Category Archives: Coaching

Creative people get stuck. Coaches get them unstuck.

The Past Is Not Your Future

Love the past? Have tons of photos of your childhood, high school and college days? Photos are great reminders of who we were, but so many times, we mire ourselves in the past like an old station wagon with its wheels dug into a snowbank.

Who still holds the strings that allow you to move?

Who still holds the strings that allow you to move into a free world?

Yes, the past shaped you. Maybe even hurt you, distorted you, and damaged you. But that does not mean you have to stay stuck there. You can turn your back on the past and face forward. Look ahead. Plan ahead.

Getting Rid of the Past by Cleaning Out
One way to help you let go is by cleaning out the stuff that is holding you back. There is a difference between old photos and photos that zap tears into your eyes–tears of regret, shame, and anger. Take a look around your living space. What are you hanging on to that is not supporting the you that you want to become?

This is particularly true if you are suddenly living alone, about to move in with someone, an empty nester or simply still hanging on to painful memories and memorabilia.

Pile everything that’s painful on the bed. Throw out all items you won’t need for taxes or legal reasons. There will still be a big pile left–memorabilia, some of which you feel guilty about. “I can’t throw out my wedding album,” I hear you wail. OK, you can use one old suitcase or Rubbermaid container to hold those items you feel have historical or genealogical value.

What holds you back needs to be given away, burned, donated, or trashed.

What holds you back needs to be given away, burned, donated, or trashed.

Be ruthless. Toss out, give away, transfer ownership, donate, but get those painful objects out of your house. Do not stack them in the garage. Do not rent a storage locker for them. Paying to hold on to your painful memories is worse than having them underfoot in the house. Under all those pieces of your past your are clinging to are the basic values you need to start over. The big dream. The enthusiasm. All that stuff is crushing those values. Making them small. Making you sure that you don’t deserve a big, happy, interesting, creative future.

The next thing is an exercise from my upcoming book. I’ve found it to work in many cases:

Re-write the future as you are living it now to what you would like to do. Do not allow yourself to stay stuck in old patterns. Instead of “I always wanted to be a writer, but because my mother told me to get a career, I became a teacher. Maybe when I retire in ten years, I can do some art,” write down, “I want to live my life out loud as an artist. I want to [paint, write, sing, dance] and do it out loud and in public. In five years, I can see myself [having a solo show, singing in a musical, publishing a book]. When I do that, here are the friends that will celebrate with me [list]. Here is how we will celebrate [describe it in detail.]

You don’t have to worry exactly how to move from A to B yet. You have to have a clear vision before you can walk toward it. Carrying around the blame and shame will not lighten your walk, it will barricade it. Take the first step and clean the past out of your home. You will feel lighter and more prepared for the future you want.

[There are many steps to creating the life you want. Small ones, big ones. But facing what you are holding on to and what is holding you back is an excellent place to start discarding the unneeded, unnecessary, and unlovely. ]

-Quinn McDonald helps coaching clients leave their past behind and walk toward a lighter, brighter future.

Timing, Timing

dandelionThere are days that I am in top form, ready to go, loving what shows up. And then there are days when I have a cold. It’s been a week now and the snot fairy has moved into my head with a long-term lease and the cactus is firmly ensconced in my throat.

Feeling sick is a normal part of life–no one is healthy all the time. I am tremendously lucky that I haven’t been seriously sick in many years. And a cold–even a bad cold–is just that. It’s not life-threatening. But there is something that does happen when I don’t feel well, and I bet it happens to other people, too.

I catastrophize. Small upheavals become giant, and small efforts don’t work. Everything requires huge effort. And yesterday, my Plan B because my only option. Because I let it look like my only choice. Although I know “you look where you go,” feeling sick made me look more closely at failure, at not making it, at playing small, crushed and defeated. And headed right into that direction.

So I stoked up on cold medicine and went to see the client. Ready to be defeated and go home and eat worms.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.05.58 PMThank goodness for smart clients. This one turned me away from Plan B and steered me right back to Plan A. The Big Game. Some sense seeped into my stuffy brain. I pushed back the highly polished Plan B and pulled out the A Game. And it worked. The client was pleased. Encouraged me. And way against my expectations, Plan A glowed and Plan B (what to do if I fail) crumbled.

