Are You Ready to Roll Up Your Sleeves and Get Busy?

I started this blog post about five times with five different calls to action. “Stay Strong and Do Your Art!”, “Fear Limits Your Ability to Function”, “Are You Being Manipulated? Social Media Communities Are Try to Sell You Something by Using Your Fear or Anger or Empathy.”

Then I dialed into my first meeting on my first day back from vacation. My team, just like anyone else, is facing uncertainty. How will the new Administration impact our jobs? What does it mean for the individual as well as the team?

I can’t answer these questions. What I can do and what I must do as a leader is to keep us focused on the job at hand. I don’t know what waits ahead for us. All I know is what we’ve committed to do now, today. That is what we’re going to focus on. And we’re going to perform at our best.

What about you? Will you swim in your fear and anger? Or are you going to roll up your sleeves and get busy making the world a better place with your art, million-dollar idea or avocation?

Still feeling a bit mired in the muck? I hear ya. Been there. Put your imagination hat on. You are now Mysterio the Great and you’ve just had a vision:

Six months in the future all hell breaks loose. You lose your job, benefits, bank account and your freedom to use the internet. What are the top three things you would do anything to preserve?

Don’t think about it. These should pop into your head immediately. I’ll share mine:

Number 1 – Protect my little family

Number 2 – Pursue my life’s work – my writing

Number 3 – Preserve the Colorado Wilderness, national and state parks that I spend so much time enjoying

Trying to protect or change the entire world can be overwhelming (unless you really are Mysterio the Great). Focus on what’s important to you. Dedicate positive energy and your time to making those things happen. It will help your little corner of the planet and keep you sane.

 

Are You Ready to Get Started?

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It’s almost the time of year when we sit back on the couch and reflect on the past year’s doings. Did you tick mark all the goals you wanted to accomplish in 2016? No. Don’t worry about it. You’re in good company.

The past is best left in the past. Let’s take another look at your unfinished goals list. Are they all boring home projects or do you have something special among the list? A childhood dream perhaps? Or a chance at a new career?

Pick the one you’re most passionate about. Can’t decide on just one? Here’s a check list to help:

  • Does your heart beat a little faster when you think about it?
  • Are you anxious to wake up and get started on the goal?
  • Is this something you can see yourself doing for at least a year?

If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, then Bingo! You have a winner. Hold on now. Don’t just dive in. Take a breath. If you want this endeavor to be successful, then you should do a little planning first.

Planning 101 – Step 1: Determine What Success Looks Like

You’ve got a goal in mind. Now put on your visualization hat and let your mind wander. Imagine what the goal looks like when you’re done. What must your goal (object, process or career) look, feel, sound like? Are you happy with what you’ve decided?

Write down the criteria you’ve imagined and pin it up on the wall or get high-tech and put it on your mobile device. Keep the criteria in mind as you make decisions along the path to achieving your goal.

What Can You Learn from Your Last Creative Project?

Learning from our past successes and/or mistakes is critical for growth. Doing more of “what we did right” and less of “what we did wrong” makes a difference in our road to success.

In the project management world, the team holds a “Lessons Learned” session. We talk through the positives and the negatives. Each item is documented for future projects. The negative items are further explored to find ways to mitigate these flaming wrecks before they happen.

Here are a few ways you can do your own “Lessons Learned” for your creative projects:

Be as objective as you can: Pour a glass of wine or grab a handful of chocolate. Your intent in doing the lessons learned is to be better next time

Gather the folks you worked with on the project. Be respectful of their time (especially if you worked with an independent editor. It might not be the best idea to contact a publisher’s editor. You don’t want to ruin your chances for next time.) and don’t push. If they can’t meet with you, then ask them if they’d be willing to express their views via email

Write every thought down (whether you agree with it or not). You can sort them later

Step away from the list and take time to mull things over. Try not to be down on yourself for the negatives. This is a learning tool.

Take action. Hold on tight to the positives and make a plan to correct the negatives.

Remember though – you may not be able to “fix” everything the next go around. It’s a journey.

What’s in it for me?

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You’ve been working long and hard on your project (Novel/Software Application/Workshop Pitch/Fill In the Blank). It’s colossal! It’s amazing! You’re ready to show it off to the world or at least your potential customers. The presentation goes well and you believe folks are on board. Then it happens. There’s always one “Neddy Negativity” in the crowd who tries to squash it.

What is Neddy’s motivation for dumping cold water on your idea? Is he hell-bent on squashing you to lift up his own kingdom? Sometimes. In my many years of experience, I’ve found that usually isn’t the case. Most folks are afraid of change. They don’t understand how your new idea is going to impact their world. Is it a good thing? Or is it just a waste of time that they really don’t have energy to bother with?

