Who Are You, Really?

When I made one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry and sold them at art festivals, the big question in any conversation was “are you a full-time artist?” It was a badge of authenticity to make your art bear the burden of supporting the family and fueling your creativity. The day I realized that all my creative decisions were approved through my marketing budget, I quit. I vowed I’d never put my art in a straight jacket again. I returned to my roots as an art journaler (before it was called that) and worked with people to challenge their inner critic.

Some of the many hats you can wear.

To support my creativity without weighing it down with spread sheets, I expanded my business to include creativity coaching, freelance writing, and developing and running business communication training programs. Oh, and I design and celebrate people’s sacred ceremonies–weddings, commitment ceremonies, new home blessings–almost anything that has to do with change and growth. I like to be busy.

Each of the pieces of my business have different cycles, and with some hard work and planning, some parts are busy when others are not. So far, ten years into running my own business, I’ve never hit a patch where all the businesses slowed down at the same time. Knock wood.

About two years ago, I made the decision to have one website instead of two. For a while, I was worried that my business clients would not understand the creative side and would be afraid that I was too far out of the box.

Interestingly enough, my business clients are fine with me being an artist. It’s something they are familiar with–artists have to do other work to be able to support their creative projects. For the corporate world, that’s a no-brainer.

What is surprising to me is how many artists frown at my business side. “Oh, so you aren’t really a full-time artist are you?” Sometimes I say, “I’m creative all the time.” Sometimes I ask, “How do you define ‘ full-time artist’?” It’s as if my creative side is tainted because I design and teach writing and communication training programs.

One of my biggest creative challenges is teaching grammar to business people who never learned it in school. Without knowing the difference between a subject and a predicate, it’s hard to explain why it’s always “between you and me,” and  never “between you and I” and why you should tell your dog to “lie down” and not “lay down.” Making up rules that don’t include grammar requires a lot of inventiveness and imagination. I find it challenging and, yes, fun.

It’s also sad for me to hear artists make up rules about who gets to claim the title of artist and who doesn’t. Or to deny business people the right to be artists. Nowhere is creativity needed more than in corporate America.

What bothers me is that artists, who know a good deal about being labeled and stereotyped, are doing a lot of that themselves. Being an artist does not demand that you sell you art and live from that money alone. Being an artist means that you face life creatively and work at the intersection of the world’s need and your determination. So yes, I’m a full-time artist. And a full-time business owner. And a full-time writer.

–Quinn McDonald is many things. She’s happier that way.


What Gets in the Way is Important

“Look where you want to go,” I often say to my coaching clients. “Without looking at what you want, you won’t recognize it when it’s in front of you.” Sometimes I even say, “Unless you have a dream and know what it looks like, you can’t create it.”

Opposite ends of the day: SunsetDawn by Roshni Kakad, from her blog: http://roshnikakad.blogspot.com/2011/05/solitude-mood-board.html

And yet, as a coach, I think that failure can be important to self-reflection, discovery and change. We can learn from failure. The important thing we can learn is “What gets in my way?” Is it poor planning? Is it fear? Is it a feeling of “not enough”? What gets in our way in one part of our life that repeats. And repeating is not something we are easy with.

From childhood on, we are trained to be fixers. To get rid of bad habits, bad friends, bad ideas. “Just say No!” we are told. And fixing isn’t enough. We also have to make mistakes only once. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Make the same mistake twice at work, and we hear, “I’ve warned you about this before.’ We not only have to develop excellent memories, but perfect behavior. And that’s why we hate what gets in the way.

Because we are so afraid of repeating our faults, we do three things when we hit what gets in the way:

1. We deny it. My cats, getting older, and having fallen in the pool several times while chasing birds, now pretend they don’t see them. Yesterday a dove waddled five feet in front of my biggest bird-chaser. He turned his head and closed his eyes. See no evil. We do the same thing. By denying what gets in the way, we don’t have to risk falling into the shame pool if we don’t get it right.

2. Run the other way. If we don’t stumble across the things that get in our way, well the, we aren’t tripped up by them. Except navigating routes around our faults make the route longer and more circuitous and doesn’t teach us much except how to avoid and how to run. We don’t like to be uncomfortable, we don’t like to think we didn’t fix that problem.

3. We take an action once and claim the victory. The next time we run across the same problem, we are shocked and appalled. “That was supposed to be fixed!” we fume, and drop back into the shame pit.

Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, tells us that the difference between shame and guilt that shame is about who we are, and guilt is about what we d0.

