Unmistakable No.

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The final Quest2016 nudge is from Srinivas Rao, host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative podcast where he has conducted over 500 interviews with thought leaders and people from all walks of life.

The Big Question:

What will you do in 2016 to assure you and your best work are unmistakable?

The Big Answer (It’s actually small.)

NO.

I’ll be the girl yelling NO from over in the corner. You’ll know it’s me. It’ll be unmistakable. And maybe my firm stance in NO will help you to practice this tiny (but powerful) word as well.

I want to, need to, practice saying NO.

I have hit some threshold. Maybe an age, maybe a sense of overwhelm, maybe a desire to linger more, to diver deeper. Maybe I have just seen the light.

The overwhelm is no longer satisfying. The small tasks no longer enjoyable. I don’t need to, and no longer want to, take on every (often undesirable) task doled out around the conference room table. That request where everyone looks down at her notepad as to avoid taking on yet another task, but where I would not-at-all-sheepishly raise my hand and say “Sure, sign me up for that!” with every legitimate ounce of enthusiasm. Because, when you are young and new and underfunded and trying to make your value known – that’s part of how you do it. Because, that’s what I was taught. Because, that’s what’s gotten me this far. But, that’s not what I need anymore, at least right now. I get it now. I get that I don’t need that now.

I’m practicing delegating. Honing. Valuing myself enough to get paid, and sufficiently, for the work I am doing. Because, what I want is to do a better job on fewer things.

Because now, now I feel solidly lodged in the places I want to be professionally (okay, at least at my job-job). I actually am somewhere. It feels good. It feels comforting. And I have appreciated that arrival, and savored it. And, quickly decided that I’m secure enough that I can actually just hold still, and do my own work. And that means saying NO. And focusing on making good of the work at hand. And delegating. And building a tiny wall with a sign that says “Keep Out. I am Important and Busy”. (That’s sort of tongue in cheek, but sort of not) Because, the biggest lesson I have learned this week is that I have to own it. Own the pitch. Own my sense of value. Work into the big, fullness of my self. And the only way to do that is to really puff out my chest a little and see how much I can expand. Because if I don’t believe I am big and good and worth it, no one else will.

I want my job-job to feel manageable and contained, because I want to make the space for the creative work, the farm work, the real work in this year ahead. Because that feels like the meaningful work, the heart opening work, the direction I want to go.

And, to get there, it involves NO. No to overwhelming job-job projects. NO to social events I don’t really want to attend. NO to the tiny things that turn into the big, time-sucking things. NO to washing the dishes right away if there is writing jumping out of my fingers instead. NO to things that don’t support, grow, expand or explode me. NO to anything I have started that just doesn’t fit the way I want (because quitting isn’t always quitting.) I think you get what I’m saying…so I’m just going to depart here and go out and do what needs to get done…

A few helpful resources of overwhelm, focus, NO and big projects…

Note to Self: A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Getting Organized
SARK: Micromovements

Used Car Salesman

used car salesman

Which element of your best work do you most want to amplify this year? 

I’m sitting at the north end of the borrowed hardwood kitchen table, squarely facing the antique, white, double-basin kitchen sink and the stretches of golden, wooden counter top on either side. Although it’s just me in the house, I know that I am not alone. My right eye is just waiting to catch the skitter-skatter of country mouse scampering across.

I know he (or she) is here. I came home, after a day away for Christmas, to find (the quite lovely) pattern that mouse claws or front teeth nibbled away from the surface of the now-hardened pork fat drained off the Christmas Eve ham and into the faded, green Pyrex dish. Placed sink-side, the salty greasy goodness was impossible for him to resist. I also find his little poops under the sink. I’ve heard a mousy squeak once or twice as well. He, or she, or they – they’re good. Sneaky. Stealthy. Efficient. They do their best work when alone, in the dark, stealth-like. Knowing what’s best for survival, he scoots around the spotlight, the daylight, the snap of the trap, and people in general. He doesn’t need applause or recognition. He does best when completely invisible to the surrounding world of humans and farm cats and possums and raccoons.

I’m the same way.

Most of the time.

I write in private. Often at night. I share through online platforms and social media. I write letters. I share writings with a few friends through the good old fashion mail. I make tiny collages. I craft spaces. I design things. I make space.

Somewhere along the way, for a reason I have not yet been able to determine, I decided it was best to not be showy. To not be overly-visible. Not loud. Instead to be demure, quiet, reserved. At least in person, at least in my mannerisms.

I don’t mean this as in to hide entirely, but instead that it feels most authentic to not run around being loud about my feelings, my successes, my work, my accomplishments. That the cream rises to the top. That it’s better to have sweet potato substance on the inside, rather than an ethereal, fluffy, meringue-like substance on the outside. (Let me tell you, meringue does not last very long and it’s mostly air and it gets soupy and almost disappears as you try to spoon it out of the pie plate less than twenty-four hours after it’s been baked.) This is the part of me that hardly posts any photos of my self to the internet. Who wants her words to speak for themselves, instead of any photo or image or aesthetic getting in the way.

