May 26, 2008
An authentic life includes authentic work. Authentic work helps you realize your dreams. It comes out of your gifts and talents and excites your passions.
That was an idea so radical but so obviously true that it grabbed me in a bear hug when I first read it expressed in one of Barbara Sher’s books. I’m hearing it expressed more often now, showing me the power behind the truth of the statement. The first step in finding authentic work is to reconnect with your gifts, talents, and passions, and dreams.
Which is why I can now proudly talk about my “guilty pleasure,” a popular reality show that helped point me to what resonates with my soul.
Don’t stop reading when I tell you it’s American Idol. My discovery of how parts of the show spoke to my core self is proof that you can get to your deepest interests by following wherever your interests lead you.
It wasn’t until the start of this year’s show, season seven, that I took the time to think about what the show taught me about myself. I first got drawn into the show when it started its second season. I was on a business trip in Florida and saw lots of signs about the show, focusing on Simon Cowell being a “monster.” Then I saw the television ads of his harsh comments, plus out-takes of auditions. The humor drew me in.
The format of each season’s earlier episodes is to show the audition process. The producers choose from a variety of comical, strange, interesting, and empathetic people and create short features to introduce them. That’s a joy for me because I love documentaries. The focused features on individual contestants are developed by editing real, unstaged or barely staged footage into a story with a particular viewpoint and emotional tone. That is the heart of documentary filmmaking.
The early episodes include excerpts of auditions of some of the more talented contestants interspersed with the outrageous ones. So while the humor and documentary storytelling draw me in, I start to notice potential waiting to be realized. That’s the big one for me. My passion is advocating personal growth and development, participating in the journey from discovering potential in its unpolished form to seeing it expressed in amazing accomplishments. When people face their fears and stretch their wings to find out what they are capable of doing, I celebrate. So by the time the outrageous auditions are over, I am invested in watching which people will commit to the work of challenging themselves to grow beyond their previous self-imposed limits.
That’s when the documentary quality of the show shifts. From that point on, the individual tales are about people struggling to rise out of poverty, adversity, and lives planned for them by boxes-and-ruts thinking.
It’s also the point where a distinction arises between people who have decent talent but are pursuing fame and wealth above anything else, and those with talent who find joy in developing and expressing it. The former have arrogant attitudes and shun the hard work, blaming others when they fall. The latter find a way to do the best with the challenges they are given. In a few amazing instances some transcend a challenge by finding a very personally expressive and unique way to present a song from their artistic perspective.
The show is cheesy – it’s contrived, inauthentic, and corny at times. The contestants have to perform songs from before they were born in small groups for auditions. They have to perform medleys of songs in musical review style as a group during each results show. Then they are criticized when their individual performances on competition night sound like a show on a cruise ship or at a theme park – a musical review. They are limited to a certain collection of songs by one artist or in one genre, and then they are criticized when they sound like the original. But they are also criticized if the performance is too unique, straying from the way the song was written.
But in the midst of all that unnecessary and inherently conflicted chatter, and the variety show quality of a lot of the “filler” segments, there are beautiful jewels. This year Brooke White sat at the piano and sang Let It Be, and then cried with obvious joy as Paula Abdul – yes, jokes aside, she is capable of amazing insight – put into words what Brooke was experiencing. She was doing what she was born to do, and what she had been planning and striving towards for years, by performing in front of a large live audience and millions watching by television. Paula said, “This is your dream. You’re living it right now.” Brooke melted.
Runner-up David Archuleta provided a few gems along the way, too. His performances of Imagine and Angels were amazing from a seventeen-year-old. His performance under the highest pressure, the night of the final competition, was pretty close to flawless. When he sang Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me I thought he had just given the performance that would make him the winner.
But winner David Cook was the best gem of the entire season. Early on in live competition, he took risks with his song choices, and he used different arrangements of songs in a way that let him express his own artistic style very clearly. Throughout the voting portion of the show, he was increasingly a strong artist, a compelling performer, and a singer who knew his voice well enough to rely on his strengths to express a song and connect with the audience. During the final night of competition he was a little rough and his voice a little raw, but he had already shown the courage of expressing himself as an artist, so people were eager to vote for him.
David Cook was a bartender working in Tulsa, Oklahoma when his brother asked him to accompany him to the auditions in Omaha. He did it to support his brother. During the initial screening round, the producers talked to him about auditioning. He said he hadn’t come to audition, but they talked him into it.
Every time he received critique from the judges, he made eye contact, he listened closely, and he responded with humility. When he was praised, he expressed gratitude. When he was criticized, he never argued or challenged. He displayed maturity and strong character. And each week he got better.
Now he’s going to be doing what he loves and sharing it with millions of people. What’s not to love about that?
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,
May 18, 2008
This week my main work was to make some decisions. Just writing that it doesn’t sound like much. But these were decisions that I had been considering for quite a while, so they were the culmination of a lot of mental work.
