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.)


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


Brave Wandering Practice

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I’m winding my way through the Quest2016 Questions…Here’s some pondering on last week’s prompt from Todd Henry, “foremost voice and authority on how teams and individuals can execute brilliant ideas every day.” He’s also author of a lot of good sounding books*. Here’s the question at hand:

It takes bravery to know your strengths and operate diligently within them. Are you running your race, or someone else’s? 

Races imply finish lines.

That would imply that I have been training and signed up for something and I stood with bated breath at the starting line when the gun went off for some sort of competition. That I am running among some crew of people that are vying to cross some sort of finish line first. Argh. All of that competition makes it so easy to get off course. I know that is not what this question is getting at, but why do I have to be running a race? The competition, the anxiety, the stress, the singular focus?

I know – it’s a metaphor. I get it. It’s probably mean and snarky that I’m saying it doesn’t work for me.

But that helps me hone in on what this question does mean.

If I were to re-write the question, it would ask: It takes bravery to know your strengths and operate diligently within them. Are you charting your own back-country trek, or someone else’s? 

You see, I don’t know exactly what I am doing here. So ‘race’ just doesn’t seem like the right metaphor**. I’m not on a course. It’s not a 5K or a marathon. And it’s not that I’m just not in a race, I don’t particularly want to be racing. That just implies some sort of short term over-exertion followed by a finish line.

I want practice.

Regular. Daily. Practice.


Practice. To get quiet. To tune in to the voice inside. To play. To uncover my strengths, and through repetition, repetition, repetition – hone them to become as easy as breathing deep. So that when there is a race to run (an article due, a house to design, a poem to write, a prompt to respond to, a book to write) it’s second nature to line up at the starting line and stay focused and sprint in a totally-perfect-to-me-way on that one jaunt – and then recover and keep training and be ready for the next race.

Because this isn’t just one race. And if I face whatever this one creative life is as a race – and not a wonder-filled and wandering journey – if I pretend that I already know the route and the destination – I think I’ll be selling myself short. Just think of all of the trees and skylines and vistas and sunrises and sunsets that I won’t see if I am just focused on one thing ahead.

So, instead of #BraveRace, maybe it’s just #BraveWanderingPractice

*Todd Henry’s books:

**Okay, so I am on a little bit of a race. Today is Day #352 of the #365Quote Project, which is really just a year of very specific, yet not-very-specific practice. If this were a race (which is isn’t, because I just can’t quite see it ending on January 10th) that day would be my finish line. And, what have I learned in this race? I’ve learned that I need practice. That it take a lot of wearing-my-blinders kind of practice to stay honed and centered on what my voice is. What it feels like it coming from me, and not what I think others want to hear. And, to stay tied to that feeling of authentic curiosity and creativity that is sparked from within, and from DIT – not just from following some LEGO kit***.

***Building with LEGO kit instructions makes kids less creatives (Psychology Today)
+ Why You Should Care About LEGO and Creativity (Note to Self)
+ Are Legos Stifling Creativity? (UW Business School)

Dream Into It

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It’s something between a daydream and a walking meditation. At its core, it’s probably wistful mind-less-ness. Walking (or mowing) through the summer days, planning for the future, grasping for more stillness – instead of being fully present.

That’s not entirely true. There is plenty of being present. But, in giving myself this year of trying it out, there is just as much self- and situation-assessment as there is being truly present in the moment. But, since they are all thoughts about how to stay here, how to make the farm work, how to make this life work – since I am not trying to escape anything, I think they count as daydreams. Not frolicking on the beach kinds of daydreams, but perpetual self growth and scenario improvement dreams. (That’s a thing, right?)

I’m not sure if I can call it daydreaming, because in so many ways I am smack dab in the middle of my dream. This farm, and the tending and creating that go along with it – they are exactly where I want to be. There are just a few things that can make it even better. Adjustments. Improvements. Smoothing out.

Here’s the list-ish of daydreamsih things on repeat:

  • More stillness. (To be with animals, to hang out here, to navel gaze, to observe, to write, to (gasp) relax.)
  • More sleep.
  • More groundedness.
  • Slowness.
  • Stillness.
  • More time.
  • More time.
  • More time.

