Tag Archives: success

Luck and Secrets

When people I haven’t seen in a while notice I have lost weight, the inevitable question I get asked is, “What’s your secret.” When I say, truthfully, “There is no secret; I gave up everything I craved and walk three to five miles a day,” I get skeptical looks. “But what is your secret?” they repeat, unable to believe that there is not a smoothie, a pill, garment, or a new exercise behind  significant weight loss.

Create your own luck

Create your own luck

If I’m feeling brave, I’ll say, “Self discipline. Self control. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done so consistently.” That doesn’t work, either. “You have to treat yourself sometime, or you will quit,” they assure me. “It’s not good to have all that discipline.” I try to change the subject. I’m uncomfortable talking about discipline and success. It’s not the answer for everybody. But it has worked consistently for me–not just in changing my relationship with food, but for most things in life that I have relentlessly pursued.

The-Secret-the-secret-21149087-1024-768

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” –The Buddha

It reminds me of how often I was told, after I landed a book contract, that I was “lucky.” Well, perhaps, but it also involved a lot of hard work and, ummm, discipline. I did research, I wrote the book proposal over again at least six times, I changed the idea of the book slightly when it wasn’t focused enough, spent hours doing research to find a publisher who specialized in the kind of book I wanted to write.

The need for “luck” and “secrets” comes because discipline and hard work are not fast and easy.  And no one (except the Little Red Hen) wants to say, “I worked really hard for this and I made it work.” It sounds conceited and self-satisfied. But I don’t know anyone who has lost a lot of weight and kept it off who had an easy secret. Same goes for people who have accomplished something big in their lives. They seemed to have given up a lot and worked hard for a long time.

Thomas Edison had it right when he said, “The reason too many people miss opportunity is because is goes around dressed in overalls and looking like work.” Followed by another good quote from Thomas Jefferson, “The harder I work the more luck I seem to have.”

Quinn McDonald is going to bed. It’s almost 1:30 a.m. and she has to get up to go teach in four hours. She is looking forward to being lazy when she gets back from class tomorrow. No, wait, she wants to do a book review and giveaway on the next blog.

 

Throw Your Life Away

“How could you let him throw his life away?” my neighbor asked all those years ago. She was speaking of my son, who had recently announced he wanted to major in music, to switch from math and Russian.

Dreams in ink. Marker, acrylic paint skin, paint on paper.

“He could be an engineer or a lawyer, something important, but you are letting him major in music? ” My mother asked. “You are letting him throw his life away. Just like you did!” The anger in her voice was hard and sharp.

Maybe you’ve heard that phrase, too–“Throwing your life away.” It sounds dangerous, stupid, harmful. In my son’s case, and earlier, my case, it was what saved our lives.

I knew from personal experience that unless you follow the path that beckons, the journey will be rocky, harsh, and may well lead you into a personal, barren wilderness.

So when my son told me he was interested in music, I was pleased. It was good he could see so clearly the path he wanted to follow.

He threw away many possibilities–all the ones that were wrong for him. The ones that would have left him unsatisfied, a drone at his work, uninspired. The ones that would have weighed like stones in the pockets of his dreams.

Years earlier, I blundered down the path of success as my parents saw it for me. It was years till I could “throw my life away,” and create the life I wanted. It was hard, but ahead of me was the steady light of life’s purpose, a sure knowledge that writing was where meaning-making lived.

The compass was there, but I wasn’t as sure in my choices. I didn’t believe in myself as much as I believed that my parents knew best. When I figured out that their advice fit their lives and I would have to find my own path, I threw my old life away, too. And am happier for it.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people through change and re-invention. She is the author of Raw Art Journaling.

Imagine That. . .

It’s a phrase you hear often: Imagine that. It’s usually said in disbelief or astonishment. But it can just as well be used to create the path to success.

It's popular in the rural areas of The Valley to make fences out of ocotillo branches. The thorns keep pets in and coyotes out. Most of the time, the branches are dried and dead. Take a closer look at that one in the center. . . .

When we imagine a project, we often immediately think of the worst that could happen, or all the things that go wrong. That line of thinking can be useful for avoiding pitfalls, making mistakes, or building a Plan B.

Imagining success is also a way to start breaking in the path to success. When we imagine the end, the success, the satisfaction, it’s easier to put up with the wear-and-tear of change and progress. We know what success looks, tastes, and feels like, and engaging our senses also engages our imagination to solve problems, overcome bumps, and keep to the path we imagined.

