The Zen Buddhists talk about beginner’s mind. Maybe you’ve heard it as ‘child mind.’ It sounds enlightened, to come at this with a clean slate, to adopt a beginner’s mindset in order to gain new insight. Cool.  

But what about being … an amateur? 

Oh god, we hate that. Please! We’re professionals! We’ve been doing this a long time. Who exactly are you calling an amateur? How dare you. (I’d argue that Imposter Syndrome is simply that: The fear that someone else will think you’re an amateur.)

And yet. 

In his book “Show Your Work,” Austin Kleon says we should all be amateurs.

Why? Because an amateur does a thing for love, not because she is paid to do it. And because the love of it is first, the amateur isn’t afraid of taking risks and making mistakes.

You’ve probably also heard someone (who was it again?) say that if you’re the smartest one in the room, time to find another room. 

For all our talk about being “vulnerable,” we actually are loathe to let go of our professional status. We use it as a shield. But you know who’s real vulnerable? The amateur. 

The amateur acts without knowing exactly what to expect or how it will turn out. She lets go of outcome or expectation. She may do something dumb. Who cares. She is alive with the potential and excitement of it, rather than dulled by the expectation of a certain level of “excellence” (eye roll). 

“That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.”  — Charlie Chaplin 

When was the last time YOU felt like an amateur—and what was it like? When did you last feel really alive and at risk as you tried to figure a thing out? Most of us feel a little like that all the time. And that sounds ok to me. 

I’d rather be an amateur who does a lot of things that I love than a professional who only does one thing because I get paid to do it. 

The minute I stop trying to figure things out, I think I’m just done. 

Last Friday I hosted a Pop Up Salon (I told you about it) in my home with 12 brilliant people. They were pros from everywhere: health care, data, law, business, leadership, marketing, visual arts. 

They didn’t come because they all have book deals. They came because they felt the pull of the page.

They didn’t know quite what would happen in that room, but they knew better than to ignore their creative impulse, because they know that’s where the next exciting thing is starting to sprout roots and leaves. And they’re right. 

Oh trust me, everyone was a little nervous. They knew they were going to be writing and sharing what they wrote. They told me in advance they “weren’t really writers” or that they’d be the “only non-writer in the room.” Or, they simply hadn’t written in years.

Once that fear was dispelled (and we dispel it quickly there so we can get to the business of writing), my god, what emerged was fantastic.

They surprised themselves with their own complex and rich ideas, they way moments in their own stories threw light around really big issues like power, challenged their own ideas about them. 

And it’s not like they all left feeling “cured” of their amateur feelings and fears. 

Instead, they were inspired and excited about the newness of it all, how free they felt now, instead of bound by old, ill-fitting suits they thought they had to wear. They walked out feeling seen, heard, with a new, insatiable appetite for all the things they absolutely must do. 

Imagine if every day felt like that.

…Now, if you’re reading this in April 2020, we’re not getting together in living rooms.

But I can show up for you, every day for 30 days, and be your guide and companion while you write.

I’m talking about 30 Days on the Page.

This 30-day audio program will help you break new ground on your new ideas, and gain momentum in developing, fleshing them out, and making them real and ready to share with the people you most want to reach.

All you have to do is open the email, click play, and write for 20 minutes. I’m with you the whole time.

Seriously, check it out. The sense of accomplishment you get from spending time on the stuff that matters to you is like nothing else.

And it’s $1/day! So don’t wait.

After I got laid off, I decided not to get another job. I just…didn’t want one. Simple as that. I decided to work on my own, from my couch. As a natural introvert, I was in heaven. 

And yet—it became clear I had to get out of the house. So I signed up for an improv acting class, which I’d always been meaning to do. 

You know how it works: You’re thrown into a scene with a partner with little more than a suggestion (“banana,” “circus,” “houseplant”) and…go! 

You don’t strategize. You simply start peeling an imaginary banana. You make it up as you go. It’s one part terrifying, one part mortifying, but five parts fun, so the ratio works.

Another thing you don’t do in improv class? Introduce yourself, spout your resume, talk about your big goals or your background. So, in the spirit of improv, you don’t have a lot to go on. 