That definition is what makes it so important to know what gets in our way as we work toward a satisfying life. Most of our mistakes don’t go away, and we gain courage when we notice what gets in the way and wrestle with it. Pema Chodron reminds us that we will face the same problems and character flaws over and over again in our life. The first time I heard her say that, I broke into tears of relief.

What gets in our way is the thing that needs attention. Not once, but every day. It is facing it every day, making choices about how to handle what gets in our way, that makes us courageous, strong and . . .awake to our lives.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and art journaler who teaches what she knows.


Competitive Peer Pressure

Klout sent me a notice. Klout, if you don’t know, is a program that tells you how much you influence your Twitter followers. The notice warned me that I was “falling behind” some of my “peers” in the popularity numbers they make up.

Mean, but popular, girls.

I thought about this a while, wondering what they expected my reaction to be. After all, who cares about an imaginary score, based on arbitrary ideas of influence? A lot of people, I discovered. Three of my friends encouraged me to take some of the steps suggested to become more influential.There’s a nightclub in Manhattan that won’t let you in unless your score is a certain minimum number.

That baffled me. Why would I want to trade some of my privacy to gather non-existent points to pretend I am influential to my Twitter followers? I already know how popular I am on Twitter by how many people come from Twitter to read the blog by clicking on a link.

That need to be told you are popular appears on Facebook, too. There are any number of posts that give a fact, then a challenge. For example: I’m checking to see how carefully you read Facebook. Share if you read this. I know 99% of my friends won’t do it, but I hope you will.” I have no inclination to share those posts. I feel vaguely bullied by them. But not enough to share them. All they are missing is some dire threat of bad luck if you don’t comply.

FourSquare, the annoying program that posts where you are all the time (I don’t care if you are at Joe’s Gas ‘n’ Grill in Seymor, N.J) because it has made you think your friends (and Twitter followers who live in another state) care. Most likely, they do not, unless you are a new driver and the person who cares is your parent.

Of course you have many close friends on Facebook, and if one of them didn’t post, you would call them and ask if they are OK. No? What? You might not notice? Well, there goes your Klout score. And you’ll never be the Mayor of Farmville on FourSquare. I remember when I felt sorry for the people who thought their Twitter friends meant as much as real friends.  Now real isn’t enough. We’re competing with them for attention.  Me? I’m heading to the studio. I feel productive there.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people with re-invention and change.


Drama-Lovers Bliss: Munchausen at Work

Some years ago, when I was still in the corporate world, I had a boss who was a mystery to me. She seemed to be very savvy at work politics (which I was not.) What made her a mystery to me was that when I was around her, a crisis would erupt out of nowhere. Suddenly, there was lots of activity, staying late and coming in early. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the crisis was declared over.

It took me months to untangle the mystery, and I didn’t want to believe it when I

The real Baron von Munchausen. Image source: Wikipedia

did. The crisis would erupt when my supervisor wanted the attention of her boss. Occasionally, the crisis would erupt when she had forgotten a deadline or offended her boss in some other way. She then deftly created a crisis, was the only person who know how to solve it, solved it successfully, and got the attention she needed, along with the praise that come from crisis management.

The fact that there were bodies scattered around her office was of no importance. We were the collateral damage of the corporate world. So skillful was this tactic, that I thought I was imagining it. When I saw it years later, at another job in another state, I realized it was real. And I wasn’t the only one noticing it.

Jennifer Alvey, the author of the Leaving Law blog told me some time ago that this behavior has a name: Munchausen at Work. Named after the mental disease in which a person fakes symptoms or deliberately harms themselves in order to get medical attention and sympathy, Munchausen is no less serious when it migrates to the workplace.

John Neville (who died in 2011) played Munchausen in the movies.

According to a Harvard Business Review article (Nov. 2007),Georgia Tech professon Nate Bennett reported on the phenomenon and gave it the name.  The Wall Street Journal took it seriously enough highlight Munchausen at Work as well. The article concluded that fewer people have cause to engage in creating a crisis with the economy stripping workplace employees down to a minimum.

I humbly disagree. A workforce pressed to excel, in which perfectionism is treated as success instead of the sure path to failure, is a workplace ready for Munchausen at Work, and even Munchausen-by-proxy at work. (Munchausen by Proxy is a mental disorder in which a caretaker of someone helpless—often a child—induces real or faked illness to gain attention for the caregiver.)

A example of Munchausen-by-proxy at Work would be an employee who causes strife between two departments or two co-workers through gossip, rumors or lies. The originator then steps in as intermediary and saves the situation. This happens in businesses where knowledge is restricted to those who “need to know” and is then used as currency for favors.

