What would you do if you knew you would fail?

I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book on creative living, Big Magic, which was lovely and worth a read. She wrote a good deal about embracing failure. It’s a standard topic for books on creativity and personal growth, but her approach got me thinking about it in a new way.

Often in this work, we’ll ask ourselves, “What would I do if I could not fail?” This question is useful because it helps tease out what parts of our life we may be suppressing or not pursuing due to our fear of failure. Maybe if I knew I would be successful, I would choose a more creative path, like painting or writing or dancing. It’s easy to imagine how good life would be if I was a successful artist! Wonderful!

But that idea of success in a creative endeavor may bring some unexpected consequences — disappointment when that success doesn’t come, or an idea that there is such a thing as “success” to be had.

So let me reframe the question.

What would you do if you knew you would fail? That is, you would fail at it regardless of how mundane or creative the task. That as an Excel-jockey or middle manager, or as a painter or dancer, you might never make it work. You might have a job waiting tables or mowing lawns indefinitely, because you can never quite get that career off the ground.

What would you do then? Would you keep doing Excel, or even graphic design (more “creative,” but still confined)? Would you keep painting, if success wasn’t a thing? If you love those things, they might be worth keeping around even if it means keeping a side-gig to stay solvent.

What do you love enough to do even if it means always being kind of terrible at it, never finding “success” outside of your pure, personal, ego-free enjoyment of doing the thing?

This isn’t groundbreaking, or a complete reversal of how we usually think about these questions. But it helps me think about it in a slightly different way, and maybe it helps you think about it, too.

Writing, Act 2: Back in the Habit

These words aren’t going to be perfectly laid out, and I’m okay with that. Actually, that’s kind of the point. Here’s the deal (there’s always a deal): last winter I got into this amazing habit of writing 1,000 words everyday, rain or shine, in sickness or health, where ever in the world, or in Portland, I was at the time.

Sometime around March or April, I fell out of the habit. But not before finishing the first draft on an entire book and drafts on several shorter eBooks. One of those has since become an actual virtual thing: Kickstart Your Home Meditation Practice. I haven’t put much love into my full book since then, but I’m planning to kick off draft two this winter.

But more importantly, I’m committing to get back in the writing habit. Okay, fine, I commit to things like this all the time, and they don’t always stick. I hope this one does. In fact, I would love to have some accountability partners on this one to get it going again. Let me know if you’re interested.

So what got me back to thinking about this? I found this reddit post. Classic. It’s a nice description of what my work could look like right now if I had kept up the practice all these months. Hundreds of thousands of words. That’s an immense amount of practice. Sure, most of them wouldn’t be that good, but they do gradually get better and better.

This reminds me of a rather cheesy self-help book I’ve read, The Slight Edge. Let me sum up 150 pages for you in a few sentences: The only way to work on big things is little by little. If we do a little bit to reach our goals every day, we’re bound to get there. If we improve our life by a tiny amount each day, before long we’ll be realizing our greatest dreams.

Cheesy, but absolutely true. The reason we don’t often see these dreams realized is because we stop working on them. We allow ourselves to slightly decline each day, rather than growing. I have to say, it feels like that’s the direction I’ve been going over the past couple months. Wasting time, not keeping up with the things I do care about like writing, running, yoga, and art.

Do you want to be an artist? Do art every day and at some point you’ll have created so much art that some of it is bound to be good. You’ll gradually amass so much practice and experience that more and more of it will be profound and meaningful.

Do you want to be a yoga teacher? Do yoga everyday. I’ve done it, and it’s amazing. After three months of daily practice, you’ll be more than prepared for a Yoga Teacher Training. To be a good yoga teacher, at that point you’ll also have to add teaching every day (or close to it).

Do you want to be a writer? Well you’re probably getting the point here. Last year when I was writing 1,000 words every day, I started to feel like a writer. I started to say that I was a writer. I started to believe it. Now that I’ve let the practice languish, it feels less true. My LinkedIn page still lists it as a primary occupation, but my heart hasn’t been in it. The practice hasn’t been there.

