Monday, August 22, 2016

The Difference Between Struggling and Thriving

I had a great conversation the other day with some very insightful people; one a gallery director, the other the spouse of an artist. We were talking about the challenges that artists and other creatives face in making their careers viable. One of the comments was made that basically said that they teach everything in art school except how to have a career as an artist. That struck me. Even in a Music Business program at a great university, I wasn't taught how to craft a career in music. I was given opportunities to learn great musical techniques and have wonderful performing experiences, but the business side of the program didn't show me the ins and outs of making a business out of my music.

Another idea that pelted me in the head was that the primary difference between an artist who struggles and an artist who thrives is the size and quality of audience. Mind you, this realization hit me about four weeks after I'd created the Audience! Workshop that's coming up on August 27th. I've seen people whose technique was not as impressive as others become very successful because they knew how to grow and feed their audience. They made the connections and kept them open and energized for years, while the more technically brilliant people failed to have their work reach the ones who could appreciate and support their work, and all it took was the will to develop a few simple habits.

In my own career I've struggled with being too isolated, not knowing how to communicate about my music, not having a clue about how to reach people and stay in touch with them, and not making my audience relationship as high a priority as making the music. Over the years I've learned that my audience is in some ways more important than my own creative output. Without them, the creativity doesn't have a place to go, and I languish.

On August 27th I'll be presenting a workshop called Audience! It will be taking place at Artworks Loveland from 9-4. If you are a professional artist, author, musician, performer, designer, or entrepreneur, there is something in this workshop for you that will make the difference between struggling and thriving.

It's not the same old workshop that takes conventional business and marketing techniques and tries to make them work for an artist. It's for artists, by an artist who has learned some extremely valuable tools that will help you flourish. I want every participant to leave the workshop with a clear understanding of what they need to do to grow and work with an ever expanding group of supportive people, a sustainable audience.

Discounts are available for Artworks Loveland artists, Loveland Artist Collective members, Artspace residents, and Fort Collins Hotdish Arts Community. Fee includes lunch and a 30 minute individual follow up session with me by phone or Skype.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

You Create Masterpieces...Now Find the People Who Will Love Them!

The most common challenges that I see clients struggling with are around growing their audience. These challenges are so common that I decided to address them in a workshop. I know the challenges first hand, and over the years have found a handful of great ways to overcome them. The Audience! Workshop is designed to help you find the right audience, reach them simply and effectively, inspire their interest, and, deliver experiences that keep them coming back and telling others about you!

Artworks Loveland has generously offered to sponsor and host the event. August 27th from 9AM-4PM will be the date and time, 310 N. Railroad Ave. in Loveland is the address. Materials, lunch, and an individual follow up call are included in the admission. Expect excellent tools, skills and attitude shifts that will be a turning point in your creative work.

Click on the Audience! tab above for more information and to register. Seating is limited so reserve your place soon...! Discounts are available for Artworks artists, Artspace Residents, and Loveland Artists Collective members!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Introvert, Party of One

The past few years I've seen scads of products and services targeted to introverts. Selling for Introverts, Marketing Strengths of Introverts, Dating for Introverts, The Best Businesses for Introverts...the list grows daily. I find it very interesting that I have not seen ONE product or service that is targeted to extroverts, except maybe those few that have to do with How To Deal With Your Introvert kinds of articles and books. Not one. This is a curious thing. I wonder if there is a market for things like The Benefits of a Rich Inner Life, or maybe How to Recharge Without Having to Drain People, or even Alone Time: A Guide for Extroverts. Is anyone but me seeing how ridiculous this is?

Based on a tool that's about as scientific as a newspaper horoscope, all of a sudden introversion is a thing, and not only is it a thing, it requires remediation in a world that is largely extroverted. I'm not completely sure why Myers and Briggs and their ilk decided to use the words introvert and extrovert to describe the preferences in their instrument that represent people's energizing patterns. They might as well have used proton and electron. I won't go into the history or the ongoing controversy around the Myers Briggs and other "type" indicators. But I would like to challenge some assumptions that are made based on these less than reliable tools.

The first time I took the Myers Briggs I didn't score any extroversion points. Nada. Nil. Zero. The therapist who "administered" the process was dumbfounded. She'd never seen anyone who was a complete anything on the test. She looked at me with a kind of puzzled freakish look that suggested that I may have cheated. Every time that I've taken it since, I've scored mostly as an introvert. Not one person, except for maybe my wife, can believe that I'm not an extrovert. "You're so comfortable around people!", "How do you get on stage?", "You're the least shy person I know!"

