Focus is Granting Power

In the corporate world I learned the importance of being absolutely clear about what you’re trying to accomplish. Business school provided me with data to prove what I already knew instinctively, that the myth of multitasking is total bullshit. Life has shown me numerous examples of people who have become successful because they knew what they wanted and held onto that like a dog with a bone. The takeaway is that you can really only focus on one thing at a time.

“Once you say you’re going to settle for second, that’s what happens to you in life.”

-John F. Kennedy

What you focus on, you give power to. If you’re wrapped up in negative self-talk, you give it power. If you’re entangled in other peoples’ nonsense, you give it power. If you give in to every excuse, distraction, and ratonlization, you give it power. If you’re putting your focus on anything other than your own dreams, goals, and aspirations, you’re putting yourself second. You’re settling for second place, after whatever you’ve given your power away to. You just need to change your focus back to the one thing that’s most important to you.

I’m not saying you need to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to the exclusion of everything else. When you are with family, be with family. When you are with friends, give them your undivided attention. When you need self-care, allow yourself to have that time, because you can’t take care of anyone else unless you take care of yourself first. But when you’re working, focus on one project at a time, one step at a time, and give it your all.

 

Don’t Start Your Day Without A Plan

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A note keeps popping up reminding me that I wanted to write a series of blog posts about creating journal templates. Specifically, what a journal template is, and suggestions for things that might go into different types of journals.

When I sit down to start writing it, I logically start considering the many ways that I use journals and the value I find in them, which is what made me want to write the series to begin with. That gets me to overthinking it, evaluating how I do things, and looking for better ways. Which makes me put off writing the articles. because I need more research, and I need to test things in my own journaling, and so on and so on and further down the rabbit hole we go.

While there are plenty of great digital solutions for journaling, I keep returning to pen on paper. I like the physicality of it. I like that I can draw, and paste things in, and collage, and add stickers. I like that I don’t need to be wired. I like that there are fewer distractions available other than the ones my mind creates. I like that a journal never rings or chirps or buzzes or vibrates. I like the old fashioned-ness of it.

Journals are my primary tools in life. I get to make lists and flesh out plans, yes, but I also get to reflect. I get to take notes on what worked and why, so I remember to do that again, but I also get to comment on what didn’t work, and how that made me feel, and why, and how to avoid that pain and nonsense in the future. A journal is far more personal than any device or application could ever be, even though I could write the same things in a doc or a wiki or an app.

Writing in a journal is how I begin and end my day. I plan out what I want to do, and I get to check it off and make notes as I do it. I get a feeling or organization in the morning, a sense of control throughout the day, and a deep level of accomplishment at night when I can look at documentation of what I’ve done. In a confusing world I don’t feel adrift, because I have this solid object, this fetish, this totem, that holds my strength and my power for me and reminds me of who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

This is why I want to write these articles, and why I’m overthinking it. This is why I want to create more than just another set of bullet-pointed listicles.

 

Focus on the Issue, Not the Person

This morning I woke up with three different conversations I’ve had in the past week synthesizing in my head. The human penchant for pattern recognition and, occassionally, creating patterns where none probably exist, can lead to some interesting epiphanies.

I tend not to name names when telling anecdotes on the internet. Rather than recounting how so-and-so said something that upset me, and piling on that person, I prefer to drill down on the idea or opinion itself. I want to sort out why it bothers me, and look for its roots within society and culture. I do this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a desire to constructive, rather than destructive. I don’t want to get into a fight, and I don’t want other people to come down on the person who spurred me to write about it. Making rude comments doesn’t fix anything, nor do the extremes of disproportionate threats, it only makes the world a worse place to live.

Which leads to the first conversation, with Katie, about a friend who does screen grabs of conversations and posts them on social media. These posts are usually in places where the other party can’t or won’t see the screenshots, so they can’t respond. It doesn’t feel like it’s about the issue that arose as much as it’s about shaming the person for saying something hurtful or having an unpopular point of view. It’s about drawing attention to how awful the other person is, and gaining sympathy for the poster. Which, backing up a paragraph, is why I scrape the serial numbers off my anecdotes and focus on the issues, not the people. Katie finds the cut-and-paste posts distressing, but doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t want to end up in the next screenshot.

