Facing Down Fear

About the time I left the corporate world, I had to make some big decisions on how to run my business. What my core principles would be. I decided to use the same principles I use for my personal life. When you own the business, it looks a lot like you anyway.

Some of the values were easy to choose: Be fair. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t make up what you think something means, ask. Listen.

"Her wings were only falling leaves, yet she could fly." © Quinn McDonald 2005

“Her wings were only falling leaves, yet she could fly.” © Quinn McDonald 2005

Then came the giant one: No fear. Do not make business decisions out of fear. Don’t make any decision out of fear.

It’s hard to keep that one. I had made business decisions based in fear for a long time–fear of my boss, fear of not meeting the team goals, fear of the competition, fear of getting fired.

A decision based on fear is frequently loaded with other weak motives. Revenge, neediness, lack of control. If you take fear off the table as a motive, your life looks different.

So this week, I made two huge choices that would normally strike fear into me. First, I hired a consultative comptroller–someone who can tell me which line of business is most profitable, and how I’m progressing month to month and year to year. I’m bad about keeping track of expenses, and this business consultant already pointed out two big truths that I have not wanted to consider.

The second decision was to hire a real ad agency to build a website that makes sense for my business. Right now I have a placeholder website and that’s not enough.

In other words, I have decided that growth is something I want to choose. I want to expand the business training I do. I want to do coaching programs. I am amazed that after all the talking I do about the Inner Critic, I have not only been listening to mine, but backing away from playing big. Yep, I have been deliberately playing small because it became my comfort zone.

I was doing too many things to pay attention to any one of them. So I cut back to what I do best: helping people get better at what they like to do. For me that means writing, teaching writing, and coaching people who want to have the life they wish they could deserve.

The whole plan is big and bold and oddly, scary. That means I have to trust that I can do this, write the check to get the process started and leap. It’s what I talk about–being bold. I’m telling you, because you are coming along with me–I’m starting to walk this talk. Stay tuned for late-breaking developments.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She teaches what she does.

Give Away Your Work? It Can Work

If you are a freelance writer, artist or have a talent, offer a service or product, you will be asked to give it away for free. Often it comes with the promise of “getting your name out—good marketing.” I’ve talked about avoiding false marketing schemes, but today the issue is different.

Giving away your product or service can be a gift to you, or. . .

Giving away your product or service can be a gift to you, or. . .

A good way to get your services, company’s name or your own name in front of people is to donate your product or services in a way that it will get seen by your target audience. The key is, as always, the right audience. Let’s assume you are fielding requests from several good organizations, all with your target audience.

The request involves both your time and materials, which have a value. They also require time and effort, which has a financial worth–part of the price. (Price and value are two completely different things.)

How much should you give away? How much free time is too much to give away?

1. Treat the request as a real job. Never give away something sloppy because you aren’t charging for it. If you are contributing, it represents you, so it has to be your best. Many requests will try to make the request look smaller by saying “just send anything.” Don’t do that. What you send represents you to your potential audience. Send your best.

2. Limit your time and costs. Not by being fast or sloppy, but through smart

. . . or a load of garbage.

. . . or a load of garbage.

time management. Instead of starting from scratch, re-write a good article for this specific audience. Make new art, but not with a new technique. Create something you already know how to make, but in a new color.

3. Know when to say ‘no.’ Ask about the deadline before you agree. Most requests for “free” also come with tight deadlines. Don’t be afraid to turn down a request if the deadline doesn’t work for you. Know your limit for “free.” A good rule of thumb is between 5 percent and 10 percent of your non-committed time in any quarter. That figure includes all charitable work–from volunteering to producing. And count in all of your production–planning, buying materials, production.  (Check with your tax person about how much of these donations are tax deductible. It’s much less than you think–your time isn’t tax deductible in most cases.)

4. Plan out the project. Let’s say you offer to write an 800 word article. Use your calendar to block out the time for research, writing, re-writing, proofreading, as if it were a real assignment. The entire block of time is now not available for any other charity work. Putting it in your calendar is a handy reminder to do the work, but also a good reminder that you can’t do any more volunteer work at the same time.

5. Understand your motivation and stick to it. Most of us get in trouble because we want to be nice, friendly, helpful and loved. So we don’t say ‘no.’ We say ‘yes,’ become resentful, rushed, and do a bad job. And inadvertently become not-nice, cranky, a problem and hated. The opposite of what we wanted in the first place. You cannot accept work to be loved if you don’t have time to be loved.

6. Know how to say ‘no.’ Saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to be a rejection of the person who asked.  Here are some ways to say no that are both clear and kind–and that’s the real key to turning down an offer. Be clear and kind.

Say ‘no’ to now, but offer a time that’s realistic for you. “Thank you for asking for an article, Mary, I’m honored you want me to be a guest blogger. I’m booked up for the next two weeks, so tomorrow doesn’t work for me. I could get you something in three weeks from Thursday. Would that work for you?”