I don’t really daydream of being somewhere else. I think I am just thinking of ways to be here, exactly here, but just in a more present way. The hammock. A mid-day nap in the sun. Maybe I need to practice the actual daydreams, to envision what I want. Instead of phrasing things as less (less moving, less busy, less car. Which, let’s be clear, were the first things that landed on the page here. The things I want to do less of, not the things I daydream of having more of). Less things whizzing around in the brain. More time to focus. I know there are a lot of ways to manage time. But I think I have a solution, and I think it translates to an actual goal.

I daydream of having more time to be present on the farm. I can do that, by literally, sculpting more time to be present on the farm. The goal to make this daydream a place to actually hold still and have daydreams? Work, actively, to generate enough real income from farm-hosting-writing-creating to allow me to step back from my job-job, just a little. Yup, 2016 will be a practice to see if I can translate enough of what I do creatively (making, crafting, hosting, farming) into something that can (financially, because we are not dummies and money is a part of this) supplant 20% (aka, one day a week) of my job-job.

The business as unusual for me is to believe, to put work into, translating the creative things into the business things. I can’t forget that I’ve done this before. For myself, and for others. I’m just out of practice. My daydream to hold still more motivates me to do this translational work. Translating craft into business as unusual. My daydream is to work-work less, and to daydream more. Because, the core of the creative work is having the time to daydream and translate those visions. So, this year ahead I’ll test the waters. And, quite possibly, the year after this I could say Hey! only four days a week of job-job for me! We’ll see how it goes.

What recurring daydream for 2016 inspires you to do business as unusual like never before?

This is question #5 (following a very wordy and not so comprehensible response) to the Quest2016 from champion of the imagination SCOTT BARRY KAUFMAN. He researches and writes about human possibility and believes in the power of imagination and creativity to transform society for the better. (That’s a message I can totally get behind.) Scott is author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined (Basic Books 2013) and co-author of the upcoming book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (Perigee Books 2015). He is also host of The Psychology Podcast and co-founder of The Creativity Post.

P.S. I am totally clicking post even though I know this is far from perfect, far from coherent, far from concise or clear. Part of my practice is to just get things out of the brain, and in the world, without being held back by perfection. Even if the message gets skewed. Even if it isn’t clear. It’s all just practice.

Door’s Open, Come On In

The Quest2016 is so energizing. It girds me to stay grounded right now, while looking forward onto the horizon. I still have wake-up-with-Christmas-morning levels of anticipation and excitement.

Quest2016 Prompt 2 comes from Jonathan Fields, author of the book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance and energizer of the Good Life Project. Here is his highly hypothetical, launch-you-into-the-future, break you away from your limitations nudge toward bigness.

You wake up to discover a knock at your door. A wealthy uncle you barely knew has passed and left you a fortune. It’s more than enough to live out your days in glorious splendor, but there is a condition. To be eligible to collect, you must commit your full-time working energies to the pursuit of an answer to a single question of your choosing for the next 12 months.

You are welcome to continue that pursuit after the year ends, for years or decades if it warrants, but you must remain fully focused on seeking the answer until the last minute of the 365th day. A minute shorter, the entire inheritance goes to your annoying and equally long lost cousin, Philly.

What is your question?

What's Knocking Question

So this may look familiar to you, and that’s because this is the same question (like, literally the same Post-It note) from the #DareToExcel challenge this summer. The question remains the same friends. The question remains the same. And that makes me feel, for once in my life, that I am doing something with some consistency – and that I might just be a few steps in to the path of practicing living with the answers.

About 11 months ago I made this video as part of the Quest. It took all of my courage, for so many reasons, but I started asking the first big question: HOW? That video was a tide change for me. It was a launching point. A demarcation between the ebb and the flow. Something.

So, I decided to make a video response to Prompt #2. Here’s my response to What’s Knocking, even though I’ve gone and written a whole bunch of other stuff about it here anyway.

I could just leave it there, without addressing the whole financial and other freedom to dedicate (the requirement to dedicate that time) to answering the question. But I won’t.

There’s another angle to Mr. Fields question that I’ve been thinking through too. And maybe this resonates with you. It’s a bit off the cuff – but we’ll see what comes of it. (and, let me know if this resonates with you!). If I were to accept the challenge Mr. Field outlines – if I were to accept the funds and live the question – how would that change the current balance of where I place my effort in my days?

Here’s what I mean: Right now I work full time. I love my job-job. I also am responsible for running a household-of-one (cleaning, feeding myself, paying the bills, shoveling the snow) and managing a teeny-tiny farm. Those are all, to an extent, the super-high priority things. Those are the things I have to get done because the social and economic order of the world puts priority on them. So all of this fun stuff like writing to you each day and quoting and collages and writing prompts – it has value, but no one is going to die and I am not going to get fired if they don’t get done. They are, despite their contribution to my well-rounded and need-for-creative-outlet-ness: optional.