This jumps us to the next conversation, a rehash of how I use Facebook. WordPress automatically shares my blog posts to a number of social media outlets, including G+, Twitter, and Facebook. I have those social media accounts set up to send me an email when someone leaves a comment, and if it requires a reponse and I can’t simply reply to the email to leave it, I’ll log in to that platform to do so. I’m not actively using those social media platforms the way “normal” people do.

Recently the post Quitting Facebook Makes You Happier was re-run. While I appreciate the irony that it ends up being posted on Facebook, that also seems to be where the people who could most benefit from the information reside. I feel more like a troll when it crops up on Twitter and G+, where there are already a large number of people who don’t use and/or dislike Facebook. I get that. But the focus of this blog is creativity and productivity, and we all know what a huge time sink social media can be. The fact that there’s science behind it, as cited in the post, rather than just opinion, seems important.

But of course, a former friend shows up to crap on that. We used to be close once. Now he only pops up to troll and throw shade and be mean. I don’t know why. I tried to discuss it in a private conversation, but that went nowhere. I”m not going to post a screen shot or quote him, because it’s not about the person, it’s about the issue. He isn’t the reason I’m not actively on Facebook, but the cumulative effect of people who behave the way he does is. I finally just got tired of it, and figured that if what I write upsets him so much, I can fix that. I banned him from my page. Now he doesn’t have to look at my posts, and I don’t have to look at his snark.

This dovetails into the final conversation, an email chain with a friend who told me that a friend of hers found great value in that very same post. This person was lamenting how she gets sucked into Facebook drama that leaves her miserable and unproductive for days, even when she’s not actively on the site. My article has led her not to quit Facebook, but to reevaluate why and how she uses it. She’s trying to focus on the value social media provides, while also reclaiming more of her personal and creative life from its clutches.

That felt really good to hear, not because it validates my world view or opinions, but because that’s the whole point of this blog. In sharing my own problems, along with how I’ve worked around them or through them, hopefully I can connect with people and help them with their own struggles.  For every incredibly vocal, hateful troll, I have to believe that there’s at least one lurker who’s silently reaping value from this.

Are you speading happiness, or are you spreading misery? What you put out into the world is what comes back to you, eventually. Illegitimi non carborundum and all that.

Ego: Don’t Take Yourself Seriously

Homer at Springfield Gorge

To hear Katie tell it, I executed a perfect reenactment of Homer Simpson jumping Springfield Gorge on a skateboard. In reality, we were out picking berries in the forest. I tried to step up onto a large rock, realized I didn’t have the right balance, and stepped back. Then I lost my balance, slipped, and fell down. I sort of belly flopped forward and then, because we were on an incline, I slid. Was it graceful? Certainly not. Was it dignified? Well, I’m glad no one was around to see it other than Katie. But it was far from a cascading cluster-d’oh as a bounded down a cliff face on my head.

Matters of degree aside, I have no problems talking about it or owning up to it, because I try hard to not take myself too seriously. I fell down, and I looked silly, and I didn’t get seriously hurt, so why not laugh about it? Who has time for that much ego? My only injury is a tiny scrape on one hand a probably a cracked rib (based on the mild pinch on my left side and the numerous other cracked ribs I’ve had in the past), but my self-esteem is firmly intact.

When I got home and sat down to work,  a whole bunch of ideas that had been bouncing around in my head came together. I made some long-overdue changes to my business plan, and essentally rewrote the marketing plan for my next release. Great stuff, and I feel really good about it. I can’t help but think that the fall gave me the chance to set my ego aside, and objectively take the work seriously and do what needed to be done without pasting my subjective self-image into the equation.

We all fall down sometimes, and we all get in our own way sometimes, and we all take ourselves far too seriously most of the time. If we can laugh at ourselves and have some small Pema Chodron-like epiphanies that “Hey! I didn’t die today! Woohoo!” we can get back to focusing on doing our work rather than stewing in our own juices worrying about looking good in front of others and worrying about what other people might think.

When to Go Big AND Go Home

 

Something has been in bloom for the past week or so, and it’s got my allergies on high alert. I spent the better part of yesterday in bed, trying to sleep it off after the vulgar, Katrina-like flooding of my sinuses and lungs subsided. But I still got in my minimum daily word count plus a few other assorted tasks. There are no paid days off when you’re self-employed.

