Beware of Advice (Even Mine)

There isn’t a person out there right now who isn’t dying to give you their opinion. Some will charge you for it. Most will just give it to you for free. 

Your inbox is teeming with bits of advice, expertise—from your boss, your business partner, that guy you met at a networking event (who opted you into his list WITHOUT asking, thank you very much).

It’s not that we shouldn’t ask for, and pay for, the advice we need, when we need it. 

But. 

There are times when seeking or accepting advice is a good idea, and times when it’s a cop out, or worse, keeps you from learning what you most need to.  

Last week I shared with you a great scene from The Agony and The Ecstasy. Well, there’s lots of great scenes and the book is very long. I’m reading it slowly, and so now, you are too.  

This scene is what inspired this idea. Here it is: 

Michelangelo finds a piece of his beloved Carrera marble, and it’s flawless. He doesn’t just bring it home. He spends the night with it, so he can see it in the first light. It’s flawless. 

“You are a noble block,” he says. 

He rushes it back to the garden like a new bride (yes, this sounds creepy, but this is the analogy the author uses!). 

Bertoldo, his teacher, comes over to Michelangelo and asks why he’s out here working alone, and not in the casino with the others. 

“Because I would like to work in quiet,” he says. 

Bertoldo contests this idea; he should be with the others are working, so that he can advise him. 

“Bertoldo, I feel the need to be solitary, to work beyond all eyes; even yours.” 

“You will make mistakes that way,” Bertoldo warns. 

“Isn’t that the best way to learn? To carry one’s mistakes to their logical conclusion?”

“A word of advice can save you time,” says Bertoldo. 

“I have time,” he responds. 

Seconds later, his friend Torrigiani, comes by. 

Now, Torrigiani is very popular and super hot. Michelangelo used to dote on him, couldn’t get enough Torrigiani, but now that he’s living large in the Medici palace and is more obsessed with marble. 

And Torrigiani has noticed. “Oh you’re too good for me, now?” Torrigiani says (I’m paraphrasing). “Mr. Hot Shit Medici Palace, can’t even work near me anymore? WTF?!”  And then: “I can help you! What, you afraid I’ll steal your secrets?” He’s really spiralling.

“I want to make my mistakes by myself,” Michelangelo says. 

Michelangelo’s teacher and his good friend ostensibly have his best interests at heart. But. Realize what they are most triggered by: Not that he’ll make a mistake, but that he doesn’t need them. 

Working in solitude, on your own, and being open and willing to make mistakes is the only way to learn. 

Michelangelo had Bertoldo and a small cadre of the greatest Renaissance minds at his disposal. We have the internet. 

It’s very easy to rely on others’ advice, thinking that it will always save you time, is always smarter, and is always better than you taking the time to learn. 

What I love about Michelangelo is that he’s hungry for knowledge, yes—but he knows when to shut it down and focus. 

Every day of our lives starts as a flawless piece of Carrera marble. We really can carve it however we want. And we will mess things up. That’s a given. 

But the fact is, you don’t learn from doing something right. You learn from doing it wrong. 

You cannot and will not do your best work by committee. There is no substitute for solitary work. 

All the teachers and well-meaning friends in the world could not have made Michelangelo better at what he does. And not one of them can lay singular claim to his genius. Only he can. 

Thinking of Quitting?

I went on my first solo trip abroad end of June, and spent a week in Florence—in 15th century Florence…which of course explains why I had no cell service. 

OK fine. I had cell service. But. I feel like I time traveled, because I spent days immersed in the Renaissance. Oh, I was ALL UP in the Medici family’s business, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Brunelleschi. And of course, Michelangelo. I’m getting a little obsessed with him. 

While I was there I picked up a copy of Irving Stone’s famous novel about Michelangelo, The Agony & The Ecstasy

Here’s the scene that I wanted to share with you: 

Michelangelo is 14 years old and has been released from his painting apprenticeship and admitted to work in Lorenzo the Magnificent’s sculpture garden. He’s beside himself excited. 

One of his peers, a kid unfortunately named Soggi comes up to him one day and says: 

“Michelangelo, let’s you and I get out of here. All this stuff is so…so impractical. Let’s save ourselves while there is still time… They’re never going to give us any commissions or money. Who really needs sculpture in order to live?”