These kinds of statements reveal some fundamental misunderstandings about introversion that I'd like to clear up once and for all. If this makes sense to you please share. First let me tell you what introversion ISN'T:

1: Introversion doesn't mean shyness. If you spend any time around me at all, the first thing you'll notice is that I love a good conversation. I have no uneasiness around people. There may be shy introverts, but I've met some shy extroverts, too. Shyness has more to do with social anxiety than introversion.

2: Introversion has nothing to do with confidence. Confidence doesn't come from my personality, it comes from my experience. I'm not afraid to try things, and I don't have a shortage of courage. Again, you'll find a pile or two of extroverts that struggle with self confidence. 

3: Introversion isn't a disability. Introverts don't need conversion therapy to become extroverts. We're doing fine the way we are. Just understand that when I get home from the party I'll need to be alone for awhile. I'm not ready to talk just yet.

4: Introverts don't need to become extroverted to be in public. We can sell cars as well as any extrovert. We can give speeches. In fact, we may feel more comfortable speaking to a large group than schmoozing in a cocktail party. We often have important things to say.

Here are some things that are true about me that might challenge what people assume about introverts:

1: I love to have meaningful conversations. It's the small talk that I tend to dislike. If you can get an introvert off to the side at a party and you have the time for some details, you'll probably find them to be competent and interesting conversationalists. 

2: I can be susceptible to sensory overload in noisy and crowded situations. I spent a week in Hell at Disney World once. I was never so glad to see a motel room. At the same time the silver lining is that I've met some of my closest friends in out of the way places during busy, loud schmoozefests. Here's one story about such an encounter.

3: I observe, think and feel deeply. So deeply that it's sometimes not easy to articulate my inner world. Ask a specific question and I may not shut up. Ask me to share my thoughts and I'll probably be puzzled. There are too many to sort out.

4: I love people. I relish relationships. I love to be involved and invited, though there are some times that I really do need to stay home for awhile.

I'd like to make a request to my friends in the coaching and personal development biz. Please start targeting extroverts with your wares. We introverts just need a room with a door, and a book.

Friday, July 1, 2016

When Your To Do List is Too Much

My 'to do' list is an experiment in wishful thinking. There are things on there from a couple of years ago. Every day there are more things. The great thing about living in this world is also the greatest challenge; there are so many things to many things 'to do.'

A while back I realized that an equally important list for me is the 'to be' list. It's not about goals, activities, or accomplishments; it's about presence, grounding and renewal. With all of my interests, I'm constantly doing, often to the point of overwhelm. Originally these moments of overwhelm were the reason I created the 'to be' list in the first place, as a reminder to check in with my core being from time to time. What's happened since is that I focus more on the 'to be' list and the 'to do' list isn't so overwhelming, and by golly, those 'to do' things are getting done more frequently and to a high level of satisfaction.

The 'to be' list isn't set in stone. Some days it's about being more present and engaged with my family. Some days it's about being highly focused on one task until it's finished. Some days it's being OK with the ride from role to role. My baseline state on the to be list is calm, centered, and conscious. When I feel myself starting to slide away from there in my thinking, feeling and doing, it's often enough to just look at those qualities on my 'to be' list, and I start to feel more at ease.

So when you create your 'to do' list, don't forget the 'to be' list along with it. Each one informs and supports the other.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Gift of Connection

Yesterday I drove up to Laramie for a music party honoring the life of Mark Booth. I only met Mark a few times, all memorable, but this story is more about his son, Michael. I can't easily forget the day I met Michael Booth; mostly because it's a fairly typical experience for people who grew up in Wyoming.

Wyoming is more like a huge small town than it is a state. Sports teams travel as much as four or five hours to play rival teams. With a population of around 500,000, depending on the boom/bust cycles of the oil and mineral industries, there aren't many people per square foot, so everyone knows everyone, or at least they know the name.

When I lived in the DC area I worked at the world famous House of Musical Traditions. They were kind enough to give me a job to get started with my life in a new area having just arrived from Nashville. One fall day I happened to randomly choose to wear my University of Wyoming sweatshirt to work. That same day happened to be the day that Michael Booth visited the store, saw my shirt, and with a fine level of enthusiasm asked me if I'd been a student there. I hadn't been, but everyone from Wyoming sports the Brown and Gold just because it's the only University in the whole place and most everyone has at least one family member who attended.

