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August 18, 2016

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Non-Performance Anxiety

I just returned from a wonderful family vacation in Maine and am in the midst of post-vacation bliss. The serenity of the landscapes at Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island provided for a much-needed escape from a challenging year and the endless pressures of modern life. With little access to the internet and no cell phone signal,  there was no choice but to unplug. It was as marvelous as it sounds.

Prior to our departure, I was at my limit. Beginning exciting but challenging but new professional endeavors, constantly striving to meet ever-increasing but largely self-imposed demands of family and friends in my personal life, and a nagging desire to do more for myself constantly pushed and pulled at my consciousness. On top of it all, I wanted to do more writing but was somehow paralyzed by that desire.

It wasn’t writer’s block, it was worse: It was a dead-end with no escape.

In the many musings featured in Lera Auerbach’s Excess of Being, I found the stark diagnosis of my ailment: “I do not have performance anxiety. I have non-performance anxiety.”

I was sidelined from my creative desires by a clinical case of non-performance anxiety. The more inactive I was with my writing, the more I was unable to spin my wheels to produce. Every morning I woke up with the intention of escaping from my rut, but at the close of each day my reality remained the same. The crushing pressure I had put on myself to produce was leading to a total inability to create. My output was diminished to a level not experienced in several years and was further compounded by an increasingly stressful life. I wanted to write, but the competing demands of my world added mental obstacles so great, it seemed they could not be overcome.

Under normal circumstances,  writing is what helps calm my mind when I am too overwhelmed to act. It helps me center, focus, and understand my own thoughts. But this time, my fears didn’t  permit me to even put pen to paper, or fingers on keyboard. I was caught in a cycle of inaction. It was a dire and deflating situation.

It was non-performance anxiety.

Typically, a sense of fear washes over me each and every time I click “publish” on a blog post or “send” to an editor to submit an article. That is my form of performance anxiety. The piece had been created, and I was releasing it into the world. My work was on the platform of the world wide web, to be read and critiqued by all who encountered it.

But this felt much worse. I couldn’t get to that stage of anxiety because my creative cupboards were bare. Or, rather, my energy stores could only fuel the demands of certain aspects of work and family, to the total exclusion of the release needed to sustain it all.  I was without my form of therapy, and the continued build-up of thoughts and emotions kept me further distanced from that healing.

All around me, others seemed to be creating more and better work. Friends and associates forged new partnerships and channels to highlight and broadcast their creativity. Their words were more vibrant and brilliant than ever before. The juxtaposition with my own reality led me further into my hole of non-production.

How could I ever stop the suffocating cycle that had somehow become my existence?

The dramatic change of scenery in Maine helped force me out of that pattern. The rugged landscape of rocks meeting water led me out of the disquieting exile from myself. It didn’t happen in the moments of me finding peace in the crashing of the cold waves, but shortly upon our return to Philadelphia.

I finally felt home.

Once again my mind raced with ideas for stories. Strategies for weaving new elements into articles. And a plan on how to manage my time in order to get it all done. My plate was full, but I felt energized knowing that making time to write was a part of the challenge. I woke up at the crack of dawn to create, once again eager to let my thoughts flow and see what they formed.

The non-performance anxiety disappeared as quickly as it arrived. What had been an unknown fear had come, caused chaos, and gone. It seems that my escape from my reality had to occur in a physical sense in order to provide room for the mental release needed to overcome my paralysis of production.

For now, my case has been solved. The joy of vacation led to what I hope is lasting awareness of the perils of non-performance. Sadly, I won’t always be able to go on vacation in order to spin my wheels when systems have faltered. But the desire to remain as far away from the depths of non-performance anxiety as possible have led me to a pathway of awareness that should provide me the tools and space needed to establish the mental escape needed to create clarity, focus, and, ultimately, action.

June 1, 2016

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Image via Vic on Flickr

                                                Forgive Yourself

In the lessons I have learned from reading “a picture is worth…,” the collection of from students at Reading’s I-LEAD Charter School from Arch Street Press, the one that speaks to me most these days is the forgiveness that Davell Lawrence extends to himself.

In his story, Lawrence’s issues in adolescence don’t just include the usual struggles with peer pressure and identity. He has the added challenge of cultural assimilation, as he moved to the United States from Jamaica. It was not an easy path to navigate. “It was a little difficult to make friends because I was different,” said Lawrence.