“I do,” Michelangelo responds. 

Soggi then lays out an argument that might have happened in the 1400s (or may not have—I am quoting from a novel, after all)…but it’s also happening today, in offices all over the world. Maybe even in yours. 

He says (I’m paraphrasing), Oh yeah? Where will we find work? What if Lorenzo dies? What if the garden closes? Who the heck needs a marble cutter? We can’t feed ourselves with that! 

It’d be much better to trade in pork or wine or pasta, things people need, he says.  This art business is for the birds. 

Michelangelo declines, of course. He says sculpture is not only at the top of his list, there is no list. That’s it. 

Soggi quits. And when the teacher, Bertoldo, hears about it the next day, he says of people like Soggi: 

“Their prompting is not love or affinity…but the exuberance of youth. As soon as this first flush begins to fade, they say to themselves, ‘Stop dreaming. Look for a reliable way of life.’” 

And then, this gem: 

“One should not become an artist because he can, but because he must.”

Maybe you don’t spend your day slaving over stone in a sculpture garden (who does?). 

But I’m guessing you’ve felt that tug, that fear that says, “What am I spending time on ‘x’ for, when it’s not practical? How can I make money doing this?” 

Sure, painters and sculptors ruled the day in Florence in the 1400s. But ask Seth Godin who the artists are today, and they’re not people who necessarily work in paint or marble. 

Modern-day artists, Seth says, create meaning in their work, whatever that work is. 

You don’t have to do that, of course. You can just ping emails back and forth and stay busy. 

But the real work, the thing that gives your work meaning, requires emotional labor—a lot of heavy lifting that you may not be getting paid specifically to do. 

Be wary of the temptation to do something else, something easier, just because it’s practical or seems like a sure thing.

Who knows what Soggi’s life turned out to be? Maybe he turned out to be one hell of a pork salesman. 

But one thing we can all agree on is that we don’t go to Florence to see what Soggi created.

Mel Robbins says if you can count, you can change

Watching Mel Robbins take the stage last week at the Energetic Women’s Conference in Indianapolis was like seeing a rock star on the final leg of her tour.

(She’ll be going off the road as she heads into production for her syndicated daytime talk show which airs this fall.)

You probably know of Mel from her TEDx talk (which she refers to as a “21 minute long panic attack”). Maybe you listened to her on the radio for years, have seen her bestselling book, The 5 Second Rule, and if you drove through Lincoln Tunnel last year, might have seen her leaping into the air on a billboard for Audible.

She strolled onto the stage in her sparkly sneakers, hot pink jacket, t-shirt, and famous black frame glasses. And she did not “give a talk.” I hate when people just “give a talk.”

She talked to us. Moved us. She was on fire, but very much in control, unapologetic, loose as a goose. You know this isn’t the first time she’s done this, yet it feels fresh and happening before your eyes.

To me, that is the high water mark for presence.

We first met when I was a magazine editor in Boston. She had a prominent feature in Boston magazine and my editor said, “Go meet this woman. See what she’s up to.” I was glad I did, and liked her instantly.

So I was thrilled when I saw that she was on the bill at the Energetic Women’s Conference in Indianapolis where I was also scheduled to speak.

Her opening line: “How long does it take to change your life?”

Not long, as it turns out. Or, not as long as you think. “We’re all one decision away from a better life.”

You think she’s going to tell you how to be more productive. But this is also about mental health. Mel suffered chronic and debilitating anxiety for years and years. She has struggled, like all of us, to get out of bed or make sense of her life.

Our problem, she says, is that we go on autopilot and don’t apply the courage required to make one new turn off the same old road—and we wonder why nothing changes.

The 5 Second Rule is simply this: Whenever you’re faced with a decision, a choice that determines whether you: stay in bed or get up, stay silent or raise your hand, take a risk rather than stay stuck, count down from 5 and then move into action.

It’s easier to do what you’ve always done. Easier to let someone else do it. Easier to be angry than afraid. Oh boy do I know that.

Like the 5-second rule, being unapologetic is a choice. And it’s one Mel Robbins takes, every time.

People describe her as “authentic.” We throw that term around a lot.

All it means is “of undisputed origin; genuine.” You are who you are, is what that means. And there are plenty of truly authentic assholes.