As strange as it sounds, I enjoy working on sick days. For a start, it makes me appreciate the flexibility of working from home. When I go off on a coughing jag, or I feel the need to nap because I can’t focus, I can do that and get back down to work when I’ve pulled myself back together. I tend to crash harder and sleep deeper, so I’m more rested and refreshed than usual. I certainly feel more motivated, because the work still needs to get done and I have the drive to figure out how to get it done with this snotty obstacle in play, but I also feel less pressured and more relaxed because after all, I’m sick.

Contrast this with my last corporate job, where the number and duration of my bathroom breaks was being charted. Even though my doctor had provided a note stating what was wrong with me at the time and the medical necessity of unscheduled breaks, they still wanted it quantified: how many times per day will these attacks occur, for how long? They weren’t satisfied with his answer, that my illness then was not a regimented thing and some days I might need no extra breaks, and other days I might need as long as it take for the pain to pass. My illness wouldn’t fit into an orderly box. It was incredibly dehumanizing, and it made me really resent the work and the people that I worked for.

That’s what I really appreciate most about my life right now, the ability to simply be human. I can listen to my body and react appropriately. I can have good moods and bad moods. I can dig into why I love my job and leverage my appreciation into motivation and new reserves of energy.

This is my take on the old saw that you need to “go big or go home”. You go big when you can, so that you can go home when you need to. It doesn’t mean working yourself to death or pushing yourself beyond all reasonable limits. It means leveraging opportunities when they present themselves — whether that’s taking freelance gigs when they come up, writing a couple of sentences whenever a free moment presents itself, or working for a few minutes between the last nap and the next coughing fit. Going big means expanding to fill the space and leaving no waste, not crowding out things that are important in the long term — rest, for instance — to meet some arbitrary short term goal.

Currently Listening: Champion, RuPaul

Currently Re-Reading: The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss

Podcast Episode 3: Fast Food in Finland

In this episode, Katie and Berin discuss fast food in Finland, including strange pizza toppings, kebab, and ubiquitous buffets. Stream it or download it at KatieKinsman.com

 

Immerse Yourself In Inspiration

This past weekend was spent the way weekends should be spent — soaking up beautiful scenery, surrounded by things that inspire me creatively, and in the company of people I love. This is exactly where I want to be in my life. My batteries are recharged, and I’m ready to take on whatever challenges the coming week throws at me.

Don’t just eat that hamburger, eat the HELL out of it.”

J.R. “Bob” Dobbs

The first secret to life is to find common ground with everyone you meet. Seek out the best in them. Look for the silver lining in the darkest situations, and locate the joy that can be found in nearly anything. Whatever and whoever you have around you, do your best to appreciate it.

All my possessions are my favorite possessions—all of which I enjoy every day of my life.”

Joshua Fields Millburn

The second secret is to find the things that make you truly happy and spark your creativity. Find the people that inspire you and are supportive of your dreams. Surround yourself with the things that you appreciate and truly cherish.

My goal is to always come from a place of love …but sometimes you just have to break it down for a motherf*cker.”

RuPaul

The final secret to life is to edit. Life is short. Don’t waste time on crap. If something isn’t working, dump it and move on. If you don’t want to do something, don’t. If you’re wasting time on toxic people, stop. Immerse yourself in inspiration. Use your time wisely, on the things that deserve your attention.

 

Channelling My Inner John Waters

John Waters notoriously loves bad reviews, especially from people who don’t understand his work. He’s quoted from Rex Reed’s assessment of Female Trouble (“Who are these people? Where do they go when the sun goes down? Isn’t there a law or something?“) in at least a dozen interviews that I’ve seen, has memorized that quote, and always seems thrilled for a chance to repeat it. He brags about that review. Getting trashed by certain people is almost a form of validation that you’ve accomplished exactly what you set out to do.

Criticism from people who have completely missed the point of my work is something I struggle with. My current work-in-progress keeps drifting into apologetics. In re-reading certain passages, I can see where I’m calling out the people that I know are going to hate it. Even in the act of writing, I’ve felt myself drifting into defensiveness. I end up writing for the critics, to them, at them, rather than writing the thing I’ve envisioned, the thing I’m passionate about, and making that thing as awesome as possible for the people that will embrace it.