So, what if that shifted. What if I could spend all day observing this place and writing and making a mess? Would I still want to engage with those activities as much? What if I love diving into the creating because it’s not part of the ‘have to’ list – would it be as much fun? What if it was my source of income? Or it had deadlines? Or it had to be approved by an editor? Would I be so spirited and eager to show up and generate so much crap volume each day and think about my creative process all the time, and lose time seeing the world and wanting to translate it in my head when it becomes the thing I should be doing, instead of the thing I am doing instead of the thing I should be doing? Or would this just become on of those other should things?

I think, or I wonder, if all of this writing and quoting – if it’s so fun because it serves the purpose of distraction, of fun thing to look forward to – and how my perspective of it would change if its role in my life changed to mandatory. I don’t have answers for that right now, but I’ll think about it. And I would love your thoughts on this, and if you struggle with this too. Me thinks this is also some sort of real or perceived barrier I toss up to prevent myself from moving forward with pursuing creative things professionally – the dear that the joy would be sucked out if it became my job.

So, I guess those are all the big questions that come out when you open the door!

I wrote a whole bunch more (less refined) words on the topic (along with adventures in pig processing) in yesterday’s TinyLetter too. You are welcome to take a peek if you want to climb inside the head of a crazy person.

Time to go find out #WhatsKnocking at the doors of all the other Questers!


I Will Not See This Coming

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Welcome to Day 1 of Quest2016! Today’s prompt is from Susan Piver – “What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…”. Thanks so much to Jeffrey Davis and the team at Tracking Wonder for hosting this second year of the quest. If you want to learn more, or participate (You should! It’s free and awesome!) visit this link. I’ll be sharing my responses to the Quest2016 each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of December. I wrote a bit more about what the Quest is, and what it means to me, here too.

From this morning…
It’s December 1, and I just did chores without gloves on. It’s that warm out, it’s just that unseasonably warm out. I didn’t see that coming.

And that’s how most if this year has been.

And this is exactly what I most need to tell myself about 2016…that I will not see any of this coming.

If 2015 has taught me anything, it’s that there is a great mystery in exactly what will churn itself up minute to minute, day to day, and week to week to make up this thing we call a year. Looking back one year, to all the hesitation and nervousness and unsure-ness as to the precise contents of my life’s suitcase, I could never have predicted I would be so BIG and full and alive as I write this now.

One year ago I hoped that things would get better. I worked hard to make a plan, a map, that would sail my ship back to the island of brightness I know my best self can inhabit. I had an amorphous vision, lots of feelings (many of which were totally contradictory), a shit ton of uncertainty and a fierce determination. But, frankly, that was it. I didn’t know what life was going to look like. I didn’t know if I would still be farming, where I would be living, how I would spend my days, if spring was going to come again. I didn’t have any answers. I just had a suitcase piled high with ginormous questions.

And I learned to live with those questions. I learned to be comfortable living without answers, but still grounded. I practiced saying I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I’m not sure. I let answers surface slowly, at their own (very, very slow) pace. I listened deep, and trusted that the answers were somewhere buried inside of me. And that I could find them and trust them if I held still and quiet and poke a flashlight into all of those dark and mysterious places. I learned to trust myself. I grew to listen to the tiny voice inside myself. I kept moving forward, even though I didn’t know where the path was headed. It was hard work. But good work.

But that’s enough about the past. The past is full of really good lessons, but I’m pretty determined to keep moving forward. And what I need to keep telling myself most about this year ahead is that it is chock-full of big questions and big goals and amorphous-big visions – and, ultimately, the content of the days will be full of mystery. And that the meaning of those days will only shine through as they are slowly stacked one on top of the other on top of the other like bricks as the calendar pages flip by and things happen.

And things will happen. Wonder-full things. Mysterious things. Things that don’t make sense. Things that break my heart and feel like unbearable loss. Things that break my heart into a million pieces that get reconstructed to be even bigger and better than before. Things that make me smilecry in the car or the kitchen or while walking in snowfall. Things that feel like they are throwing my boat off course. Things that guide me to a new and totally, joyfully unexpected path. Things like fireflies and fireworks and snowstorms and peonies and cake and sweet kisses and writing so much I run the ink right out of my pen. And all I can do is stay soft and open and take all these things into my heart and build them a little nest. Because, let me tell you, we hardly know the meaning of things as they happen.

