Getting Back to Work

If you took time off over the holidays, today is the first day back to work. Even if you don’t do resolutions, January feels like a fresh start. A fresh start always feels good. But as the year goes on, we make mistakes and get older and do some things over and over, and maybe get criticized, and the fresh feeling leaves and we abandon any hope of change because “what good is it anyway?”

Sometimes that’s good–we don’t have to re-invent ourselves every day. Much like getting over the first page in a journal, getting over “messing up” the first days of the new year can be a relief.

The assignment here was to draw with permanent ink on watercolor. No erasing, no second-guessing. Just looking at what you did.

The assignment here was to draw with permanent ink on watercolor. No erasing, no second-guessing. Just looking at what you did.

To make sure I didn’t raise expectations too high, on January 1 and 2 I slept in, didn’t take my walk, and let the laundry go so I could draw. And wrote 5,000 words in the new book.

The important next step is to keep trying. Small things. I signed up for two online classes–both drawing/watercolor classes. And my decision was simple: I would post what I drew every day, even if it was awful. Even if I hated it. Even if everyone else posted gorgeous, advanced work (yep, they did). Because it doesn’t make sense to show only the good side. It’s just as useful to show the things that didn’t work out, because they are the ones you learn the most from.

The modern philosopher Alain de Botton reminds us to put success in perspective:

What I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we’re truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.

You might like Bett ideas enough to watch his TED talk.

It’s Monday and you are ready to get back to your routine. Make it the routine you want. Know why you are choosing it. Because if it doesn’t make sense to you, it sure won’t help get you where you want to go.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She’s not sure she’s ready for this Monday, but she is jumping right in.





Notes from the Commonplace Book: Success

Note: If you don’t know about Commonplace Book or Journal, you can read about what goes into one, what mine looks like, 10 things you can put in yours if you want to start one, or the difference between a commonplace and visual journal.

Mine commonplace book is stuffed with notes and today, I thought I’d take the string of notes I have on success and put it here. Un-edited, just ideas I’ve jotted down on success. Some may resonate, some may sound completely wild or untrue to your experiences.

Comment, head off to your own journal to rant, or just think. It’s Friday and Halloween and I know you are busy.

Fear of success takes several forms
1. If I become successful, will it be enough? Don’t I have to become more successful then, and more after that? Too much work, don’t want all that.

2. Success breeds responsibility, like this:  If I become really successful, I’ll have to hire people—a bookkeeper, an admin—and what if I can’t support them? What if my income is reduced too much in the effort of supporting them? Gasp, choke.

3. Lack of definition of success. “Success” is a faraway goal. Here’s how my coaching clients tackle this thorny problem:  I can always run toward success and enjoy the chase. But if I catch it, like a dog chasing a car, what do I actually DO with it?  If I actually succeed, what if I don’t please my parents or get accepted by my friends? Most people want enough money to live on, but wealth isn’t what looks like success or happiness to them. And if they claim to be successful, their neighbors and friends will point out how ridiculous it is to call yourself “successful,” because you aren’t obviously wealthy. So it’s easier to avoid success.

I think of myself as successful because I’ve had a business for 12 years and have always managed to pay the bills, really love the variety of my work, meeting new people with different ideas, and being able to say No to those whose core values don’t line up with mine. But few people would agree that I’m “successful.” My success is based on my happiness and the ability to take some very strange talents I have and make a living from them, rather than celebrity or piles of cash.

4. Our consumer culture has a lot to do with “permission” in people’s lives. More of us look to the people around us–at work, mostly, where people are also in competition with us–for validation. No one who is in competition with you is going to help you be successful unless it also helps them.

5. Deserving success. This is very tied into #3 above, but it is for people pleasers who cannot define success for themselves. They don’t trust their gut, so they allow people to define success for them. So, of course, they are never successful. If you are, people may be jealous or hate you, and that’s not success. This is a really vicious cycle, but important.

—Quinn McDonald coaches people who fear success.

Luck and Secrets

When people I haven’t seen in a while notice I have lost weight, the inevitable question I get asked is, “What’s your secret.” When I say, truthfully, “There is no secret; I gave up everything I craved and walk three to five miles a day,” I get skeptical looks. “But what is your secret?” they repeat, unable to believe that there is not a smoothie, a pill, garment, or a new exercise behind  significant weight loss.

Create your own luck

Create your own luck

If I’m feeling brave, I’ll say, “Self discipline. Self control. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done so consistently.” That doesn’t work, either. “You have to treat yourself sometime, or you will quit,” they assure me. “It’s not good to have all that discipline.” I try to change the subject. I’m uncomfortable talking about discipline and success. It’s not the answer for everybody. But it has worked consistently for me–not just in changing my relationship with food, but for most things in life that I have relentlessly pursued.


