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.


December: Running Toward 2015

Rabbit, rabbit. OK, that’s taken care of. (It’s a wish for good luck for the whole month. You can read more about this English custom at Yankee magazine.)

sower2014 is heading toward the end of its run and into a new year. Now is a good time to start thinking of a new word for 2015. Don’t share yet–there will be a blog later in the month with a random giveaway, in which we talk about words and choices.

You can, however, post your old word (someone might want it for next year), and mention how the word worked for you. Good, bad, or indifferent, keeping that word in front of you is an excellent way to steer your life.

Maybe you changed your word, like I did. The first one (scatter) wore me outDistill and the next, a metaphorical opposite (distill) served me in many ways. It still is serving me, and I’m glad I changed.

Whether you are a writer, an artist, own your business, are independently wealthy, it’s good to ask yourself a few questions before you start next year. A few questions will help you decide where to spend your energy well, and unless you are too young to read, or you are a kitten, your energy is limited.

What’s the most surprising thing you found out about yourself this year?  When did it happen? What surprised you?

What do you want to change about yourself in 2015? Even if your plans are to change the world, the best place to start is with yourself. You’ll probably need some tools and protective gear for big changes.

What steps will make that change happen? No good engineer works without a plan. No good artist does, either.

How do you plan on putting those steps into action? A plan without a deadline is a daydream. What are some milestones and what are realistic time periods?

Who will be your support in making change? We don’t live in a world alone. Your change will ripple out and find support and criticism.

If you plan on taking on more of something (more work, another child, helping a parent), what will you give up to make room for this change in your life? This is an important part of taking on something new. Your time won’t magically expand, so it’s good to think about what you will let go.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who gets very busy at this time of year.



Retirement? Maybe Not Ever

imagesWe were all waiting for our dinners to arrive, when the young couple sharing the restaurant table asked us about the blue wristbands. We’d been at the Desert Botanical Garden’s Las Noches de las Luminarias, which is a beautiful holiday experience. They were both civil engineers planning on driving across the desert tonight to be in Los Angeles tomorrow.

“Are you guys still working?” they asked anxiously. When I confirmed that we were, and that we both owned businesses and weren’t planning on retiring, we got “the look.” After all, a lot of people move to Phoenix to retire. So why aren’t we retired? Retirement is the reward you get after hating your job for 30 years. How horribly sad that thought is.

Many of my friends are taking early retirement. Tired of the work world and

Mural of birds on a wall in downtown Phoenix.

Mural of birds on a wall in downtown Phoenix.

filled with a desire to travel, garden, or enjoy their houses, they are bailing out of the rat race, because, they tell me, the rats are winning.

For the first month, retirement is bliss. Often, though, the dreams about retirement begin to thin out. It’s hard to live without a regular income. Most of my friends aren’t wealthy, and the lack of a regular paycheck can’t easily be replaced by penny pinching.

For the retirees who are wealthy, there is often a vacuum created by a lack of identity. We are our jobs after a while. It’s how we think of ourselves. It’s what we do most of our waking hours. And often, it’s what we ignore our families for.

When your hobby, which was fit into stolen moments, suddenly has to bear the burden of making you feel worthwhile, it can’t hold up its side of the bargain to amuse, entertain, and keep you busy.

At that point, retirement doesn’t look like the promise you’ve pursued all your working life.

I love what I do, and because I do several things–develop training courses, teach those courses, coach creative souls (and those who think they aren’t), and write—I don’t get bored. Work is fascinating because I’m endlessly curious and problem solving is a major part of my work.

Retire? Not me. Working, learning, exploring all fascinate me. I don’t have to work crossword puzzles as long as I’m figuring out how to solve a training problem for one client, researching an article I’m writing, and figuring out what to ask a client who wants to transition into retirement. And I like the boss.

–Quinn McDonald helps people figure out how to change their lives, in retirement, or in the middle of their careers. She did, and will live longer for it.


Checking on the Word of the Year

This time of year the time seems to pick up speed and race toward the end of the year. The days are noticeably shorter and we begin to become more focused on the end of the year.

A good time, then to check in with your word of the year. Is it still serving you well? Are you satisfied with your choice? How often do you think of it or consider what it means in your life?