While we acknowledge difference as a characteristic to embrace in adulthood, no one wants to stand out as a teenager. Lawrence began to engage in destructive behaviors he thought would make him cool and more accepted by his peers. He soon realized that, while getting into trouble could help him fit into some social circles, he wasn’t being true to who he was. ”I realized doing all those things doesn’t make me cool and being myself was all I needed to do to be my own cool and have positive friends around me to do good and steer me in the right direction.”

“Be your own cool.” It’s one of the most effective self-empowerment mottos I’ve ever heard.

Ultimately, Lawrence made the bold decision to defy peer pressure to embrace what he knew about himself. He came to the realization that, ”Making other people happy is what makes me happy.”

What could be a more worthy motivation?

Lawrence also realized that to move forward, he had to accept that the mistakes he made were part of his life’s journey and forgive himself for making them. ”I am a good person who has made mistakes in life and is steering my path in the right direction to be a better man.”

As an 18-year old young man, Lawrence embraced a concept that many of us struggle with throughout our lives. In a society that frequently speaks of forgiveness, why is it so hard to give ourselves grace?

In the era of social media, we are always comparing ourselves with others. Are our careers lucrative enough, is our house spotless enough, is our body perfect enough, are our children well-behaved enough? Oh, and am I also doing my yoga to be zen at all times and maintaining perfect spiritual balance while changing the world without leaving a carbon footprint and bringing the perfect cupcakes to PTA meetings?

We’ve lost what it means to know who we are, and even worse, we feel at fault when we are not what others project on us.

If you are doing the best you can each day and are making strides to become a better person, where is the fault? Why isn’t that enough?

Some things we can’t get to. Some things are downright mistakes. And we’ll continue to make them–if we weren’t we would be gods. But here we are, earth-bound and far from celestial, and that’s part of the journey of this life. Mistakes happen for a reason. So long as you learn from them, forgive yourself. Whose standard are you aspiring to, anyway?

In a haze of questioning most things I do on a regular basis, Davell Lawrence’s words provided the grounding I needed to emerge from a haze of self-d. Like him, I strive to make others happy. But I also accept that their happiness is not my responsibility. If I lead with kindness in everything I do, that purity of intention is the reflection I want to project onto the universe. It is the imprint I hope to leave behind.

As for the mistakes? I make plenty. So many. In every area of life. But they’ve happened, and will continue to happen. Obsessively lamenting over things in the past will not bring me closer to what I want in life in the future. So like Lawrence, I am taking a step back. Making and overcoming those mistakes is part of who I am today. It’s both my strength and vulnerability. Though a work in progress, I like the person I am. So it’s time to move on. Forgive myself as I’ve been taught to forgive others. Give myself grace. If I’m not nice to me, how can I expect anyone else to be?

March 21, 2016

Image via hanssie.com

The Strength of The Single Mom

The last time I wrote, I spoke about the powerful collection of essays featured in “a picture is worth….,” a compilation of stories from  students at the I-LEAD Charter School in Reading, Pennsylvania. I was struck by how the lessons learned by these young people are ones that take a lifetime for many to realize. The trials, challenges, and strength brought forth by the teenagers who shared their stories in these pages affirm the resilience and hopefulness inherent in our youth.

Lucy Casimiro presents a heartbreaking tale of teenage motherhood. She falls in love with Anthony, and once pregnant the two were committed to raising the child together. One day during her pregnancy, however, Lucy’s mother shares the gut-wrenching news: Anthony has died. While carrying her child, Lucy must come to terms with the fact that the baby’s father will never get to meet the joy that he helped created.

The hardest thing I have done to date would be raising my child,” she observed. “Kids are a handful, especially when you are a single parent.”

Struggling with absences, Lucy drops out of school, quickly regretting her mistake. She learns about I-LEAD and returns to school. But the hits keep on coming. One day she ends up in the ER and is eventually diagnosed with Lupus. We don’t know how the story ends when her essay concludes, yet you have no doubt that Lucy reached her goal.

Lucy finishes her story by stating, “My strongest trait is strength. Yes, I am a strong, independent woman who will take all obstacles thrown at me as challenges to knock every one of them down.”

It takes many women into their thirties and beyond to truly come to embrace the sentiment of strength and independence that Lucy expresses. She knows that she will meet and exceed each and every goal she sets for herself in life. The power of her conviction jumps through the pages of “a picture is worth.” Before she was twenty years of age, she’d already known so many challenges that it would have broken most people.