Imagining success keeps us from running around in circles in the snowy woods

A close up of the center fence post shows that new growth is possible from an old branch. Imagination can spark your boundaries into new growth , too.

of “what if.” Imagining success keeps us from trudging along on the path, hoping a squirrel will run across the path, creating a diversion. Imagination helps the North Star of our goal stay in sharp focus, even when the harsh light of reality fades out the sky.

When you engage your imagination, engage all five senses. Include smell and touch. When you have fixed sense experiences as part of success, you will recognize when you are getting close. Sense imagination is fun, satisfying, and best of all, we can experience the thrill of success often along the way. Imagine that!

—Quinn McDonald has a vivid imagination and knows how to steer it. Most of the time.

Book Marketing and Celebrity

Writing a book is just the beginning. Then you market the book. A lot of this can be fun–a blog tour, giveaways, meeting new people. A lot of it is not so much fun–lots of rejection (again) from bookstores, editors, and places you think are perfect for events. After the writing was done, I felt I had completed something, come to a good place. But it’s just the beginning. In fact, every rest stop in the journey has a great view of the future. But the road to that future is another steep path.

The bright promise of celebrity can feel a little dry and prickly.

I felt elated when I got a book contract, then terrified that I actually had to write the book. I felt elated when it was done, thinking I had stepped up a notch, but my rosy idea that book stores would welcome me, smile, and suggest a book signing was really way off. You have to struggle with book signings. It seems that book stores are busy doing not-signings, and you are a giant bother to them. As usual, it helps if you are already famous.

Which is where I ran into the snag. I subscribe to several marketing-idea blogs and newsletters, and last week was hit with several on the topic, “Marketing isn’t enough, you must turn yourself into a celebrity,” and “Unless you are a celebrity, your book isn’t moving.” Oh.

I am not sure what a celebrity is, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be a rock star, sweat-lodge emerging, champagne drinking,  talk-show-tour celebrity.  I’m a creativity coach, I run workshops. I’m happy doing that. Am I supposed to want a line of products, a TV show, people recognizing me on the street?

Actually, what I really want, if I had a magic wand, is my book reaching people who feel they are not enough, not good enough, not smart enough to be creative. Those who have journals with one or two pages filled up, and more pages torn out in disappointment. Those who want to journal but don’t feel complete enough to be themselves, even in a journal.

In my magic-wand world, I’d be celebrity enough if there were some people who pick up kits and do them so very well, and still feel empty read the book and realized that there is a life beyond kits. Beyond a project class that has you assemble a cute object and give it as a present. There is a satisfying life of sloppy experimentation and doing stuff that doesn’t work that makes you feel connected to creativity, to a bigger sense of yourself. In that life, making meaning is the point, and trying out ideas is exciting because you are learning about yourself and your ideas and how you connect to a huge web of ideas and, well, healing. Healing your own pain, growing into and beyond your own “not enough-ness,” connecting to another’s feeling of ‘not-enough’ and being OK with that, too.

I wrote the book for those people. People like me. People who yearn to have some sort of creative spark fanned into a flame. I want to share that joy, that incredible flood of gratitude that comes from creativity. The startling realization that an hour in a studio or workshop creates a life more satisfying than any “real housewife” has ever dreamed of. And you can have that life without wearing an underwire, pushup bra or stilettos or photographing yourself in your underwear and sending it to fans. I believe the pursuit of happiness is interesting and engaging and may be what happiness really is. That’s why I wrote the book. That’s why I teach. That’s my kind of celebrity.

–Quinn McDonald’s book, “Raw Art Jouraling: Making Meaning, Making Art,” is being shipped at this very moment, and will be available in July, 2011. It’s not too shabby that it has broken Amazon’s top 5 in Mixed Media, top 30 in Creativity and top 75 in Crafts and Hobbies. Maybe it’s a celebrity!

Lesson Learned: Don’t Make Waves?

The dangerous way up from Go Haceem blog

Desirée Rogers has been on my mind lately. She was the White House social secretary who was forced to resign because some publicity hounds crashed a state dinner. I understand the security problems involved, but it’s the mistake part I’m interested in. In my newsletter (you can subscribe by clicking on the Yahoo button over on the right side of the blog) I said that her mistake was sitting down at the dinner, trying to be one of the cool kids, when her job was something else. (I’m still not clear how come a security error wound up in her lap. I suspect it was because she sat down at the State Dinner and that rankled.)

One of the newsletter readers made a brilliant observation–Desirée Rogers should have been allowed to stay because she would never, ever make that mistake again, would have learned something valuable, and would have been a better employee.

