One Day, I Plan on Writing a Book

I developed six outlines for a book idea I had brooding in my head.

Six.

They existed everywhere. I had simpler versions drawn out in my notebook. I had more complex versions detailed in WorkFlowy. I’ve used Evernote to capture some ideas.

That’s all fine and dandy. I’m not knocking any one of those apps or the brainstorming process in general. I’m a big believer in planning out your actions before execution.

Here’s the thing: I never actually did anything.

Continue reading

What Tracing Trading Cards Cards Taught Me About Being an Artist

TL/DR: Everyone is an artist. The key is not trying to conform to the modern day definition of an artist, but rather, hone your skills to become an artist of your craft.

The set-up had drawn quite the audience. Expectations were high. Now, it was time to see if he could deliver.

He had a white canvas laid out on top of a heap of newspapers spread out around him. A white construction mask covered his face to prevent him from inhaling fumes but also giving him the faint resemblance of Bane. Techno music blared from his speakers generating a unique ambiance.

Within a few moments, he started to get to work.

Whipping out spray can after spray can, he moved seamlessly across the canvas creating the image he had in mind. Tools, like a torn off piece of cardboard, were used to create unique effects. Colors were layered on top of each other to generate just the right shades of black and blue.

Within minutes, it became apparent that he was painting the mountain ranges with the silhouette of the moon in the background.

The man in question was a spray paint artist on the sidewalk. It took about 5-7 minutes for the piece to come to full fruition which garned a large round of applause from the eager audience. He was showered in tips, and our crowd moved on to explore different avenues while he drew in another group of folks for his next rapid-fire round of painting.

He had a gift – no doubt about it. The kid was unique and imaginative. He fit the description for creative. He was an artist.

When I was a kid, I used to be terrible at art class. I couldn’t paint to save my life. No matter how many times the teacher gave me instructions in pottery class, my vases always leaked and wobbled side to side. Despite lacking any artistic qualities, I loved to draw. The only problem? I wasn’t any good. My drawings never really looked like the intended picture. I would trace Pokemon cards to make it easier on myself. Then, I would proudly look at my work knowing that I was a great tracer of art – not a great creator of it.

Much to my dismay, I couldn’t paint nor was I particularly great at playing music. I remember wanting so badly to have an artistic prowess. I would practice and practice, but it didn’t matter in the end. Some people are just born with it.

What defines an artist?

Is it creativity? Is a painting or a drawing more creative than giving a proposal? Is a chef more creative than a teacher? That obviously depends on your view of creativity.

By default, the first thing that likely comes to mind when you ponder creativity is art. Artists are generally known as the most creative people on the planet. But, I want you to expand your view of art. Forget the definition you currently have in mind. Forget any preconceived notion of galleries and paintings. For just a few moments, consider the true meaning of the word art.

In its basic form, art refers to any mastery or skill.

In the traditional sense, we separate artists into a different category. But, at the end of the day, aren’t we all artists? Don’t we all exhibit mastery in some way or another?

We’ve all seen some terrible on stage presentations, and we’ve also all seen some wonderful ones – you know the presentations that give you chills and make you really think long and hard. The words stick with you long after that person leaves the stage.

Think about the best presenter you’ve ever seen on stage. Think about how they talked and moved across the floor. Think about how they pronounced their words and the emphasis they put on certain ideas. Did they have a skill? No doubt. And, chances are, if you’re still able to recall the details of that presentation today, they had mastered that skill.

What do you do better than anyone else in the world? Think long and hard because there has to be something. You’re unique and different in many ways, but there is likely a handful of things that separate you from everyone else.

We’re all artists in some capacity or another. The trick is redefining your idea of an artists. When I was young, I spent weeks and months chasing the typical idea of an artist – the one that could turn a white canvas into a work of art. Little did I know, I was approaching the entire thing backwards.