First, I decided I will use the current format of sections for my Chasing Wisdom Blog-Zine through June. Starting in July I will change the format to be more focused on creativity, personal growth, and authentic living. In my framework of Why? What? How? it’s going to be focused on Why?
Why? is about purpose, the reasons we want to change and try a different path. What? is the change we decide to make or the new path we decide to follow. How? is the way we make it happen, the detailed steps we follow and pieces of information we gather to make our What become real so we can honor our Why.
On The Twisting Road, my e-mail newsletter (e-zine), will be focused more on What? and How? The articles and tips will be more practical and more action-oriented than Chasing Wisdom.
I have been posting articles to my Anything But Marketing! blog on a weekly basis. I realized I don’t intend to do that long-term. I usually post ideas based on conversations with fellow coaches and service professionals. I will post weekly when I can, but eventually I will compile the articles into a larger information product and pull down the blog. It’s a useful way for me to gather a variety of ideas for the future. I will include the ABM! posts in the newsletter whenever I have a new one.
On The Twisting Road will be published weekly on a regular basis, with occasional extra issues for special events or product announcements as I develop them. I have gone back and forth, and forth and back, trying to balance my preference for a focused newsletter with my preference for not publishing it so often it becomes annoying. I am on newsletter lists where I receive multiple issues in a week. Too often I find myself getting annoyed by multiple newsletter issues per week. I am most pleased with newsletters that arrive on a weekly or semi-weekly basis. As a result of my completely unscientific research of a non-representative sample – me – I chose to have a weekly publishing format.
I will publish Chasing Wisdom monthly. I have been posting a section per week, for a total of four sections per month. That was a way to have weekly content for my newsletter: There’s a new section of my Blog-Zine posted! Since the newsletter has its own content and will be targeted a little differently, I can write Chasing Wisdom over the course of the month and publish it in a day or two.
Another decision I made was the format for my new business cards. I’ve been planning the new ones since I started passing out the current ones. I have streamlined my card to web address, e-mail address, and phone number. It’s applicable to my business as a writer, trainer, information publisher, and coach… because it doesn’t mention any specific job! I’m looking forward to learning what it’s like to pass them out, and to finding out how they will be received.
I clarified my decision not to focus on parent coaching. I realized I am passionate about healthy child development, especially psychological development, but not passionate about parents’ struggles. I think I will focus on training teachers and caregivers and coaching people who supervise them instead of coaching parents. I may offer parent training, if I find a market that will pay, but I will limit my coaching around promoting healthy child development to people who are also passionate about it and wanting to learn and grow in their abilities and understanding.
Whenever I take my sons to the bookstore, I’ve been reading Eckart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Oprah’s Book Club, Selection 61). It’s somewhat scholarly so I’m taking my time with it. I try to follow along as he writes about “awareness” that brings people out of “unconsciousness” and helps to overcome the “ego.” To understand him I have to use a different system – Carl Jung’s personality theory, which is also complex and esoteric.
Tolle’s book gives me hope in this way: if he can have a successful career writing such cumbersome books about profound philosophical and spiritual ideas, and even train groups and provide individual counseling on them, I can probably have a successful coaching and training business that includes excursions into deeper purposes along with practical steps to improvement.
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,
May 9, 2008
Somewhere in the past few days, I decided to write a new tag line for my business. The current version is:
Your Path To An Authentic Life Starts Here
The key idea that resonates with me is authentic living. Personal growth and development is about living authentically. It’s about uncovering your gifts, talents, and passions, and designing a life that incorporates and expresses them while honoring your values.
I realized this week, after writing an article for my Anything But Marketing! blog, that I keep coming back to “Why?” as the starting point for many things.
Why? To What End? What Is The Purpose?
These questions are central to me when designing my business, planning marketing, choosing a niche for coaching, and pretty much in most areas of my life. I haven’t read a complete Stephen Covey book yet – just chapters and excerpts – but I hear many people quote him when they say, “Begin with the end in mind.” It’s this focus on purpose, and the willingness to explore and question and clarify purpose, that compels me.
The purposes that interest me most are deeper. They are transcendent, they are creative, and they are spiritual. I think living authentically means honoring these deeper purposes. I think it means pursuing a connection with things that are eternal.
I am encouraged that Barbara Winter discusses the connection between spiritual purpose and small business success in her recorded discussion with Nick Williams called “Outsmarting Resistance.” Having focused her career on helping people find ways to be self-employed and start small businesses, she has been in a position to see many people pursue this path. She tells us the notion that you must either choose something meaningful and spiritually significant to do, or something profitable, is untrue. She and Nick have seen people become energized when they focus their businesses on things that are meaningful to them, and that energy has contributed to financial success.
