a tool, not as a result. And that gives you the power to build.

-–Quinn McDonald likes change. And that explains a lot.

Creating Our Character

Sometime in our life, we take on a character–just like in a novel. “I’m the black sheep of the family,” we explain. Or, “Yeah, I’m the family historian,” or even, “We’d never have family reunions without me. I love organizing them.” Those descriptions are true, in the moment. It gets a bit stickier if we believe them too much ourselves.

labelsIt’s a small step from having done some daring things in the past to thinking of ourselves as the black sheep of the family who will never amount to anything.

In the novel of our lives, the hero will come around and fix us and save us, generally just in time to live happily ever after.  In real life, we keep choosing ways to not amount to anything so we can continue to be the black sheep and. . . keep repeating the same mistakes, bad choices, and foiling anyone who wants to help us.

The trouble with living life as a novel is that a novel ends because everything is resolved. If we resolve our lives, there is nothing left to do. So we avoid resolving or changing, often waiting for the hero to do the job that is ours to do.

DesertbookAnd should the hero show up, well, we go to the beginning of the novel and start over, proving we are the black sheep. When the real life hero decides that life needs more balance than a one-way struggle to re-engineer a dedicated black sheep, it’s easy to decide it’s the wrong hero.

We can live an entire life making everyone else wrong while we dedicate ourselves to the label we don’t need. We all have a choice of the reality we want to live. We can create the reality that sheds labels and makes us. . .responsible for who we want to be. Yep. The hero you are waiting for is you.

It’s a big world. You don’t have to live the old reality. You can walk out of that novel and look where you want to go. Then head in that direction.

What if others try to stick that label back on you? That’s their reality. You are just walking through it. Choose your own reality. Live it to the fullest.

-–Quinn McDonald is cheered by what she experienced last week on Madeline Island. She’s looking where she wants to go.

Making Change Work for You

We are now four days into the New Year–heading toward a week. How are those resolutions coming? I’m not a fan of resolutions, but I am supporting several people who made resolutions to change. They aren’t having a good time.  Because even when you want to change, it isn’t easy. What makes change hard? Two major factors: yourself and others. The rest is easy.

Change can get derailed if you don't enlist your family and friends to help you.

Change can get derailed if you don’t enlist your family and friends to help you.

When you decide to change, you have your past to wrestle with. You choose the path to change and suddenly your inner critic pipes up. “What’s so wrong with who you are now?” “Love yourself the way you are, change is a sign of self-hatred.” “Can you really keep up this behavior?”

If you want to change a habit, you’ll have to substitute the new behavior for about two months. That’s as long as it will take you to establish the new habit in place of the old. Most people say one month, but two is more realistic.

One to substitute the new action and make it a habit,  the next to overcome the pushback from your friends and family. No doubt about it, they will be the longest two months of your life. You will invent a thousand reasons to go back to the old behavior–it’s your birthday, you just started a diet, you are stressed, now is not a good time. But like having a baby, there is never a perfect time, you have to gear up, crank up your determination and get busy.

Just when you do, your friends will start chipping away at your resolve. They will give you excuses to fail. They will tell you they like you the way you are. They will whine that you don’t need to change. Why are your friends so focused on sabotage? Because if you change, they will have to change. They will have to get to know the new you, they will have to change the way they treat you . And your friends don’t want to change. It’s too much work. It is a lot less work to complain until you quit changing.

Your friends can be persistent and threatening. Most people don’t like confrontation, and they do like their friends, so they cave in and go back to being “normal.” And there goes the path to success.

If you are determined to change, tell your friends you plan ahead of time and enlist their help. Ask them to support you before the chorus of complaints begins. Often asking for support not only makes friends understand that this is important to you, it helps you be clear about what you want. And talking about the change helps you be clear about what you want for your future.

That doesn’t mean your friends will always support you, but it gives you a better start. And a good start is the best way to start toward a good finish.

Quinn McDonald is changing. And it’s damn hard.

Re-Packing Your Brain

Bo Mackison is a photographer, and a busy one. She has an art festival coming up in Milwaukee this weekend, and we were talking about her preparations. Bo was describing her organization habits; she mentioned her one special container that has the electronics to make sales, change, and keep track of sales. She calls this box “the brain.” In a rushed voice she said, “And after all that sorting, I have to re-pack The Brain.”

We both laughed at the image of re-packing your brain, and then we saw the deep wisdom in that simple phrase.

Every time we start a new project, change our business, choose a new perception, we have to “re-pack our brain.” It means opening your head to new ideas, taking out old thoughts, habits and assumptions and taking a good look at them. Maybe you shake those assumptions up, get the wrinkles out, maybe you toss it into a pile to re-use as a dust cloth.

In re-packing your brain, you allow yourself, new ideas, new paths. You make more room to add new thoughts and new perspectives.