–Say ‘no’ because you have booked up all your volunteer time. This shows you are already loved and booked. “Thanks for asking, Mary, but Carlos asked me last week, so my volunteer time for March is already booked. I’m honored you asked.” Delivered with a smile, this feels good and is clear.

Point to another source. This will make you a valuable resource and not cost you future work. “Thanks for the offer, Mary, normally I’d jump at the chance. I’m booked right now, but you might want to ask Haji. He’d be great for your project.”

Free work, handled like real work, can be a good marketing idea. Or it can be the project from hell. Either way, it’s yours to accept or turn down. Don’t create your own hell, I learned that lesson the very publicly embarrassing way.

—Quinn McDonald learns by failing spectacularly. Then she shares with her readers.

Images: Giftbox from VectorDiary.com, garbage truck from DailyBargain.com

Sticking to Your Idea

Yesterday, I talked about working with what works for you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your work, if you are making meaning in your life, if you are finding inspiration and growth,  you are on the right track. For you.

A few people asked me to prove my point by giving an example. Gladly.

Museum installation using styrofoam cups. © Tara Donovan.

Museum installation using styrofoam cups. © Tara Donovan.

The art on this page was done by Tara Donovan.  She works in plastic straws, Styrofoam cups, coffee filters, and steel pins. She tended bar and waited tables for six years while working on her art. She heard people laugh and suggest “real” art work. Maybe event a “real” job. But she didn’t do that.

You may know the feeling. You are working out an idea–on a book, a painting, a textile piece of creative work, and you begin to doubt yourself. “Who will ever think this is worthwhile?” you think. Maybe a friend or relative looks at your work and sighs. “Do you really think this is art?” they ask. And you begin to doubt yourself. Your work. Your life choices..

Most artists go through this, and many cave when faced with serious criticism or doubt. They move to something more acceptable. More popular. More understandable.

The artists who inspire me the most, who give me the biggest soul boost, are the

Tara Donovan's installation using plastic straws. © Tara Donovan.

Tara Donovan’s installation using plastic straws. © Tara Donovan.

ones who stick with their work and perfect it. They let the criticism and doubt stay with the person who feels it–while the artist sticks with the creative work.

Tara Donovan graduated from the Corcoran School of Art in 1991, got a MFA from Virginia Commonwealth in 1999 and kept her day job till 2003, when she had her first solo show at the Ace Gallery. In 2008 she got a MacArthur Fellowship, often called a Genius Grant. And she still works with pins, straws and cups.

I find this dedication and constantly renewed creative energy incredibly inspiring. She knew what she wanted and she kept working at it. How many times do you think she heard jokes about tending bar and stealing straws? And she kept going. All the way to that Genius Grant and beyond.

It’s a good story to remember when you begin to question yourself.
See more of Tara’s work.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach.

Focusing on What’s Important

If you own your business or are starting up a business, you need a plan. Not a formal business plan (unless you are planning on forming a partnership or need to borrow money from a bank). But you do need a plan. A plan that uses your skills and what is important to you. Normally, I call what is important to you, “values,” and what I mean by that is heart. Your power to run or improve a business depends on your strength of heart.

Heart is talent. It’s what you believe in. It’s what you are good at and don’t mind putting in long hours to improve.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.54.37 PMThe biggest mistake you can make is get distracted. Decide that someone else is stronger, better, or smarter than you and follow them. Hope their light shines on you. Ask them to include you in their plan. Think they will mentor you.

Successful people have plans. They keep their eyes on working on their plan, making choices that benefit their plan. That is what you should be doing, too.

The American businessman Jim Rohn said it wonderfully: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

Of course you can ask for help, advice, or suggestions. But tend your own plan. Know what it is. Watch your business decisions to keep them filled with your heart. That’s where your power is. That’s where your strength is. That is how you will build a business that is all yours and clear to you.

-Quinn McDonald owns her own business and helps others work on their plans.

 

The Magic Week

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a magic one. Work is slow, often slow enough to enjoy some reading, planning, thinking time. An excellent time to take a look at your plans for 2015. I’m against making New Year’s resolutions, for three simple reasons:

How to protect a cactus from a freeze. The secret is knowing what will save a plant and what wastes time and materials.

How to protect a cactus from a freeze. The secret is knowing what will save a plant and what wastes time and materials. Planning for 2015 uses the same rules.

1. They are generally too big or too vague to succeed. (I want to eat a healthy diet; I want to lose 20 pounds, I want to have a better relationship with X.)

2. There are no how-to steps or plans to break the task from bigger to smaller steps. Nothing fails faster than a big plan with no small victories and check-in days.

