Procrastinating on Your Way to Your Dream

Yesterday I talked about re-examining the rules you make. To see if they still work. To see if you have outgrown them. Rules we make for ourselves are one way we stall on our way to reaching our dream.

If your dream is still dancing beyond your fingertips, if you have stalled on the way to getting your dream, maybe it’s time to take ask if you are procrastinating.  If you are a perfectionist, you are probably a procrastinator.  It’s keeping you from getting to your dream. Because you want the dream to be perfect before the new, perfect you seizes that perfect dream. Oh, and at the perfect time, too.  Psssst. . . that’s never going to happen.

So put some traction in your action and grab that imperfect dream, because, after all, it is your dream and doesn’t have to be perfect.

Stop planning, stop talking to people about planning, and take one step toward your dream. Most of us spend too much time making up plans, planning for what could go wrong and then watching as problems surface and things do go wrong. Of course they do, when we keep looking for things to go wrong, we’ll find enough to barricade the dream. Time to take a lyric from Jackson Browne: “Better bring your own redemption when you come/ To the barricades of heaven where I’m from.”

Listen to your heart.

Listen to your heart.

Here’s the biggest thing I learned while I was re-creating my relationship with food: logic is wonderful. If you live in your head, logic sounds like real life. But until you bring emotion into it, you won’t act. Logic lays out the plan, but emotion fuels the action.

The worst emotion you can bring in is fear. It might be an emotion you know well, but it’s not inspiring. Bring in doing a small thing right. Bring in making small steps. Bring in congratulating yourself over small things. Look back and see how far you’ve come. Toward that beat up, crumpled, beloved dream that you are now clutching to your heart.

Update on Is It A Book: I’ve turned in a table of contents, I’ve turned in my sample pages. Right now the acquisitions editor is on vacation. It may be next week till the negotiations are done. I’m grateful to have a smart agent.

–Quinn McDonald is practicing patience as she waits. She horrible at it.

 

 

Surrendering to a Wabi-Sabi Life

Wabi-Sabi—Appreciation of the Imperfect and Impermanent
You are looking watching the big harvest moon rise in the September sky. You remember seeing this special moon–as big as your head–when you were a child and asking if this moon was the bigger brother of the regular moon. You smile at the recognition of the wonder of this moment.

MoonThat fragile moment of recognition is part of the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi– the beauty of things impermanent or incomplete. It contains a profound appreciation for things modest and humble. As an aesthetic, it honors things imperfect and impermanent.

A Different Approach to Success and Abundance
Wabi-sabi is the release of control. It avoids beating up the creative soul for not achieving perfection. Recognizing and embracing our imperfections allows room for growth. The only result of demanding perfection is certain failure. Perfection is impossible, and while we live in a culture that loves people who are “passionate” and “give 110%,” we seldom feel passion for our daily lives, and it is impossible to give more than all. Perfection is a cruel boss. It leads to giving up, depression and anger rather than eagerness for growth and improvement.

Standing up for yourself, from Annie's Ink.

Standing up for yourself, from Annie’s Ink.

Living a wabi-sabi life means letting go of the stress of competition, relentless achievement, and replacing them with a willingness to let life find its own pace. It allows for space to trust that opportunities will appear, and a willingness to let the world unfurl without having full control over every activity. It is a life stripped down to what is valuable, rather than randomly acquired. It is not living without, but rather within.

In a wabi-sabi life, you recognize all things are impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. Once you open the door to imperfection, a creative force rushes into your life, making it possible to risk, to try different solutions, to explore your creativity fully. Which leads to living a creative life–work and business combine to create a full, rich and abundant life.

How to Live a Wabi-Sabi Life
One of the hardest things to do is live in the moment. We are always planning—what to have for dinner, what time to pick up the kids, what to do if that promotion doesn’t come through.

We live our lives in the past, reviewing our mistakes, and in the future, planning

From Lady Employed, in a post about standing up for yourself.

From Lady Employed, in a post about standing up for yourself.

on contingencies and how to handle what will happen next. The current moment is empty as we rush to control—ourselves, our lives, the lives of our children. We try to control our creativity, what we make, even our intuition.

Certainly planning helps organize our time and leads to action. But when we begin to plan for every possibility, guess at every motive, fill every second of the day with planned activities, meetings and obligations, we exhaust ourselves and our families.

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Often we can’t influence the future. What we think of as failure is simply a lack of knowing. You don’t always have to know. And you don’t always have to be in control. Take off that heavy obligation of knowing and controlling and take three deep, slow breaths. Then decide right now. In this moment. To live and grow. And leave perfection behind. And let creativity take root in your life.