In the stories of urban school districts, the possibilities inherent in the stories such as Lucy’s are all too frequently lost. The struggles are sad, real, and gripping, but so too is the immense strength and spirit of the students determined to succeed despite the obstacles.

As I write this, I am coming off of several days of solo parenting, picking up and dropping off my son at daycare, getting our lunches ready each morning and bathing and putting him to bed each night. The days are long and tiring even as a couple, but alone the difficulty more than doubles. Yet I realize how lucky I am that this is a temporary situation. I think about my mother, who raised two children entirely on her own. When you are a child’s mother and father, both their unending strength and comforting softness, there isn’t time for self-pity. There is only time to work, push, and succeed.

I am inspired by single parents. I hope that there is a post-high school follow-up to “a picture is worth….”  so that I can learn about Lucy now. While I may not know the details, but I know that wherever Lucy is now, she is a force for herself and her son.

January 26, 2016

Life Lessons from a 15-Year Old

The power of the written word is astounding. They have the ability to entertain, inspire, educate, and heal.  Words form tales that teach about religion, history, news, and personal stories. In a picture is worth…: the voice of today’s high school students, the written word turns the sharing of students’ stories into lessons in life, critical thinking, and academic accomplishment.

The setting is Reading, PA, a city that Philadelphians rarely think about, but shares similar struggles with its schools. In 2011, the New York Times gave the district the not-so-savory distinction of having highest poverty rate in the country. That means that Reading schools faced ailments that commonly plague urban institutions in high needs areas, including high dropout rates.

When terms like “”low performing” and “high needs” are used to describe schools, assumptions are made about the students who attend those schools. That they, in fact, are low performing, and that their limited access to the resources of wealthier districts somehow speaks to the students’ inherent abilities. Unfortunately, all too frequently test scores are allowed to be the sole voice that speaks to student performance. What is overlooked is the talent and intelligence these students already have that can be drawn out and expressed in so many ways other than through tests with the help of innovative and passionate educators.

That is exactly what the students at the I-LEAD Charter School have been fortunate to find in this project. Students, like all of us, are comprised of dimension and complexity. This reality can’t and shouldn’t be ignored–it should be embraced. a picture is worth…allowed teenagers to share a glimpse of who they are, what they struggle with, and what they hope to achieve in a way that enhanced their creativity and critical thinking through the sharing of their personal stories.

Some aspects of the students’ tales echo the universal, hollow uncertainty of adolescence. Many touch on heavy topics that some are fortunate to encounter much later in life–mental illness, parenthood, death, desertion, deception. The strength and pride with which these students tell their stories further points to the impact words. The ability to release the negative onto the words of a page, reflect on the experience, and evaluate what it truly means for your present and future says more about these students’ ability and achievement than any test could ever capture.

I’ve been so moved and inspired by the stories shared by these incredible students that I will be reflecting on the lessons revealed from their paths in the next few posts.

The first story shared is that of Aaliyah Bonas, a 15-year old from Trinidad and Tobago who left the abuse of her stepmother, noting that her father was “so busy being in love with her that he lost focus on his kids.” The sadness and maturity of that observation took my breath away.

To escape the situation, she left a brother whom she called “my everything” to live with her mother in the U.S. That relationship quickly soured, with Aaliyah describing her and her mother’s behavior as doing, “everything to basically hurt one another.” Again, a stunning observation in recognizing and diagnosing a toxic situation that can unknowingly plague people’s relationships all of their lives.

In the internal chaos of a teenage girl in the midst of a tumultuous relationship with her mother, Aaliyah turned to Facebook for validation. It presented an antidote to her mother’s hurtful words, as well as an avenue for the adulation she so desired. “The Facebook I made was so that men would like my photos and tell me that I was beautiful and pretty,” she said. “I was all caught up in the feeling of the Facebook people loving me and showing me that I am special.”

That desire for validation led her to talk to men in real life. This did not lead to sex, but other “R-rated” activities. Soon, Aaliyah got a boyfriend who she believed truly cared for her and began sending him nude pictures. The relationship quickly soured, and they stopped speaking. But where oh where were those pictures? Ultimately, Aaliyah’s mom uncovered the photos, which sends the teenager’s story into a dangerous tailspin.