I’m a big proponent of learning from mistakes, it’s unfortunately the way most of us learn best. We never think, “Wow, that presentation really went well. Was it because I practiced or because I decided not to use a PowerPoint or studied up on potential questions?” Nope. If we do well, we feel lucky. But we learn more from mistakes.

Those people who don’t make mistakes are people who aren’t trying hard enough. Or who hide their mistakes or blame them on others. And those people, in many corporations, and in the government, are often the people who rise to the top. Or maybe I should say “float” to the top. By dodging mistakes, they look blameless. Notice I said blameless, not faultless. They dodge and weave the effects of their mistakes. Because they make lots of mistakes–everyone does–they learn how not to get caught. Then they believe the problem is getting caught, not making a mistake. Admitting the mistake would teach them something. Instead, they bury their learning experience. I’d respect someone who made a mistake and admitted it and knew how to fix it and prevent it.

Yes, some horrible person could have snuck into the state dinner and caused harm. The Secret Service and security is there to prevent that, not the social secretary. But consider corporations–middle managers are punished for mistakes they could learn from. Fired, in some cases. They learn to cover up to get another job. What does that teach them? Exactly my point–you get car recalls only when the cover up is discovered, not before.

It would be an excellent idea if corporations encouraged mistake-learning early, and promoted people who solved their own problems and had the integrity to admit mistakes and the problem-solving ability to prevent them from happening again. That’s someone to admire and promote.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer, writer and artist who is writing a book on journaling.

DIY: Making Meaning Your Way

Making Meaning through your creative work takes courage.
It’s an intensely private work, which in our culture is always slightly suspect. When you see the serial killer being led away from the crime scene, you always hear, “He kept to himself,” or “He was a loner,” as if those things are somehow intrinsically bad and wrong. Yet that’s where a lot of creative work is done–by yourself. Alone.

littleredhen

One person's chicken is another's Little Red Hen

Making Meaning starts from scratch.
Sure, you may have played with kits. And you may well be using many leftovers from various kits to make your own stuff. But you are working with your idea. You aren’t assembling anything, and you aren’t using directions supplied with a kit. You are moving into uncharted territory, and you are alone. And you love it.

Making Meaning means you write the rules.
The way you make meaning is your way. Not your neighbor’s, not the rich and successful writer, musician, dancer, or gardener you admire. You get to fail, try again, and then succeed. And that trip is what makes it so very satisfying. Because it involves creative play, messing up, and fixing it all by yourself. Making meaning brings satisfaction because it involves triumph over obstacles. The major obstacle is often your own thinking.

Making Meaning is not a consumer activity.
You can buy a kit and make something, but it doesn’t make meaning. You can buy paint-by-numbers, scrapbooking kits and cards, you can complete step-by-step wire-wrapping jewelry and wind up with a product without one scrap of meaning making. You may feel empty after such an activity, even if you have completed a gift-quality product.

Making Meaning is a Little Red Hen project.
You remember the story of the Little Red Hen. Her friends–the cat, dog, mouse, chick (it varies from story to story) don’t help her plant the wheat, cut the wheat, take it to the mill, or bake the bread. But they all show up to eat the bread. And after all that work, she doesn’t share the bread. She eats it by herself. Is she selfish? No, in this story the other animals aren’t starving, they are hoping to share in her success without having done the work. The Little Red Hen has made meaning in the bread and is eating the joy of her work.

Making Meaning is a goal in itself.
You’ve written a book? That made meaning. Publishing it is another story. The joy you feel in writing is the success. Publishing is an administrative task that will make you feel proud, inadequate, fill you with “shoulds” and bring out detractors, admirers, and hangers-on. That’s a step beyond making meaning. Making meaning is a journey.   It can have many goals that don’t make meaning. Make sure you notice when meaning-making stops, you don’t want to confuse the journey with reaching a destination.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She has a website for writers who want to keep an art journal, and a website for her business training. Both have coaching sections.

Success: New Definitions Come to Mind

You remember pre-economic crash success. Winning. Competing. Coming out on top no matter what. Giving “110” percent. Beating out the other person. Cheating if you had to. But winning. Maybe for a trip, a raise, or an ungodly huge bonus. That was success. If you had it, you could preen in front of colleagues or neighbors. If you didn’t, you slunk away. Ah, success was simple and sweet.

And now it’s gone. Of course there are still weasels out there who are making a fast buck on other people’s miseries. I’m sure they existed in cave times. There’s probably a picture of Ur-Weasel in the caves at Lascaux, with shifty eyes and a cheap suit.