What makes you special or unique? Maybe you can tell a story better than anyone else. Maybe you can woo a whole party. Perhaps you’re exceptional at teaching others a particular skill whether it’s Algebra or Physics.

That’s your art, your gift.

The key is not trying to conform to the modern day definition of an artist, but rather, honing your skills to become an artist of your craft.

If you like the above post, then you’ll love what I have coming up. Subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter to stay in the loop.

Photo credit: Picasso painting at MoMA from Nathan Laurell on Flickr

The Worst Addiction I Have Ever Had

It’s 10pm, and I’m brewing a cup of coffee. Not just a little bit, but a full on pot of coffee that will largely be finished off.

I’ve been staring at my computer screen for a few hours now, but my eyes are starting to feel heavy. I think for a moment about laying my head down on the keyboard for a little snooze. One of my dogs, Ryley, is seemingly supporting that action as she snores, sprawled out on the bed behind me. I force my eyes awake and determine that sleeping face-first on my computer isn’t a great idea, and the bed behind me is far too covered in dog hair to be comfortable.

A few sips of coffee, and I’m back at it, crunching away on the keys.

When I finish, I retire to bed for a quick nap. It seems like my head just hits the pillow when I’m jolted awake by an alarm clock that is anything but soothing. Despite my strong desire to go back to sleep, the siren sound does its job and gets me up and on my feet. Like clockwork, Ryley takes to her feet and walks out of the bedroom to follow me to the computer where she’ll offer moral support from her dog dreams for the next few hours.

I look at the clock – it’s 4am. Got in a few hours of shuteye. I should be good to go. I stare at the screen again with my carcass planted in the familiar seat. Documents spring up, the computer hums to life, and I start my normal routine of browsing through e-mails and social feeds, scheduling tweets, and jotting down notes and reminders for the day.

When I started writing, it was a hobby much like anyone else that picks up running, knitting, or painting. I did it on the weekends and on days off from work. I didn’t really have a plan, but I also didn’t really care where it was going. I was happy just to have my own little WordPress.com address filled with my own ideas and a theme I could customize.

It’s happened to you before just like it happened to me. You start working on something that doesn’t really mean much to you at the time, but you suffer from some success. And it tastes just so damn sweet. Maybe you win your age group at the local 5k, and everyone raves about how well you did. Maybe your first painting is proudly displayed on the wall of your home, and everyone asks where you bought it.

Everyone has a deep passion to be good at something, to be praised for their work. It doesn’t matter what it is, as soon as you receive some kudos, it becomes like a drug. You crave more and more. That first successful project you worked on is fuel for the second which drives you to complete the third and so on and so forth. Along the way, you collect merits and medals that serve as reminders of previous performances, but for most, that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things because it’s the next thing that is going to really matter.

That viscous cycle continues until you’re no longer relishing in your accomplishments but rather intent on delivering more and more. You give up time with family and friends to produce more work which leads not to more reward but more work instead. The thought of having an empty to-do list is almost painful. Instead, you’d rather have it loaded up on tasks with due dates, project deadlines, and notes.

Don’t live in that time folks. Pick your head up and don’t be afraid to relish in your achievements for a split second before carrying on to your next task.

If you liked this post, don’t be afraid to sign up for my newsletter and follow me on Twitter. All the cool kids are doing it.

Image source: Camouflage by Thom Lambert

The Majority of Stressors Aren’t Real

When I was young, Pokemon was the cool thing to do. It seemed like every kid in school had a Gameboy loaded up with every version of Pokemon imaginable.

The craze seemed to hit me sometime around October that year. I was instantly obsessed. I had a Gameboy, but I didn’t have the one game that really mattered to me at that point. As so often happens with kids when something new comes along, everything else is no longer cool. I remember borrowing my friend’s game and taking it home every night. Although he let me play it as much as I wanted (since he had the red AND the blue version), I wasn’t allowed to save over his game meaning I had to start at the beginning every single time.