3. There is no support system. Unless you enroll a support system, your family and friends will not want you to change. When you change, they will also have to change, and they didn’t sign up for that. They will send you change-back messages until you cave and give up.

So what to think about 2015? Start with things that worked well for you in 2014.

We all meet dips in our lives. We don't always get warnings.

We all meet dips in our lives. We don’t always get warnings.

A relationship that went well. A success at work. A goal you met. Anything that worked well. Write it down. Describe it in detail. Celebrate your success. Continued success is built on previous, recognized, success.

Next, look at where you started in 2014 and how far you have come. Overcoming difficulties. Skirting tough times with grace. OK, without grace, but with persistence. Looking back to see how far you have come is a necessary step to keep moving ahead.

It’s tempting to think of the person you would like to be in 2015. Even more tempting to make it a whole new person. But it’s far more worthwhile spending your time finding yourself than trying to be someone new.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach, writer, and business trainer who is planning for 2015 in a week that also includes a lot of reading and sleeping.

 

Giving and Withholding

There it was on my Facebook feed–another “friend” invitation from someone I don’t know. That isn’t unusual, and most of the people I follow on FB are people I do not know in person. Still, we all have some connection–writing, sketching, collage, some worked at companies I’ve worked at. It’s comfortable–I don’t post super-personal information. It’s not the people, it’s FB itself that makes me leery.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 8.40.40 PMWhat made this different is that within minutes of accepting the friend request, I received another request: to “like” their business page, to join their private group, and for two of them, to contribute to their private fund-raiser.

It confused me. Receiving a friend request is not being invited to someone’s house, but it also seems awkward to ask someone for money you have just friended on Facebook. And yet, I have given money to total strangers–the homeless begging at the side of the freeway or in front of stores. So why not on Facebook?

Because there is no personal contact. One person friended me, then immediately sent me a private message wishing me Merry Christmas.  Immediately after that came a request for medical expense money for his family. The photo could be any family, anywhere. The need could have been real, the request legitimate.

The homeless I give money to are people I “know”–also in a different way. I see the same people on the same corners. Tenuous as it is, it is a face-to-face transaction.

No matter what business you are in–from selling your ebooks to your art to your services–the personal connection is the one that will work. But it has to be real. Once people experience you, your service, your offer, your real work, there is something to react to. It can’t be an instant, one-way tag-game for the soft touch. That has never worked, and it won’t work just because FB makes it easier to connect.

Quinn McDonald is a life coach and an instructor. She knows the value of relationships.

 

Chasing Clients

You own the business, you have to have clients. Find them, nurture them, and sometimes humor them. But there are also roads I won’t take for the sake of my coaching clients. This week, I’ve had some specific questions, some of them twice. So it’s time to review the underlying ideas to my coaching set up.

littleprince

llustration from “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupery

1. Coaching is done over the phone or Skype. I won’t go to your house, have you come to mine, or meet you half way. The reasoning behind this is simple: I was trained to coach over the phone. To listen. To not be distracted by facial expressions, which often are done to mask real emotions. I also take notes and people often get distracted by that. “What are you writing down?” “Can I see your notes?” And the conversation shifts from you to note-taking.

2. No in-person coaching means financial savings for you. If I have to drive to meet you, be there early, coach, then drive home, I’m going to have to charge you for that time. One of my goals for coaching has always been to keep the price of sessions reasonable. Once I start driving, that can’t happen anymore. And frankly, a lot of my coaching is international. And the commute’s really boring.

3. You will phone me for the appointment. When you phone me, I know you are ready, that you have put aside time to pay attention. That your heart is fully in it. If I phone you, you will still be eating, won’t have thought about the session, or ask me to phone back “in a few minutes.” I know, this used to happen.

4. Ask and sign up on your own. I won’t coach your friend, your spouse, or your child because you want me to. Unless the client talks to me directly, coaching is not a good idea. Coaching isn’t a spa day. It’s a soul-deep, life-changing experience. And you can’t make someone else have that.

Having these rules in place creates an amazing combination of heart-and-soul concentration and results. I don’t want to coach people who are lukewarm, vague or not really interested. I want to dig in with people who are aware, alive, and stuck. Who have hit a wall, can’t find their way around an obstacle, or can’t find what they know is there. People who want to work hard to build what they have always wanted. For those people, I will pay full attention, give you all my power and charge up your life. I think it’s smart to have the rules; you will, too.

Read more about coaching with Quinn.

-Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach.

 

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.

 

 

Five Ways to Stay Organized

It’s Monday, and organizational skills might be running thin.  If you are at work, you may envy the CEO or agency head for their organizational skills. (And the help they have.) Even without administrative assistants, you can use the ideas and organize your day. Maybe even your week. Here are some tips.