It doesn’t really matter what the Neddy Negativities of the world think (though sometimes Neddy has some really good points and should at least be heard). Don’t let them squash good ideas. Be ready to tell these difficult folks about the benefits you’re offering. In other words: What’s in it for them?

  • DO: Research your potential customer. What are their needs? Who are their customers?
  • DO: Be as specific as you can. How will your writing workshop benefit their conference attendees (and pull in more interested students)? How will your software application make their life easier and reduce costs and/or streamline processes?
  • DON’T: Give an exaggerated used car salesman pitch. Do not exaggerate what your product can do. “Truth Will Out!” If you and your product can’t live up to the promises you make, your credibility will be in question and so will your professional reputation.
  • DON’T: Be vague. There are professional bullshit blockers (like myself) out there whose job it is to protect the fiscal, technical infrastructure and employee well-being of their organizations. If you can’t tell us exactly what, when, why, how and how much…well, we’ll go to the next person who can. Think your presentations through from this point of view.

Final Thoughts – Before people are willing to invest time and resources into something, they want to understand what’s in it for them. It’s human nature. We’re pulled and prodded into so many directions, the last thing we want is yet another responsibility. How is what you’re trying to sell me of any benefit? How is it going to make my life easier? How is it going to benefit my customers? If you can answer those questions, then your chance for success dramatically increases.

Hit Those Target Goals!

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I’m a very driven person. After years of wasting time putting off my dreams, a health scare taught me something important. I am mortal! The epiphany hit me hard. I only have a limited amount of moments on this planet, so if I wanted to achieve my goals and dreams it was up to me to make it happen. Tick Tock!

My attitude about life completely changed. Now it is in my nature to set a goal with a date and then work until I drop in order to meet that objective. Hard life lessons and project management methodologies have taught me how to set realistic and healthy goals. I’m going to state that again, because it’s important. Set Realistic and Healthy Goals. Don’t kill yourself trying to fulfill an obligation you didn’t take time to think through.

What if you’re the opposite personality type? You want to achieve your goal, but that program you want to watch is on tonight. Maybe you have a bad case of S.S.T.A (Sofa Stuck to Ass)? Here are some pointers from my many years of experience planning and managing large projects:

Use Short Term Goals to Achieve Your Long Term Goal

A short term goal can be an activity or product you can complete in a small bite-sized chunk within a short period of time. For Example: I’m working on my next dark fantasy novel. I don’t care who you are or how many novels you’ve written. Each one is a daunting task.  I keep the Long Term Goal (the entire novel) in mind. However, I focus on those bite-sized chunks.  If I chop down the book into Acts, these become achievable goals rather than one big Herculean task.

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Buffer! Buffer! Buffer!

Setting a deadline date is key for achieving goals. However, not giving yourself enough time can guarantee failure. Think about all the activities you’ll have to complete to reach your short term goal. Let’s walk through my example:

  • Outline Act I
  • Write the First Draft
  • Edit and Update Act I
  • Final Polish

I estimate it will take me three months to complete all these tasks. There are three Acts in my book. Does that mean I can complete the entire book in nine months? Yep, I could if my life was perfect and I didn’t work a day job. Sometimes life gets in the way of our goals. I get sick and miss a few days or the book takes a new direction. I have to stop and do further research. If you’re working against someone else’s deadline that could be a major problem. Give yourself “Buffer Time” in case of emergencies. I try to allot myself a week or two of extra time to sort out any problems. If I don’t use them, then I look good for coming in early.

Final Thoughts: Set Realistic and Healthy goals. Chasing your dreams should be fun, not a chore.

 

Breaking Free of the Zombie Mob: Finding Your Passion

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(Above Image found on: http://tipsforclassicalmusicians.com)

I love “Shaun of the Dead” with Simon Pegg. The movie opens with Shaun shuffling zombie-like into the doorway. He moans the call of the undead. Most of us would think of it as the “Oh Gawd, not this again!” realization of the weekday morning. He soon joins other commuting zombies on the way to work. We can all relate, but do we really want to?

We change the channel to a news story about an amazing, happy person who has achieved something awesome. They seem so passionate about what they do! You just know that person jumps out of bed in the morning, anxious to get back to their life’s passionate purpose. It didn’t matter to them how hard or daunting their goal might seem. They kept going and made it despite the odds. Sometimes you wonder how they found that strong sense of purpose. What makes them different than you?