After her mother discovered the pictures and shared this fact with her father, Aaliyah was crushed and mortified. She reacted by taking as many pills as she could find, which lead to her hospitalization. In the hospital, she learned a critical lesson that may have changed her life: “When I was in there, I learned that life is important and you have to make the best of it.”

After her release, Aaliyah continued to struggle with depression but found her way back to a new school. Her relationship with her mother has stabilized, and Aaliyah has clear goals for her future. At one point in her story she shared that she wanted to be a stripper but now wants to be an army nurse. She closes her story by saying, “Life will not always be fair. You just have to make it fair on your own.”

These sage words of a 15-year old inspired me from the moment I read them. They helped put my challenges in context, and will become part of how I try to frame them moving forward. Aaliyah has endured an adult’s life worth of pain and abuse, and reflecting on those experiences has revealed a wisdom so many never find.

At the conclusion of her story, Aaliyah shared the following advice, “Don’t be what people want you to be, be what you want to be and be good and successful at it.”

I can’t think of a better lesson in life or closing for this blog post than that.

December 15, 2015

Ah, procrastination. The foe and/or inspiration of everyone tasked with achieving an objective. Here we sit ten days from Christmas, and my sense of denial is deep regarding all that must be accomplished in the next week in a half. Experience says that it all will get done, it’s just going to get very ugly in the process.

Why oh why do I procrastinate? It’s because the adrenaline that flows just before a deadline fuels my creative spirit. When faced with deadlines that allow me plenty of lead time, my writing is never spread into manageable morsels. Instead, I experience a period of tranquility, when I relish the fact that I have the project and loosely consider paths to pursue. That turns into small steps of organization when I outline what I should be doing, without doing any of it. Then the mood morphs into full-on panic.

Searing, blinding panic.

How did I get here again? Why do I always do this to myself? I can’t do it this time!

The hysteria then subsides into feverish sessions of intense word-smithing. A 1500-word project quickly swells to 2500 words in draft form as the anxiety fuels a flurry of productivity. Panic is my muse, and it never fails me.

I’ve tried to work differently. I’ve attempted to set immediately to work on assignments and complete them early, in so doing avoiding the near-heart attack that my procrastination causes. But my mind knows the trick I’m trying to play. It is aware that it doesn’t need to perform just yet, so it doesn’t. It was that way in school when I had papers to write, and it remains that way now.

Why put off tomorrow what you can do today? Because my brain won’t allow me to do otherwise.

In this way, the writing process serves as my adrenaline. Just as I exercise to elevate my mood, my propensity to delay the start of projects until the last possible moment causes euphoria once I finally find my groove. When the creative frenzy occurs, it is the only time I can entirely focus. My fingers can barely keep up with the pace of the sentences as they finally flow from brain to keyboard. The feeling of pleasure and accomplishment after completing the creative marathon reflects the enormity of the feat. I faced a mountain of uncertainty and fear and climbed its summit to victory.

I’ve referenced Lera Auerbach’s Excess of Being several times in recent posts, and it’s because I love perusing the work as if combing through someone’s journals. Even her thoughts on composing music resonate. Her words and images frequently capture the ideas and feelings in the recesses of my mind. Por ejemplo:

“My fees are too high? But you are not paying for my work; I work for free. What my fees are for all the time I spend procrastinating.”

All of those hours of procrastination are a critical part of the process so yes, the hours of waste are included in the final charge. You’re welcome.

Life would be so much less stressful if I didn’t have this little personality quirk. If I could neatly and nicely plan out and execute my writing, Christmas shopping, and everything else into manageable sections of time. But I don’t do easy. Proscrastination is the only element of danger in my relatively tame life. It is where I live on the edge. It’s what gets my juices flowing. It’s also what makes me tear my hair out. Ultimately, it’s what forces me to push myself to my limits to enter a whirlwind of creativity that in the end leaves me feeling energized, focused, and reassured.

Procrastination for the win? Sometimes, it’s what works.

Follow Brandyn on Twitter at @sports_muse

October 20, 2015

 

Love Don’t Come Easy

The creative process is a constant struggle, complete with overflowing periods of inspiration contrasted with dunes of dryness. When the going is good, it’s great. The feeling of having so many ideas that it’s a struggle to keep up is one of the best in the world.