So I’m back on it. Here’s the reality of writing 1,000 words. It takes between 30 and 60 minutes, unless you allow yourself to really get stuck on some wording or a specific idea. Sometimes the last couple hundred words feel hard to get out. But if you allow yourself to flow, eliminate other distractions, and just let your fingers type away, it happens fast and painlessly. It becomes wonderful and (often) easy.

And it adds up. Standard book-length is about 50,000 words. Taken as a whole, that feels insurmountable. Taken in 1,000 word chunks, in 30- to 60-minute increments, it’s less than two months of work for a first draft. That’s six books a year. From there, a whole other world of challenges opens up, but getting that draft done feels amazing. They might not be masterpieces. They might need a ton of work to even be readable, but they are all fantastic practice.

This is what I did last winter, and it’s my plan moving forward. I’m not sure if the writing will take the form of another book, or some shorter guides, or what. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to write so many words that I’ll be able to fill whatever kinds of pages I want.

A quick word on comparison. Ira Glass has some beautiful words on this. If we allow ourselves to compare our work to existing, published, vetted work by established authors, artists, etc, etc, we’ll become too discouraged to even start. That’s because our work is not going to be good. Their work is already great. And as Ira says, those masterpieces shaped our taste, so we know that our work is bad in comparison.

Guess what. That novel you read and loved that seemed so well put together, with such lovely language? That took a LONG time to make. It took so many drafts and revisions. Dozens, even. Literally written and rewritten over and over and over and over and over again. Years in the making. And it wasn’t only the author who did it. The agent helped, the editor helped, the test-readers helped. It was tried out and changed, and probably looks very little like the first draft from whence it came.

So be gentle! I know I need to do this. Not all my writing will be great. Some of it will be awful. That’s a great place to experiment. If it’s already bad, going off the deep end can’t make it much worse, right? Picasso produced more than 50,000 pieces of art. I guarantee they aren’t all good. And if you or I produced 50,000 pieces of art or writing or anything else, I also guarantee that some of them would be amazing. The trick is actually sitting down and doing it, every day.

Meditation sounds

Being Yourself to Attract the Right Business

This has been a bit of a personal conundrum lately. Basically, I have a small business doing meditation and mindfulness coaching for offices. This does not resound with everyone. Clearly. Many people don’t get it, and only a small portion of the ones who do are willing to pay for it.

So, I’m faced with a choice. Do I water down or change my message to try to attract a wider audience? Or do I stay more true to myself, even if it means pushing certain people away? I’m not sure if this is an obvious choice or not, or if it is, in which way it’s obvious.

The first option has appeal. “I want people to like me!” This fits with our most natural desires for love and belonging. We want to be accepted and celebrated by as many people as possible. The fulfillment of this desire is why celebrities tend to be so strange, I think.

It also sounds good for business. It means attracting more clients, potentially selling more product, basically doing better all around.

Not so. At this point I’m convinced of the opposite. It may be different if you’re selling to the masses (although maybe not: Apple has way more personality than IBM, and their stock reflects it), but especially for small businesses and solopreneurs, being true to oneself is best for business.

Here’s why. When we work for ourselves, we’re constantly selling our business and we’re constantly selling ourselves. We are our business, and the two are relatively inseparable. When people buy our service, they’re buying us, and they’re doing it because they like what they see. They like the potential and hope we’re giving them.

When we water down or alter our message to fit the crowd, we attract people who aren’t quite as good a fit for us. This might be fine once in a while, but if it becomes the norm, we’ll be forced to put on a facade that satisfies clients who are not our ideal clients. These clients will want a business that is not what we strive to offer, that is not truly us.

We take this as reinforcement of how we should be and act. We see that it works to not be fully ourselves, and we compromise even more. We do work that is less and less true to our ideals, and that begins to strain our self-perception and self-awareness. We lose track of who we are and we lose interest in our work.

By staying true to our own selves as much as possible, we attract a (potentially) smaller group, but one that resounds more with our message. We attract our true supporters. Given the opportunity, these followers will become the champions of our work, promoting it to their tribes and friends. Having business we’re excited about will create more business we’re excited about. Vicious cycle averted, virtuous cycle embraced.

The real question is how can we: A) know our true selves, B) project that out into the world, and C) be receptive to accepting positive energy back into ourselves. Meditation and mindfulness are great for working on all three of these things, and that’s basically what this whole blog is about.