They found their dream, their passion. These folks turned their backs on the many naysayers in their lives and accepted the risks. Are you ready to do the same?

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Take Stock: Sit down with the information capturing device of your choice (pen and paper, laptop, iPad, Etch A Sketch) and then answer the following: What are your current skill sets? What are your current hobbies and interests?

Did you feel something spark?

Example:

My current skill sets: Project Management, Mentorship/ Trainer

My current Interests: Writing, Encouraging Others

Result: I use my PM and Mentorship experience to mentor and encourage new writers. This is something I enjoy very much.

Go Outside Your Comfort Zone: Maybe you’re completely bored with the “Me” thing and want to try something completely different? This one is going to take a little more creativity. Consider looking through the free community education magazine you usually throw away. Do you see any classes you’re curious about? Try going to local events: races, special lectures at libraries, museums or botanic gardens. Okay – you get the idea. You may just find your passion out there where you’ve never considered looking. If you don’t find it, at least you’re having fun!

Example:

Getting out of my comfort zone: I was diagnosed as a potential Celiac several years back. Hollywood eventually adopted the Gluten Free Diet and changed the restaurant industry’s approach to food allergies for the better. I had to adhere to the diet before it was cool (FYI – it’s never going to be an easy diet). Finding food with no wheat, barley, rye or oats away from the house back then was a nightmare. I was terrified of traveling. What if I ate the wrong thing and wound up in the emergency room again?

Action: I don’t like fear. It vexes me. I decided to try a quick four day trip to some place I’d never been before. San Antonio, TX seemed like a great choice. It has the Alamo and the Riverwalk. I didn’t know how Gluten Free Friendly it was until I got there. What a lovely surprise. I had a great time. It remains a favorite destination of mine.

Result: That trip helped me realize FEAR was the only thing stopping me. My love of travel was rekindled. Today, I travel all over the country managing IT and medical projects. I’ve experienced some pretty cool things in this job, things I never would have seen if I’d let fear continue to cage me.

Take Steps: Do you have that spark of excitement yet? It’s time to take action. Obviously, the steps will depend on what your passion turns out to be.

Here are a few suggestions: take classes, get involved with an organization, ask an expert about your interest.

See! I’m excited for you! Get after it and don’t give up!

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Advice From My Project Manager Side: If you decide your new interest might be something you’d like to translate into a new career, please approach it thoughtfully. Understand you may have to work the day job and do your passion in your spare time for a while. The added pressure of earning an income will crush a dream in no time. Careful business planning is key. I know there are those exceptional individuals who quit their jobs and open thriving businesses. They are the exception! Have a thoughtful plan with adequate funding to get you through hard times. Your dreams can come true, but you need to set yourself up for success first.

Final Thoughts: I am deeply committed to my own passion – writing. Sometimes I forget not everyone wants to pursue grand literary dreams, climb Mount Everest or find a cure for Cancer. Sometimes, as an old friend reminded me, small dreams can be the most rewarding. My friend’s dream was a home and a family. After searching and visualizing for many years, he found the person he was meant to be with. I am pleased to say Dad, Mom and their two wonderful kids are very happy.

Find your dream! Live your dream passionately! You’ll be happier whether you’re “garage band” or “rock superstar” successful.

Finding your Motivation

I’ve never understood why tracking how many words you write a day is so significant. Rather than helping me, monitoring word count or hours worked per day is a hindrance to my motivation. I prefer to start each day with a plan that produces predetermined goals. Each day should move you closer to the end result, the completion of your book.

Thought One: Make a Plan. You’ve heard the terms “Plotter” (someone who outlines every detail of their story before they begin writing) and “Pantser” (someone who lets the story flow as it may). I’m somewhere in the middle. Each day I make a goal. “I will finish editing Chapter 1” or “I will write the first scene of Chapter 16.” It may take me hours to complete my goal, but I don’t stop until I’ve finished. Be careful about your goal. Is it too much to bite off for one session of writing? Set yourself up for success!

Thought Two: Save some for the next day. You’ve accomplished your daily goal and it is oh so tempting to keep going.  That’s fine for your first draft. Approaching your editing sessions on advanced drafts takes a thoughtful plan. The idea is to keep yourself motivated, so you can reach your end goal.

Thought Three: If you’re not in the mood to write, do something else constructive.  Research is a big part of the writing process.  Writing drafts of the back cover blurb or synopsis is another option. Sometimes when the creative juices aren’t flowing, I take the opportunity to flow out my plot and subplots.

Final Thought: Sticking to your daily goals is an important part of developing the writing craft. They are an agreement you make with the creative you. Always keep the promises you make to yourself.