“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” –The Buddha

It reminds me of how often I was told, after I landed a book contract, that I was “lucky.” Well, perhaps, but it also involved a lot of hard work and, ummm, discipline. I did research, I wrote the book proposal over again at least six times, I changed the idea of the book slightly when it wasn’t focused enough, spent hours doing research to find a publisher who specialized in the kind of book I wanted to write.

The need for “luck” and “secrets” comes because discipline and hard work are not fast and easy.  And no one (except the Little Red Hen) wants to say, “I worked really hard for this and I made it work.” It sounds conceited and self-satisfied. But I don’t know anyone who has lost a lot of weight and kept it off who had an easy secret. Same goes for people who have accomplished something big in their lives. They seemed to have given up a lot and worked hard for a long time.

Thomas Edison had it right when he said, “The reason too many people miss opportunity is because is goes around dressed in overalls and looking like work.” Followed by another good quote from Thomas Jefferson, “The harder I work the more luck I seem to have.”

Quinn McDonald is going to bed. It’s almost 1:30 a.m. and she has to get up to go teach in four hours. She is looking forward to being lazy when she gets back from class tomorrow. No, wait, she wants to do a book review and giveaway on the next blog.


Throw Your Life Away

“How could you let him throw his life away?” my neighbor asked all those years ago. She was speaking of my son, who had recently announced he wanted to major in music, to switch from math and Russian.

Dreams in ink. Marker, acrylic paint skin, paint on paper.

“He could be an engineer or a lawyer, something important, but you are letting him major in music? ” My mother asked. “You are letting him throw his life away. Just like you did!” The anger in her voice was hard and sharp.

Maybe you’ve heard that phrase, too–“Throwing your life away.” It sounds dangerous, stupid, harmful. In my son’s case, and earlier, my case, it was what saved our lives.

I knew from personal experience that unless you follow the path that beckons, the journey will be rocky, harsh, and may well lead you into a personal, barren wilderness.

So when my son told me he was interested in music, I was pleased. It was good he could see so clearly the path he wanted to follow.

He threw away many possibilities–all the ones that were wrong for him. The ones that would have left him unsatisfied, a drone at his work, uninspired. The ones that would have weighed like stones in the pockets of his dreams.

Years earlier, I blundered down the path of success as my parents saw it for me. It was years till I could “throw my life away,” and create the life I wanted. It was hard, but ahead of me was the steady light of life’s purpose, a sure knowledge that writing was where meaning-making lived.

The compass was there, but I wasn’t as sure in my choices. I didn’t believe in myself as much as I believed that my parents knew best. When I figured out that their advice fit their lives and I would have to find my own path, I threw my old life away, too. And am happier for it.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people through change and re-invention. She is the author of Raw Art Journaling.

Imagine That. . .

It’s a phrase you hear often: Imagine that. It’s usually said in disbelief or astonishment. But it can just as well be used to create the path to success.

It's popular in the rural areas of The Valley to make fences out of ocotillo branches. The thorns keep pets in and coyotes out. Most of the time, the branches are dried and dead. Take a closer look at that one in the center. . . .

When we imagine a project, we often immediately think of the worst that could happen, or all the things that go wrong. That line of thinking can be useful for avoiding pitfalls, making mistakes, or building a Plan B.

Imagining success is also a way to start breaking in the path to success. When we imagine the end, the success, the satisfaction, it’s easier to put up with the wear-and-tear of change and progress. We know what success looks, tastes, and feels like, and engaging our senses also engages our imagination to solve problems, overcome bumps, and keep to the path we imagined.

Imagining success keeps us from running around in circles in the snowy woods

A close up of the center fence post shows that new growth is possible from an old branch. Imagination can spark your boundaries into new growth , too.

of “what if.” Imagining success keeps us from trudging along on the path, hoping a squirrel will run across the path, creating a diversion. Imagination helps the North Star of our goal stay in sharp focus, even when the harsh light of reality fades out the sky.

When you engage your imagination, engage all five senses. Include smell and touch. When you have fixed sense experiences as part of success, you will recognize when you are getting close. Sense imagination is fun, satisfying, and best of all, we can experience the thrill of success often along the way. Imagine that!

—Quinn McDonald has a vivid imagination and knows how to steer it. Most of the time.

Book Marketing and Celebrity

Writing a book is just the beginning. Then you market the book. A lot of this can be fun–a blog tour, giveaways, meeting new people. A lot of it is not so much fun–lots of rejection (again) from bookstores, editors, and places you think are perfect for events. After the writing was done, I felt I had completed something, come to a good place. But it’s just the beginning. In fact, every rest stop in the journey has a great view of the future. But the road to that future is another steep path.

The bright promise of celebrity can feel a little dry and prickly.