—Quinn McDonald is renewing her determination to live a wabi-sabi life.

Perfectionist Practices

In creating samples for the book, I do the art first, then write about it. So the first page I do is an experiment. I riff on an idea, create a few takes, and then finally have a specific idea.

leaning-stack-of-papers-and-filesI did the riffing earlier this year, getting to the point where I knew the sections of the book and roughly what the artwork would look like. So all I had to do was make the final piece. And how hard can it be to do a card if I already have the idea and several samples?

Turns out, plenty hard. Because in my head, this next one had to be perfect. And once it had to be perfect, it never was. Card after card didn’t turn out, looked lame, wasn’t what I meant, had unflattering colors. I made mistakes, and when I started over, I made different mistakes.

And time after time, I realized that the card I made when I was just riffing was the card that worked best. The cards in the first group were made with full interest and no fear. There wasn’t any pressure to perform or have it be perfect for the book. It was great the way it was.

That was a big lesson I needed to learn again: when you are playing, you do your best work. When you are working, you are tense and there are too many people watching  and speaking–at least in my head. My crew consisted of imaginary critics: future readers of the book,  my mother, a caricature of my editor (who is incredibly nice in real life) and Sister Michael Augustine, who was responsible for my learning how to write right-handed in 7th grade. Oh, my inner critic was there too, with the family.

Your best creative work is done in play. Who knew?

–Quinn McDonald is writing a book on inner heroes and inner critics.

Art Journal Quotes

Yikes, I skipped a chapter in the book, and have to go back and write it. That kind of topples the delicate time chart. And of course, the inner critic shows up. And he doesn’t show up alone, no, he shows up in a clown car and 20 relatives will jump out to make sure I feel like I’m losing my mind.

So it’s time for art journaling quotes:

Time on your hands. Image from christainnewyork.com

Time on your hands.
Image from christainnewyork.com

The most essential factor is persistence – the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.  –– James Whitcomb Riley

If you’re interested, you do whatever is convenient.  When you’re committed, you do whatever it takes.   —John Assaraf

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
–Thomas Merton

The artist soul thrives on adventure…and many adventures require that we muster up the courage to be a beginner. —Julia Cameron

—Quinn McDonald is feeling just a trifle uneasy about the deadline she faces. But she’s still going to walk and go to lunch with someone who is supportive and smart.

 

The Heavy Responsibility of Perfection

What causes most people to quit a new habit? The same thing that causes most people to abandon their New Year’s resolutions.

This tree got in the habit of leaning on the wall and then made the most of it.

It’s not that the goals are too lofty (unless made in a hurry under the influence of drink or peer pressure), but the mistaken belief that one misstep “ruins it all.” It doesn’t. One misstep, one missed day, one incomplete page is just that–an imperfection. It doesn’t invalidate the intention or the goal. It can reinforce your determination, if you let it.

One missed day, one misstep, does, however, make it easier to add another missed day to the stack. It’s easy to let your determination erode. At that second,   self discipline comes in. If you skip a day of a new habit, be aware of it, be conscious, make it a deliberate choice, not just a shrug and a skip. And the next day, make it a choice to return.

Change doesn’t happen all at once. Change happens when we replace one action with another. And the more often the replacement happens, the more likely we are to repeat, until we have a new habit. In an email I received, someone insisted that if they forgot one day, they would have to “start over,” they added, “with nothing.” I know that’s how AA does the counting, but I don’t think that’s true with journaling, or meditation, or compassion. You have something. You have begun to walk down a path. You are exploring your motives and excuses. That’s not nothing. That’s already part of the journey.

Of course, if you want something positive to happen, you will have to kick yourself occasionally to keep doing it, and you will have to do the work, but you will always do your work imperfectly, because that is the reason we keep learning–every imperfection is a chance to learn something new.

Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist. Most of the time she lets go, but then sometimes, there is the death grip on needing perfection validation. So she has a way to go.

Clean Your Desk (Studio, Table) Successfully

Image from Itssimplyplaced.com, an organization site.

Some days you are the pigeon. Some days you are the statue. And some days you have to clean your desk, table, studio space. You just have to. Either that or plow it under and call one of those reality shows where Donald Trump shows up with 50 cat carriers and has a desperate housewife fire you and send you to rehab. I’m sorry, I don’t watch TV, so it all sounds alike. Back to cleaning.

Here are some tough love tips for cleaning that worked for me today.

1. Don’t look back. I tried being serious about saving all those articles I’ll read someday. Then I realized that if I really had wanted to read them, I would have. In the time that I’ve collected the articles, I’ve read four books. So I’m not really motivated to read the articles. Toss them.

