Getting Up, Again

Many of my coaching clients think I live a charmed life. I’m so patient. I have such insight. How could my life not be bliss-laden and peaceful? When I sold my artwork at art festivals people would come up to me and say, “You are so lucky!

Nope, it's not upside down, it's a cold front reflected in a puddle.

Nope, it’s not upside down, it’s a cold front reflected in a puddle.

You get to do fun things all day long, never have a worry in the world.” I learned to reply, “Yes, I do get to make art, and I’m grateful every day.” I never yelled at them, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to come up with idea and make a bunch of mistakes before your figure it out and then fix it before it works?” I did not do that because I would not have ever sold another piece in my entire art festival existence.

Other people’s lives seem easier, less stressed, not as hard, and certainly not as complicated as our own. That’s a better thing to believe than that everyone’s life could be sold as damaged seconds and someone else would be foolish enough to snap it up.

Everyone who is living a real life makes huge mistakes, does not learn from them the first time, makes them again. I wouldn’t want to work with anyone who has not risked and lost.

The reason this blog has insights, tips, Aha! moments and how-to’s is because I made the mistakes it took to learn them. All of them. Several times over. It is more important for clients (and readers)—to know that it’s not how often you feel stupid, but how often you get up, dust yourself off and start over. Learning is the heart of creativity, and risking is the brain.

So when the bombings happened in Boston yesterday, I did feel fear. I was in D.C. when the plane ran into the Pentagon. Yes, I felt fear. You did, too. What we (who are not in charge, but who feel unsure about life) can do to fight terrorism is to be fair to everyone in our work and play, to be kind, to be generous. That’s enough. Be the person who calms, not stirs the pot. Be the person who steers the conversation to interesting ideas and away from speculation.

We can’t control our fear when we hear bad news. But we can always control our actions in the wake of fear.

–Quinn McDonald is happy she is teaching grammar again tomorrow. There is something solid about teaching sentence structure in a time of uncertainty.


Vulnerability and Courage

Talking about journaling to groups of writers, artists, or those who have never journaled is one of my favorite things. So, last Thursday, when I was talking to PaperWorks in Tucson, I was having a great time. I ask people about why they journal and what they write about. The answers are always so interesting–people don’t want their journals read after they die, people are afraid strangers might pry. Keeping a journal opens you to being vulnerable.

lovelettersAs I sometimes do, I talk about my mother–the angry woman who would challenge me with, “No one ever loved me enough, not even God!” When she was dying, and I was cleaning out her house, I came across her love letters to my father. They showed me another woman, one I had never met, and could scarcely believe existed, much less was the same woman I called my mother. When I tell this story, I tell audiences I will choke up, because I do.  I don’t cry, but my voice waivers and I have to pause and swallow. And when I did that, I saw several women look away. One was shaking her head, frowning.

We are not supposed to choke up, that’s a sign of weakness. How many times have you seen people interviewed after horrible, gut-wrenching tragedy and as they try to answer a personal question in front of a TV camera and they start to cry, they say, “I’m sorry.” For what? For crying in the face of tragedy? Shouldn’t the person jamming a microphone in the face of someone struggling with tragedy be apologizing?

So, there I stood, choking up, and suddenly realized I did not feel shame nor embarrassment. This was hard stuff I was sharing. “Vulnerable” comes from the Latin wdaringgreatly_final525-resized-600ord meaning “to wound” or “capable of being wounded.” It’s brave to make yourself open to that. Shame researcher Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”  In her latest book, Daring Greatly, Brown says, “The profound danger is . . . we start to think of feeling as weakness. . . .It starts to make sense that we dismiss vulnerability as weakness only when we realize that we’ve confused feeling with failing and emotions with disabilities.” Then Brown says something powerful and important: “If we want to reclaim the essential emotional part of our lives and reignite our passion and purpose, we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel the emotions that come with it. . . .Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

It’s very hard to stand up and admit to being vulnerable. Someone could make fun of us. Someone could attack us. And that’s what our inner critic tells us–stay shut off, keep those emotions stuffed down. And the value of that? We become fearful, and that ignites the ancient fuse of fear-anger-blame-alienation.

Being vulnerable is hard. Admitting your complicated emotions is hard. Not running away from your emotions, sitting with them, facing your truth, actually talking to your inner critic–now that takes courage. Being vulnerable in front of friends is a risk, in front of strangers, well it may feel like eating glass. But I know from experience that when you are vulnerable you are powerful. Authenticity always is.