Michael went on to tell me that he was from Laramie, and that his dad was a professor at UW. Unsurprisingly, we knew some people in common, and as I found was Michael's habit, he invited me to join he and some friends for a music party that night. For the uninitiated, a music party is a gathering of people who get together and sing songs and visit well into the wee hours. That night I was to meet several people who have become close friends; people who have added to my life's fabric of richness more than any other group. And it was all because I randomly wore my UW sweatshirt to work on the day that Michael came into the store.

Michael, me, and Birgit Burke having a small music party in Cheyenne
If you've heard of the six degrees of separation, I want you to know that if you know Michael the number of degrees is reduced to one. He's never met an enemy. His presence is inviting and open, and immediately disarming. He's genuinely interested in knowing everyone he meets, and he rejoices in bringing people together. I'm pretty sure that the largest number of people I met while I lived in DC were a direct result of meeting Michael. Not surprisingly I've met a few even since I moved back to Colorado. He is a gifted connector.

After meeting his dad those few times I suspect Michael comes by his connecting habit pretty honestly. Mark loved getting a group of people together to sing and visit, visit and sing. They both remind me a lot, in both spirit and stature, of Pete Seeger, who loved nothing more than connecting people through music. I'm lucky to have met all three, and especially lucky to count Michael among my friends.

A Michael inspired music party at our old house in Maryland.
Michael moved from DC a couple of years after we met, and I've only seen him a handful of times since, but like Johnny Appleseed, he's left an abundant source of spiritual nourishment in his wake through the communities that he helped to form. These circles have been the sources of support and encouragement to write and sing my own songs. They've been the people who drop me a line when I haven't been seen for awhile. They're the ones who showed up on the front porch with bags of groceries when death or illness crossed our path. And they're the ones who I mutually share with, celebrate with, laugh with and cry with; just because I met Michael. What a gift.

Me, Michael, and his son 2016
Community is the foundation and context for all human life. Creatives especially have a tendency to work in isolation. Part of this is necessary, but the necessity can be left behind for a pattern of avoidance that keeps people in severe isolation for long periods of time. This is ultimately detrimental in a number of ways. Our mental and physical health is negatively affected, making us prone to depression, anxiety, deprivation and illness. Community is also our primary resource for all that we need. It is the place where our contributions can make a necessary impact on people. It's the source of every opportunity we are looking for. We can create amazing things alone in isolation, but it's in community that we flourish.

My friend and former consulting partner, George Callendine picked up a wonderful definition of community somewhere in his travels that I particularly love. Community is knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served, celebrating and being celebrated. Michael Booth is a spectacular embodiment of this ideal.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

We Never Really Know

The teachers who have their 7 Steps to Assured Success only know what worked for them. There is no guarantee that what worked for them will work for you. My friend, you will only find your success when you discover your own seven steps, more or less. Your success will be based solely upon the difference that your work makes in the lives of others. It can never be based upon the experience of another practitioner. It will only be derived from your own imagination, courage, action and impact. Any other recipe just won't do. You are here to write your own book, follow your own star, and shape this life according to your own unique mold. There is absolutely no other person who can tell you what to do, how to do it, or who to do it for. Take courage, and make the difference you alone can make.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Unstuck in the Middle With You

Some friends I know who are recovering from addiction talk a lot about the bottom, the depth of depravity and desperation that they had to reach before they were willing to admit the problem at hand and seek help. I wonder sometimes if for many creators that an equally terrifying place is The Middle.

When I first get an idea that I'm excited about, I can't wait to make it happen. The hyper energized state is fun, and the initial productivity that comes through keeps my focus and consumes time in gluttonous bites. Momentum is effortless, and I'm driven to distraction in any activity that isn't related. It's all I can think about.

This beginning lasts until the inevitable Middle shows up. The Middle is usually heralded by a complication, an interruption, on an unanticipated obstacle. If you've ever encountered barre chords in a guitar lesson, you've met The Middle. Playing a barre chord requires greater hand strength than the open chords that were learned in early lessons. Barre chords are formed by holding down more than one string with one finger, sometimes holding all six strings with one finger. When I taught guitar lessons barre chords were often the stopping place for many students whose frustration overcame their initial interest.

Every endeavor has a Middle. It might show up in the form of a necessary license, or an unexpected sales tax, or just some difficulty that could never have been predicted. It may even just show up as a plot twist in your novel that becomes impossible to resolve. You can tell The Middle has arrived when certain feelings start popping up. Frustration, ambivalence, apathy, maybe even the creative person's most common friends, depression, self doubt, and anxiety appear when The Middle is on the scene.