We bonded fast in that room. Why? Because we were busy making something, instead of comparing ourselves. It’s been eight years since that first class—I took them for two more years with that same group—and I count them among my closest friends. 

I’ve long known that my friendships are no extra curricular activity; they are a critical part of who I am as a person, and how connected I feel to the world. 

And while research on relationships has long focused on family and romantic partnerships, scientists are starting to look at friendship a lot differently. 

A new book about the science of friendship reveals that friends aren’t just a “nice to have,” but play a critical biological role, too.

Science journalist Lydia Denworth, a woman I’ve gotten to know and work with over the past few years, has just released a breakthrough book that will change the way we see friendship. 

In Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, she investigates the biological and evolutionary foundations to friendship, diving into the literature and her own life in an accessible way, and it’s fascinating. 

Lydia, in fact, was one of the people who participated in The Intensive last fall, a three-day writing retreat I run designed to tap your creative genius. Just like in improv, we don’t announce our resumes; we dive in and start making and sharing right away—which goes a long way to turning strangers into friends very quickly. 

Lydia, by her own admission, had doubts when she first walked into that room full of strangers. But she left with 9 people she now counts as friends. And I count her as one of mine, too.

In fact, one of the people at The Intensive is hosting a book launch party for Lydia next week! And of course, we will all be there. 

…As for improv? I never had designs on “being” an improv actor. But I learned a TON from doing it, and still use it.

What improv teaches you in approaching a stage, I have found useful in approaching the page. You need less in the way of plans, and more in the way of trust—which, as a matter of fact, is true for friendships, too.

You’d be surprised at what can happen when you follow your creative impulse. 

Where is that impulse taking you today? 

 

P.S. Hey, curious about how I teach writing? Check out 30 Days on the Page. It’s 30 days of guided prompts (seriously, you just show up and write, like spa for your brain) with me. And it’s just $1/day. Don’t wait!

When 20 of the nation’s top advisors walked into the room that morning, they probably thought we were about to debate the merits of logos and taglines.

Nope.

I told them to take out a pen, and I gave them a prompt:

Write about a time when you realized that what you’d always thought was true, wasn’t.

Then I said: “You have 10 minutes. Start writing.”

(I’m leaving out the part where I lay down a set of rules designed to make it a safe space—no room for criticism or judgment—and how to approach writing to the prompt. But I digress.)

“Ok. Time’s up. Who’s first?”

One by one, they started reading their work. The room went still as stone. They could have written about ANYTHING at all. They could have phoned it in.

But they didn’t.

They wrote about unemployed fathers and unhappy stepmothers. The time they couldn’t afford a baseball glove.

They shared near misses and devastating losses; the moment they realized that despite it all, their father was a good man.

At the end of it, we sat there, stunned.

Attendees approached me afterward—in the ladies room, in the hallway, later, on the plane buckled into seat 12B— “What WAS that?” “That was amazing.” “How did that happen?”

It wasn’t magic.

All they needed was to be given the space (sturdy, safe, shared) and prompted to fill it in a way that mattered to them.

What they walked away with were powerful insights into their work—and ideas for communicating it to the people they want to serve (including their team).

The process I use—informed by a specific set of rules—changes the way people think and talk about what they do.

When you give people the space to share their stories in a positive, nonjudgmental light, it shifts the dynamic of the group and helps everyone feel connected to the story of your brand.

And without story, there is no brand.

These advisors didn’t even know what they were in for! Imagine what it could do for you.

If you haven’t yet, grab a copy of my free guide, “5 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Genius” and discover how to tap your stories, ideas, and work on the page.

Like you, I’ve made some sacrifices to the New Year gods—more vegetables, a month without booze.

But one of the most important resolutions I’ve made for 2020 this:

To stop selling shit on Craigslist.

Why? Why’s that so bad? It’s not bad, inherently.

Longtime users of this stripped down, early-aughts online garage sale love that you can sell and swap goods for cheap. I know I did.

