The Secret to Luck

When people I haven’t seen in a years notice I’ve 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. It made me cranky and I wasn’t always nice.” I get skeptical looks. “But what is your secret?” they repeat. There should be a smoothie, a pill, a piece of equipment, a girdle, or a new exercise behind  significant weight loss.

"Make your own luck."

“Make 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. I still mess up.”  That doesn’t work, either. “You have to treat yourself sometime, or you will quit,” they assure me. “You need to eat a little bit of the foods you love.” “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 been pig-headedly stubborn about relentlessly pursued.

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 experimented with concepts, ideas, projects. A lot of concepts weren’t strong enough, ideas were half-baked and projects failed. Real creativity is what happens after you fail and before you succeed.

I wrote the book proposal over 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 Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 10.19.45 PMnot 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 a single soul 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 of what they would have liked to do instead and worked hard for a long time to make the big dream come true.

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.”

Don’t be afraid to dream big.  Don’t ever doubt that pushing a dream into reality isn’t hard work. It always is. Don’t be afraid to work hard for that big dream. It’s worth it, and you will learn a lot along the way.

Quinn McDonald is still struggling to keep the weight off. But she gets to walk in the beautiful light that comes at daybreak.

 

Words in Words

Words are an endlessly fascinating playground of letters. They help you (sometimes) keep from tripping up. There are fun shortcuts to make up or discover. Stationary means staying in one place. Stationery is writing material. Lucky that the letter kind of stationery had an E in it, just like letter does.

When I talk about the difference between there, their and they’re in class, I can point out that there is the opposite of the word here, conveniently stuck in there. Moving on, their is a word that shows ownership (their car was parked on the street) and has an ownership word in it–heir.  OK, not every example is brilliant, but it’s fun to look for one word hidden in a larger word. When one defines another, it’s even more interesting.

So there is an EAR in HEARD.

ID in INDIVIDUAL.

If you want your eyebrows to rise in surprise and wonder if that was intentional, there is a GRIN in GRIND and BRA in VIBRATE. And, of course, there is WANT in WANTON.

Snark lurks in words-in-words, too. There is MENTAL in FUNDAMENTALIST and RED in CREDIT and IRK in QUIRK and GIN in ENGINEER.

Some may just be a spelling tip. So there is VERY in EVERYTHING, TAG in HERITAGE, TIP in MULTIPLY and RATION in INSPIRATION.

Now that you know, you’ll see small words in bigger words and smile while you are reading. There is SIN in EASINESS, but it doesn’t mean you have to give it up.

Quinn McDonald has fun with words.

It’s a War Against . . . Something

It’s a War Against Women, a War Against Christmas, a War Against some part of the Constitution. Why does stoked up emotion and failed attempts at reason  always have to be a war?  Why do we want to be angry so much? What is the thrill of cranking up drama and emotion over disagreements that could be worked through by talking always have to be blown up and called a War?

War has no winners, only losers and heartbreak.  How about a peace of something? No one is waging a war against women. There may be a legislators making up rules that are unnecessary, but that’s what civil disobedience, voting, and speaking up are for. But it’s hardly a war.

Not only was there never a war against Christmas, but the concept is silly. How would we arm ourselves? With ornaments? And our prisoners of war? Would we drip hot wax on them? Poke them with pine needles? Is one celebration better than another? Do we want one group of people to be wrong about a holiday?

I’m surprised at how many people are behaving a lot more like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner that human beings. There’s a lot of ground between blind anger and ignoring problems. Let’s find some.

The language we use is important. When a group starts to call confusion or anger by the word “War,” it justifies bad behavior, escalation of emotions, name calling, harsh accusations. We can join in or we can refuse. We can refuse to be cruel, mean, and hateful. We can choose the words we use to be neutral. Not every discussion is a slur against your core values.

My first boss used to say, “Keep your words soft and sweet. You never know when you will have to eat them.” Good idea.

