I started this post in summer 2018 with the line: “I don’t feel ready to write this post, but I’m going to anyway.” But I didn’t publish it. Now at the end of 2018 I’m trying again, to see if I’ve figured this stuff out enough to share it with you.
There’s something I want to say, or maybe want to learn, and figuring out how to put it into words will be good for both of us. Let me start with the background: this summer I went to one of my favorite conferences in downtown Portland. It’s an annual event and one of the few I keep coming back to.
The “World Domination Summit” is about community, adventure and service – and revolves around the question, “how to live a remarkable life in an ordinary world.” I go for the people and spontaneous side meetups, more than the main event speakers, but I also know I’ll learn One Big Thing that will propel me closer to my True Purpose…
This year I found it quickly.
It’s about fear, hesitation and resistance – and how to do the work anyway.
I’m usually pretty productive, but I definitely have noticed sometimes it’s hard to self-motivate, even on the things I THINK I want. And I need to pay attention, because if I don’t really want it, I’ll self-sabotage. So let me share some of the quotes and insights I got, and then try to summarize them into something more concrete.
1. Happiness only exists in the present
Thinking about the past or future erases the present, which is the only time you can actually change things. So worrying, or even dreaming about what you don’t yet have, can be distracting. So on the one hand, be present, be grateful, be happy, because this is all there is.
One powerful quote I read somewhere this year is:
“If what you spend your time thinking about is different from what you spend your time doing, you will never be happy.”
I spend a lot of time browsing castles and cabins for sale; but it means I’m spending time wishing things were different than they currently are, which means I’m deliberately subjecting myself to dissatisfaction. Set the goal, sure, create a dreamboard or visualization for it, but don’t dwell there. Ask yourself, “What would it take?” then make a plan of action. Spend your time confidently closing the gap, and moving forward in small steps until you achieve your goal.
2. Affect greater change from a larger stage
My PhD thesis was basically about ambition, and how it used to be evil (selfish) and has now become the only virtue (self-actualization). Part of me still thinks doing what makes me happy is settling.
Limiting belief: if I CAN help more people, but choose instead to be content with just enough and do what makes ME happy, then I’m being selfish. Therefore I need to grow a bigger platform, because I can, and amass greater wealth and influence, so that I can assist others who have not the same abilities.
Use your privilege for good.
I don’t believe there is a universal answer to this problem, and I understand on the surface that it’s “fine” to do what makes you happy, but I also feel deep-seated guilt about actually doing so in my own case.
I remember an argument with my sister about the Sheryl Crow song:
If it makes you happy
It can’t be that bad
If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad?
I pointed out that moral relativism was a slippery slope (I was a smart middle-schooler).
I still believe that to some extent. Sure, maybe nothing matters, and there’s no evil or shame in earning a living to support yourself.
Part of me wants to be the type of person who has achieved personal contentment and designed a happy, comfortable lifestyle (that’s what everyone else wants, and most people actually do.)
But do I want to be average and normal? Or do I want to hold myself to a higher standard, sacrifice my personal happiness in order to dig deep into the mine of creative expression and emerge with rare and precious gems of magnificent insight – shaping and shifting the collective future of humanity by adding my voice into the bucket of content consumption?
Specific example: Do I really WANT to buy a castle and run it as a writing retreat? Will dreaming of a huge goal only lead to frustration and dissatisfaction? Am I afraid of it, or uncomfortable with it, because I know it will be hard to pull off – or because I don’t really want to do it anyway?
Wouldn’t I rather have a beautiful cabin in the woods, a cat, great friends and coffee, maybe a view of the lake, and just write my own books?
Either way, this insight is easy to endorse: even if the “change” you want to see is a bunch of people buying your books so you can hide out in a cabin and write full time – building a larger platform is the easiest way to Imagine Things Into Being: because with a thousand true supporters, you can do anything.
PS. How do you build a platform? You focus on developing and sharing value for other people; not asking them to support you. If you have nothing to offer, then just show up and be friendly, supportive and engaged. Be the organizer and the cheerleader. Find a role, get involved, find a way to add value.
3. Discover your passion (and your mission?)
Years ago in Malta, a naturalist helped me choose essential oils by putting one in my hands and asking how I feel. One I felt nothing. One I felt pulled forward. That was lavender. I *should* make my decisions the same way, though I don’t always.
Does it fill you with joy? Does it get you excited?