1. Write everything down on one to-do list. Not one for personal items and one for work, but just one list. And while you are at it, write down all your fears and worries as well. The more you separate work, worries, events, appointments, the more your brain has to scramble to sort and repeat it. It’s called a rehearsal loop. (Daniel J. Levitin describes the neuroscience in his book.) That repetition makes the worries and work seem like its more and worse.  You don’t need the stress.

This mess is great for a dropcloth, but not so much for your head.

This mess is great for a dropcloth, but not so much for your head.

2. Once it’s on a list, divide it into four categories. I got this great idea from Getting Things Done by David Allen:

  • Do it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it
  • Drop it

Now take those items and sort them using the Eisenhower method. Yep, that long-ago President. He  is supposed to have said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”  How do you divide urgent and important? Here’s the chart Eisenhower used:

Eisenhower-urgent-important3. Don’t read emails first. I know, that is not at all what you have been trained to do. When you read emails, you begin to answer them. It’s like opening your front door and having random people come in and ask for help. You wouldn’t dream of doing that. So don’t start the day with other people’s work. For the first hour at work, pay attention to your own work.

Using the chart above, and do two items from the “urgent and important” box and some action to move one “important but urgent” item one step ahead.

Bonus tip: Break down the whole chunk of work into smaller segments you can do in 20 minutes. That’s what goes down on your to-do list. If you see, “Write presentation for convention,” you will not know where to start. If you see, “brainstorm three ideas for presentation,” you will tackle it.

4. Send some emails. Your inbox is filled with what other people consider urgent but not important. Don’t fall for it. Fill up someone else’s inbox with what you consider urgent but not important. This doesn’t have to mean a direct report. Someone who is better at that task that you will do nicely. And say “please” early on.

If your boss has trained you to be available and ready to jump at the slightest notice, just open the boss’s emails and put them in one of those four categories.

Do not allow your boss to plan your day for you. You won’t have a decently planned day, and you won’t do enough for the boss anyway. Otherwise, your life will turn into this quote. (One of my favorites.)

d02bd27c2f315917f42326435dd12f805. Use your phone as a timer and reminder. Set your timer so you won’t be late for meetings and appointments. Use the same timer to divide your time so you can move several projects ahead. Think of it as a circuit workout at the gym–two minutes on 10 different machines builds better muscles and burns more fat. And fat-burning mode is great for Monday morning work.

Trying to work on one thing for a whole day will just turn you into someone who cleans their desk, makes four pots of coffee and stirs the office gossip pot. One of the best way to avoid getting caught up in office politics is to be busy getting your own work done. And you’ll feel virtuous.

There. Now you’ve done something worthwhile on Monday morning. And I have to get to work.

—Quinn McDonald makes her to-do list every night before she goes to bed. That keeps her worries written down so she can sleep well at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Not About Space

Most people have their creative play driven out of them by fourth grade. Children are told what art is, and lessons are generally about precision and not making a mistake. But art is about seeing and being. And making mistakes so you can fix them and learn to see better.

Making art isn’t about “stuff” either.  Art comes from within you, not through stencils, transparencies and puffy paints. I’m not saying they aren’t fun, or that creative play should be sparse. I am saying you don’t need to break the bank and become an art-product consumer to be an artist. It’s not what you own, it’s what you do with what you have.

justine_ashbee1Here are two great examples of what I mean. Both of these people can’t NOT make art. They stand in the flow of time and art and the work pours out of them because there is no other choice. They have their own ideas of what art is, and the only tool either one of them uses is a Sharpie pen.

ashbee_web61Justine Ashbee uses good paper along with her Sharpie. Her flowing lines and subtle use of color are incredibly beautiful art. She does it freehand. It comes from within her. It’s the flow of art. You couldn’t stop her creative work because it makes meaning. It doesn’t need to be supported with a million products.

Charlie Kratzer, the other artist, does a totally different kind of work. He decorated his entire basement with a black Sharpie. OK, it was more than one. It was $10 worth. The rest was his creativity, his ideas, his desire to decorate his life.

Kratzer is a lawyer, and started with one line in the basement–a line that began a mural around his basement wall. The mural is not just furniture and columns and wainscoting, although it is all that.

The art spans literature and popular culture, Picasso and Churchill. I could list all the things on the wall, but there is a wonderful video and article that does a much better job.

Being creative is not about owning stuff, buying stuff, or having a fabulous studio to store the stuff. Right now there it’s popular to have artists’ studios in magazines, along with descriptions about how this big, airy, wonderful space is exactly what every artist needs. Yes, it’s nice to have lots of space and storage, but thinking you need 300 square feet with special furniture before you can create is the same as thinking you aren’t an artist until you have four bins of stuff.

Creativity is making meaning in your life. Anyway you can. No excuses. Get busy doing one thing that you love. It’s fine if you think you can’t. Just get into the studio and start. The rest will wash over you and sweep you away in art.

—Quinn McDonald is using her old stuff to create new stuff.