So, one more time: when you aren’t feeling well, don’t let that define you. Don’t go for the worst scenario. Intense self-care, even if you think you don’t deserve it, if vital if you own the business, stand up for yourself or represent your work.

Don’t brush off your self-care. It will always reward you. I learned to ignore self-care from years of working in businesses where being sick was not an excuse to stay home. Now it’s my business. And self-care comes first.

—Quinn McDonald will be getting better any moment now. Please.

Drama: The Soul Eater

“But it was so wrong,” my client said angrily. And it had been. The next step was going to determine how much drama was going to enter her life and change it. There is a natural urge in some people to fix whatever they find in front of them. Not just lend a hand, but insert themselves into situations that are not their making and try to take them over. This is the flashpoint of drama.

letter to dramaDrama may seem like fun, a break in your routine, a chance to get involved in some juicy problems and watch other people struggle. A larger and larger number of women enjoy drama. If they don’t find it, they create it.  That’s a dangerous game.

Drama is a time-waster and a soul-eater, often creating more trouble than the original problem. Drama requires three players:

The victim, who can focus only on what is missing in life, what she does not have, and what she does not want. She wants to remain the victim, so solving a problem may not be what she wants to achieve.

The Fixer is the person who is attracted to every victim like a magnet. The Fixer wants to rescue or save the victim, and the more effort it takes, the better the fixer feels about herself. She wants to appear selfless, strong, and a problem solver. Unfortunately, that means looking at life from a negative point of view, to show sympathy and alliance with the victim. Fixers are people-pleasers or martyrs, giving up a positive view to dwell in the negative. Of course, where you look is where you go, so the “solutions” the Fixer brings are often revenge- or fear-based. That never has long legs.

drama adviceThe Villain is far more like the Victim than we want to think. They have a huge need to be right, to gain control over every situation, and are particularly bad at seeing anyone else’s point of view. Villains were often victims who brought themselves out of victim-hood by controlling everything in sight.

What makes this situation dangerous is the similarity to every fairytale in our cultural span. The Villain must be defeated, the Victim saved, and the Fixer (or hero) admired. The flaw in the fairy tale is that life is not that simple. And worse, in most fairy tales the victim is thought of as helpless or weak until she is rescued by a man. Sleeping Beauty had to be kissed by a prince to be saved, Rapunzel had to have her prince climb up her hair to free her (although then they were both in the tower with all that hair). You get the point.

What makes drama a bad idea for relationships, work, and friendships? Drama is based on the idea that the victim is in crisis and helpless. Instead of stepping in as the Fixer and immediately looking for a Villain in every situation, allow the Victim to be resourceful, creative and whole. Many Victims use their Victimhood as a test to find people who will always prove themselves as friends. For a Victim, friends are always there to be manipulated.

Victims control their negative life by not letting go of their bad luck, hardships, or problems. Any Fixer in close proximity gets sucked in. Victims like being surrounded by Fixers. Fixers, on the other hand, do not like confrontation or other Fixers. Often Fixers will try to be the only person the Victim can trust. If you think that sounds controlling, it is. Remember, many Fixers started as Victims, progressed to being Villains and now want to be Fixers–controllers and the ones who hold the only solution. The price is a lot more than a kiss or climbing up a hair ladder.  It’s a no-win situation, a traffic circle of grief.

Ways to break away from drama:

1. Don’t give advice unless you are specifically asked for it. Don’t fish around by saying, “do you want advice?” because a victim will always want you to supply an answer. That way, when it doesn’t work (and it never will), it will be your fault. You told her what to do, she did (in her own way) and now it’s your fault that her life, once more, is a mess.

2. Allow your friends, family and co-workers to be creative in choosing a solution that works for them. Creativity is the key. Creativity is the ability to see positive solutions and put together a plan to create them. This requires a lot of patience and some professional training.

3. Walk away from drama. It’s much easier to walk away before you get sucked into the traffic circle of escalating drama.

4. Suggest a coach or therapist. They are different answers, but coaches and therapists are trained to deal with drama without getting involved in the problem. Therapists look to the past to find old habits and solve them. Coaches look to the future and help clients build their own solutions while teaching them to use new tools.

-–Quinn McDonald is a coach who knows a lot about drama. Trapped in the Victim-Hero-Villain circle herself for years, she is now writing a book on freeing yourself from the trap.