Then do it.
Does it make you feel uncomfortable or nervous?
Why do stuff you don’t like?
I’ve realized some things about myself this year:
I don’t want to be known for a service. I want to be known for my unique, creative content. And I want to get paid well for it. How well?
- A six-figure book advance.
- Another six-figures in passive income from books and courses.
- Beholden to no one (no client work, coaching or feedback)
I’m not exactly sure about the last one.
BUT I question it with statements like “but I COULD do coaching, or ghost writing, and charge a lot, because I’m awesome at it, and people want to pay me for it.” That’s me trying to talk myself into something.
Why do I need to be convinced? Because I don’t want to do it. I love being useful. I love providing value. I love people. So it’s easy to accidentally agree to a bunch of stuff because I think I’ll enjoy it. And I DO enjoy it. It’s been a joy and a privilege to help my Guerrilla Publishing students sell more books.
But then I also spend a lot of time thinking about my clients and their challenges and how I can help them.
A day in my perfect life would mean tea, trees, a few hours of writing, dinner with friends, maybe a canoe and a hammock. A bit of reading, a bit of writing. No pressures or obligations.
But that’s not all I want.
Like most authors, I wouldn’t mind my books in bookstores. Doing signings. A large supportive audience of people who enjoy my work. Castles and summer camps. How can I get that lifestyle? Who do I have to become to BE that person (and deserve it?)
Ask yourself with every decision, will this take me closer or further away from my dream lifestyle? Hold the image in your heart, does it bring you joy? Only do what brings you joy.
If it’s not a “hell-yes” then say no.
That said; while the end image of your dream lifestyle should absolutely bring you joy, the hard work of building it may not be fun and effortless. Don’t expect it to be.
4. You are here to do the work, not judge the work
I joined a mastermind recently and someone called me out because I say things like “it’s not that great” talking about my stuff. What I mean is it’s not very polished or professional, so I don’t feel confident about it, even though I know content is more important than form and I intentionally put out MORE content that’s rough so it can help more people. It’s hard for me, because I’m a perfectionist, and so I’m comparing the work against what it COULD have been or what I WANTED it to be, or the plans I have to improve it.
So I say things like “it’s not great” or “it’s ok but” – It might help. It’s pretty good. I could have done better. I’m more excited about this other thing.
I MADE A THING! DON’T LOOK AT THE THING I MADE!
According to Elizabeth Gilbert, “Perfection is just fear in high heels.” I think Voltaire said, “Don’t let the perfect ruin the good.”
I get great reviews and testimonials. People love my books, courses and programs. If I didn’t tell them it wasn’t that great, they wouldn’t know any better. It’s like when someone compliments you and you brush it off; it’s almost insulting.
I also say stuff like “I’m not there yet, I’m not ready, I’ll do it in 5 years, when my platform is big enough.”
But I also know it might take 5 years of effort to actually do the thing. You need to TRY and PRACTICE and FAIL in public before you can run a perfect launch or event. Avoiding the failure makes success less viable.
Also: be sure not to judge things for other people. Just because YOU thought it isn’t as good as it should have been, doesn’t mean you need to deflate expectations by being critical of your own work. Let them discover their feelings on their own.
Do your best. Finish more. Ship faster. Learn, improve, try again.
5. Just because something is uncomfortable, does not mean it is unsafe.
From evolutionary biology, we know that fear kept us safe from danger and predators, when the world was much more perilous. Now however, we feel this same kind of heart-stopping panic even when doing something mundane like speaking in front of a crowd. Humans were designed to eat and sleep and survive: our bodies would love to stay in bed all day and do nothing.
We love routine and safety and peace. But we also strive for more, and when we choose more, we need to accept discomfort. Most people try to avoid it, or push through it. They don’t want to do the hard work and frustration of actually becoming great at something. They just want it to work easily, with no skills or experience.
6. Sit with your discomfort and hold the pose
Some people say, push into the fear, push into the discomfort – and that’s true so far as, every new thing you want to master will take effort – but you can do it if you want to. Just make sure what you’re working toward is what makes you happy. Close your eyes and think about it: how does your heart feel? Open and moving forward, or closed and pulling back?
“Fear is just excitement without the breath.”
I heard that this summer and it moved me. Now I’m not so sure. I think fear is excitement without hope or courage; or maybe vision without experience and knowledge.