Side note: I’ve got a Beginner’s Meditation eGuide coming out in the next couple weeks. Get excited!

Side side note: With all this talk of finding our supporters, if you like these blogs, please share them however you feel comfortable doing so. It means a lot to me!

Surfing the web

Don’t Read This! Delving into the World of Non-Promotion

I’ve been experiencing a disconnect between my work and my intentions lately. I love writing, and I try to write about topics that are important and relevant. I love it when people read, reflect on, and respond to my work. But I’ve been getting an unsettling feeling when I browse content on the internet, and I’m afraid I’m contributing to the problem. That I’m just another piece of media to be consumed in a binge of time-wasting and procrastination.

Basically, internet content tries to be as attention-grabbing and click-baiting as it possibly can. We’ve all seen them: “Ten Shocking Recipes You Can’t Live Without.” “This One Surprising Fact Will Transform Your Sex Life.” “Clicking On This Blog Post Will Make Your Life Unbearably Good And Happy.” This is all bullshit. And it’s the way the internet works now. Advertisers have poured money into figuring out how to get people to click, because clicks are money (Somehow this is true. I still don’t fully understand why this is, as I’ve bought a totally about about ten things on the internet ever. I guess I’m a bad example of consumption).

For a writer, clicks and likes and followers are how you show a publisher that you’re a good bet for selling a book. You have to be a master of social media and marketing in order to get your word out. Nowadays, writers have to do most of their own marketing unless they’re already a huge name. I’ve been dipping my toes into this world over the last few months since finishing writing my book, and it doesn’t feel good.

I believe that paying attention to social media and marketing is exactly the OPPOSITE of how we should live. It is the greatest time-suck of our generation. Scrolling through Facebook updates and shares, following chains of click-bait ads, watching videos that do nada to enrich our lives, consuming, consuming, consuming. I would love for people to be excited about my writing, but I have no interest in shoving it in their faces or jamming their already-overfull inboxes.

This makes my work pretty much un-findable on the internet unless you already know me. And now harder to find even if you do — posting on Facebook has become effective for getting the word out only if you’re willing to pay for it, which I firmly am not.

This is the paradox of creating something which is by nature opposed to the structures that allow it to exist. There are good things about the internet, but by and large I believe it is making us less happy. It is diminishing our personal relationships, reducing our concentration and presence-of-mind, and basically allowing us to waste away in a sea of anti-social media. Online banking is great. Using Facebook makes us unhappy. (Don’t click that link! I just put it there to verify that I didn’t make it up! It’ll waste your time!)

I could start a list of email subscribers. This is one of the top suggestions for how to grow and monetize a blog. Maybe some of you would even appreciate if my writing would come to your inbox instead of being posted on an obscure personal website out in the ether. Publishers would certainly love to see that I have a large list of subscribers who might potentially be interested in buying my book.

But I don’t want you to spend time sifting through emails. I don’t even want you to read these posts if the alternative is something that allows you to grow: going for a walk outside, being with friends, cooking a meal with loved ones, reflecting on life, or going to a yoga class. I want you to take action! To find your own happiness! To create beautiful things.

So it will continue to be hard to find my work. I probably won’t be appealing to a publisher. I’m going to keep writing because I love it. Maybe I can perfect the subtle art of non-promotion and find a way to barely support myself with it. Maybe people will find my work when they need it, and use it to inspire a burst of creativity, or to get over a plateau in life or work. But I would so much rather that you take action in your life than waste time skimming through loads of internet articles that are designed specifically to grab as much of your attention as they can at the lowest investment to the producer.

And at the same time (ah! The Paradox!), I would love for you to share my work with someone you think might benefit from it. I do want people to be able to access my writing if they are getting something out of it. What I’m ultimately asking is that you’ll browse responsibly. That when you find an article you like (mine or not), you’ll read the whole thing without getting distracted by the other million things to do and look at, and that when you’re done, you’ll close your browser and go out and take action on what you’ve read.

Unless you’re stuck in a cubicle all day — then feel free to click away. JUST KIDDING! I hope you have a job you care about and value deeply. Don’t be a robot.