Half-way through the year, I changed my word from “scatter” to “distill.” It was

It's not a painting; it's an open space in the wall, overlooking Arizona's desert. Beyond is the Bar-T-Bar ranch, with the San Francisco mountain range in the background.

It’s not a painting; it’s an open space in the wall, overlooking Arizona’s desert. Beyond is the Bar-T-Bar ranch, with the San Francisco mountain range in the background.

worthwhile. “Scatter” was what was happening to my life–too many open doors, too many choices to keep them all balanced. What started out as some far-flung ideas ended up as not getting enough of the right work done.

It was less of a paring down and more of a taking the essence of my work–distilling–that worked well. I’m glad I made the switch.

How do I weigh the choice? I write the word on random calendar days and see what has happened since the last time I considered it. Because I look at my calendar on the weekly view before the daily view, I see the word coming and going through the week.

Tell me how you remember your word and what it has meant to you so far.

-Quinn McDonald loves watching words make meaning, whether or not she changes them.

Fear Factor

On July 4, I wrote a blog post about fear-based culture. It’s an exhausting way to live, and it creates a circle of anger, resentment, control, and giving up.

Because I work with words, and words are an easy weapon, I looked around to find titles and situations in our popular culture that ignite the fuse on the anger circle. The words we use casually become part of our lives.

“War”  We now have a war on women, a war on religion, and yes, Craft Wars on TV.  It’s offensive to use the devastation of war to describe a disagreement and a competitive TV show. Remember when “awesome”  meant extremely impressive or daunting? Now it’s used as a filler word, used to mean “I heard what you just said.”  Soon “war” will be another shrug-off word. We’ll be mildly interested in the collateral damage, but it won’t shock us.

Every successful TV show spins off a competitive one, where one team has to demolish the other. The winning team gets to lord it over the losers. Apprentice, American Pickers (the competitive version), Cajun Justice, Fear Factor,  all the competitive cooking shows, all the race-from-one-place-to-another shows–it’s not just about winning, it’s about making the other team lose. The leftover resentment, anger, ridicule is now part of the American Dream. If you are on the winning side.

From the New York Times Hardcover Bestseller List: 50 Shades of Gray (a trilogy on sadomasochism), Wicked Business, Wild, Cowards, Killing Lincoln. Don’t forget the softcover selections: Explosive Eighteen, Afraid to Die, In the Garden of Beasts.

Best Selling Video Games:  Total War, Bioshock, Mortal Kombat.

Words are important. In the movie Iron LadyMargaret Thatcher ‘s attributed this wisdom to her father:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.

I know that violence is more interesting than compassion, drama has more frisson than contemplation, and reading about tragedy is more exciting that reading about self-awareness. It does us no good to avoid gluten if we are stuffing our minds with gore.

Do the hard thing and give up your anger, your control, and your threats. Fill your time with creativity. It soothes, heals, inspires and makes you feel like you have achieved something worthwhile. Because you have.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who is giving up control, one day at a time.

Trading Cynicism for Positive Self-Talk

“Cynic” –that’s what my keychain used to say. And I was proud of it. People were motivated by self-interest, I was sure. And day after day, my life proved it.  Honestly, while I thought it prepared me for the tough and gritty life I was living at the time, it was debilitating and exhausting.

Moon over trees.© Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

Part of the problem was that my group of friends were cynical, too, and what we look at and live with, we become. It was almost by accident that I met someone who was deeply happy. My reaction? Suspicion. But that moment was the starting point of a better life. It was a hard climb on a dusty road. And one that I am grateful for every day.

Research shows that we need about a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative feedback to be productive. Here are some other statistics:

  • 65 percent of American workers say they received no recognition for their work in the last year.
  • 22 million workers are not interested in their work or actively dislike it.
  • Bad bosses increase the risk of stroke by 33 percent.
  • When you tell yourself something is “too hard” your stress levels increase, and you are more likely to fail, even if you have done the same thing before.
  • Increasing your positive attitude even a little starts to add years to your life–as much as 10 years.

Dusty road. © Quinn McDonald All rights reserved

So what does this mean? It means that you have to start with yourself, deliberately turning away from negative thoughts and critical self-talk and choosing positive self-talk. Then pass it on. How?