In the book I’m working on, I say that “all creative fear is based on two basic insecurities:
- am I good enough?
- is this worth it?
The first fear is about quality; the second is about value.
The first can be defeated with skill, the second with knowledge.
Discomfort fades with confidence; courage is gained with experience and knowledge.
The solution, is not just to set big goals and work towards them. The solution is to get comfortable with discomfort. To expect, embrace and wear down discomfort by showing up.
For example: I used to paint and draw. I studied fine art in Italy and was pretty good. But I never learned how to use a tablet for digital illustration – something that would be really useful for cover design.
I hate feeling BAD at something I know I’m good at. The goal isn’t “learn how to draw.” The goal is “sit down and draw badly, everyday, for three months, until I lose my discomfort. Then I can start making real progress.” (I might try to actually do this… I’ve been hanging out with the founder of Paintable, which has courses on digital illustration.)
Make tiny habits. Start with 10 minutes a day, or even just 10 words of writing. Form the HABIT first by taking action; then you can increase the OUTPUT.
Fully feel the discomfort. According to Leo Babuto, you need to make yourself uncomfortable until your patterns show up. If there’s no uncertainty, it’s because your mission is too easy.
I’m afraid people will hear my story as a comedy or tragedy instead of an epic.
Hold the pose. Fear is excitement without the breath. Breathe courage deeply into your fear. Don’t try and douse the flames. Feel the burn.
In mythology, this is Demeter, holding Demophon into the fire to make him immortal.
If you want to write faster, don’t feel bad about not writing a book a month. Set a daily writing habit of writing 100 words. Then double it every month. It may take a few months to actually hit the raised limit, but repeated effort will make it possible.
7. Be brave enough to find the life you want, and courageous enough to chase it
If you can’t decide it’s because you don’t know what you want. Sometimes you have to do something anyway. Sometimes there are steps to take, and you can’t see opportunity until you’ve gained the skill and experience to use it. Success is skill and preparation. Nothing is a waste of time, as long as you gain something in the experience.
I have a friend, who used to work on an alligator farm and now runs luxury tours to Bali, with the tattoo: “Decide. Commit. Succeed.”
Some people get stuck at the first step, but here’s an amazing quote I heard this year:
Clarity is a result of action, not a requirement for it.
When you don’t know what you want to do, it’s because you don’t have the skill or preparation necessary to recognize the opportunity. You must do something, and commit, until mastery of that project brings you awareness of the next.
Kierkegaard talks about anxiety in the face of freedom.
Real fear is the freedom to choose; because with choice comes change, consequence and accountability.
True power is standing up to your fears.
When you meet a bear stand taller, instead of running.
Be courageous enough to tell mediocre stories and not be perfect to get better – and unwilling to be comfortable with your own inadequacy.
There is power in inviting fear in.
Choose the battlefield so you can prepare.
“If you want something bad enough the world finds a way to give it to you.”
Confidence is achieved by repeatedly doing a thing successfully. But before that initial success is achieved, one must first have the courage to even make the attempt. This would suggest that one can’t become confident without first having courage.
Confidence is being reasonably sure that you can complete a project successfully.
Courage is being insecure and unprepared, but showing up anyway and getting better with practice and dedication.
But WAIT? How do you choose?
How do you actually FIND “the life you want.” How do you know what’s the RIGHT decision. Do what gives you joy or Follow your bliss is easy advice, but if you want to get better at something, it’s not going to be fun and easy.
This whole issue is what I’m going to focus on in 2019… first with Creative Confidence, then Paid to Create – basically, how do creative people make confidence choices that lead to success more quickly, so they can avoid most of the overwhelm, insecurity and frustration.
I’m tired of “creativity books” that don’t offer any practical advice or say things like “creativity is a mystery.” There are simple, repeatable steps towards creative success that can boost productivity and motivation. Creating work doesn’t have to be terrifying or isolating, unless you have no idea what you’re doing and are all alone – which is why knowledge and community is the fastest way to competency.
It takes courage to start. It takes confidence to keep going.
You need a goal that’s worth leaping for.
This year I’ve been making slow, steady progress… but mostly I was sitting with the discomfort, until the frustration was overwhelming and prompted me to take action and finally fix things instead of complaining about it. I had to let go of some projects and ideas. I had to hire help. To do everything I want, I need to accept not doing everything myself personally – I have to be leaping forward into new territory and hiring a team to build up the scaffolding behind me.