Quinn McDonald is tired of high dudgeon. She thinks a lowering of dudgeon is called for.

 

Feeling Weird About Copyright

It’s called “sampling” and “borrowing,” and “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” In earlier days it was called “copyright violation,” and “plagiarism.” Whether it’s songs or poetry, images or photographs, one of the fastest changing behavior in our American culture is who owns what.

I’m always amazed when I see artists on Etsy using Disney or Looney Tunes characters on their work. If Disney or Looney Tunes finds out, they will be hit with a “cease and desist” letter–at the very least. They can also  slap violators with a huge fine for copyright infringement.

In America, the way we make laws is by suing each other and watching the outcome. Suing over copyright is the way the internet laws will be decided.

A cup with a fateful lyric on it. No permission was given, and now there's a lawsuit.

A cup with a fateful lyric on it. No permission was given, and now there’s a lawsuit.

Just this week Taylor Swift went after Etsy artists for using her lyrics on cups and T-shirts. She is now trying to trademark the lyrics, some of them such common phrases that she most certainly didn’t create them.  Normally, lyrics fall under copyright rules, but she has powerful lawyers, and they are in scorched-earth mode.

In a weird sidebar, of all the things we can copyright, perfume is not one of them. Here’s an article about perfume protection.

For the common ruck (that’s you and me) there are two kinds of copyright protection:

1. Any written or drawn item you produce is under copyright from the moment it’s finished. You don’t have to mail it to yourself, but you may have to prove it was your idea first, though. If someone uses your words (songs, play, dance steps you choreographed), you can sue them. For violating copyright. For example, if someone uses one of your photographs in an ad without your permission, you can sue them only for the cost of  the space of the ad.

2. If you register your material with the U.S. government’s copyright office, you can sue not only for violation, but for damages. The amount can be substantial, depending on the size of the audience and the commercial use of the piece.

You can also use a lawyer or Legal Zoom to help you. I’ve used Legal Zoom with good results, but it’s good to check them out yourself.

A few cautions on copyright:

1. You cannot change something “20 percent” and then think it is safe for you to use. That rumor has been around forever, and it’s as wrong now as it was then. There is no percentage that makes copyright violation a good idea.

2. “Fair use” is not easy to use to weasel your way out of a lawsuit. The tricky paragraphs are Sections 107-118 of the copyright law. Here is an excerpt:

The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

So, you will have to get permission.

3. Just because it’s on Google or Flickr does not mean you can use it. Google is a popularity index, not a poacher’s paradise, although that happens. You shouldn’t be doing it.

About websites: it’s your job to be vigilant about your own material. The U.S. Government will not sue anyone for you. That is your responsibility. If someone uses a blog post, an image, a photo from your site without permission, you can send them a take down demand under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

You can use sample letters found on Google.  An important point: you must be able to show that you are the copyright owner. This link tells how to do it at Scribd: http://support.scribd.com/entries/22980-DMCA-copyright-infringement-takedown-notification-email-template

It’s a whole new world, but be careful out there.

Note: I am not a lawyer. I cannot answer your questions about your specific work with any accuracy. I wish I could, but your best bet is to hire an intellectual property lawyer.

-Quinn McDonald knows the complexities of copyright and thinks it needs to be simplified. But her phone did not ring, and no one is asking for her opinion.

 

The New Book

I don’t talk much about the book I am writing. It’s not that I’m secretive or hiding anything. From long experience, I know that if I talk about it too much, I’ll pull the wind out of the sails. The ideas will shrink.

Without memory, there would be no books; without books, we would have no memories.

Without memory, there would be no books; without books, we would have no memories.

This week, I’ve been having a hard time with the book. I keep writing around the issue at hand. Finally, early this morning, I sat down and wrote a very hard section. A section that did not cast a flattering light on my own Story. Or me.

