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The Power of Embracing Failure

This is the seventh in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week.

The question for this final blog in the series is: “What are you taking with you from this challenge?”

The big takeaway for me is learning to accept failure. I was on time for the first two postings but I was late for every other posting thereafter, including this one. I had failed. Repeatedly.

After my first failure to post a blog, I was tempted to pack it in, particularly since the catalyst for this challenge, Seth Godin, author of Your Turn and many other bestselling books, had said to Winnie, “Every day that you don’t put up a blog post, you’ve failed.”

I’ve always seen failure as something terminal and lethal. How can you continue if you’ve failed? But after participating in the “Your Turn Project,” I discovered (not for the first time but such life lessons require continual repetition and reinforcement) that it isn’t fatal. Quite the opposite.

I screwed up, I forgave myself, I figured that it was better to post late than not at all and so I did. As Seth has said, “after you fail you will be one step closer to succeeding, you will be wiser and stronger and you almost certainly will be more respected by all of those that are afraid to try.”

He’s right and I would not have recognized that if I hadn’t stayed in the game. I may have failed to meet the terms of the challenge, but over a one-week period, I wrote over 3,000 words or seven reasonably useful blog posts that would not have existed otherwise. I feel good about that. I feel motivated to accept other challenges, to take more risks, and to continue to thwart those inner barriers that keep me from shipping as often as I’d like.

A big thank you to Winnie and to Seth.

Fear Is An Ally

This is the fifth in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week.

Today’s question is: Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself.

I have always made an enemy out of fear and it has always delivered.

But let me take you back to December 29, 2012. I am scheduled to sing In My Girlish Days – on stage, with a band – at a party in the evening. I am getting ready to leave and feeling uninspired about the whole thing. Plus I have no clue what to wear. Nothing in the closet has any appeal. The lovely new Christmas outfit from dear friends looks fine but wrong. Everything feels wrong.

I call my cousin who convened the event. He’s pulling a lot of things together for the evening and is not keen to chat but I am nonetheless relieved to hear that he’s wearing jeans and a shirt. I can do that. Then I try to do some warm-ups and a run-through of the song. It sounds like crap.

The party is in town and will be going on past the last ferry to the Island where I am living at the time, which means I’ll be staying over, which means I have to pack an overnight bag. Not a difficult task, particularly given that I have over two hours to accomplish it, but because of my state I am almost incapable of doing it. It takes me the entire two hours to put together a little backpack and head to the ferry. I don’t even have time for breakfast.

My car is freezing cold and I feel afraid and alone. I feel like the worst possible failure – my whole life and everything about me is wrong and awful and pathetic. I call some friends and leave messages. Not asking for help directly and not sharing the full extent of my feelings, but letting them know that I’m about to perform and I’m terrified.

Saying it helps to dissipate some of the paralysis but I still feel awful. I tell myself not to try to change this state but just to breathe into it. A good bit of advice that I have sometimes been able to apply to difficult states but not generally to performance anxiety. It helps a bit. I make the ferry crossing, head to a café, order a turkey sandwich and a coffee, which helps to ground me, and then I drive over to the hall.

I arrive an hour early and help the emcee hang some decorative ducks over the band. Then the sound check begins with a young woman singing Feelin’ Good – a song I’ve always wanted to sing. She has an amazing voice and I feel intimidated. I look at the line-up for the evening program. I follow her. Great. I’m right before the incomparable Dan Mangan. Multiple award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter. Swell.

Finally, after waiting for three terrified hours, I’m called up on stage for a sound check. I haltingly try to communicate with the band what I want by way of an intro and plunge into the song just as some of the guests begin to arrive. To my great surprise, I don’t die. What a relief.

Before my big moment, I feel some nervousness but far less than before, and once I get on stage I feel surprisingly relaxed. A friend who isn’t liberal with compliments tells me I was fabulous. A number of people say that I was their favorite act. A choir leader and voice teacher tells me I was the most interesting performer because I was connected to my words. Another said I have “pipes and presence.” A tough-looking woman said, “I want to be like you.”