Knowledge or information hoarding is common in businesses, often through lack of communication. The most frequent sign of MAW or MBPAW is poorly-run meetings. If the reason for meetings is to distribute knowledge, than a meeting gone wrong raises  more problems than it solves. Meetings that involve too many people, not the right people, or the same few people and a management representative are also symptoms.

What do you do if you think this is happening at work? Watch for a lack of teamwork; different departments being told wildly varying reasons for problems; employees being deliberately pitted against each other in the same department; and a workplace that creates “heroes” and rewards them lavishly.

  • The best way around this problem is not to participate in it.
  • Do not create or fuel drama at work.
  • Do not get involved in gossip or shunning.
  • Get your work done on time.

It’s true that if you don’t participate, the MAW may get worse as the attention-seeker stretches to absurd lengths to get attention. And that is what will eventually come to the attention of senior management. A MAW employee will almost always overstep the rules of accepted office behavior. And do it quickly. The real Baron von Munchausen (for whom the disease is named) first exaggerated deeds on the 18th-century battlefield. When he didn’t get enough attention, he claimed to have ridden cannonballs as they were shot, to have roamed the moon, and to have pulled himself out of a quicksand-like pond by his own bootstraps. Which is where that expression comes from.

-Quinn McDonald is no fan of drama. She’s seen her share of Munchausen–at work and in social situations. She writes about what she sees.

Yellow Snow, But Nicer

WINNER of the Book Spine Poetry Contest. There were too many that delighted me–so I wrote the names of 10 wonderful entries on index cards and let my cat walk across them. The first and last ones he stepped on were the winners–Andria of DrawingNear blog and Paula in Buenos Aires, you won a copy of my book Raw Art Journaling! Books will ship when I get back from  teaching at Valley Ridge, the week of May 7.

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One of the delights I experience every spring is the blooming of the Palo Verde trees. The trees have tiny leaves and tiny yellow flowers on green branches supported by green trunks. Palo Verdes evolved to survive the Sonoran Desert by shedding leaves and small branches in the searing heat of the summer. The trunks and big branches do the photosynthesis work, so thy are green.

The trees’ tiny yellow flowers drop off the trees and create the look of bright yellow snow. A slight breeze will cause drifts of blossoms and for a few weeks, these yellow snow-like masses shift and drift on curbs and in corners.

The path to the library is lined with Palo Verdes and today was a perfect day for yellow snow–the nice kind.

-Quinn McDonald is a naturalist who thrives on the Sonoran Desert’s surprises.

Your Art Needs Your Time

Most artists have problems (at least some of the time) getting to the studio and getting creative work done. It just seems too much to pick up the pencil, sit at the computer, go to the quilting frame. And there is a pile of laundry. And you are working today till 6 anyway. The difference between successful artists and “wishing” artists is ritual.

Creating your own reality happens only when you take the time to do it.

If you work in an office, you have a morning routine. Whether you get up and shower or get up and exercise, have breakfast and then shower, you have a routine. And that routine is probably timed down to the exact second, either by time or by what’s on the TV or radio. It gets you out of the house and into the office on time.

Creating a ritual for art is exactly the same thing as a routine for work. A ritual legitimizes your effort, eliminates distractions and assigns a top priority to your artwork. As long as your artwork doesn’t have a priority higher than the laundry or watching TV, it won’t get done. And you set the priority every day of your life.

Your art work is powerful, but not powerful enough to overcome your resistance and drag you into your studio. You have to do the work. And that means shifting priorities. To art. Why is that worth it? Because art makes meaning in your life. It helps you understand yourself, your world, your journey. It’s also uncomfortable sometimes to face the meaning you make in art, so it’s easy to shove it aside.

The ritual doesn’t have to be complex. Decide ahead of time when you will do art. Choose a whole hour. Set a timer to ring 10 minutes beforehand to give yourself time to quit what you are doing. Make a cup of coffee or tea, grab the cup and head to the studio. No excuses. Once you get in the habit, it will first get much harder to meet your ritual. The phone will ring, the kids will demand your attention, a crisis will erupt. Keep to your schedule. In about a week, it will suddenly get easier.

Your morning routine works because your job brings in money and you have given it permission to take over your life. Give your art a chance, too. It brings meaning to your life. As the wonderful strip of paper that I found wrapped around a candle says, “What you do today is important because you are exchanging your life for it.”

Quinn McDonald knows that each one of us has to make our own meaning in life. The act of creation is what makes a life.

How to Clean Your Office

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 to me.  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.