The Noise Inside

Yesterday’s responses to the blog about music in an art class were incredible. I blog about creativity because it’s not always easy to do the hard work that creativity demands. And it’s not always easy to ask for what you need to be creative or to keep working if you don’t get it.

Standing up for yourself, from Annie's Ink.

Standing up for yourself, from Annie’s Ink.

Those of us who step up into our creativity every day get told “No” a lot. Sometimes we have to accept No, and sometimes we have to use No as a starting point and keep working through it. It’s hard to know when to accept and when to push on.

Your suggestions, support, ideas, and solutions floored me. They were wry, helpful, insightful, and smart. Some were even funny. I read a lot of blogs, and I rarely see the community and the deep wisdom that shows up in the comments on my blog. But most of all, I felt heard. I felt part of a bigger group that lives in different places and has had different lives and still shares experiences and emotions.

What caused me so much of a problem in the class was the feeling of being “other” and “different.” It’s a big issue in my life. As Pema Chodron reminds us, in her book, When Things Fall Apart:

. . .nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.

Writers and artists are always going to be the “others” and “different.” It’s part of our job. We won’t fit in smoothly. Creativity demands we see things from many perspectives, make meaning in new ways, and show those ways to a world that doesn’t want to change. Seth Godin, in his book Tribes,  calls creative leaders “The Heretics in the Boardroom.”

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

From Lady Employed, in a post about standing up for yourself, which includes this gem: “but I have a rule that when I am wondering whether nothing is something, it’s usually something.

Yes, I was raised not to make a fuss, to always think of myself as the least important person in the room, to never call attention to myself. And yes, that is hard to overcome.  For years,  I have been a warrior for social justice. And sometimes, I get to think of myself as someone who needs a slice of that justice. And asking for it in a calm way is my right.

One of the commentors, Katherine Colgan, said something that rang true to the bone. And then I remembered–it is what I discussed with a coaching client to resolve her problem just last week. What I can do for others, I struggle doing for myself. Here’s what Katherine said:

I would have talked to the instructor privately at the next break, explained my difficulty working with sound, that I was finding it difficult to concentrate, that I was losing the benefit of the class and feeling really bad about that, and that I was hoping she could help me. If she seemed nonplussed, I would offer whatever solutions I thought were appropriate and ask what she thought would be best and fairest to everyone.

See? No victimhood, no demands, just a steady working toward a solution. Thanks to everyone of you who left a comment. You make me smarter and stronger and I depend on your wisdom.

The best ending to the discussion is that I heard from the instructor. She offered an apology, which I thought was brave and kind. She also wished I’d talked to her directly. And next time (because I know Pema is right, and I will run into this again) I will put on my big girl panties and express what I need, instead of letting the Inner Critic tell me I need to suck it up. Again.

Thanks for all of you for showing up, for speaking out, for offering support. It’s an amazing experience to be in such excellent company.

-Quinn McDonald is filling up a gratitude journal with what she learned in the last 24 hours.



Boundaries: Deadlines, “No,” and Speaking Up for Yourself

Over the last few days, I’ve been inundated with requests for help from friends, almost-family, and colleagues. All of them needed a fast turnaround. All of them have gotten quick responses from me before. And none of them knew that I was in the middle of a project that was sucking up time faster than a Shop-Vac sucks up dust bunnies, on a project that demanded focus and came with a tight deadline.

NoI begged off two projects only to get hurt emails back, insisting I help and pointing to some guilt lurking off-stage that got me wincing.

Several years ago I accepted too much paying and non-paying work and paid the price of humiliation and unfinished, promised work. Not wanting to do that again, I gathered up my coaching stamina and skills. . .and stayed up till 3 a.m. for three nights doing everything so people would like me. Damn. Personal growth can be a bitch.

Here’s what I learned. (I hate learning while it’s going on; afterwards, it’s always worthwhile. But when i see a learning experience coming on, I cringe.)

–When people ask me to re-write something,  they think it will take 10 minutes. It doesn’t. It takes 3 hours. When I sweat over it for 3 hours and they tell me I missed the deadline, so they just spiked my email, I stuff down rage. When I open the email request, I send back an email that says, “This will take me 3 hours, and I can get to it next week. Is that all right?” When I get back an email that says, “I thought it would take 10 minutes, I just want you to glance at it and give me advice,” I reply, “Nope, that’s 3 hours. Next week OK?” The key is to stick to the time it will take you and when you can get to it. Let the requester decide if that fits their deadline. If they tell you they need it sooner, you can honestly say you are booked. That’s the point where you started.

–In an ideal world, people get their work done before the deadline. In my world, I get requests to look at this “right away.” If I’m jammed up myself, I make up bad pictures of them thinking I have nothing to do and how inconsiderate is that? In reality, they aren’t thinking of me at all, they are trying to get something done. Back goes an email, “I’m jammed up right now, I can get to this in three days.” You have to stand up for yourself. Without making up ugly stuff about your colleagues. Just stick to the facts.

If you don’t want to do it, simply say “I can’t take this on right now.” You don’t have to offer more explanation. That’s hard, because we want people to like us and tell us it’s all right. But people are not concerned about what we want, they are concerned about what they want. Which is why they don’t care once you’ve said “no.” It’s amazing how well it works

If only I could follow my own advice. Meanwhile, you are free to try it out.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who is still learning, and plans on making a life out of learning. You can see her work at