And then, when your brain is re-packed, you head out into a new day with a new-found eagerness.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She re-packs her brain at least one a season.

Choosing Change

Caterpillar ready to spin a chrysalis.

The caterpillar is programmed by its DNA to spin a cocoon and emerge a butterfly. In the process, the caterpillar turns to undifferentiated goo and then reforms as a butterfly. No one knows if the caterpillar is aware of what happens during the process.

People are different. We don’t know how to spin a cocoon, and we would be scared if we could. Yet we can choose transformation. It is hard, making the choice to change. It means we deliberately give up one thing to choose another. It means we risk losing friends who don’t want to get to know us all over again in our new forms.

But some of us do choose. We choose to move to a new place and start a life over. We choose to forgive bad parenting, and accept what we did get, and thrive despite of it.

Transformation begins

That transformation is as amazing as a caterpillar’s. For all of us who have survived, who have chosen to heal ourselves, to mother ourselves, 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 be more than one person over a lifetime. We can change our life.
We have a choice.


Quinn McDonald witnesses transformations as a coach. She celebrates change.

Images: top: Obsession with butterflies. Bottom: restoring the landscape.com

The Beauty of Change

This palo verde is in Arizona. It’s been trimmed, and it’s bare.

When I arrived in Wisconsin, the trees were leafing out. Seeing big-leaved trees again was great, they had just started to unfold and fill the trees. By the time I went home three days later, the trees had come into their shapes.

Change. We hate the idea, but we live it every day. The trees changed every day I was there. They were changing when I watched and when I didn’t.

Evolution is not something limited to ten thousand years ago. Evolution happens every day. We adapt, we behave a new way, it works, we keep doing it. We’ve changed.

Leaves are starting to push out, dark and fresh green.

Adapting is the stepping stone to flexibility. Flexibility is the doorway to creativity. We explore, we create, we invent, and we grow. Creative evolution. We change without really noticing it, just notice that our art is getting easier. More satisfying. More natural. Until we have fully leafed out and ideas come to rest in the shadow we cast on the earth.

Tree in progress to becoming.

Quinn McDonald is an artist who writes and teaches what she knows. It changes from year to year.

Feed the Inner Critic and it Will Stay

You’ve heard the story of the two wolves–the one you feed is the one that thrives within you. The inner critic (also your gremlin or inner lizard) works the same way. The diet for the gremlin is tied to a lifetime diet that starts in childhood.

You can stay in your prison. . .

“My parents never encouraged me,” we sigh, feeding the gremlin the “you can’t be enough because you weren’t nurtured” gruel.

“At home, the boys got all the attention,” we complain, giving the gremlin the sweet accusation that we aren’t worth the effort of love, attention, or praise.

“No one ever loved me enough,” we say, giving the gremlin a meaty bone of self-doubt to chew on for years.

The saddest (and funniest) childhood comment I’ve heard as a coach came from the client who said, “My parents gave me everything. They encouraged me and praised me. So I never learned how to deal with disappointment. I don’t have the ability to be self-critical.”

. . . or you can dance, even if it is in the mud. Or maybe because it is the mud.

Poor childhood. It can’t win. If we’re treated badly, it ruined our life. If we were treated well, that’s wrong, too.

Yes, I take seriously the grim stories of childhood I hear–stories of abuse, abandonment, loss. No one can take any of those stories lightly. They do cause damage. The sign of growth, the sign of change, the sign of reinvention is the willingness to admit that we can’t go back and change the past. It happened. Blessedly, it is also over, and in the past. The next step is yours to make and live.

You can hold onto that pain from the past, you can brandish it like an accusatory weapon, making it the magic wand that transforms your every tomorrow into the same sad yesterday. “Well, of course I keep choosing the wrong partner. . .my parents fought all the time, and I took that as my pattern.” “I can’t commit because my Dad cheated on my Mom; I don’t want to repeat that.”

Maybe it’s time to put down the past. Hugging the hurt to you, shaping the pain into your heart and making it beat in time to the sad rhythm of  the past will not repair either the past or your heart.  Waiting for your parents to come back and help you re-live your childhood and create a different outcome–well, it’s not going to happen.

Reliving your past over and over creates too much spinning and not enough weaving. The harder work is to take your present day skills, your present day image of what you want for yourself and build your own future. Give up the idea of making someone else wrong for your present by blaming it on the past. It’s so vastly overrated. Instead, be bold. Be risky. Be the person you wish you were and forge yourself into the person you want to be. It is hard to step away from the past. It is also wonderful to step away from the past. The past and the future are the two wolves within you. The one you feed is the one that stays.

–Quinn McDonald is a life and creativity coach who did not have an ideal childhood either. But she has the strong belief that if she had had adoring parents who lavished attention on her, she would never have grown a backbone and a colorful soul.