Conversely, feeling lost in finding the way to express a particular thought or feeling is one of the worst there is. We all know that unpleasant alternate reality. It makes those who pride themselves on their creativity question the entire pursuit. For those whose artistic expression is illustrated through words, it is commonly known as the dreaded writer’s block. You have a deadline, or a particular idea that you are finally committing to paper. You’re excited to get started. You position your fingers on the keyboard, waiting for inspiration to overtake you. You write a few uninteresting lines, but you know it will come. You just need the juices to start flowing.

Two hours later, in an effort to draw creativity from other forms of expression, you find yourself  at the bottom of a YouTube wormhole. No matter how much you want the words to pour out, the will not trickle out of the faucet.

“I love what I do, but it’s not mutual.” This quote, featured in Lera Auerbach’s collection of visual art and prose, Excess of Being, perfectly describes the struggle, which leads to broader feelings of frustration and doubt. Auerbach, who is a writer, composer, visual artist, and classical pianist, must be intimately familiar with the feeling given her multiple forms of talent and self-expression. If this is what I love doing, why isn’t it easier to do? Or, who hasn’t thought, Perhaps this is not what I’m meant to do.

As a young girl, I would often say, “If first you don’t succeed, it’s not meant for you.” It was my reply when tasked with doing things I wasn’t particularly good at and didn’t enjoy, like running or cooking. It was partially a defense mechanism, partially a my likes and dislikes taking solid form. I didn’t fully live by the mantra, as there were many things I failed at but continued to do, but it gets at the frustration that comes with repeatedly trying to perfect a skill or a composition that refuses to be perfected.

The process of finding the balance between expression and satisfaction is one that most will only see for a fleeting moment. It is a labor of love. You stay in the relationship because you believe in it and you know that you are a better version of yourself in it. But like all collaborations, it takes work. You question your worthiness of being in the partnership. Are you being the best that you and be? You also frequently question your partner’s motivations and intentions. Do they truly have your best interest at heart?

When we say the word “love” in reference to partners, children, and careers, we picture that this intense feeling will come with ease. It will be easy and breezy and flow effortlessly like the wind. We ignore the significant aspect of work that is inseparable from the wondrousness of the feeling. Relationships are work. Parenting is work. And, even when you are lucky enough to do what you love for a career or hobby, it involves a whole lot of effort, self-doubt, struggle, and heartbreak before finding a balance.

“I love what I do, but it’s not mutual.” Or, perhaps it is. We push the ones that we love because we know that they can handle it. We challenge them because we know that they can grow. Maybe whatever it is you that do–write, draw, design, compose–serves as a loving parent in your life. It allows you to fall even though it will hurt, because learning to get back is so much more important. What you create won’t easily answer the question you pose because the process of finding the answer yourself yields infinitely more reward. The very personal relationship with whatever it is that you do and love doesn’t come easily–but what in life worth having does?

September 15, 2015

The Tale of the Tiara

As my birthday approaches, my overly dramatic musings regarding the age I’ll soon step into have begun in earnest. While each year I am filled with an increasing dread of my calendar age, I would be better served to focus on how I increasingly embrace my mental, spiritual, and emotional self with the passage of each year.

It all started with a tiara. I was never a girl obsessed with being a princess. That phenomenon missed me entirely. I never dreamed of gowns and jewels and satin gloves. I was more interested in trees, books, and bikes. A grand wedding sounded like a nightmare rather than a fairy tale. However, I made the decision to add a subtle embellishment to my wedding look with a simple, tasteful tiara. The rest, as they say, is history.

I’d never donned a tiara until that day but suddenly, I wondered how I’d ever lived without it. So in love I was with my tiara that I wore it frequently after my wedding day. I wore while around the house wearing sweats cleaning. It paired well with pajamas. Yes, I’d found my Prince Charming, but this was about so much more. That tiara signified the crowning of Brandyn, fully comfortable with all of her quirks and oddities.

The freedom experienced in the late twenties and early thirties is freeing and refreshing, particularly for women. While once plagued by insecurity and an obsession what others think of us, suddenly you find that you don’t give a crap. And that feeling is glorious. It is perfectly and simply captured by the line, “If you have a flaw, make it part of your legacy.” That line, found in Lera Auerbach’s Excess of Being, has become my unofficial motto. It describes that moment when we acknowledge our imperfections, own and embrace them, and confidently incorporate them into our being. It is one of the important awakenings in our lives.