 

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.

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.

 

Non-Attachment to the Outcome

If my creativity coaching clients had to choose their least-favorite task, it would be completing an application for a juried art show or submitting a grant proposal.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.30.03 PMThe application for a juried show includes the dreaded image-selection process, a choice that either will make judges smile and say “Yes!’ or push an application into the rejection stack. Artists rarely know exactly what the jury is looking for. Often the jury’s background isn’t released in the application, so some of the jurors may not understand the descriptions carefully crafted by the submitting artist.

It feels a lot like running across a rope bridge, blindfolded. In the rain.

Writers have the same struggle with grant applications. If the application has stringent rules, the writer has to second-guess what the review committee means  when the instructions are unclear or use jargon. Recently, I helped an applicant figure out that “disruptive practices” is now the buzzword for creativity.

The language is just one hurdle. The instructions for submitting the application is often confusing and complicated with no additional, simplifying help.

It becomes really easy for an applicant to second-guess choices, to put out work that is safe and popular instead of innovative.

All that is just the beginning. The part that comes next is the most difficult part: waiting for the reply.

If you are a normal human being, you will begin to worry, then doubt yourself, then think you surely submitted the best work, then be absolutely certain that you are not worthy of any consideration. All in one coaching call.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.31.43 PM

Crown used at coronation for the monarch of Denmark.

Worse still is believing that the choice of the jury or review team is a reflection of your artistic talent. A rejection does not mean you are a talentless slug who should be banished to a life of assembling watercolor brushes by hand, bristle by bristle. An acceptance does not mean you are the shining star of your field, and get to wear the crown of fabulousness.

A rejection is just that—a turndown by a group of people you don’t know. An acceptance is approval, also by people you don’t know. This is not a judgment of your character, your future, or even a universal statement about your art. It’s an opinion.

A writer’s job is to submit an application that is clear, well-written, free of grammatical mistakes, logical and representative of the best thinking, writing, and creative work.

Your best approach is to write book or class descriptions while you are working on it and have your audience and outcome clearly in mind. It’s impossible to remember the important elements of your book when an application is due tomorrow.

Once the application is sent, the hard work of non-attachment starts. You are not in control of the judging. You have done your best. Take pride in your growth and ideas. Take pride in submitting your well thought-out work.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.35.11 PMInstead of celebrating only if you get accepted, plan a celebration for the day you submit an application. Submitting your best work is the focus of the celebration, not the approval of others.

When the reply comes back, take a deep breath and remind yourself this is not about you. Non-attachment doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you know you did your best, presented work that you believe in, and are not defining yourself by the decision not in your control.

Non-attachment to outcome may be the hardest work you have ever done, but it will build your confidence in the deep part of you that makes meaning as an artist.

Quinn McDonald is waiting to hear about a grant application.

Letting Go of 2014

It doesn’t matter if it was a great year or a tough year. Probably some of both. Either way, in a week it will be 2015. And you can choose what to take with you and what to leave behind. Yes, you can. This is not up to your partner, or your parents, or what happened in 1974. It’s your choice.

Screen Shot 2014-12-25 at 11.34.12 PMLetting go means not dragging the worry and tension with you into a new year. Letting go means exhaling and waiting to pull in new air into your life and lungs.

Letting goes means leaving behind. Things that aren’t useful. Things that drag you down. Things that hold you back.

You get to choose priorities. You get to name what it important to you. No one can decide for you. You can’t claim it is important and then turn your back on it. Then it wasn’t important enough.

One year from now, you will not remember if you started the year with clean floors, dusted furniture, or a put-away tree. But you will remember your creative work. The work that expressed who you choose to be. The creative urge you followed that made 2015 different from 2014.

Start to let go of what isn’t make you eager, alive, wonderful and awake. You have a bit less than one week.

-–Quinn McDonald is starting to let go.

 

 

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.

 

I’ll Ride With You

While the hostages were still being held in Sydney and all that was known was that the hostage-taker was Muslim, Central Sydney was in lockdown. And then, as must happen, innocent and good Muslims began to be afraid. Women who wear the hijab wondered what would happen if they rode on public transportation.