This doesn’t mean blurting out your entire life story under the guise of vulnerability. It does mean not going out in the world with your fists up so you can take the first swing before your imagined enemy swings at you.

If you are interested in learning more about the courage of vulnerability, you can read Five Insights from Brene Brown or watch her Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability.

—Quinn McDonald doesn’t always have the courage to be vulnerable, but she’s finding it easier every time she tries.

Quilt Comfort

When I wrote The Angry Quilt yesterday, I had no idea of the response it would bring. Not just the good ideas–and there were so very many of those. What moved me was the tremendous community that has gathered here.

Heart in Hand by John Derian. Paperweight.

Smart, compassionate, giving people. Self-aware people who are wandering the same road and who will offer comfort, wisdom, lessons hard learned. That’s a rare and wonderful thing, and I need to sit with the incredible wonder and gratitude is has brought to me.

What moved me so deeply was the honesty of the comments–the offers to make the Angry Quilt whole, and the offers to make me a whole new quilt. Offers to lead a team to leach out the energy and to gather stories about mothers. And the amazingly frank idea to create a ritual to burn the quilt, and end the quest for something that may never have existed.

For now, I need some time to re-evaluate my emotions about the quilt. There were good, thoughtful reasons for creating a ritual to lay the quilt (and my need to have it complete) to rest. Other reasons to make it into something else so I could keep it. And, of course, offers to finish it. As a coach, I was moved by how many of you were open and raw with me over this. Not fearful of talking about your own relationships with your mothers, or mothers worrying about your daughters. It’s complex, isn’t it, the dance of mothers and daughters?

Right now, I’m thinking through my options to reach a choice that is as honest as all of your suggestions. My deepest thanks go out to you. It’s a little overwhelming to see all of you gathered here, holding out your hands. And looking closer, seeing your hearts in those outstretched hands.

It reminds me of a quote from Brené Brown, who wrote The Gifts of Imperfection and I Thought It Was Just Me.

The root of the word courage is cor — the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.  . . .

Heroics are often about putting our life on the line. Courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. If we want to live and love with our whole hearts and engage in the world from a place of worthiness, our first step is practicing the courage it takes to own our stories and tell the truth about who we are. It doesn’t get braver than that.

Thanks to all of you who showed real courage in your comments. I’m proud to stand in the company of such brave women and men.

–Quinn McDonald is refreshed and renewed by the spirit of supportive people.

Running From Fear

"The path to the moon" acrylic paint, ink, cut paper on paper © Quinn McDonald

Some years ago, I worked for a small company that did good work. It hit a rough patch, and the president decided that we all had to help the company save money. We had to be frugal with office supplies, print on both sides of a page, turn off lights when we weren’t in our offices. I spent a lot of time scouring the hallways looking for dropped paperclips. Probably enough time to cut into the time I could have been working productively. I saved the company about $0.75  on paper clips that quarter, in several hours of looking for old ones.

The cutbacks became serious. We had some benefits cut. And eventually, the company stopped paying its contractors on time. The time went from 30 days to 45, to 60. I spoke to the president.
“We have to pay the people who contribute to customer satisfaction, to bringing new clients into the company.” The president looked at me as if I were a simple child.
“We have to save money to make the company last long enough to get out of the problem.”
“We can’t save our way out of a growth problem,” I suggested. “Pay the people who are keeping us competitive, they are keeping us alive.” It was useless. The president believed that not spending would save us. It did not. You can imagine the rest of the story. It was an inevitable downward spiral.

Finding your purpose in life and finding satisfaction follows the same standards. We listen to our fears, giving more value to our biggest fears. We avoid the work that would bring us success, we run from the decisions that demand us to face down fears. We think of it in terms of “being safe,” or “avoiding risk.” That’s the same mistake the company president made. The company couldn’t save its way out of a growth problem, we can’t get satisfaction, joy and energy in our lives by avoiding fear. We reach satisfaction in our life, we realize the purpose of our life by facing fear, and making choices that free us, not those that avoid fear. When we act with courage, face our fears, refuse to quit just because it’s hard, that’s when we can see the purpose in life. Running away from fear is not the path to your destiny. Staying on the path to your destiny with determination and courage will bring you light and clarity.

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and life coach. She is writing a book for people who are afraid.