This is a perfectionism stumble. “If I were a really good X, I would read, file, remember, sketch, write, use this article, image, scrap of ephemera.” Deep breath. It’s a perfectionist thing. Toss it.

Yes, you will probably need it within 10 minutes of the trash truck vanishing down the street with it. Toss it anyway.

2. You won’t buy it anyway. Catalogs marked with turned-down page corners for storage, filing, clothing items. Largely waiting for a windfall. When windfall comes, will need something else. Toss catalogs.

3. Compare and act. Two of the items I wanted in the winter catalog are now on half-price sale. Pick up phone and order. Done. Move on.

4. Even if you teach, throw it out. I have a huge stack of magazines, catalogs, flyers that are “perfect” for that collage class that I’m not teaching this month. Or next. More stuff will accumulate. Toss it out.

5. Start where you are. Don’t try to catch up. More paper is mistakenly saved because you are scared to throw it out, for fear of forgetting, falling behind or forgetting. Unless it bank or tax stuff, make NOW your starting point. Easier and saves the nerves.

Quinn McDonald wishes she would clean up more often. The desk has a nice wood grain she rarely sees.

Living a Wabi-Sabi Life

Wabi-Sabi—Appreciation of the Imperfect and Impermanent
You are looking in a shop window at a beautiful dress. Suddenly, you see the reflection of a young woman behind you, also looking at the dress. She reminds you so much of your younger self– fresh, eager. You smile at the recognition of the wonder of this moment.

That fragile moment of recognition is part of the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi– the beauty of things impermanent or incomplete. It contains a profound appreciation for things modest and humble. As an

Bonsai and shadow © Quinn McDonald, 2007

Bonsai and shadow © Quinn McDonald, 2007

aesthetic, it honors things imperfect and unconventional.

A Different Approach to Success and Abundance
Wabi-sabi is the release of control. It avoids beating up the creative soul for not achieving perfection. Recognizing and embracing our imperfections allows room for growth. The only result of demanding perfection is certain failure. Perfection is impossible, and while we live in a culture that loves people who are “passionate” and “give 110%,” we seldom feel passion for our daily lives, and it is impossible to give more than all. Perfection is a cruel boss. It leads to giving up, depression and anger rather than eagerness for growth and improvement.

Living a wabi-sabi life means letting go of the stress of competition, relentless achievement, and replacing them with a willingness to let life find its own pace. It allows for space to trust that opportunities will appear, and a willingness to let the world unfurl without having full control over every activity. It is a life stripped down to what is valuable, rather than randomly acquired. It is not living without, but rather within.

In a wabi-sabi life, you recognize all things are impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. Once you open the door to imperfection, a creative force rushes into your life, making it possible to risk, to try different solutions, to explore your creativity fully. Which leads to living a creative life–work and business combine to create a full, rich and abundant life.

How to Live a Wabi-Sabi Life
One of the hardest things to do is live in the moment. We are always planning—what to have for dinner, what time to pick up the kids, what to do if that promotion doesn’t come through.

Bittersweet © Quinn McDonald, 2007

Bittersweet © Quinn McDonald, 2007

We live our lives in the past, reviewing our mistakes, and in the future, planning on contingencies and how to handle what will happen next. The current moment is empty as we rush to control—ourselves, our lives, the lives of our children. We try to control our creativity, what we make, even our intuition.

Certainly planning helps organize our time and leads to action. But when we begin to plan for every possibility, guess at every motive, fill every second of the day with planned activities, meetings and obligations, we exhaust ourselves and our families.

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Often we can’t influence the future. What we think of as failure is simply a lack of knowing. You don’t always have to know. And you don’t always have to be in control. Take off that heavy obligation of knowing and controlling and take three deep, slow breaths. Then decide right now. In this moment. To live and grow. And leave perfection behind. And let creativity take root in your life.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. She teaches journal-writing classes, including Wabi-Sabi Journaling and raw-art journaling (c) 2007-9 All rights reserved.

Book Meets Perfectionist

A friend recommended a non-fiction book, a scholarly work on cultural adaptation in America. Being trained as a folklorist, the idea was appealing. The book was well-written, but it didn’t build ideas. “Too much spinning, not enough weaving,” I thought.

Last night, I noticed I’ve been reading it since early February. It’s about 300 pages, and I haven’t managed to flog myself through it. Each night, I’ll read a few pages at bedtime, then put it down. Each time I buy a book I’d rather read, It gets put at the bottom of the stack growing by the side of my bed.
stack o booksWhen the stack got precariously high, I had to admit that I wasn’t enjoying the nonfiction  book. I felt I was reading the same 50 pages over and over. Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch, I thought. But I’m a recovering perfectionist, so how could I abandon a book? No, I must finish it. I tortured myself for another week.