MY NEW 2019 GOALS
When I started this blog years ago I thought I’d be retired by 2015. Even though those goals are a few years old, I’m getting close to the monthly income goal I set. Which is awesome, but now I want more. I’ve basically spent ten years figuring things out slowly, and not taking many big risks. The thing I WANT is to grow my email list to 100K. It’s not just about sales or income, I want to help more people, improve their lives, become friends, and use my influence for exciting new projects or to become a champion for writers and artists. I’d also like to get a publishing deal for both fiction and nonfiction, and get my monthly income up to 25K a month.
I already have a huge plan on how to do all this, but it’s mostly a matter of content marketing (blog posts, guest posts, great content, free tools) and advertising (promoting all my awesome free content to people). Here’s the challenge: I don’t really want to advertise, even though it’s the single fastest thing I can do for growth. And “making more money” isn’t enough of a motivator to get me to do the things I don’t want to do.
I need something REALLY visual and exciting to encourage me to take bigger steps in my business. I need to focus on my perfect day and how to have more of them. And it can’t just be something philanthropic like “help others” – it needs to be something personal and selfish; something to bribe your inner child into going along for the ride while you do the work.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I want?
- What do I need to get there?
I want: to be able to ONLY work on my creative projects; to have a stable environment; to be surrounded by friends and family; to seek out adventure and experience; to boost my creative output by wasting less time on things that don’t move me forward; to spend more time each day in awareness and gratitude; to have a view of nature. These are all lifestyle wants. I don’t want to be working towards a dream future, I want to curate my life experiences so I’m always happy.
I need: more traffic, better conversion, more products, better landing pages and email funnels; consistent writing schedules and habits so I produce 2000 words a day reliably; affiliates and ads (once I’m confident in my offers… or earlier!)
The exciting thing is, I already know how to do all this. I didn’t a year ago, but now I do… so know I can implement and see results. And I want to do it all right now, so I can focus on writing in 2019… but assuming I can double my income immediately will lead to frustration and burnout. Instead, I should be focused on task-based goals, and celebrate the completion, not necessarily the end results.
Instead of “double everything immediately the first time I try” I need to be thinking, 1% boosts at a time. Several a week. A slow series of marginal changes that have a slight impact; develop the skills and habits to keep the wins consistent, then add another.
My 2019 goals
- Double everything. Double conversions, subscribers, traffic and income.
- 6 new published books. 4 fiction, 2 nonfiction. At least one completed series.
- Three weeks in a castle; at least three big conferences to see friends.
- Weekly outings with friends in nature.
- Daily inspiration via lifestyle or environment.
- A new course launch (21 Day Author Platform)
- Spend $5K/month on advertising.
- A traditional book deal and advance.
The castle thing
We’ll head back to Taiwan soon for Chinese New Year, then Bali in March, then ??? until Europe this summer. We’re renting this amazing ruined castle complex for a writing retreat in late August, and I’ve just set up the page and giveaway (yes, we’ll be giving away a free spot again). This is my favorite thing to do.
I could only get the castle for 3 weeks, but that’s actually perfect, since I can finish and run my new course, the 21 Day Author Platform, with everyone who attends, and do a course launch from the castle. That gives me a firm deadline to work towards.
A secret project
If you’ve been following me for awhile, you may know I’ve struggled with creative output, and even tried to hire some ghostwriters before but couldn’t get the process down. I’m going to try again: I’ll basically be recruiting paid interns who want to learn to write fiction that sells – they’ll help me finish a rough draft, but it will be my idea and outline, and I’ll edit and polish it until it’s good enough. I’ll publish under my fiction imprint, but not my name, because I want to give the authors the credit.
I’m also partnering with a friend of mine, who does amazing things with advertising and audiobooks; so my goal is to supply lots of content, and let him work his magic. I’m nervous, because this is a big step and difficult to get right – but it could be glorious. If you’re already making money with your books, this probably isn’t for you. If however, you think you have some skills but are eager to learn what it takes to succeed, you can check out the details here.
What are your 2019 goals? Don’t hold back!
Let me know in the comments, or come join the discussion on Facebook.
PS. One of the best productivity hacks I’ve found is to keep a journal and just keep track of how you’re actually spending your time. Your writer platform has a Productivity Planner for Writers that looks useful, I’m going to pick one up for myself.