What I need to remind myself most about the year ahead is that every day, every second, will be there to meet me – I just have to show up to be present in it. To Be Here Now. That practicing patience will keep me grounded. That farms and creative practices and big ideas are not birthed over night. No, everything BIG and GOOD grows slowly when we show up to glean the absolute most from every day. Like boiling the turkey carcass not once, but twice, into two batches of clear – and then cloudy – stock to store in the freezer as sustenance for the year ahead. I just have to show up, observe, notice, learn, hold still, breathe, smile (and sleep more) and dig deep. I don’t have to have the answers now, I just have to show up to catch them when they fall as bright stars out of this big Southern Wisconsin sky.

Because this year ahead is a giant, unknown mysterious ball of sparkly gold thread that will only unravel itself with the slow turn of time. I want to hold that unwinding thread softly, gently – and knit it lovingly into the arteries of my big, soft, wandering heart.

Happy Questing!
This was originally published, with a whole bunch more words, at the #365Quote Project daily TinyLetter. More on that here.

Quest 2016: A Creative Mess

Hi Friends. It’s been a while.

I stared this little nook one year ago, as a place to post my responses to Quest2015, the crack-you-wide-open visioning project for the year ahead hosted by Jeffrey Davis and his team at Tracking Wonder.

I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into when I made the split decision to run with the wild Quest pack – but I am so glad I did. From the late nights and early mornings spent writing to the lightning-bug-in-a-jar-bright online Quest community to the inspirational prompts and people – Quest2015 really did launch me into a fantastic year of growth. Catapult may be a better word for it. I continued to write and dissect here after the Quest. The #365Quote Project was born on Instagram. That evolved into the daily #365Quote TinyLetter, my favorite daily writing practice ever. (You can sign up here.) MAKE TIME evolved from idea to real-life-on-the-farm monthly event!

And that’s just the external stuff. I also feel deeply grounded; connected more meaningfully with friends and family; alive with a spark of big dreams; mentored and electrified by a creative community nearby and across the globe; and more in love with and determined to make something of this farm.

All really, really good stuff. With a whole bunch of other really good stuff that is only half as tangible and express-able as all of that juiciness.

So what?

So…2015 is almost over. 2016 is almost here. I’ve signed up for Quest2016, although this time with a lot more thought as to whether I have the energy to tackle this big self-turning-in-side-out project over the course of the next month. We start tomorrow. I’ll be posting here some, but mostly I’ll be sharing through the TinyLetter. You can view all those posts here, or you can join the newsletter to receive one typewritten quote and daily writing in your mailbox each day. (And I swear you can unsubscribe anytime and it won’t hurt my feelings.)

I’m excited to face this Quest2016 from safely back inside my rowboat, and on a determined course. I have a firm sense of the direction I’m headed, and can’t wait for the landscapes I’ll encounter along the journey. I hope it is creative and muddy and a giant, fun mess. I am looking forward to connecting with fellow Questers (like you!) over the month and year ahead. I can’t wait to see what golden threads we spin and how big we can grow.

Happy Questing!
vanessa jean

P.S. Here’s some really good other stuff to read in reflection of 2015, and in preparation for the Quest ahead.

Dare to Excel

Who can believe it’s already the middle of 2015?

Not me.

It feels like just yesterday I was cracking my heart open to find the answers to my best [business artist] self. That was Quest2015, an orient-yourself-to-the-upcoming-year-as-a-business-artist inspire-a-thon, whirled by Jeffrey Davis at Tracking Wonder. But that was last December. A whole half year ago. The Quest immersion propelled me to write and write and write. To write and connect. To write and create. All of which served as the dinghy to carry me through rough waters, to keep me just safe enough so I could read the map and route my way to safety among the stormy seas. Beyond safety. It afforded me the opportunity to sit in that boat and read the stars at night and chart my plans by day to intentionally route myself toward the harbor of joy and the peaceful open waters of creativity. Whoosh and splash. It’s been quite a journey over six months. I don’t quite know the name of this ocean yet, but the waters are warm (and shark free!) and the company I meet along the way is exceptional.