  • Stop the automatic snarky, mean thoughts when you see someone poorly dressed, fat, or with weird hair.
  • Hang around positive people. Negative people’s snark might be more fun, but when you aren’t with them, it’s aimed at you, just as you talk about the people who aren’t there. Break the cycle.
  • Talk about ideas, not other people. Try it for a day. You may be stunned to silence if you don’t allow yourself to talk about someone else’s clothing, actions, or choices. Talking about your ideas or creative projects allows them to grow.
  • Tell people what they are doing right. They are likely to do more of what they are appreciated for.
  • If people need a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative, do your share to keep your own positive comments five times higher than your negative ones.

Think this is all new-age, woo-woo stuff? Nope.

  • Seth Godin, the entrepreneur who writes about change (and has written 10 bestsellers) writes about the damage lizard brain causes.
  • Steven Pressfield (the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) encourages people to cover the canvas, fix the details later. But start, and do as much as you can in one positive swoop.
  • Pressfield’s advice: “My writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call “Resistance” with a capital R (in The War of Art). The technique for combating these foes can be described as ‘turning pro.'”

So put down the negative anchor and pick up the positive wings and try them on. They’ll fit just fine.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach. She believes in positive self-talk. It inspired her book, Raw Art Journaling.

Scared? Smart? It’s a Wild World

Martha Beck spoke at Changing Hands bookstore tonight, and packed so much information, power, inspiration, laughter and honesty into just over an hour, that I took notes faster than an Angry Bird slingshots at a green pig.

Her new book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World is subtitled Reclaiming Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want. It’s not only a mouthful, it’s a mindful. And maybe a heartful.

Martha spoke about fear in a fascinating way. She was learning to track rhinoceros and as most trackers, followed footprints that led through the bush in South Africa. She kept her eyes glued to the ground as the tracks grew less visible until she heard a companion gasp. Looking up for the first time she realized that she was within 20 feet of a mother rhinoceros and her baby. And the mother rhino was angry.

Martha Beck at Changing Hands bookstore.

Martha is a slight woman, and could have easily been trampled to death. What happened in the next second was that she thought she was going to die, and felt a wave of fear and panic. And then she wondered about the two questions that form the cornerstone of the book–“How the hell did I get here?” and “What the hell should I do now?”

instead of being filled with fear and panic, Martha realizes that this second fulfills a lifelong dream of adventure, being fully engaged in the natural world, and living in the moment with friends. Were she to die, it would be with a “joyful pounding heart.”

As she was standing in front of us, she did not die, (and the way the story concludes–it’s in Chapter 1– is worth the price of the book) but she knows that each life has an angry rhino, and we all must bring ourselves to decide what to do in that moment of truth.

After the rhino encounter and its amazing resolution, Martha spent the next five years speaking to many people in many cultures so she could answer those two cornerstone questions. She realized that the answers she heard from wise women, shaman, medicine men (and women) were the same–that all of us on earth are facing huge change–economic, climatic, geographic, historic, and cultural. This change is roaring down on us like a giant wave. We can either drown in it or surf through it. If we want to survive, we have to become surfers skilled in surviving change.

I had an image of a tiny nimble figure negotiating through the curl of a giant wave with wits and grace. It made a great image of survival, always staying ahead of the crushing wave, and feeling exhilaration in your own skill.

She spoke of our basic mission while we are here on earth–healing the earth. I wrote about it recently as the mystical ideal of Tikkun Olan (Hebrew for healing the world.) It’s one of my favorite images–that each of us is not only capable, but bound to heal what we can–the ecosystem, our hearts, the pain of others.

“Our culture trained us to be factory workers–to sit still and take limited action when we were created to solve huge problems as they occur, spontaneously,” she told us.

Her book explains the four steps that contain the wisdom she gathered during her years of research:

  • Wordlessness
  • Oneness
  • Imagine That Which Has Never Existed
  • Forming (not forcing) your art, your life

I’m looking forward to reading her book, not just as a reader, but as a life coach who knows that each of us can have a fulfilling life, rather than a life of drudgery and soul-snuffing work.