Imagine just how distraught I was each time I had to turn the game off! All of my hard work right down the tube.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the details, but you can imagine the story went:

Kid gets toy he fantasized about. Kid plays with toy for two weeks. New toy comes along. Old toy gets tossed away. Kid wants new toy.

But, before that moment when I ripped open the package on Christmas morning, that game was all I could think about. I would literally lay awake at night dreaming about catching them all (that’s a reference to the Pokemon slogan for those that are unaware).

There I was – seven years old and stressed out.

When Was The Last Time You Were Stressed?

Literally about to pull your hair out?

If you’re like most Americans, it was probably sooner rather than later. In fact, it was probably within the last few days. Stress seems like a normal part of our everyday life. Bills have to be paid. The boss has to be happy. Dogs need exercise. Kids have soccer practice. And, on top of all that, you need to get four to five workouts in a week to help stave off heart disease and obesity.

Holy hell.

No wonder why we count the hours until the bubble bath and glass bottle of wine at night.

At the end of the day, it’s important to realize the definition of stress. I’ll steal the definition from Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers:

If you are a normal mammal, a stressor is a challenge to homeostatic balance – a real physical challenge in the world – and the stress-response is the adaptation your body mobilizes to re-establish homeostasis.

Notice the word “real”.

Why Are We So Stressed?

It’s probably not because you don’t have food. It’s likely not because you sleep in the rain rather than the warmth of shelter at night. You probably have some clothes to cover your back – although they might not be Lululemon.

So why are we so stressed?

Because there are things in your life that you just can’t control. You don’t think you have the resources necessary to “re-establish homeostasis”.

You can’t always control how your boss will react to the project you turned in. You can’t control (nor could you predict) your tire going flat and having to spend $200 for a new one. You certainly can’t control getting in a wreck, or your kids getting sent to detention, or the crappy weather that ruined the outdoor event you had planned.

But, truth be told, those aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of things. They probably aren’t going to change your life. They’re just more like inconveniences that seem really terrible at the time. Compound these inconveniences with the fact that we love to imagine the worst possible scenario, and you have a perfect storm like this:

You won’t be able to make your credit card payment and thus your credit will get pinged which will lead to a terrible financing on your first house leaving you in debt and unable to pay for your kids to go to college thereby ruining their future.

Now, we all know that most credit card companies offer some sort of forgiveness as long as you aren’t a repeat offender. We all also know that chances are, one missed payment won’t kill your credit. Likewise, we would all testify that funding is only one of many factors that influence a kid’s ability to go to college. Nevertheless, we imagine the worst.

Being that many stressors leaving you awake at night are actually fake in the sense that they aren’t life or death, there are certain steps or measures you can take to control the situation and therefore calm yourself down.

Here’s your game plan for managing stress:

1. Is it necessary?

Are you placing fake importance on something that really isn’t that important after all?

Sit down and think to yourself “Is this really as important as I’m making it seem?”.

Many times, we place fake importance on items that really don’t matter.

Most things work themselves out in the end.

2. Gain Control.

Since most stressful events are due to lack of control, a great plan of action to calm yourself down is to gain control.

In the majority of scenarios, “control” is synonymous with “plan”. If you have a plan in place with actionable steps to accomplish the task or assignment at hand, life will be much easier.

3. Focus.

Similar to the above step of gaining control, focus on the smaller tasks at hand that lead up to the bigger task.

Scared you don’t have enough money to make a payment of some sort? Stop focusing on the payment. Instead, create actionable steps to help accomplish your task and put your effort and focus towards accomplishing those.

Spend time focusing on the solution rather than the problem.

Most stress – the everyday kind that leaves us wanting to pull our hair out and keeps us up at night – probably isn’t warranted. Just like I did as a kid with a Pokemon game that soon lost its luster, we put fake importance into items that really aren’t that important in the long run. 

Stop placing importance in items that don’t deserve it and focus your effort on things that really matter.

Photo credit: Flickr.com