What I THINK we mean when we say authentic is a personality or attribute that’s likable, relatable real. And that’s Mel. To me, that’s what everyone wants their brand to be, but is it?

If you really want to be authentic, you have to be willing to walk your talk. If you don’t, how do you expect anyone else to?

Everyone left the room after Mel spoke feeling lighter and brighter, counting down from 5, ready for our lives to begin in earnest.

How are you spurring others to action?

How are you compelling—not advising, not informing—people to do or be or choose differently? Because if you’re not doing that, then why not?

Where can you break the script, take a new turn, and apply the courage it takes to stand out?

Your inner critic is a puppet master

Hey-o.

I recently spent two days at a Gateless writing retreat that was part garden party, part creative brainstorm, part coven. It was wickedly fun. 

I’m also trained in the Gateless Method, the goal of which is to slap a muzzle on the critical mind so that you can get dig deep down into the richest, loamiest soil where all the good stuff grows: Your best ideas, your best content, your best writing.

This method has been pivotal, not only for my own growth as a writer and creative, but in the many contexts in which I’ve used it—for speakers, creatives, even wealth managers. 

So early in the retreat, a very bright woman who’s new to the group, piped up early on (being the brave soul she is), to voice her own insecurity around the fact that she was feeling cowed by some of the excellent writing she was hearing.

Suzanne, Gateless creator and retreat leader, said that it’s normal for the critic’s mind to surface when you hear others read.

And that’s why the method works: When you can train your mind to focus on what’s powerful in someone else’s work, you will automatically up-level your own craft, as well as start to see the power in your work.

How often does the critical mind muzzle YOU? Probably a lot.

It can keep you from saying anything, flashing an uncomfortable light on your insecurities until they crawl away, back into the cracks of your consciousness, where they do far more damage.

It’s worth pointing out, today, any day really, that self criticism, insecurity, the comparing mind, does not go away when you’re “good” at something.

It doesn’t go away when you’ve won awards and accolades. Or how many times someone tells you you’re amazing.

Until you turn the light of your attention in another direction, it’s hard to alter that shadow across your thoughts, your work, your life.

The inner critic is a miserable muppet pulling reverse ventriloquism on you, making you say words that aren’t yours and aren’t true.

Trust me, I hated and loathed myself for many years, and didn’t even look for a job because I couldn’t imagine anyone was looking for me. I thought I’d do the world a favor and just stay out of its way.

The critical mind had a FIELD DAY with me. And for a long time, I let it.

I told this story recently to Cass McCrory, host of the “Real Women in Business” podcast, if you’d like to give it a listen.

In it, I talk about how I learned to raise my hand, how I landed my TEDx talk, and how Gateless changed my life (and Cass’s!).

>>Check out the interview I did with Cass on her podcast “Real Women in Business”

I’ve known Cass for years, and I adore her. Hard not to love her, as you’ll find out yourself.

And while I can’t give you the FULL Gateless experience in a blog post, I can come give you the Gateless experience at your company or organization or group.

And if you like the idea of coming on an exclusive Gateless retreat that I’m leading in the fall, let’s set up a time to talk about whether it’s a fit for you!

I’m running late…….. (In life.)

I’ve always been a late bloomer.

I was born late, in October, making me the runt of the class litter.

Last one to get my driver’s license. Last one to turn 21. Last one to have a boyfriend. Last one to hit a host of other teenage milestones that I won’t go into here.

I dragged my heels getting a real job, and temped miserably for a year before committing to an office gig. I didn’t start my career in earnest until I landed an editorial role at a magazine… at age 30.

I moved to New York City so late, that by the time I did, all my friends had left, headed to the suburbs with spouses and babies in tow. The party was over. (Well, not really. I just started hanging out with younger people.)

If I didn’t tell you that, you wouldn’t know it. You’d assume I had it all planned out perfectly. I did not.

It can be very misleading to look at someone’s life, career, LinkedIn profile, whatever, and assume their life just skipped along like a stone thrown expertly across the surface of a lake. It’s easy to assume the arcs were easy and seamless and right on time.

Nope. But, I will say this: Everything happens in its own, right time. In “divine time,” as some of my more spiritually inclined friends will say. I believe that, because looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I talked about all of this in a podcast I just did with Michele Lamoureux, creator and host of The Good Life Coach Podcast.