Image: lostinyourinbox.blog-city.com

Image: lostinyourinbox.blog-city.com

Success looks and sounds and tastes different in this threadbare new world. You might not have a job anymore, and you still want dignity. You might have gotten fired, laid off, RIF’d, or dumped. And you want your pride back. You feel exposed and wounded. Maybe betrayed. Success vanished.

Success, in fact, never left. We just changed the definition. In the 1990s, we gave away the controls on success, and it ran off the road. We’re still cleaning up the mess.

When success was up to you, you could work hard and get it. Those were the days you defined success. Here are some ways people define success in non-traditional ways: Being honest. Harder, still, being ethical. Not just following what the law says, but being moral without a rule, without a camera watching you, without someone checking up on you. Because being ethical is part of you. Because without it, you don’t feel successful. That kind of success doesn’t add up to a fat bonus. Or a job that lets you buy anything you want.

When success was up to you, you listened to people. Talked to them not in terms of “I want what I want when I want it,” but with concern for everyone. The result, goal, or objective was never worth throwing a colleague under the bus, it was not about you. Yes, that’s right, it was not about you. It was about others’ needs, too.

Something to think about. We got here on a wave of success. On a wave of wealth and competition and greed. It’s time for a new definition for success. One we can live with.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She teaches communication skills, including writing and giving presentations as well as how to make and use an art journal, even if you can’t draw.

Defining and Measuring Success

In the New York Times magazine for June 28, there’s a full-page ad on page 5, with the headline, “SPEND one day a year getting a complete health exam or the next 364 wishing you had.” The ad touts Mount Sinai’s “Executive Health program,” in which “senior

Ad in the NY Times magazine, 6/26/09

Ad in the NY Times magazine, 6/26/09

physicians using advanced  non-invasive diagnostic screening technogies” check you out and you get “personally ushered through [tests] with same-day results.”

The word “Spend” is all capitalized in the headline. The headline motivates through fear. Get a checkup or you might regret it.  That ad got me thinking. Top-level executives can be scared into spending. They get the big bonuses. They can afford “executive-level” medical care because they deserve the best health care. They get the non-invasive tests run by “senior physicians” and get personally ushered right by the rest of us, who, because we do not have clout, (read: money) must settle for the invasive tests run by interns that suck up vacation days and cost us a bundle.

We know this is so, but to run an ad about this great program is an amazing insult. I know the reaction–most people will think if they spend  a little more money, they can pretend to be executives and get good care. Don’t fool yourself. This is another step in the “C-level or drown” thinking we have brought on ourselves.

Shouldn’t medical care be a little more egalitarian? Why should the senior physician automatically be assigned to the executive? Because they are both successful? Because the rich, most of whose salary we pay or agree to, are more important?

There is a lot of attention paid to C-level executives (CEO, CFO, CIO) simply because they have the title. And if they have that title, they must be better, smarter, more successful.

And that’s what I have to disagree with–that money is a measure of success.  As long as we make money the common denominator, those with a smaller number below the line will get a smaller piece of justice, medicine, education. When money is the measure, then getting the money becomes the only proof, the goal worth fighting for.

That’s how we got to where we are now. The people who thought they had real money, real equity, who were given real mortgages that were built on a base of need and greed and illusion.

Haven’t we had enough of that yet? How much more do we have to believe that a big car makes us worthwhile? What’s success to you? How do you measure your worth? Kindness?  Understanding? Inner peace? Achievement? What kind of achievement?

Let me know how you meaure success in the comments. I want to know.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and successful owner of QuinnCreative. She also works on a combined art-and-writing project in which strangers comment on life in shared journals.

Fear of Success

Today, Thanksgiving, was a dream fulfilled. Last year, separated from all family, I was alone on Thanksgiving. The thing that helped me through was my dream of the future–the house Back East would sell, we’d pack up and move, buy a house and have Thanksgiving in the West. And that’s exactly what happened today. And to top it off, we ate outside. In November. It stopped raining long enough.

And I almost missed it. It’s an old pattern. A dream starts to form and come into reality and I start to panic. Oh, no, I’ll have a dream come true. I’ll have to admit it. I’ll have to be responsible for all that joy. I won’t be happy enough. Or serene enough. Or it wasn’t perfect and I’d wanted an imperfect dream. And I wasn’t thin while it happened.

Luckily, I stopped myself. While my family was passing around the stuffing and cranberry sauce, I realized that I had come through a very difficult year. I had experienced a lot of growth and a lot of slips backward. Just yesterday I heard from a prospect that I spent a great deal of preparation on–I didn’t get the job. So how could I allow myself to be happy? Because compared to a year ago, I have made progress in my life, and I was sitting at a table with enough food and family. And the disappointments? We can’t know happiness unless we also know sadness. I can’t feel success unless I feel failure. So compared to last year, I was satisfied and happy, despite setbacks and despite the fact that I have a lot of work to do.