I felt elated when I got a book contract, then terrified that I actually had to write the book. I felt elated when it was done, thinking I had stepped up a notch, but my rosy idea that book stores would welcome me, smile, and suggest a book signing was really way off. You have to struggle with book signings. It seems that book stores are busy doing not-signings, and you are a giant bother to them. As usual, it helps if you are already famous.

Which is where I ran into the snag. I subscribe to several marketing-idea blogs and newsletters, and last week was hit with several on the topic, “Marketing isn’t enough, you must turn yourself into a celebrity,” and “Unless you are a celebrity, your book isn’t moving.” Oh.

I am not sure what a celebrity is, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be a rock star, sweat-lodge emerging, champagne drinking,  talk-show-tour celebrity.  I’m a creativity coach, I run workshops. I’m happy doing that. Am I supposed to want a line of products, a TV show, people recognizing me on the street?

Actually, what I really want, if I had a magic wand, is my book reaching people who feel they are not enough, not good enough, not smart enough to be creative. Those who have journals with one or two pages filled up, and more pages torn out in disappointment. Those who want to journal but don’t feel complete enough to be themselves, even in a journal.

In my magic-wand world, I’d be celebrity enough if there were some people who pick up kits and do them so very well, and still feel empty read the book and realized that there is a life beyond kits. Beyond a project class that has you assemble a cute object and give it as a present. There is a satisfying life of sloppy experimentation and doing stuff that doesn’t work that makes you feel connected to creativity, to a bigger sense of yourself. In that life, making meaning is the point, and trying out ideas is exciting because you are learning about yourself and your ideas and how you connect to a huge web of ideas and, well, healing. Healing your own pain, growing into and beyond your own “not enough-ness,” connecting to another’s feeling of ‘not-enough’ and being OK with that, too.

I wrote the book for those people. People like me. People who yearn to have some sort of creative spark fanned into a flame. I want to share that joy, that incredible flood of gratitude that comes from creativity. The startling realization that an hour in a studio or workshop creates a life more satisfying than any “real housewife” has ever dreamed of. And you can have that life without wearing an underwire, pushup bra or stilettos or photographing yourself in your underwear and sending it to fans. I believe the pursuit of happiness is interesting and engaging and may be what happiness really is. That’s why I wrote the book. That’s why I teach. That’s my kind of celebrity.

–Quinn McDonald’s book, “Raw Art Jouraling: Making Meaning, Making Art,” is being shipped at this very moment, and will be available in July, 2011. It’s not too shabby that it has broken Amazon’s top 5 in Mixed Media, top 30 in Creativity and top 75 in Crafts and Hobbies. Maybe it’s a celebrity!

Lesson Learned: Don’t Make Waves?

The dangerous way up from Go Haceem blog

Desirée Rogers has been on my mind lately. She was the White House social secretary who was forced to resign because some publicity hounds crashed a state dinner. I understand the security problems involved, but it’s the mistake part I’m interested in. In my newsletter (you can subscribe by clicking on the Yahoo button over on the right side of the blog) I said that her mistake was sitting down at the dinner, trying to be one of the cool kids, when her job was something else. (I’m still not clear how come a security error wound up in her lap. I suspect it was because she sat down at the State Dinner and that rankled.)

One of the newsletter readers made a brilliant observation–Desirée Rogers should have been allowed to stay because she would never, ever make that mistake again, would have learned something valuable, and would have been a better employee.

I’m a big proponent of learning from mistakes, it’s unfortunately the way most of us learn best. We never think, “Wow, that presentation really went well. Was it because I practiced or because I decided not to use a PowerPoint or studied up on potential questions?” Nope. If we do well, we feel lucky. But we learn more from mistakes.

Those people who don’t make mistakes are people who aren’t trying hard enough. Or who hide their mistakes or blame them on others. And those people, in many corporations, and in the government, are often the people who rise to the top. Or maybe I should say “float” to the top. By dodging mistakes, they look blameless. Notice I said blameless, not faultless. They dodge and weave the effects of their mistakes. Because they make lots of mistakes–everyone does–they learn how not to get caught. Then they believe the problem is getting caught, not making a mistake. Admitting the mistake would teach them something. Instead, they bury their learning experience. I’d respect someone who made a mistake and admitted it and knew how to fix it and prevent it.

Yes, some horrible person could have snuck into the state dinner and caused harm. The Secret Service and security is there to prevent that, not the social secretary. But consider corporations–middle managers are punished for mistakes they could learn from. Fired, in some cases. They learn to cover up to get another job. What does that teach them? Exactly my point–you get car recalls only when the cover up is discovered, not before.

It would be an excellent idea if corporations encouraged mistake-learning early, and promoted people who solved their own problems and had the integrity to admit mistakes and the problem-solving ability to prevent them from happening again. That’s someone to admire and promote.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer, writer and artist who is writing a book on journaling.