While mired with neurosis concerning the number (as well as the slow but steady march of gray on my head), I still look forward to my birthday. It is my day to don my tiara. As life has steadily shown me that, sadly, I am not royalty, I embrace my day to be a princess all the more. Birthdays are our personal holidays, and they should be cherished and celebrated. Regardless of how I feel about turning a particular age, the day begins and ends with my tiara atop my curls. It is utterly ridiculous, yet totally fabulous.

And that’s exactly the point. Age allows us to embrace our eccentricities. Though I started college as a journalism major, I did not have had the confidence to pursue writing in my twenties. In my thirties, the move to leave my safe, full-time position to pursue writing I deemed as, “insane or inspired.” Even so, I had the confidence and courage to move forward with the decision anyway. I stepped out of the world of traditional office life with an imaginary tiara on my head.

I am me and I am to be celebrated. That is my feeling each day, but in particular as my birthday nears. I am not perfect, but that awareness drives my actions to strive to be the best me I can be in my personal and professional life. I love Madonna and football in equal measure. I snort at jokes. I wear shorts under my dresses because I still haven’t mastered the art of always sitting like a lady. Some of it may be crude, some amusing, and some juvenile. But all of it is me. And that, my friends, is worth the price of a tiara.

August 14, 2015

Iamawriter

The Hidden Inspiration Behind Self-Doubt

“I love what I do, but it’s not mutual.”
-Lera Auerbach, Excess of Being

The compilation of aphorisms and visual artwork featured in Lera Auerbach’s Excess of Being is a journey through the mind and musings of the classical composer, concert pianist, and writer. However, the work speaks to artists of all varieties. The words seem like reading torn pages out of someone’s journal, at once profound, humorous, hopeful and frustrated. The quote above is one of many that resonated wit me.

A creative existence can be a frustrating one. You want to express yourself and your ideas clearly and passionately, but often doubt how to convey the message. A deadline looms, and your inspiration is absent. But really, does a confident artist truly exist? Even the most prolific and accomplished painters, writers, musicians–name the craft, really–are plagued by self-doubt. While not a pleasant feeling, that insecurity is what propels those of a creative disposition. It’s what fuels anyone who innovates and seeks to mold something new out of what already exists–or develop something entirely new.

If you think you know exactly the right way to write it, photograph it, play it, or paint it each time, there would be no reason to pursue your craft further. There is no such thing as perfection in art. It’s all about the emotion of the process. It’s the pursuit of our personal definition of greatness in expression that keeps us coming back to try, try again.

“I love what I do, but it’s not mutual” is a statement whose words are not my own, but is a sentiment I have felt but not tried to articulate countless times. It’s frustrating, it’s stressful, but that self-doubt in an otherwise confident person is the drive to continue to push my limits past my comfort zone. If I’ve done it before then it’s of little utility. There is no desire to rest on any laurels. It’s go hard or go home–keep making big steps and bold moves to prove that maybe your creative outlet doesn’t love you all of the time, but it’s what you can, should, and must do.

Perhaps you never considered self-doubt as a motivator. However, within limits, it can serve as exactly that. Why did I think I could do this? At a certain point, I grow sick of entertaining my neurosis and finally want to break free of the second guessing. It is at that point where I get past the doubt and the fear.It’s my dress rehearsal before the big performance. A dance whose steps are practiced to prepare for the grand opening. While deeply frustrating, it is my creative process.

When I decided to pursue writing as a full-time endeavor, the worries saturated every crevice of my brain. Can I make a living from this, do I know enough editors, how will I find work, how do I present my writing in a compelling way? Once I had a number of projects lined up, doubts on my ability to deliver always came into my mind at least once before the final product was delivered.

Writing as a business will compound whatever insecurities may linger about your work, as each pitch reveals the very best you have to offer at any given time to a total stranger. You are putting yourself at their mercy, for the acceptance or rejection of what to them is just an idea, but to the creator represents a part of their being. Now that I have returned to doing work on the side, the pressure to combine creativity with commerce is no longer there. But there is more of a struggle to create, as it no longer surrounds every aspect of my professional life.

“I love what I do, but it’s not mutual.” When the struggle, uncertainty, and pressure of creation weighs you down, take a moment to acknowledge the feeling. But never let it overcome you. Nobody ever said this was going to be easy. But like everything in life worth having, doing, and pursuing, getting past the uncertainly is an achievement in itself. Keep on pushing–your art and psyche will thank you.

