Planning is a terrific challenge for me. With a mind that speeds and veers, it’s not uncommon to drop into mental potholes as they slip onto my visual runway when faced with options.
Picturing such a myriad of possible outcomes can be daunting for me. Today in my mental planning session, I eased onto a quiet country road in my thoughts, and wondered, what is my coolest possible future? This was easy!
I pictured more coolness: what fun, cool steps do I need to take to get to the coolest possible future available this week, this month, next year? THIS I can see!
For four years, I’ve wanted to photograph the nuns of Bhutan. At last today I sent off that letter to initiate that project.
What is your coolest possible future? What is the soonest cool date you can get there, and what one cool step can you take today to get there, no matter how small that step or distant the goal? Can you clearly picture that sweet future and those fun steps?
I’d love to hear what that looks like for you!
On June 30 of last year, as my contract at an I.T. firm was ending, I decided to start writing in a more focused way, and not return to my job behind a desk. I wanted to return to my roots and career as a photographer and writer. So, I promised myself to write for 15 minutes every day before breakfast, starting on July 1. I began with one single sentence as a writing prompt.
By July 15, I attended a writer’s conference, and heard that I could present my book idea to the editors present; someone told me to tell them my book was 50,000 words, an average novel’s length, and I decided right then I’d complete those 50,000 by the end of that month. I had written only about 1,300 words by the day I “pitched” to the editors, and to my astonishment, they loved my book idea. When I told them I guessed it would be 50,000 words, they told me to aim for 80,000. By July 31 I had written 80,000 words – a few hundred pages of a book.
By September I had a rich relationship with the characters in my book. I felt more than a little astonished and frankly a little freaked out by how much this had taken over my life, this creative process, freaked out and in love with writing a book. I put the book to sleep for the winter in January to focus on photography, and have begun to turn my attention to integrating the two together now.
I just found this note yesterday, at a time when I find myself frightened again, still, to leap into my own greatest dreams. My main character, Georgia, told me this, when I had hit a wall in September:
“I think you frightened yourself with your speed and alacrity. Frighten yourself again. How can you do that? Make a goal to frighten yourself every day with your powerful progress, creation, and mastery. Yes, I said it… mastery. What would a goal of mastery in writing look like? What do you want to master in 5 years?”
Noun: Brisk and cheerful readiness.
Synonyms: readiness – willingness – eagerness
In building a business and a life as a photographer and writer, or as any artist, or anyone with the dream to truly live the life they dream to live, focusing on projects and business planning is one important way to approach the future. But this is another. What do you want to truly master? What will blind you with amazement at your own “speed, alacrity, and mastery” in five years? One year? After dinner tonight?
And by the way, I want to have loved mastering it by that date, not just plodded through.
Today I leave for 4 quiet days in the forest, on my own, to deeply reflect on my future self, and figure that out. When you are an artist, you yourself are the business. Starting with your own mind and heart is the beginning of the deepest kind of business planning.
What do you want to master in five years? I hope whatever you decide, you find the deepest joy in getting there. I’d love to hear what you dream of being and doing!
(Gently) Opening Our Hidden Rooms
For many of us, so carefully and meticulously do we hide deeply important things that we utterly forget where we put them. Key to the neighbor’s car. Favorite red pen. That one-off coupon for free ice cream. The golden locket you inherited from your mom, the one with the inscribed lilac blossom. You know how it is – you get something you’ve got to be sure you’ll never, ever lose, you put it in the “special place”, and poof! Bye bye, precious thingdeal!
Putting things we’ll be sure to find them is the magic formula for ensuring we’ll never, ever see them again. It’s the fault of the earth’s gravitational field, I’m sure of it, because those things get sucked into some far away universe, or under the couch, or in some weird terrifying blend of the two.