And that was the whole point. I did dumb things. I still do. But I am no longer making them the heart of my Story–the reason for my mistakes. The excuse to continue making the same mistakes. Once you own your mistakes and admit them, you take away the feeding frenzy of your Inner Critic.

We love our Stories. They are the meat and marrow of the decisions we make every day. Unfortunately, they are also the main meal for our Inner Critics.

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

“At home, the boys got all the attention,” we complain, spooning the sweet accusation that we aren’t worth the effort of love, attention, or praise into the mouth of our Inner Critic.

“No one ever loved me enough,” we say, giving the Inner Critic 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

from anagarcialopez.com

from anagarcialopez.com

the client who said, “My parents gave me everything. They encouraged me and praised me. No wonder I never learned how to deal with disappointment. I don’t have the ability to be self-critical. It was my parent’s fault, really.”

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 cause terrible damage. But not irreparable 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. And that’s what the book is about.

-Quinn McDonald is writing a book. Again. It’s turned into a habit.

Things I Never Thought I’d Say

Life is weird. At certain times in your life, you are sure you would never say anything odd, embarrassing, silly or just plain dumb. But then, technology changes, you change, and you are saying things you could not have imagined yourself saying 20 years ago. Or ever. Travel is broadening, but in so many ways I had never imagined.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.35.07 PM1. If you remember a time when there were only landlines, phones were attached to the wall or sat on a small table. When you phoned someone you never had to ask, “Where are you?” because the answer was one of two rooms where the extensions were.

2. “I need Botox.” Botulinum toxin is a neurotoxin that for all of my life lived in poorly canned meats and killed people. You didn’t need it, you feared it. The idea that some people cheerfully inject it into their faces is still a bit jarring.

3. “What day is it?” The first time I walked into a rest home and saw the day and date on the bulletin board, I was horrified. People didn’t know? But when you are teaching grammar on Monday and editing on Tuesday and persuasiveScreen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.36.53 PM writing on Wednesday, and copywriting on Thursday, and you always wear black dress pants when you teach, it’s easy to get up in the morning, shower, put on those black dress pants and then wonder, “What day is this and what am I teaching?” It’s a bit scarier if you are in a hotel room on a 12-consecutive-days teaching gig and the hotel room in Dallas looks like the one in Cincinnati and you aren’t entirely sure where you are, much less what you are teaching today.

4. “Please don’t lick my phone.” Said to a child on an airplane.

5. “Yes, I am the last drop off, but that doesn’t automatically mean that suitcase is mine.” Said to a shuttle driver in some city where I arrive in the middle of the night.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.52.10 PM6. “It’s a fountain pen. You use it to write with. The tip is sharp, but not dangerous. No, it’s not a blow dart.” Said to a TSA inspector.

7. “No, I never told him not to steal the car.” Said to an angry Human Resource inquisitor when one of my direct reports stole the company car and went joyriding, then blamed me because I hadn’t expressly forbidden him not to steal the car.  “And I didn’t tell him not to pee in a wastebasket, either, because some things seem pretty clear to me.” He stayed. I got fired.

8. “No, I don’t have a spare condom you can borrow.” Said to a young couple in an elevator. “If I had one, I’d give it to you, not lend it to you.” And then realized they didn’t understand why I added that. Because when you teach grammar, everything is a learning experience.

Are there phrases you never thought you’d say or would have to say? Leave them in the comments. It’s a good day for a laugh.

Quinn McDonald lives to laugh at herself. Lucky for her, life gives her plenty of opportunities to do just that.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The Elusive Fresh Idea

Fog in the Grand Canyon.

Fog in the Grand Canyon.

Lately, I’ve been sitting down at 10 p.m to write the blog and a soft white fog drifts over my brain. The more I run through the fog to find a sturdy idea, the thicker the fog gets.  The more elusive the good idea.

Maybe getting up early to take care of the cats has shifted my creative time to a different time slot.

And like all changes, it took me a while to figure it out. I would often sit, as most writers will, staring at the screen trying to generate ideas that become suddenly slippery and elusive. Like a fish you can’t quite land in the boat.