Quinn McDonald agrees with Benjamin Franklin who said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

The Hard Work of Coaching

There are a lot of coaches around–ones that will translate what your angels say, ones that delve into your soul and promise soul-satisfaction. There are happiness coaches, relationship coaches, career coaches. All of them want you to be happy and satisfied. To find your purpose in life.

Desert hiking path

Often when I ask what a client wants out of life, the answer is, “I don’t know.” If you don’t know, I can’t provide it. I don’t give advice. I don’t do the work. I firmly believe that you are not broken, don’t need to be fixed, and are creative, resourceful and whole. When you come to me you will do hard work,  every day. That’s why I’m a life coach–not a career coach or a happiness coach. For me, life is made up of many sections–career and relationship among them. If you are unhappy at work, your relationship is suffering, too. Your life is not six compartments, but one. And you are the same person in all of them.

For me, happy is not a goal, it is a way. Satisfied comes from being not satisfied and choosing to change. We make choices, live with the result. We have to choose “happy” over everything else every day, and that isn’t easy. It may mean having hard conversations, explaining why you can’t do what someone else wants right now, (leading to short term unhappiness.) It may mean giving up immediate pleasure for longer satisfaction (turning down a high-paying job you don’t like for a lower-paying job that will bring a lot of satisfaction, but will need explaining to your family.)

Change is hard work. It doesn’t come from your angels. It doesn’t come from your coach. It comes from you deciding to change and doing the work. As a coach, I support and encourage that change, help you decide on steps to create that change in your life, hold you accountable when you weasel out of it, and celebrate with you when you succeed.

I wish I were a mythic shaman, who could cast spells, drive out sadness, wave a magic stick. I’m not. I’m more of a hiker, sweating up the hills and enjoying the sky, then walking some more. I listen, I console, I help form plans that create change. And then you do the work of change. I encourage you when you are sad, laugh with you when you are happy, and watch you gain satisfaction and happiness from the work of change. It’s that simple and that hard. You life will not change in 10 minutes or in one conversation. It takes time. Which is all we have. If you are trying to find your purpose in life, time is the path you will hike.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She has room for two more clients who are willing to do the work for happiness and satisfaction. You can contact her at RawArtJournals [at] gmail [dot] com. If you don’t know what that means, leave a comment with a way to contact you.

Why Your Coach Makes You Work

Adults learn by doing. Most people don’t learn much by simply reading or listening. We forget about 80 percent of what we hear in eight hours after hearing it. That’s why I am not enthusiastic about computer learning that guides you through blocks of texts and asks questions. You’ll get a lot of answers right an not remember a thing.

Jill (not her real name, this is a compilation of conversations from several clients) hasn’t reached many of her goals, and wants to quit coaching. While clients always decide when to leave, I like to discuss the reasons for leaving and make sure the client has some tools for the weeks ahead.

I asked Jill what she could use from our coaching sessions.

“Well, I really didn’t get a lot out of it. That’s why I’m leaving.”

“What was missing, Jill?”

“I don’t feel better. I still have all the same problems. I’m going to have my chart done by an astrologer. I think my Mars is in retrograde.”

“What steps will you take if Mars is in retrograde?”

“I don’t know. But it will explain how come I am not solving my problems.”

“Jill, I did notice that you didn’t do your homework very often,” I said.

“Well, you didn’t make me, you never yelled at me, so I thought it was OK not to,” Jill said.

“You often told me you were sick or too busy with work. Did you not get anything out of the homework?”

“I don’t think I should have to do homework. It takes time. I’m paying you to help, and then you give me homework, ” Jill said, suddenly explaining more than she had in weeks.

“Homework is part of coaching. Most of the coaching understanding comes between the sessions, because you work on your homework and have flashes of insight.”

“But I hired you to tell me what to do.”

“No, Jill, we talked about that early on. I don’t give advice, and I can’t fix people because I don’t think they are broken. Our talking leads to discoveries that you want to follow. Homework allows you to experience what you discovered in coaching and act on it.”

“Well, but it’s a lot of work, and I don’t have a lot of time. And I have anxiety attacks at night, so I watch TV to calm down, and I can’t do it then. I don’t understand how come you just didn’t tell me to read a book or something.”

“Have you read a lot of self-help books?” I asked.