She’s a no-nonsense, straightforward woman and I did my best to make her laugh. I think it worked.

>>Listen to the Good Life Coach Podcast interview here!

(There’s also show notes and links to cool stuff too.)

In it, I talk about what a mess I was. I think it’s important that we all know what a mess we all were and are. I don’t find it inspiring to listen to people who think they have it all figured out.

But, I also talk about how to go about standing out (and why it’s so hard to do so).

Here’s how you don’t do it: Watching and mimicking everyone else–even the most successful ones. I admit that I really don’t pay all that much attention to other people and what all they’re up to. I think it can be an energy and confidence suck.

And I go into some of the tools I use for helping you think about and position what you do and want to do for other people. And it’s not “how to get all the business in the world” because trust me, you don’t want all of it. You don’t want most of it!

Ok. That’s enough from me for one week. Don’t you think?

Ciao.

-Terri

P.S. Here’s that link to the podcast again. You’ll like Michele.

What Happens When You Call Someone Out (And You Should)

When I was a graduate student at Emerson College, I got a teaching fellowship and found myself for the first time teaching writing comp to a roomful of freshmen.

And while I never met a captive audience I didn’t like, this group had its share of challenges—the most memorable being a very tall, very wise-ass kid named Ben who clearly just didn’t want to be there—in this class, in this school, in his own skin.

He asked questions like, “Why do we need to title our work?” and one day opened up a big book of sheet music right in front of me, casually flipping through it while I talked about essay structure.

I went to speak to my advisor about it, a badass woman who said what she thought without apology. She told me to ask him to step outside at the start of class. Oh god.

So that’s what I did.

I wrote a prompt on the whiteboard, gave the assignment to the class. And then:

“Ben, would you step outside with me a moment?”

I don’t care how tough or tall or irksome you are. You get called out of class by your teacher, and you’re going to shrink a few inches. Both of our hearts were pounding as I led us out of the room and closed the door behind us.

We sat down on a window ledge.

“Ben, what is going on.” And then I STOPPED TALKING, as instructed.

“What do you mean?” he said, shifting uncomfortably.

“You tell me,” I said. PAUSE. “Because it’s pretty clear you don’t want to be here.”

And just like that, the whole dynamic shifted, palpably.

His facade crumbled like King’s Landing under the blazing fire of unwanted attention.

He wasn’t happy, he said. He’d wanted to go to the Berklee School of Music, but he didn’t get in. And now he was here.

I told him that I understood how disappointing this might have been. And if he didn’t want to be here, then he had a decision to make.

I told him I didn’t care if he decided to stay or leave—in fact, if he wanted to leave, I would help him. But I was not interested in trying to win his affection for this course or this school or me. That’s not my job.

I gestured to the closed classroom door.

“What I am obligated to do is make sure that everyone in there gets the best possible experience here. And you’re making it hard for me to do that. And so this won’t work.”

I never had a problem with him again.

If I had to guess, this was a kid who’d had people (cough cough, his parents, cough cough) trying to win him over to do what they wanted, and had made it his go-to response to be resistant in ways that helped no one, including him.

And I was not his mama.

I was barely 28 at the time, and I learned a powerful lesson then about what it means to keep your commitments—and what your job really is.

Because there isn’t a classroom or an office or a meeting or a PTA that doesn’t have a Ben in it—someone who doesn’t really want to be there and makes it unduly hard on everyone else.

And if you ask me, far too many of us choreograph days and decisions around that person, navigate them as if they’re an old tree rooted into the ground, just part of the landscape, part of life, and part of our job to endure the people who least want to be there.

Look, I don’t love confrontation, either. And while I get it, some people ARE old trees planted into your life in ways that are hard to navigate (family being a prime example), there are lots of ways to deal with people who are NOT permanent fixtures.

That lesson stays with me to this day, as a grown-up running her own business. Because I know that it is not my job to “make” people fall in love with what I want them to do. I don’t actually care what they do. That’s not indifference; that’s the job.

Trying to bend others to my will or agenda is a losing battle. And it doesn’t serve them or me.

I offer what I can do, and if they want that, we do it. I don’t make empty promises and I don’t waste time convincing you to like it or me. If this isn’t for you, you are free to leave, or take what I create for you and take every last of its teeth out with a plier. I will sleep regardless.