I’ve conducted hundreds of exchanges on it over the years. I sold earrings. Kitchen appliances. An iPod. An iPad. Not one but two Subarus (my mom’s and mine).

Once I sold a set of plastic drawers to a handsome devil. We went on two dates. I was sold, but he, unfortunately, was not.

Another time, I sold some fake plants to a lumpy guy who—not kidding—sniffed every one of them before handing me a fan of damp cash.

I got a thrill out of selling stuff online. It seemed like free money. And for most of those years, I wasn’t making much, so every bit helped.

But it isn’t free money; it’s a job; it requires marketing, sales, delivery, contending with fickle buyers and no-shows. You’ll always find something for less than you’d expect—and you’ll sell it for less, too.

Here’s what sealed the deal for me and made me rethink this practice:

Just last week, I spent nearly 2 hours of my life coordinating the sale of a nightstand I’d inherited from a friend, and sold for $15.

“You got $15 bucks for that?” my friend said later. “You realize I found that on the street, right?”

What am I even doing?

Unless you’re a supplier running a whole Craigslist business (and plenty do), it’s hard to make your investment of time pay off for the occasional sale.

The instinct to sell is obvious: You have something of value. The thrill of a sale is obvious: Someone else recognizes the value.

But of course, this isn’t just about Craigslist.

Though I do find it troubling that I rearranged my day around coordinating a single, one-off sale for a stranger whom I’ll never ever see again, and for whom my entire value exists solely in a piece of third-hand yard sale furniture.

What I really need to ask myself—maybe what we all do—is: What is our time worth? What investment of attention yields the highest, most impactful value?

I think about my own business, and how my best efforts to grow it have rarely been the low stakes cash grab.

The best investments have been: Crafting worthwhile content; connecting great people; building and serving the right tribe; creating offers that make sense for me and the people I extend them to. Reading. Writing. Sleeping.

If there’s one thing we all do in 2020 that we’ll never regret, it’s getting clearer, and stricter, about what we’re spending our time on.

Because your time is precious. And the high water mark of your work this year will be when you created something of value, not when you wrung it from whatever saleable merch you have lying around.

Your work can and should take you further than a nightstand jammed into the back of a Brooklyn-bound uber. That I can promise you.

​I just watched the new animated Netflix movie Klaus with some friends the other night, and if it’s not in your holiday movie queue, it should be.

Not just because it’s cute and well done. But because there’s a hidden and profound message for those of us in a line of work we never imagined we’d be in.

Klaus is a clever reimagining of the origins of holiday gift giving, which begins with…a postman. 

Actually, he’s a spoiled rich kid name Jesper who’s packed off to post office school by his well-to-do father, and then sent on assignment to create a postal service in Smeerensburg, a miserable, hateful little hamlet north of nowhere. 

It’s a seemingly impossible task because its inhabitants don’t send letters; they hurl garbage at each other’s homes and generally busy themselves with petty, ignorant nonsense. 

Even the town teacher has given up teaching and turned her classroom into a fish market.

Our reluctant hero does not have a passion for letters or mail delivery. He hates this job.

But then, he spies an opportunity. 

He gets the reclusive woodsman who lives outside of town to donate his garage full of handmade toys sitting there collecting dust—and says he’ll deliver the toys for free to every child who requests one by letter.

The woodsman—named Klaus—complies, as long as he can come along, too. And off they go, in a sleigh heaped with toys, dragged along by reindeer. Sound familiar? 

Why Christmas? Jesper chooses it because it’s convenient, a built-in occasion for boosting engagement around his campaign. 

(Also sounds familiar.)

While the more religiously inclined among us may not like this one bit, fact is, Klaus is in many ways more aligned with our modern cultural take on the holiday: An opportunity to engage customers (and move merch). Which Jesper and Klaus do to great effect. 

The moral of the tale is that one kind act leads to another. 

But there’s another lesson here that I like a lot, too: 

That even if we didn’t choose or don’t even like the job at hand, we can find in it opportunity for change and growth—and life-altering fulfillment.

It reminds me of what Seth Godin says: “You are not your resume; you are your work.”