“Sure, and you don’t even know a lot of the authors that I’ve read. I wonder why you don’t read all those books,” Jill said.

“Do those books help you?” I aked?

“Well, yes. Of course. They are smart people. Those books help millions of people.”

“Jill, what change have you made and kept for more than three months from one of those books?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t remember. But that doesn’t mean the books weren’t good,” Jill said.

“Those books could be very good. But to change your life, you need to choose a goal, break down the steps to get there, and work on it regularly. Working with a coach keeps you in motion toward those goals. The responsibility of doing your homework works better if you have someone to report back to.”

“I still think if I’m paying you, I shouldn’t have to do homework, too,” Jill sighed.

“I’m not an emotional or spiritual plumber that you call when your plans spring a leak, Jill,” I said. “I can’t come in, patch up your heart and soul and send you off to be happy. Being happy or fixing your problems is work you have to do yourself. I can help you look at goals, show you how to weigh them, find out what success and happiness mean to you, and ask you questions that will result in understanding as you work with stumbling blocks, but I can’t patch up your spirit. I’m not a magician, just a coach.”

In the weeks to come, Jill visited different spiritual workers, hoping for an answer. But for Jill, even an explanation is not an answer. Working with a coach is a mental and spiritual exercise, work you have to do for yourself. You have to care enough about yourself to want to help yourself. A coach is a guide, a map-reader with a compass. If you don’t know where you are heading, you won’t notice when you get there.

-Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. Read more about her coaching practice.

Why coaching isn’t therapy

Anne was back in the studio with me yesterday.
“Were you ever in therapy?” she asked.
“Yep,” I said, “Why do you ask?”
“I’ve been thinking that I want to see a therapist or get a coach. I’m not sure which.” Anne said.
“They are very different, Anne. Which one do you think can help you?”
“I’m not sure,” Anne said. “I keep starting projects and not finishing them.”
“What’s holding you up?” I asked.
“I lost interest. I think of other things I’d rather do. I get new ideas and want to start them.”

Raw-art plants, (c) Quinn McDonald

Raw-art plants, (c) Quinn McDonald

“Does it worry you?” I asked.
“Well, I’d like to get something complete. What’s the difference between a coach and a therapist anyway?”
I thought about it for a bit.
“A therapist helps you look back and see your life in a perspective that can help you heal. A coach looks forward and helps you stay in action to complete a goal or dream. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s a good beginning.” I finished.
Anne looked cheery. “So you don’t think there’s something wrong with me because I can’t finish anything?”
“‘Wrong’ is a complicated word. And what I think is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ in this case isn’t nearly as important as what you think is the root cause for your not finishing what you start.”
“I get bored. I’ve always done that, though. I hate finishing up things.” Anne said.
“What one thing do you have that’s nearly finished?” I asked.
“I have a piece of writing that I’m not finishing.”
“What’s the writing about?” I asked.
“It’s on shade gardening. Plant that grow well in shade.”
“What’ holding you up?” I asked.
“I have a list of plants, but I don’t know if they grow down here. And if they don’t grow down here, the magazine won’t run it.”
‘Do you know how to find out if those plants do grow around here?”
” Well, I’m not sure. I know there are those maps with zones on them. But I don’t know what they are called.” Anne said.
“My computer’s right there, Anne,” I said. Go to Google and type in ‘plant zone map’. See what you get.”
“Ummm. Look, it’s called hardiness zones.” Anne said.
“OK, so now you know what it’s called. What’s next?”
“Now that I know the zone, I guess I can look up the plants and see if they grow in that zone.”
“Right. Will you do that?”
“Anne, when will you do it? And how will I know?” I asked, smiling.
“If you are going to mess with that weird drawing, I can do it while I’m here. And I’ll tell you when I’m done.”
In an hour, Anne had the information and had worked it into a chart.
“Anne, you’ve just seen what coaching is like.”
“And you’ve finished the drawing. So you got something done, too.”
We both had. Coaching isn’t always hard work, sometimes it’s just a small nudge in the right direction.
—–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. Visit her two websites: QuinnCreative is her business site, and Raw-Art-Journals is for people who can’t draw but want to keep an art journal. (c) 2009 All right reserved.