Of course, when I am writing other things, the ideas leap out of the water and Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 6.34.16 PMgrin at me. When I am pinning down one idea, a hundred others flash across my peripheral vision and slide back into the dark.

This morning I tried something new. Writing a workbook for a client, I had an idea for the blog. Normally, I will think, “that’s a great idea, I’ll use it later.” But when I rummage around my short-term memory for the exact idea, it’s not there. There are scattered prayer cores and rinds of old, used-up ideas. There are a few bones of earlier ideas, some with meat still on them. But not blog-meat. Workbook meat. Slim pickings for the blog.

I turned back to the workbook. Then had a new idea. I opened the blog to “new

From astologynow.com

From astologynow.com

post” and then turned back to the workbook. The next idea spark that flashed across the dark sky of my imagination, I clicked over to the blog and jotted down the idea, gave it a title that would remind me what the idea was, saved it as a draft and went back to the workbook. Idea saved.

When the blog needs writing, I can pick from an idea I like and write it up. Of course I could use the idea recorder on my phone, or use the to-do list that’s next to the computer, but clicking over to another screen and capturing an idea is both fast and there when I need it.

It also works for  saving other ideas, too.  Instead of a blog, you can have a notepage open. Then when the title for your next book streaks across your mind, or that great reply you should have said to that remark at lunch, write them down.

What? A clever reply to a reply from hours ago? Sure. It makes great dialogue in your next story.

–Quinn McDonald writes what she thinks.

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.

Words Worth Dumping

I’ve never been a fan of business jargon–paradigm shift, take it to another level, gold standard. Almost all business jargon words take a simple word (in the above case: change, improve, and best) and make it more complicated and confusing. The only reason to do that is if the speaker doesn’t really want to be clear.

Business jargon will always be used, and I’ll always be looking for shorter, better words. I’m tired of “wheelhouse,” which means within your area of expertise or interest, as in, “I’m assigning you to the marketing team because the Acme Dynamite account put marketing in your wheelhouse.” Except it doesn’t really distinguish between expertise and interest, and that distance can be pretty hefty.

Instead of “wheelhouse,” let’s get back to what it means, and use either “expertise” or “skill.” Simple and no one thinks you are the ancient mariner or Captain Ahab.

But there are two phrases that have come into casual language–the language we use with our friends. In today’s world, that means at work, too, because our friends are now those we compete with and see every day at work.

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.48.52 PM“Bitch slap” is an open-handed slap to someone (admittedly, male or female) who is whining. It also means that the person who gets slapped can’t take a “real, manly punch.” The whole thing is abhorrent. Because it also implies that if your woman is a bitch, she needs to be slapped. This happens a lot in movies, and it’s not just recent. It shows that men are always in charge, need to control their women, and if the women steps out of line, well, then, she deserves a little slapping around. It’s not funny, and it teaches a whole boatload of bad ideas.

“Resting Bitch Face” (also called Bitchy Resting Face) is another term that was started to explain the look of aging women–the mouth that isn’t in a perpetual smile, but one with corners that turn down. Everyone who is over 40 knows that sooner or later, gravity wins. If you also have the two lines between your eyebrows, it gets worse. There was even a pretend PSA (Public Service Announcement) that set the phones of plastic surgeons ringing.

The idea is that women always need to look nice, pleasant, smiling, sexy. I don’t know a single person, male or female, who can maintain that. But I’ve not heard of the male equivalent.

This isn’t about political correctness, this is about two terms that de-value women based on the fact that they are women. Our culture runs on language, and when we use language that demeans a segment of our culture, it changes opinions of how those people should be treated. Not every woman is beautiful, and most women who are lucky to live long lives have that life written on their faces. it doesn’t make them bitches. The thing that bothers me the most is that the terms (when I hear them) are most often used by women.

–Quinn McDonald is fierce, but she’s no bitch.