It’s not that I have doubts about the quality of the work I’m doing, or the direction I’m taking it. It’s not as if I’m anticipating valid criticism, and trying to fix the sorts of weaknesses in my writing that have been pointed out to me by editors or genuinely helpful reviewers so that what I send out is the best possible work I can do. I’m wasting time trying to make people understand, in the hopes that maybe they’ll like it a little more or, at least, hate it a little bit less.

As a writer, all I need to do is deliver what I promised. If I said you’d get starships in outer space, I owe you starships in outer space. If you’re disappointed that you didn’t get cowboys in the Old West when the label on the tin clearly says “science fiction” in shiny bold letters, that’s your problem, not mine. That’s not a joke, by the way. I’ve had at least two reviews where the sales copy said something equivalent to “This box contains 3 red jellybeans”, and the reviewer said “This is just 3 red jellybeans. One star.” Seriously?

It’s like going to a steakhouse, ordering a steak, eating the steak, then going on Yelp and complaining because the waiter brought you a steak. Not complaining that it took a long time for them to bring the steak, mind you, or that it as an improperly prepared steak, just the fact that it was, in fact, the steak you asked for.

That’s the sort of absurdity that I should just be enjoying the living hell out of, rather than allowing it to frustrate me. I am, after all, not developing a cure for cancer or making advances toward world peace. I am a hack writer. I can make people like me, that’s something I can work toward. I can make them understand me, and should be able to, because it”s kind of an important skill for a writer. But what I can’t do is make people smarter. Bless ’em, they’re worth their weight in entertainmenet value, and that’s something John Waters has always understood.

Currently reading: The Imaginary World of…, Keri Smith

Currently listening: This is Psychobilly: 25 Years of Rockin’ and Wreckin’, various artists

Those Who Mind Don’t Matter

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.

Dr. Seuss

You can’t upset the status quo unless you understand what the status quo is.  You can’t break the rules unless you know what they are and why they need to be broken. You can’t bend the rules unless you can see where the weak points are that you can leverage to your own advantage. You can’t be an outsider if you don’t know where you’re standing in relation to everything else. You can’t rock the boat unless you get into the water.

All of that stuff matters because you need to know who you are in relation to the “norm”. Then you can understand yourself and why you’re unique, and what you have to offer that sets you apart from the rest of the herd.

I went to art school to learn the basics, I went to business school to grasp the conventional methods, I worked in the corporate world to learn the power of constraints, and I did everything the way I was supposed to. I was successful, according to other peoples’ definitions of success, and I could have been even moreso except that I hated it to the point that it was making me sick.

Now I have my own definition of success. I have my own goals and my own motivations. I want to create what I want to create and I have to follow my own process. My definition of success includes giving myself permission to say no, I don’t want to make that, and no, I don’t want to do it that way, and no, I’m not interested in those sorts of rewards and recognition, no, no, no.

Innovation doesn’t come from rebellion, it comes from being who you are and allowing that to shine. Rebellion comes from other people not allowing you to be who you are. Knowing who you are comes from understanding how you relate to the world around you. In the end, it’s what you think that matters most.

Minimalism Is About Right, Not Less

Joshua Fields Millburn describes mimimalism not as the act of getting rid of stuff, but as making room for things that matter. Everything you own, he says, should be your favorite thing. I agreed wholeheartedly, and I’d go a step further by saying that getting rid of excess stuff is actually the easy part. Figuring out what those favorite things are, what you actually want, is the hard part.

I think that’s why we hang on to things — whether it’s material possessions, relationships, habits, any number of things. We don’t know what we want, so we cling to what we can get. It takes thought, it takes knowing who you are and who you want to be, to know how to accessorize yourself properly. I wrote yesterday about my struggle with my new minimalist workspace. The problem isn’t that I don’t have a bunch of stuff, it’s that something is missing, and I haven’t quite figured out what. Adding a bunch of stuff to clutter up the space isn’t the answer; being mindful of my workflow and being instrospective about how I work and what I need is. It’s on me, and that’s not always as comfortable or a quick as having a shopping spree.

Katie and I have had conversations about people who try to fill the holes in their souls with stuff. They’re looking for the piece that’s exactly the right size and shape. I had an epihpany recently that sometimes that hole is actually a wound; if you keep cramming things into it, it’s never going to heal. I think it’s far easier to notice what you need and discover what you want when you’re surrounded by fewer distractions. It’s not about having te most stuff, or the least stuff; it’s about having the right stuff.