The Past in Your Closet

On this Saturday, I’m de-stashing. The Craft Retreat, a local craft supply store, at 59th Ave. and Greenway in Glendale, AZ, is renting tables to customers. Some people are selling items they made in classes they took at the store, others are selling what they make in their studio. I’m de-stashing. Rubber stamps, packs of ephemera, fabric pieces, paints, containers, canvas–tools of art I no longer do.

Gene Simmons, then and now.

While pulling boxes out of the closet, I came across the very first loose-leaf are journal pages I did, about six or seven years ago. A shiver of horror ran down my spine when I looked at them–miles from what I consider acceptable today. But I didn’t throw them out. We grow slowly, and sometimes we don’t see how much we’ve grown, how far we’ve come. Instead of horror, I treated myself to some delight.

Design, construction, materials have all improved. At the time, if I liked a technique, it went into the piece I was working on, whether it was sensible or not. I no longer do that.

The words were still appropriate and fresh. That may be because I’ve been a writer for a long time, and the growth in the collage side is more apparent.

It’s easy to criticize yourself when you look at art you made years ago. But there’s a lot to be learned by looking at an older piece and seeing what you’ve changed. Why did you make the changes?

What was the result?
Why did you choose to do some of the older techniques?
Did they work, or were they a fad?
Does some of the work still please you?
What technique or concept pleases you still?
Is the thing that pleases you now shaped differently, or would you do the same again?
What color did you use most often? Do you still like or use the color?

The answer to all those questions create a pattern of growth in your art that you can see and measure. While you might cringe, it’s also good to know that you have grown over time. Producing the same art year after year without any change means you are stuck.

“I’m not stuck, it’s my groove,” one of my coaching clients used to say to me.

If you are sticking with the same colors and patterns, it’s not a groove, it’s a rut. Look at some of your older work and see what it has to say to you. I was surprised, a nice lesson on change while de-stashing.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who will be selling tools and ephemera this weekend.

Not What You Do, But Who You Are

It’s amazing, really. I’ve been an artist all my life, and there is no end to what I still need to learn. Sometimes I feel as dumb as a box of warm rocks. Sometimes I love that I don’t know enough. A person who knows everything has nothing else to learn. I’d be bored.

Change is Inevitable by GollyGForce, licensed through Creative Commons.

Creative Lessons Arrive From Weird Sources
Life essons come from any creative source. And many people in our lives are hugely creative–we just don’t notice it because we don’t look for creativity in everyone.

As I forge ahead to writing the next book proposal,  I am meeting all sorts of stumbling blocks–negative self-talk, time sucked up by paying jobs, and lots of questions about art from people who know me as a corporate trainer.

The one that amazes me the most is, “What does art DO? What good is it?” We have created an interesting culture. Every item in our reach must be practical, nothing can exist without a goal, a purpose, an objective. Art can’t be for beauty, art has to be competitive and functional. “My art not only does X, but it does it fast!” Could someone please apply this demand to television? We’d be watching blank screens by next week.

Growing into Art
We no longer go to school and learn music, philosophy, art. All that is considered a waste of time. Yet it is from mythology and art we learn about ourselves, our values, our ideas. But school is now about reaching a goal–a job. Most universities are no more than Trade Schools for careers. Yesterday I heard that the public schools in my state want 14-year olds to declare a ‘major’ and then learn that trade. We are back in the 13th century, when 12 to 14 year old boys chose a Guild, signed on as an apprentice for seven years, and learned a trade.

I changed my mind about what I wanted to be many times. I started out as a writer, switched to being a science teacher, editor, copywriter, silversmith. . .and kept adding skills well into middle age.

A different kind of change.

That switching privilege is important for creative growth. Schools are spending a lot of time training us to DO something instead of to BE someone. I  learned a lot from teaching, making silver jewelry and handmade paper, but over time, I knew that returning to my roots of mixing images, colors, textures and words was where my artistic truth is.

Life IS Art, Life is AN Art
If I had been sent to school for what I wanted to be at 14, I’d be a horseback-riding ballerina. Why rush children through the only childhood they will have to live in a career they don’t like when they are 25?

Most of my life coaching and creativity coaching clients are on their second or third career. Creativity can’t be pointed out and beat into shape at age 14. Creativity grows with us our whole life.

Think back just a few years–your cell phone had an antenna you had to pull up before you answered it, it didn’t have a camera, and the software you are using today didn’t exist. The best skill to learn in school is how to deal with change and critical thinking, both of which are truly useful your whole life.

It’s OK not to know what you want for the rest of your life  at 7, at 14, and at 55. Because not knowing is the only sure way to knowing. And once you know, you also know what you don’t know. It is not the endgame, it’s the path. It may be the biggest “Ah-HA!” I’ve had in years.

–For more information on life coaching, creativity coaching, and the words-and-images work of one artist, visitQuinn McDonald’s website.