The habit of completing what you start is a good one. But when it comes to books, it doesn’t apply. (At least not once you aren’t in a class with a reading list.) It’s not virtuous to finish a book that you started in good faith when that book is turning you to a curmudgeon. Drop the book. Quit reading it. Abandon it. Leave it in a basket on someone’s doorstep. Just because it seemed intriguing, just because someone recommended it does not bind your honor to reading every last page.

Tonight I read the last chapter. It was much like the others I’d read. I didn’t miss the 100 pages I’d skipped. And then I cheerfully, grinningly, reached for Anne Lamott’s book, Grace (Eventually), which I hope to enjoy a great deal, for every page.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2008-9. All rights reserved. Image: school.discoveryeducation.com

The Power of Not Knowing

If you work in a corporation, you may have noticed how dangerous it is not to know something—the latest office news, your boss’s thoughts, your own job’s newest development. You may spend a lot of time gathering information so you can be in the know. Someone who admits to not knowing is branded as ‘stupid,’ ‘not ambitious,’ or, more dangerous in a corporation, ‘someone not vital to the team,” which means, roughly, “someone we can lose in the next layoff.”

Image from thresholdblogazine.com

Image from thresholdblogazine.com

How did knowing everything become so important? Particularly since not knowing is the way we get information, the way we learn how to do something new. In the business world, the importance of knowing could lie in the time- and money-cost of training. It takes longer to train someone who doesn’t know than someone who already does. And for a beleaguered supervisor, training takes time away from the job, so hiring someone who already knows the job seems the best route. A reasonable shortcut is on-the-job training. To the person looking for a job, it seems reasonable to exaggerate skills, education, and experience. That makes us know more and get hired. And then perform poorly. How much more exciting if we could admit we didn’t know, but were eager to learn.

The problems start when the job expectations are out of reach of what we know.
This is no different for an artist than a corporate employee. An artist who tells a coach, “I know how to work with galleries,” or “I know what I need to do,” may be covering over an important part of their life that needs work.

Knowing and not knowing is closely related to control. The more we try to control every minute of our lives, the more we have to know. Not knowing relinquishes control. Not being in control can be a big relief, less responsibility, less worry. But it’s scary to most people. Control can help you avoid what you don’t know.

What a relief the phrase “I don’t know” can be. It opens the door to getting more information, to new experiences, to new perspectives. There is a great release of pressure when you are not in control of every second of your life. You are not so disappointed all the time when you don’t know, when control is not the driving force in your life.

In the next few days, when you feel as if you are being pecked to death by ducks, try saying “I just don’t know” to yourself. Take off that heavy backpack of knowing and controlling and instead take three deep, slow breaths. Not knowing is freeing. It allows for knowing something new. Controlling every second slams the door on exploring. If you can’t be comfortable with not knowing, try seeing it as choosing what to know next.

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer. She helps people explore their “not knowing” how to draw through raw-art-journals.com (c) Quinn McDonald 2007-9

The Lie Behind “I Can’t Draw”

The “I Can’t Draw” Fallacy.
If you are an adult, and someone asks if you can draw,  you most likely would answer:  “I can’t draw a stick figure or a straight line.” You have believed this since you were seven or eight.  Ask a five-year old to draw anything, from the people that live in the moon to the Battle of Gettysburg, and the child will set about with crayons and enthusiasm.

Light up your imagination

Light up your imagination

The enthusiastic child doesn’t have extraordinary talent. What that child has is a lack of fear. The assignment sounds like fun, a challenge to their imagination. The same challenge, to your ears, sounds like an uncovering of everything you don’t know about the topic.

In fact, if you spent 10 days with the right teacher, you would “remember” how to draw. But you had that knowledge taken away from you at just the time you were most creative.

Get back that lost skill, and get rid of that fear. In January, I’m starting a class for visual journaling that will let you keep the journal you always wanted–with colorful drawings and symbols. You don’t have to know how to draw anything. You don’t need a single talented bone in your body.  All you have to have is the desire to keep a visual journal an a sense of fun and wonder.

You’ll discover the world of ideaglyphs–symbols and designs of your own invention that will delight you and spark your creativity and imagination.

To read about the class, which will be  held online and start on January 6, 2009, and continue on January 11 and 15, see the second column of my December 15 newsletter. There’s a link to send me an email if you have questions.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She runs workshops in visual journaling.