Man, I hope that works out! If I have to choose between authentic work and making a lot of money, I don’t even think I can choose. I’m not sure I can sustain something for any period of time if it isn’t meaningful.
I really want this to be possible. I really want to find out that living authentically is the ultimate measure of success, and that it leads to financial success.
I’m sure that it’s true for many people. I’m nearly sure it’s true for everyone. I’m going to commit myself to making it true for me.
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,
May 2, 2008
This morning I came across this quote in the Early To Rise e-mail newsletter:
“Envy comes from people’s ignorance of, or lack of belief in, their own gifts”
~ Jean Vanier
Scroll down to “The Most Stupid of Vices” by Alexander Green and read his take on envy.
I have printed the quote and taped it to the side of my printer right next to my computer. I am not drawn to it so much for its focus on the folly of envy, but the emphasis on each person’s ability to have the life we think is restricted to only a select few, when we rely on ourselves.
The road to creative solo entrepreneurship is about finding our unique gifts, talents, passions, and values and designing work that aligns with them. But more than that it is about finding the strength and ability to do things we never thought we could, or would have to.
Earlier this week my younger son was saying he wished that we would find a pirate ship filled with sunken treasure, or win a jackpot, so we could be rich. I asked what he would do with the money. He said he would build a huge house with a video game room and a movie room. I tried to point out the extra work and extra expense of a huge house, but he wasn’t really paying attention. The best I could come up with was to give him a blessing.
I told him that, rather than have a lot of money to buy things that would bore him quickly, my wish and hope for him is that he learn how to find work that he loves and start his own business so he can take charge of his future. That way he will have the power in himself to generate money when he wants something. He won’t have to sit around waiting for an unlikely act of fate. Instead, it will be up to him, and that will be much more enjoyable and rewarding.
He got a little down, saying he had no idea what kind of business a nine-year-old could start. As we talked about it he thought maybe he could design things out of LEGOs and sell them. The idea was laid aside and he hasn’t brought it back up, but I’m glad he’s beginning to think about this at nine.
The conversation with my son happened earlier this week. The quote from Vanier showed up in my world today. They point to the same place. When we don’t see our own gifts and our own power, we resent and envy others and blame them for holding us back. When we look at what we want and think, How am I going to do that? we feel abundant, capable, and generous.
There is a next level to this thought, but it’s a little more vague. Some people who want to change their lives, especially related to work, say they want to be self-employed but seem to be waiting for someone else to design them a j-o-b and hand it to them. I think part of that comes from the mentality of not seeing our own gifts and our own power. Some, however, won’t take the steps for other reasons.
I think a lot of people see the effort and work involved in starting even a part-time small business and get overwhelmed. They see it as a drain on resources. The best analogies I can come up with are driving a gas-guzzling car with high gas prices, or camping for a few days away from civilization. You wind up thinking and planning from the point of limitation and scarcity. You think, If I do that, will I have the gas to go do this? or maybe, If I use up all my water on this hike, I’ll just barely have enough to get by until the day I leave.
If you do something that is aligned with your gifts, talents, and passions, energy will flow into you. It will be emotional and spiritual energy. Sure, you’ll still get physically tired if there are physical things to do, but you won’t wind up drained. If you spend a lot of time and effort on something that doesn’t connect with your soul, your emotional and spiritual energy can get tapped out pretty quickly.
I think this is the point of view that keeps a lot of people from trying something out. They think it has to be the exact right thing before they put in the time and energy because they’ve only got this one shot. They don’t realize that working towards an authentic life will restore them and recharge them.
I also think, based on this powerful quote, that they don’t realize how much they can actually do. They don’t see that, if something is important in a way that touches their core, they will find the way to make it happen. They don’t realize they have enormous reserves when it comes to resources for deciding, acting, and making things happen.
Obviously, part of “they” is “me.” I feel a lot of resistance with some ideas, thinking I might wind up putting in too much time and effort only to see it flop, or only to find out I don’t really want to be doing that kind of work long-term. I come from the mindset that I have to get it right, or pretty close to right, because I will run out of gas if I go too long without quick results. I forget that trying out new things is pretty fun a lot of the time, and I forget that I won’t really know if some things are a good choice for me until I try them. To quote my nine-year-old son (in his optimistic version of the saying), “You can’t like it ‘til you try it.”
I’m still learning I don’t have to be sure I’ll be hugely successful at something in order to try it out. I’m re-learning that I’m going to struggle with things and be pretty crummy at a few while I’m learning them. But that’s the joy of mastery. If it’s easy at first, there’s no elation when you conquer it. If it’s a quick and open road, there’s no challenge.
I’ll leave the idea of the quick and open road to the “Make 6 Figures In 7 Days!” crowd. I prefer the reality of the struggle, because it’s the way of the journey, and the journey is the only reason to go anywhere.
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,