This may very well be that so many of my mentors, the strong women who have taught me the most, the women I look up to – they own their success so much that it speaks for them. They don’t have to preach, they don’t have to broadcast. They just have to step up and own it when the recognition or praise or gratitude is offered. (And they, and I, we sure do know how to write a kick-ass cover letter or resume or grant application – because that’s sometimes that fits into the quiet and mouse-like category).

In looking back, these words from Quest2015 sum it up pretty well: I am repelled and repulsed by the idea of self-promotion, and I don’t know to what degree that holds me back from being missed. How much of that is fear of the spotlight; how much is lack-of-confidence in my ideas and writing and creativity; and how much is just my personality. If we want to be creative business people, there is a certain amount of self-selling and self-advertising and self-involvement that is part of the process, no? What is the line between sharing a genuine creative product and pushing an empty creative product that is more about you and a snazzy head shot and pretty website? Are we selling ourselves, or our creative work? (Man, that sounds snarky, and I apologize). I am so skeptical and afraid of selling myself.

That is the quiet (although obviously still pretty passionate and opinionated) me. Happy to wile away during the dark hours. Mostly content and most effective when I don’t have a goal, when my mind wanders, when I am making as a way of figuring. When I am lost in the work.

We’ll call that Mouse Me.

Mouse Me isn’t afraid of making her work public, she’s just incredibly afraid that in sharing or having an audience or crafting and creating with a certain purpose in mind – that she’ll lose the golden thread that keeps her head, hands and heart connected to each other and to the work. That she will lose track of the why, where, when and how that the good stuff comes out.

But there’s more than just Mouse Me who lives in this house, lit by the glow of burning midnight oil.

Used Car Salesman Self also lives on this rural farmstead. He is my alter ego. (Okay, I guess we should call her a she, but I just can’t, because I see a slightly rotund-in-the-belly man with greasy, tousled hair and a dark mustache, wearing a short sleeve, white, button down shirt when I imagine this self. Oh, and he has a donut. He is almost always eating a donut.) I’ve written about him before, but really – he is the part of me that is a 100%, fear-less, crowd-pleasing, success when given a microphone and a captive audience. (And – here is where the EGO-alarm in my brain sounds off and my shoulders tense up so much they almost eat my ears. Because, this is the part where I have to say that I am good at stuff. Or, where I at least think that I am good at stuff. Man, it’s so hard to talk about the stuff I think I am good at.) So, I’m just gonna say it. I can be really good when I live really big and loud and bold – and not just clickety-clacking away at the kitchen table on a Saturday night with one eye watching for mice. Just give me a microphone. Promise.

Gah. So what does this all mean? I’m not entirely sure. But here’s what I do know. The most reverberating words of Mr. Gilkey’s prompt?

p.s. You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.

I think it’s a question that, as I type, may just turn into an answer. I’m not sure what I want to amplify. I do think that I want to figure out how to step out of the dark intentionally and consistently to find a more public voice for my creative self that still feels snuggle-y, brave, confident and – more than anything – authentic. How do I pick-out the best parts of Mouse Me and Use Car Salesman Self and knit them into a creative professional who is confident sharing and (gack) promoting her work in a meaningful way? What voice do I use for this sharing? How do I encourage Used Car Salesman Self to pick up the microphone a little more often? And how do I even make a teeny-tiny microphone for Mouse Me so she can sing in the dark kitchen and everyone can hear? (Oh, but dear god there will not be singing.)

How can I stand out in a way that isn’t stepping out in front of the crowd with a giant spotlight and sparkling red tap shoes, but more of a cool road sign that says Roadside Attraction Ahead for Curious Navel Gazers and Life-Figurers?

So, I guess the answer is two fold. The first isn’t what part of my work, but how do I actually want to amplify the work itself – by merging the strongest parts of myself into a coherent whole? (Not a donut hole.) The second part is about the work itself – how do I stand up and find more roles as storyteller, facilitator, speaker in my creative work – all the ways the Used Car Salesman shows up and really rocks it?


This (still slightly behind the pack answer) is to the Quest2016 prompt by productivity specialist & business advisor, CHARLIE GILKEY. He’s the brain and heart behind Productive Flourishing, best-selling author of The Small Business Life Cycle and driven to figure out how to help Creative Giants be their best selves in the world. Here’s his big question:

Which element of your best work do you most want to amplify this year? 

Instead of considering simply doing more work, take the time to consider which elements of your work would most light you up to amplify. What’s holding you back from amplifying it? Do you think it’s that obscure little thing no one will care about? Or is it that once you amplify it, people will care too much and call the Imposter or Weirdo Police?

There won’t be a time in the future where it’ll be easier to amplify that part of your work.

p.s. You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.