June 15, 2015

Empowered by Emotion

Emotion is everywhere in every moment in our lives, yet there is an expectation that this reality be shelved in so many areas of our lives. When properly harnessed and expressed, there is nothing more powerful than the feelings that fuel us. They are what help us forge and maintain our relationships, a fundamental component of what makes us human. Emotion is at the heart of the most significant personal and political changes. It is the inspiration for the world’s most marvelous triumphs and works of art.

We are taught not to discuss emotion in certain contexts, or even reference it. The reality expressed by what we feel is the greatest truth. It helps us process the world around and within us. It is how we understand our consciousness. Emotions are an accepted and embraced aspect of the creative process, but their role cannot and should not be limited to that realm.

These reflections were sparked when reading about less-oft discussed components of leadership in David Castro’s book, “Genership 1.0: Toward Liberating the Creative Soul.” Where does emotion have a place in our professional lives, as relatively few of us earn our livings through creative endeavors?

Discussion of leadership is often much like the average business meeting: long, dry, and with forced meaning. The conversation about the trait has become so widespread that, frequently, the discussion itself has lost its impact.

Castro explores emotion as a core of relationships and motivation, both critical aspects of leadership. To lead is to motivate, and motivation stems from emotion. Beyond the specifics of channeling motivation in those who are led, the reality of emotions and their impact is rarely considered in leadership discussions. As a society, it frequently appears that our collective duty to whitewash the existence of emotion in the workplace.

Why the fear surrounding what fuels ourselves and everything around us? Because it is unpredictable. And that, in office parlance, is the same as instability, a decided enemy of the workplace.

“Emotion deeply informs motivation; strong emotional intensity provides the energy for action,” says Castro. As any writer or person who considers themselves to be creative will attest, there is an unparalleled power in finding ways to harness your feelings into an artistic outlet. It can unburden and inspire. Upon this realization, in a perfect world the separation between personal and professional would lessen.

Emotions can empower or destroy. Rather than hide our emotional lives, explore the powerful potential it holds to impact your life and world beyond. Don’t fear your emotions–let them strengthen you.

May 15, 2015 

Distracted by Disquiet: Finding Focus in a Noisy World

Our modern world is filled with noise. There is the cacophony of urban living, with its buzzing soundtrack of traffic, footsteps, and sirens. Then there is the clamor of the devices and media that have became essential components of our existence. The constant presence of our iPhones and tablets and laptops and notebooks to check in on the noisy worlds of Facebook and Twitter. It has become harder than ever to listen to and truly hear those around us, as well as focus on the thoughts within us.

David Castro’s examination of listening as a critical component of leadership in “Genership 1.0” made me consider the concept in a broader sense. Listening as stillness and calm, and the ability to sit with and hear one’s thoughts. It is a pursuit that is at the core of many spiritual journeys.

In the frantic pace of our lives, the qualities of civility and graciousness have frequently been lost. Starved on a budget of 140 characters, “thank you” is now “TY.” Birthday wishes are reduced to “HBD.” Holiday greetings are diminished to soulless group text messages. We value the perception of being too busy to spell out full words and sentences.

Listening is imperative to everything we seek to achieve and what we hope to become. Impactful leaders, successful professionals, caring parents and knowledgeable students all must listen first. Journalists learn that the best stories come not from planned questions, but from what subjects reveal when allowed to speak freely. To unearth the true tale, you must listen.

“Knowledge demands perception,” says Castro. We are distracted by disquiet, and our inability to concentrate prevents us from reaching our full potential. “All that is created come from what already is…the creative process has no choice but to engage current reality,” Castro continues. We can’t be our most innovative or creative selves if we are not fully present in our lives and minds.

The inability, or unwillingness, to listen causes leaders to misunderstand or disregard the concerns of their constituents; prevents workers from grasping the methods and goals of assigned tasks; and keeps parents from fully engaging with their children. The madness of multitasking has taken us away from the luxury and simplicity of focus. Yet, the concentration and mindfulness that are increasingly rare in our digital world are critical for our well-being.

We cannot be all things to all parties, and we cannot successfully manage all aspects of our lives at once. Challenge yourself to engage deeply in and enjoy your conversations without worrying about the messages flashing on your phone. In fact, turn off those notifications. Put away your phone. You’ll find out what you need to know in due course. Make the priorities in your life the breaking news you follow with fanfare and focus and lower the volume on all the rest.

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