This is not about giving zero F’s, etc—this is about being open, but unattached to outcome. This is about being process-, not ego-led. And it has helped me tremendously.

My uncle, the late Rev. Robert Barone, was also a professor, at the University of Scranton and stood in front of rooms full of freshmen for decades. I told him about Ben at the time, and here’s what he said to me:

“You’re only ever really talking to one, maybe two, people in the room. Everyone else is along for the ride.”

Make sure you’re giving the best of yourself to the right people.

Do You Really Want It, Or You Just Saying That?

I spoke at a big design conference called How Design Live earlier this month for creative professionals (marketers, designers, writers) hungry for fresh ideas—and got to watch one of my heroes take the stage.

Liz Gilbert. As in, Eat Pray Love Liz Gilbert.

She has a stunningly simple stage presence. She stood there and barely moved, and neither did we. The entire time.

One of the stories she told was about when she was in her 20s and obsessed with an artist who lived in her neighborhood, a woman about twice her age who lived off and for her art alone. What a life! Liz thought. How do I get that life?

Liz was hitting a wall with her own writing, working three jobs, making zero money, not getting published, and wondered, as all of us have, how she would ever do anything that mattered or, at the very least, paid enough to live on.

One day Liz cornered this artist at a block party. She knew Liz was a writer, asked her how the work was going. She complained that it was hard, that she had no time to create, and thought if only she could have more time, she could actually do what she wants most to do.

Then the artist asked her a simple question that she never, ever forgot:

“Liz, what are you willing to give up to have the life you keep pretending you want?”

Ouch.

She never forgot that. The word “pretending,” Gilbert recalls, was particularly wounding. Do we really want what we say we do? Or do we prefer to complain about all the things that keep us from having it?

The artist asked her what writers she liked, what she was reading, what TV shows she watched, what she did on the weekends. She told her. “How nice that you have time to do all that,” she said.

Point taken.

Liz wasn’t actually putting the kind of focus into her work that she needed to, and she also had more time than she realized. We all do. (Just ask Laura Vanderkam, who’s basically an expert on time and how we have more than we think.)

Liz jokes that she asked people on Facebook what kept them from creating the work they want to, and the answer people gave? Not enough time.

I’ll repeat, she asked this ON FACEBOOK.

Social media is one force that’s siphoning off our energy and focus. But it’s not the only one. The critical mind is another (I can’t do it, I’m not as good, I shouldn’t bother). In the end, we are accountable for how we spend our time.

I’m not saying you’re not busy, or that you don’t have obligations.

I am saying that we all love to yearn.

…For better conditions. For more resources. For another parallel universe in which we know for SURE that our work, our careers, our lives, would flourish.  

In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp says, “Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources.”

Should you say no to things you’re lukewarm on? Yes. Must you also say no to things you actually like and enjoy? Yes.

BUT you’ve also gotta ask: Do I really actually want that? Or am I pretending I do? If you’ve been saying it for years and yet haven’t made a single move in that direction, let it go! Who cares! Don’t overidentify with things you think you should do. It’s not who you really are.

Your life will take shape around what you prioritize. What is the absolute most important, valuable thing for you to do today? This week? OK, and when will you do it?

That’s the question.

Don’t do it all. Do what matters.

I So Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything.

How are you? Feeling inspired, fired up, and ready to do stuff?

Me neither.

It doesn’t mean I won’t do anything.

It doesn’t even mean I won’t like doing it when I get moving.

But inspired to do things, before I do them? Please. If I waited to be inspired to do things, nothing would ever get done.

I say this because I have been asked twice in the past two weeks “what inspires me,” and I realize this sounds like a good question to ask, but I never have a good answer. Ever.  

It’s just one of those questions. The kind people ask when they want to sound thoughtful and deep, and then it makes us feel we need to be thoughtful and deep in response.

In other words, it practically begs you to lie. And I think the truth is usually far more interesting.

So when a perfectly nice person asked me at the bar after a speaking event recently, “What inspires you?” I said, I have a disappointing answer.

The inspiration problem assumes a specific order, and it looks like this:

  • A lightbulb goes on in your head–for a story, a business idea, a new way of organizing your dresser drawers.  
  • The inspiration is so profound that you succumb to its positive spell and you fly on fairy wings with little effort and do what needs to be done. Ah! Thanks inspiration!