I’ve seen this before, right after 9/11, in Washington, D.C. I also know the fear of seeing some crime committed and cringing, holding by breath and thinking, “please don’t let it be [my ethnic group].”

Fear is an ugly thing. Its only reaction is anger. But what I began to see in Sydney gave me real hope for the goodness in people. Tweets began to appear, people volunteering to sit with Muslim women (and men) on public transportation.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 10.44.03 PMPeople who would provide friendly company and companionship, and yes, protection. Because a White person sitting next to a person of color (or wearing a headscarf) and speaking with them reduces the fear level.

The Tweets grew. The hashtag was #Illridewithyou. Hundreds of people began to post their public transportation routes, to identify themselves with photos, scarves, signs on bags and briefcases.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 10.44.26 PMThis was not a sanctioned, public, government movement. It was started by one woman and picked up by others who wanted to help. Because help is something everyone can do. Not a big heroic move, just sitting with someone who is scared. Making them feel normal. Because they are. Reducing fear and anger in others.

We can all do small things to reduce fear and anger. Not passing fear on is one way. Margaret Mead, the anthropologist said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I might be 7,800 miles from that coffee shop that held hostages, but I love those people I don’t even know. They have heart. Big heart. #I’llridewithyou.

—Quinn McDonald knows that it takes small acts of love to make big moves of courage.

Dissolving the Bad Day

The business trip had been bone-wrackingly tough. Flight delays. Cranky people. The airlines insisted on gate-checking my bag (no space in steerage for more bags), then broke a wheel on my suitcase, which means I had to carry it instead of roll it. My lock was cut off. I was the random “let’s dig through the bag” person at the TSA. Long day at the client. Delayed lunch. Last-minute extra paperwork. At the end of the day, I am carrying a heavy suitcase down the street, wearing a backpack, puffing hard on the three-block walk and feeling sorry for myself.

I am not thinking of the successful class, the people who thanked me, the person who asked me to autograph the workbook. No, I am focusing on all the mistakes, flaws, and the damn heavy suitcase that no longer rolls. I am, admittedly, in Full Pity Party Mode.

Moon2The sun is setting; I have never loved the late afternoon. I’m a morning person who loves the dawn, and by sundown I’m tired, particularly after a long, intense day teaching business writing.

In this frame of mind, I begin to think of Sundowner’s Syndrome, the depressed state of dementia patients who become agitated in the late afternoon. My mom had Alzheimer’s, so my thought goes right to the idea that I may be next. Maybe I’m already in decline.

The Christmas lights come on in office buildings on the traffic-packed, noisy street. White, twinkly lights wink in tall buildings. Beautiful and cheering, but I refuse to move out of my full-on grump. As I look around, I see a woman sitting against a sturdy stanchion so often seen around big buildings. She is crying. Dressed in just a ragged T-shirt and sweatpants in the winter chill, she looks desperate. I approach and ask if she needs help.

She shakes her head. I put down the suitcase and ask her what’s wrong. She hasMoon1 just come from a state assistance office where she was turned down for help. She is being evicted–before Christmas–and the story is one of bureaucratic mess. She is angry and frustrated. Doesn’t know what to do next. Needs to protect her young son. She’s cold and angry and hungry and I recognize that desperate mix.

Suddenly my own troubles are less threatening. The relentlessly twinkling lights remind me that it’s my job to bring warmth into the world along with light. I ask her when she last ate. More than 24 hours ago. I can do one small thing for her. I bring her into the very fancy hotel with me, the one with the airport shuttle stop. I ask her to carry my backpack (yes, with my wallet and phone) so we can enter looking like we belong together. I’m in business dress, so the hotel concierge raises an eyebrow but says nothing. We stop at the hotel food shop and pick up a healthy dinner for her boy. Then we sit down for dinner in the plush lobby restaurant. I wasn’t planning on eating there, but sharing the decorated and lighted space feels right. And sharing a meal so she will not feel beholden makes the evening seem cozy and not so depressing. We chat about being mothers and chili, and if it should have beans or not.

She wants to thank me and I tell her that she helped me more than she could know. I thank her for keeping me company and helping me see the world in a different way. We walk out and I give her bus fare to get home. We trade my backpack for her son’s dinner and walk in different directions, into different worlds. And mine begins to look a lot brighter.

—Quinn McDonald travels for business and learns more than she teaches.