Small Steps to Big Changes

We live in a world where information is available at the click of a button, where the news cycle is 24/7, and where we can get any kind of entertainment we want at the speed of Comcast. How cool is that? (Except for the Comcast thing, those guys suck.)

The more we experience it, the more instant gratification becomes expected. In 2015, it is the norm. If something doesn’t happen right away, we get pissed. Even the microwave seems to take too long.

Here’s the thing (there’s always a thing): this is all consumption. We are ravenous consumers. We can devour intricately designed movies, glance at a painting in a gallery for a few seconds and think we know what it’s about, eat a fully-prepared meal in five minutes or less.

Creation, as opposed to consumption, works on a completely different time scale. I’ve written this before, but good work takes time. Almost anything worth actually making requires patience and persistence.

That movie you watched for two hours, then forgot about? Look at how many people are in the credits. That thing took forever to make. The painting you glanced at in the gallery? It probably took dozens or hundreds of hours to create. The old masters would spend months perfecting a painting. That meal you scarfed down? It might have shown up quickly on your plate, but it is the product of a long line delicate processes, not to mention having actually grown from the ground (we hope). 

Okay, so we all should appreciate the things around us more. Big deal. What I am trying to point to here is that these things only exist because people are willing to put long hours into making them, and that is a worthy endeavor.

But it can be so daunting to try to create something big. Writing a book? That’s 50,000 words! If you think about how long it takes to write 500 or 1,000 words, you’ll come up with a large number of hours to write the whole thing. That number will stare you in the face, paralyze you, and keep you from even getting started. The medusa of creativity.

Nothing is created overnight, especially not books or paintings or fresh vegetables. They are created over a long period of time through consistent, dedicated effort. There is nothing that requires being a genius or having superhuman traits to make this happen. Sure, maybe being a genius means you can write the book in a medium period of time through consistent, dedicated effort. But still not overnight.

I’ve been experiencing this whole-hog the last few months. I’ve been gradually chipping away at some big projects, with practically nothing tangible to show for it. I was working on my book, which is currently tucked away in my computer. I’m working on my book proposal, which is how you find an agent to sell the book. I’ve been working on my business teaching meditation to offices in Portland. I’ve been building two websites, one for the business, and this one. I’ve been learning how to do all these things, because I’m not an expert in any of them.

And even since finishing the book, I’ve been writing every day. I’ve put up a few new blog posts in the last couple weeks, but mostly I’ve been working on longer pieces to publish on my website as e-guides. None of them are finished. I still don’t have anything tangible to show for it.

But that’s okay. I’m getting close. All these projects are slowly becoming more and more real. They are all a small step closer to completion each day. Each one is a big project on its own, and doing them all together means they all take longer. I’m okay with that. My writing will be on slow burn for the rest of my life. If I continue to write 1,000 words a day, and maybe half of them are usable, that’s the equivalent of writing thirty books in the next ten years. THIRTY BOOKS.

Of course there are reasons I almost definitely won’t have thirty books published in the next ten years, but that’s not the point. I never knew whether I’d be able to write one or two books in my lifetime. Now I know exactly how to write as many as I want.

It doesn’t have to be writing. This can be anything we love. Art, music, fitness, building furniture, reading, knitting, anything. The reason we don’t get really good at things or produce vast quantities of high-quality material is that we don’t stick with them long enough. We get distracted or bored. We find something else to do. Anything we make into a daily practice is something we can perfect and make special in our lives. Here is a guy who played ping-pong every day for a year.

It doesn’t have to be something we’re already good at. It doesn’t have to be something we have already been taught. It can be something we never thought we could do. I never considered myself a writer. I was always into science and math, not English. Now that I’m writing every day, it doesn’t make sense to call myself anything but a writer. If I keep up the practice and continue to strive and improve, eventually I’ll even make a living doing it. But that won’t happen until most of the hard, slow, dedicated work is already done. Until I’ve been writing every day for ages, and it seems like second nature.

What do you dream of accomplishing? What do you wish you could do, but never thought you could? Well, that dream is not going to come true overnight. But it absolutely, one-hundred percent, can come true with slow, consistent practice. The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today. Better get started!