If that’s how you roll, amazing. Do it.

Ok now how about the rest of us?

I have spent a lot of time the past few years working with financial professionals. And I have really enjoyed it. It’s given me the chance to work with people I really like, and create some fantastic brand work together.

But am I “inspired” to work with this particular group or industry? No.

I do it because there’s a need there—one I can fill, and when we START DOING the work? That’s when it gets fun! I get energized by doing; I don’t need to be energized to start doing.  

In short, I don’t think we need inspiration to act.  

You know who agrees with me? Mel Robbins, author of the runaway bestseller, The 5 Second Rule—which, in a nutshell, is this: When you have the instinct to do something, especially something you want to do or have done, you have five seconds to count down (5-4-3-2-1) and then you MOVE—into action.

No thinking, consideration or debate.

You just act.

Thinking and deliberating and analyzing, not your friend. And it rarely works in your favor. Because I’m pretty great at coming up with reasons not to do a thing. We all are!

I wasn’t inspired to write this email even. I just thought, I want to write to you more, and so I just did it.

Inspiration is like a flame, it catches after you strike the match. You don’t wait for fire to appear. Matches don’t work that way. Striking is a decision.

It’s only when you’ve started the work that the heat kicks up and the fire, a form of energy starts devouring the air you’ve provided it.

Your job is not to be inspired by fire, but to feed the flame.

Ok, firestarters. Have at it.

Can You See the Future? I Can’t. I’m Near-Sighted. Or, Notes from HOW Design Live

I get annoyed easily and often, seizing on the most benign things with a kind of righteous anger.

Like when people say, “hot enough for ya?” and “The thing is, is that” (WHY do we say “is” twice. WHYYYYY. Who started this? I want to bludgeon them.)

Also, I get annoyed at profiles on dating apps, an alternate universe where LITERALLY EVERYONE lists “hiking” as one of their very most favorite things to do. Please, “Doug45.” You live in Manhattan. The only hiking you’re doing is up the long broken escalator from the Q train which starts at the core of the earth.

But another thing people say that drives me up a wall is, “Well, I can’t predict the future, so…”

…and they use that as their legit “out” for why they can’t commit to things—or make a decision. They can’t say for sure if they’ll come to your party or be able to go that show or know if a relationship will work out.

“Oh, you can’t see the future, Bob? Oh that’s too bad. Because I totally can and my spidey sense says you might want to come to a complete stop at the corner of Elm today.

My point is this: NO ONE can see the future. But it’s the one thing we’re all trained on, worried about, losing sleep over. Because we don’t, won’t, and never can know what will happen.

Not with your portfolio. Not with your favorite team. Not with your relationship. Your favorite hair salon could close without notice (true story).

The reason I’m thinking about this is because I just presented a talk on this topic at How Design Live, one of the biggest design conferences in the country for creative professionals. And I spoke alongside a roster of industry leaders in the creative and design space (Debbie Millman, Beth Comstock), as well as heavy hitters like Elizabeth Gilbert.

This year’s conference theme was “Future Proof.” It raised the question: Is anything you’re doing right now future proof?

Will what you’re doing now last? Will it be here five, 10, 50 years from now? How would you know? How would anyone?

This isn’t just a critical question for creative marketers and designers, but for all of us.

I debuted a brand NEW talk called “Discover, Capture, and Communicate Your Best Ideas.” My thesis here was that there IS no one product, design, or asset that we’d expect to last forever. Things get outdated and updated all the time.

The thing that must be future proof is YOU.

YOU have to be sure that you’re not overly attached to any single idea, that you’re not rigid, nor aimless, and that you can flex and flow and adapt in order to stay at the top of your game.

That’s what makes you sustainable. That’s what makes you future proof.

I also gave attendees a taste of the Gateless Method, which I’ve studied and been trained in (created by Suzanne Kingsbury), which enables you and your team to generate new ideas and fresh perspectives on your work, without putting your creativity in a chokehold.

I’ve used Gateless with writers and speakers…but ALSO to great effect with financial professionals, too.

And I couldn’t have predicted it, but damn, it was a lot of fun.

Want to learn more about it? Let’s talk!

 

Image by @catiswhy.