This experience was tangible evidence that the fear that precedes performing is an ally, not an enemy. How can you connect with your heart without having suffered, even if most of it is self-generated? This experience was an extraordinary gift to me. I felt the fear and I did it anyway. Hurray for me.

Ten Ways to Get Unstuck

This is the fifth in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week.

Today’s question is: “What advice would you give for getting unstuck?”

As a Creativity Coach, feeling unable to move forward on a creative project is the most common reason that my clients contact me.

To get yourself out of the ditch, here are 10 things that you can try:

1. Change a habit – work different hours, walk a different route to or from work, call someone you wouldn’t normally reach out to, read a magazine or book that you wouldn’t normally read, etc.

2. Take your creative project for a walk or a drive. Gardening, cooking or doing dishes can be equally effective.

3. Set a time limit for writing a passage, learning a song, doing a sketch, etc. Freedom inhibits creativity.

4. Do absolutely nothing for 10, 15, 30 minutes. (Set a timer.) Lie down, listen to music, and close your eyes. The best ideas come when the mind is relaxed. Keep a notebook handy.

5. Go down to the ocean and watch the waves or go to the forest and watch the trees waving in the wind. If you don’t have access to Nature, go window watching or people watching.

6. Think about a creative problem before going to sleep, allowing the subconscious to take over. Keep a pad and pen by your bed.

7. Dance to loud raucous music in your living room.

8. Speak the truth (with kindness) about how stuck you are, if only to yourself. It’ll free your creativity!

9. List all of the ways to make your troublesome creative project worse instead of trying to fix it.

10. Get some pen and paper, set a timer for 10 minutes, and rant in writing about how pissed you are at this effing project that refuses to bend to your will.

If none of the above work for you, you may need more support. If that’s the case, email me and let’s see if I can help you.

I’m Starting With Myself

This is the third in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week. (This one was supposed to have been posted yesterday but I was wrestling with what I wanted to say. And so, rather than drop out entirely, I’ve forgiven myself and I’m posting it late.)

Today’s question is, “Tell us about something that you think should be improved.”

Where to start? My (Canadian) government recently made a secret arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a country with a terrible record for human rights violations of its citizens. The Correctional Service of Canada has also made it clear this week that it will impose no limits on how long its own citizens can be held in solitary confinement (often for several months), despite numerous warnings about the psychological impacts of lengthy detentions in solitary, not to mention a number of suicides on the part of solitary detainees. Such appalling inhumanity astonishes me. To say there is room for improvement in my government is an understatement.

What can I do about it? I can write letters to my Member of Parliament. Done that. I can bleat about it with my friends. Do that all the time. I can vote for another party. Done that too.

None of those actions are likely to do much to improve the caliber of the political leaders who represent me. I can’t control how they behave. But the one thing that I do have control over is myself.

Which means that I need to ask myself something like following: In what ways do I exhibit the inhumanity, lack of compassion, dishonesty, lack of creativity, greed, black-and-white thinking, shortsightedness, etc. that I’m seeing in my government?

What? How could such dastardly qualities present themselves in a nice girl like moi?

But the truth is that while I tend to be kind, honest and compassionate toward others most of the time, that amiability can evaporate if I feel hurt or threatened in some way. Plus I’m not as kind, honest and compassionate toward myself as I need to be. If I’m unwilling to tell the truth about that, my efforts to improve circumstances outside myself will be compromised.

Tolstoy has said, “Everyone wants to change the world. No one wants to change themselves.”

It’s not hard to understand why. Looking within can unveil some qualities and habits that are not flattering. And negative ways of perceiving and behaving are profoundly ingrained, which means that the process of self-change is not a quick fix. It can take a lifetime.

And yet, if we’re serious about improving the things we don’t like in our world, telling ourselves the truth about how those things are reflected in us has to be our starting point. Otherwise we trap ourselves in a binary, self-righteous, us against them stance that only perpetuates the status quo.

On the other hand, if we are able to see ourselves in a less self-flattering, more nuanced, and more dimensional manner, and to drop our judgments toward those whom we hold responsible for what isn’t working, then our hearts and minds will be open and we will be better able to conceive of solutions that are creative, original, and have some chance of working.

This attitude applies as much to our own personal, professional and creative lives as much as it does to the world “out there.”