Here are some possible ways through The Middle:
  1. Revisit Your Original Idea. Have you stayed with it, or are you straying? If you're straying,is there another possibility that you need to see that's trying to get through? As a songwriter there have been many times that I would start out with one idea that I thought was pretty strong or exciting, only to find that another song emerged from the original idea which was then scrapped or became another song altogether. There have also been a few hundred song ideas that met an end when The Middle arrived and I couldn't get them finished. As I checked out the original idea on these, I found that it wasn't as strong as initially perceived.
  2. Take a Break. Let it rest for a while and see what happens. Sometimes if you just give an idea or project a little bit of time and space, it will come pushing back in to be completed. Sometimes after you've been focused on something with a great amount of intensity your senses and perceptions start to narrow to a point where you can't see what you're doing objectively. Give it a rest and come back to it. If you're worried that you won't ever finish, then give yourself a re-entry date. Choose a date on the calendar and commit to coming back to the project then. 
  3. Finish One Task. If you've started a business and you suddenly find that someone else has also started a business with the exact same name as yours, maybe it's time to get that trademark paperwork finished. This step is especially appropriate in those times when you keep putting off taking action. You probably already know that putting off taking action often results in a greater problem. Balance the checkbook, finish your taxes, get them done early. If you're stalled on a creative project just choose one part of it to finish. Any progress you make will initiate a greater flow.
  4. Clean Your Space. I'm the worst about this. My studio has been a mess for years. I create clutter more quickly than anyone else I know. Clutter makes my space unbearable to work in. I've learned more about this in the past few years than ever before. Make your space easy to work in. Keep the tools out that you need for your project. Everything else needs a place to be put away. Pay your bills as they come in. Don't let paper pile beyond the point of usefulness. I know, I'm a piler. I find things more easily in piles than files, but my piles are out of control and it's affecting my ability to get things done. If you can't bear to do it yourself, hire a feng shui guide to help you out. 
  5. Just Get It Done. Finish your first draft. Go ahead and write out the whole song. Make a prototype and figure out what works and what doesn't. Sometimes The Middle is just a honing time where you actually get to see what needs more work and what doesn't. Like my guitar students learning barre chords, the ones who succeeded were the ones who didn't give up.  They practiced until they could play them. Resistance is created completely by thought. It's actually easier to create flow. Flow doesn't require thinking as much as it requires doing. Just go ahead and finish.
  6. Quiet Your Thinking. Thinking is great. It's the first step in creating anything, but sometimes we can think too much. Getting your mind into a more calm and clear state makes it possible to focus and perform more effortlessly. People who meditate often are able to bring a strong sense of grounding and confidence to their creating which makes their processes easier and more effective than people who just try to think their way through. Give your thoughts a rest and get your mind clear.
  7. Take Smaller Steps. When I was a music major in college, I practiced between five and six hours every day. One of the practice techniques that served me well was to choose the most difficult passages of a piece and break those passages up into smaller phrases. Then I'd practice each phrase repeatedly, first at a slow speed and gradually building until I was playing at the performance pace. Focus on the quality of a small segment of work and make it shine. You will start to see that this kind of attention to smaller sections creates more ease in the entire creative process.
  8. Maybe It's Not a Good Idea, Or Maybe It's Not the Right Idea. "It seemed like a good idea at the time" is a hallmark statement that I hear from every creative person that I know, as well as some family members who have registration numbers with the Department of Corrections. Sometimes in the moment an idea seems really great and exciting, but after working to bring the idea to life, you realize it's just not all that interesting, or it doesn't really line up with your values. Maybe the idea is a good one, but it's not the right time. Sometimes that idea is just a stinker and can't be helped with any intervention. With experience we learn to discern which possibilities our imagination generates are the ones that we need to pursue. Other times we just learn by trial and error, or trial and success. Either way we learn when to let go of a project that we're no longer able to energize and complete.
The Middle is going to show up in every corner of our creative lives. It can be uncomfortable. I think it's intolerable for a good reason; the discomfort moves us either toward commitment, or toward the door. If you're an author with a partially finished book, a painter with a studio full of canvasses that still don't satisfy, or a guitar student struggling to play the perfect F chord, this stage won't last forever. Take small steps and keep moving. You will gather momentum again and reach a finishing point, or you may decide to just focus on something else altogether. 

If you're feeling like you've reached The Middle in one of your creative projects, I may be able to help you get through it more quickly and effectively. Request a free initial session here to find out...