And, here I am, six months later, still in the habit of of finding myself tucked into bed and typing like a mad woman well beyond my bedtime. Tonight the writing is toward the Dare to Excel Challenge posed by the Tracking Wonder crew (more on that below). But in the interim, my commitment to a #ContinuousPractice keeps me fueled into the late hours, unfurling as the #365Quote Project, which started as a quote-a-day clacked out on the typewriter and shared on Instagram. Then a daily TinyLetter newsletter (you can subscribe here), which I love. It feels good to share ‘my medicine’, and all of the connecting and sharing encourages me to keep creating. And creating. And writing.

But that is all looking backward, and the best thing is really to just move forward. And at this mid-year point, Jeffrey Davis is prompting us again, this time with Dare to Excel, a 30-day challenge to advance our big, burning question, guided by short questions and exercises every-other-day.

Question #1: What burning question of possibility will influence what and how you create for the next 30 to 90 days?

Two big questions unfurled. The first I scribbled on my notepaper when I had the pleasure of seeing Jeffrey live and in person at The Hive in Gastonia, NC on the Tracking Wonder Tour. The second, well, that’s what I’ll call the ‘less selfish’ version of the first question.

big what if

creative why

But this all felt and sounded a little bit familiar. And that’s because we were prompted with the same question all the way back in January. So I want to take this moment to simultaneously look backwards and forwards…

Possibility, Gratitude & Chicken Butts,

The answer to my ‪#‎burningquestion‬ became clear when I got to move back to my home and farm on Monday after a month and a half away. All is not said and done, and I can’t guarantee I’ll get to keep this place. I do hope that I can. When I arrived back home, the question instantly became ‘HOW?’. I know this farm is my place of possibility, but how is it all going to fall into place? How am I, and a pack of DIT-ers, going to make this possibility happen? In the last year I have definitely learned that you can’t force, squish, race, plan or whip anything into happening. You just have to coordinate the chaos and guide life into its desired landing spot. If you have to force it, it’s just not going to be right (or fun or good). How will this all happen as it should? How will I have the patience to not overdo it, avoid coming out of the gates too fast?

My question feels small and selfish among all the other grand, world-benefiting questions that are being asked in this group, but I do think it is my path to ‪#‎livethequest‬ in the year ahead. Saying all of this out loud (and showing my face on the camera!) feels scary and brave. Thanks for creating a safe place to dream and test new waters.

Here’s to the possibility ahead!
January 9, 2015

That’s where I was in January. It’s July. I feel like I’m still on the right track. Still asking questions stemming from the same source. The farm is still a working farm. I’m 99.9% sure I’ll continue to be here in one form or another. I am continuing to write and work and make things and mow the grass. And I am moving (turtle-like) toward opening this space as a creative haven. My goal (oh, here’s to saying it out loud!) is to start hosting a monthly, free, creative retreat day on the farm. To hold this as a place free from the regular daily pulls (laundry, sweeping, bills, kids, partners, stress), and instead full of inspiration, community, and connection to self. I hope to host the first by the end of July, and then regularly until it’s too cold or too-something-else. That seems to be the first step in unwinding the thread of the question and sewing it into the life of this place.

My good friend B sends me little musing every once in a while. Yesterday this popped up in my mailbox.

Q: The memory of my wonderful experiences haunts me. I want them back.
Maharaj: Because you want them back, you cannot have them. The state of craving for anything blocks all deeper experience. Nothing of value can happen to a mind which knows exactly what it wants. For nothing the mind can visualise and want is of much value.

-Nisargadatta Maharaj

These words, they really struck a chord. I love living in these big questions, quests and dares. I love using it all as the big gravitational magnet that guides my compass heart. But the lesson I’ve learned of late is that the questions have to stay soft, and the vision has to stay blurry. Maybe it’s blurry because it’s so far in front, so far off in the distance and I don’t have my glasses on so I can’t quite make out all the shapes. There is a value to flexibility over stubbornness. To the importance of holding the big goal, but staying soft with the bumps and changes and shifts. That you can’t force anything, and that it’s not quitting to change direction, sometimes it’s just what is. “Nothing of value can happen to a mind which knows exactly what it wants.” So I hold these burning questions softly, the rough map created while sitting in my dinghy. Open to interpretation and change, depending on the weather and stars and wind, as long as I keep moving forward (or somewhere. As long as there are not sharks).

Can’t wait to see where the Dare to Excel Challenge leads this month. (And I thought July was going to be quiet, ha!) Here’s to asking the big questions, and staying soft and tender to the answers that arise.