Often when we experience success, we don’t allow ourselves to feel it. It might jinx it. Stop. Please. Feel that success. Babies laugh out loud without fear of being smacked down for not having enough experience with joy to express it. They get praised for smiling.

Experience that joy, that growth. It doesn’t come without struggle and a price, but when it arrives, let it blossom and cheer you. It will make the next step easier and it will be great to recognize it again.

Here are some tips to help you remember:

–When you reach a goal or experience success, what does your joy feel like?

–Where in your body do you experience it–do you feel light-headed? Do you feel energized? Do you feel like dancing?

–What do you do to remember your successes–throw a party? Confide in a friend? Treat yourself?

–What were your last three successes? How about your last three failures? If you can rattle off the failures but can’t remember the successes, you have some work to do. You’ve had successes, but you haven’t celebrated. It’s your success, it’s your victory. Don’t shortchange yourself.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist, and creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

The Shortcut, Please

The voice on the phone could have been any business call I get in the course of a day.
“I’m an artist, and a coach, and I teach business communications.”
“Great,” I say, and almost always, I know what’s coming.
“I’ve noticed on your website that you teach journaling classes, even incorporate them in business seminars,” the eager voice says.
“You are right,” I say waiting for the next question.
“Well, I’m having trouble getting a lot of people in my class. And you’ve had this up on your site for a while. So you must be doing something right. Can you give me some tips and shortcuts so I can be successful?”
It’s seldom that I am at a loss for words, but this is a sure way to make me speechless. Lacking understanding, I aim for clarity.
“I’m not sure what you want me to tell you,” I ask, although I’m beginning to think I do.
“I want you to give me shortcuts and tips to be successful,” the voice says.
“What are you doing now that works?” I ask.
“Well, I’ve been a coach for about six months and word of mouth isn’t working,” she says.
“Word of mouth is a method that comes after there are enough happy mouths to talk about your work. Word of mouth takes about four years to work,” I say.
“What? That can’t be. Look at all those people on the internet, and their sites, and all the ones that get thousands of orders overnight,” she says, what about them?
“I don’t know about them,” I answer honestly, “Here’s what I can tell you about my success. I work 120 hours a week, divided over 7 days. I make mistakes, I fail, I figure out what went wrong. I do something else. I advertise, I use every opportunity I can find, some work better than others. I don’t have a secret, and I don’t know any shortcuts.”
The voice at the other end of the phone is quiet.
“You won’t help me. Women are supposed to help each other,” she says.
“I am helping you. I’m telling you from my experience that there is no shortcut. I can give you tips, though.”
“OK, she says, GO.”roadwork ahead
“Keep track of what works.
Listen more than talk.
Ask questions.
Go “huh?” a lot and wonder why.
Advertising takes longer to work than you think it should.
Run ads at least 7 times before you expect them to work.
Have a clear idea of what your business is about.
Know why what you do is different from what other people in the same line of work do.
Know what your features and benefits are, be ready to explain them.
Most people know features really well, but explaining the benefits of your service is the key to success.
Don’t ever undervalue yourself, but understand that value is a relative thing.
Don’t think everyone in your audience is rich, and don’t plan on having just rich people for an audience.”

Those are the best tips I know.
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed. “So you won’t share shortcuts.”
“I can’t,” I say, wishing I had some myself. I’m not pushing 50, I’m dragging it, and I wish I had discovered some shortcuts.
“Can I ask you another question?” the voice asks.
“Sure, go ahead. If I know the answer, I’ll tell you.”
“Do you know someone else, maybe someone famous, who’ll share their shortcuts with me?”

Note: Every coaching school, as part of its curriculum, should teach marketing. The one I attended has an optional brown-bag lunch session in two courses, but it wasn’t part of the training. There was a separate marketing course, with a separate fee. Coaching students are often other-directed, focused on spirituality, and believe that “sales” and “marketing” are bad words, that selling your service is somehow tainted. These good people often think  they will attract the right people to them just because they are ready to work.

From what I’ve read, a large number of people go through coaches training and then can’t create a business. Part of every educational course that teaches a skill should be a lesson on how to apply it, how to market it and how to create a life doing it. My husband, who is a personal chef, discovered the same thing in his training. Luckily, we both came from marketing backgrounds. For those who don’t, and are planning on taking any skill-set education, it’s an important question to ask, “Do you offer marketing as part of the course?”

–(c) Quinn McDonald, 2007. All rights reserved.