But we do it with our thoughts, hopes, and dreams too, as well as the beliefs we want to run from; for instance, we squirrel away our fears that we are failing ourselves, or wasting our time on this job/relationship/mortgage/book. It’s too hard to look at, the possible badness or wrongness or hopelessness. This is hiding the truth of ourselves from ourselves in order to avoid sensations of shame, guilt, hopelessness and sorrow. There’s one more useful reason though: avoidance of the truth of why we do things allows us to simply do what we really intend to do anyway without directly confronting head-on why we feel we shouldn’t.
This sort of self-deception is how most of us put on so much weight over time, avoid unpleasant phone calls, put off paying bills – but worse yet, it’s also how we put our dreams on ice. This is where we avoid our own avoidance but also, so much worse, we avoid our own successes.
This is not surprising, this avoidance. Aside from a basic sense of self-criticism lurking barely beneath the skin for most people, honesty has come to have a brutal connotation in the last 30 years, especially when it comes to the relationship with ourselves. Thanks to the self-help movement of the 70’s and up to today, self-disclosure has taken on a sense of beating oneself into a bloody, honest pulp. “Ego” came to be seen as a bad word, and the idea that we should be more forthright with ourselves did, sometimes, involve painful disclosure to a highly critical listener. Baked in here is so often a real lack of compassion for the reasons we hide things from ourselves, and what to do about it. I’d suggest we often don’t understand why we do things because we wait to understand them before we’ll allow compassion – but perhaps assuming a better stance might be compassion first, knowledge second.
Besides, if it’s true that we grew up on the African Savanna, hiding from things is in our DNA. Perhaps we need it. Perhaps if we don’t have enough stealth in order to survive, we just make up danger and we ourselves become both the lion in the tall grass and the gazelle innocently drinking.
I recall attending a required “growth” seminar for work once in which a woman was dissolved into tears in front of 600 attendees as she was “confronted” with her own sense of failure by a teacher who did not know her and did not love her. He certainly was not going to be around to pick up the pieces when this thing was over with and she hated herself more than when she woke up that morning, her secrets and fears now smeared into the invisible social marketplace with a brutal public flogging. I do not think this sort of pain and self-disclosure make for happy bedfellows, not long term. In other words, it’s not a sustainable sort of honesty – nor a sustainable happiness.
In the spirit of a gentle and encouraging movement toward happiness, it’s worth considering that a more frank discussion with ourselves about our little avoidances could actually be helpful.
Consider writing down everything you are lying to yourself about. Every little deception. The avoidances. The things you’d rather not know. Put this somewhere that no one else will see it, and promise yourself you will be so soft and gentle and just “talk it over” with yourself, like you might with a kind friend.
Try having a moment’s meditation with yourself; imagine yourself seated in a beautiful meadow, full of flowers. Invite yourself to drop in; picture yourself strolling into the field, happy and content, and sit down across from yourself. Feel yourself there to be a great friend to yourself; you can be if you aren’t already. Explain to your newly arrived self that you would like to understand a few things, no pressure, and ask yourself to assist you to understand what matters you may be keeping from yourself, or avoiding; things you are a little afraid to be totally honest with yourself about. At this juncture it’s not a bad idea to promise that this conversation is “confidential” between you and you, although at a later date you might find there are things you need to discuss with others, although maybe not – remember, this exercise is not to encourage more running from what’s true.
Talk it over, ask for clarification without justification, and chat about whether it’s possible that anything of things could see the light of day – within yourself. When you’re done, make that list of everything you are deceiving yourself about. Everything, small and large; every major and minor infraction toward yourself or others. This can include the good stuff! It’s not always easy to be honest about the things we’re good at or have done well.
When you have your list written down, do nothing with it – not yet. Thank yourself for your bravery and candor, put the paper in a very safe place, or burn it. Know that you understand yourself more now, and this can never be a bad thing. Discuss this with no one unless you have an agreement with yourself to do so.
Try this again once a month for 3 months and see what you feel in your life now that your self-relationship is building more honest trust – always a good thing.
Softly, softly, as they say in Australia. It’s the only way to climb a thorny mountain.