We all know what it is to have to do a job we don’t want. And like Jesper, every last one of us is looking to improve our standing in the world. There’s nothing wrong with seeking opportunities where you find them.

But the real reward comes when we can engage deeply in the work, any work, and discover where our own unique skill set meets a need and fills it.

We are the work we do. And when we give to that work, it can give back tenfold. It can change you for the better. Maybe change your whole life.

Of course, Jesper changes his mind about his career, and even about the town, because by the end both are changed.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but you can probably guess it’s close to…happily ever after. 🙂

…P.S. If you think everyone has some kind of clear, obvious career path, think again. I was interviewed this week on the 4 Chicks Chatting podcast (great group of ladies), and I talk about just how lost I was, for a long time.

After years of working on a book, I’m finally shopping around a proposal.

And while I’m only a few weeks into this first leg of the publishing journey, I can tell you already it is not for the faint of heart.

Of course, I went into this expecting an even blend of rejection and radio silence; you’d be crazy not to. Plus, I can’t think of a single successful writer who can’t paper the walls with “no thank yous.” That’s not the problem; it’s part of the game.

Now, as you know, when pursuing a traditional publishing route, you send your proposal to an agent who decides whether it’s something she a) likes and b) can sell it to a publisher. That’s the job.

But what I’ve been hearing from very thoughtful, bright, and responsive agents isn’t just “no thanks.” What they’re telling me, is that, well, the marketplace for this kind of book (a non-fiction collection of essays), is competitive.

They tell me that what I’m trying to do is…hard.

They say writing is hard. Publishing is hard. That particular genre I want to write in? Is hard.

Of course, I know this. It also doesn’t change my mind one iota. Why? Because this isn’t helpful advice.

It’s one thing to pass on a project, to reject a person or opportunity. That’s life.

But telling someone that xyz is “hard,” is insidious: It disempowers the other person by passing the buck and blaming the world/market/industry. (“It’s not me! It’s just, the world is hard.”)

There’s also no good response. When someone tells me that what I want to write is going to be “hard,” what am I supposed to say? “Oh! Ok. Then I guess instead I’ll pitch my other book on the mating habits of the helmeted water toad.” (Which I do not have.)

Fact is, everything worth doing is hard. Building a business is hard. Ending a relationship is hard. Raising kids is hard. Getting out of bed is pretty damn hard.

Here we are, in the most joyful, fun, festive season of the year. And yet, I think we can agree, that Christmas is really, really goddamn hard.

If you listened to people every time they told you things were hard, you wouldn’t be anywhere. And neither would I.

Also because no one would have invented a damn thing and we’d all be in our homes without electricity or internet or washable fabrics.

When you look back over your life, the things that were hard to do were also worth it. And you did them for a reason.

What we have to be careful of, myself included, is falling into the trap of telling ourselves that things are hard, even too hard, and use that as a reason not to do them.

For my part, you can assume I’ll continue working on what I’m working on, regardless of how hard someone else thinks it is.

Because calling something hard is actually really easy. It’s doing the work that requires worthwhile effort.

Let’s stop talking about how things are hard, and instead, talk about why they’re worth it.

Have you seen Hadestown?

The award winning Broadway show is a brilliant, modern retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. (And yes, it will blow you away.)

Here’s the quick and dirty:

  • Orpheus and Eurydice fall in love.
  • Orpheus has been working on his masterpiece, an epic song that will change the world. He gets so wrapped up in his song he forgets Eurydice for a while, who grows very hungry.
  • Hades, king of the underworld, finds her in a desperate state, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse. She’s poor and hungry and without hope, as Orpheus kinda ghosted.
  • Orpheus goes to find her, and learns she’s gone the underworld. He vows to get her back.

Of course, it’s not that easy. The king doesn’t let his property go just like that. But when Orpheus sings his epic song, he is moved.

So:

  • Hades puts forth a challenge to Orpheus (as the myth goes): He can leave and take Eurydice with him, but he must walk ahead of her and never turn around to check if she’s there. If he does, she will be banished to Hades forever.
  • Orpheus accepts the challenge, and with every step of that long, arduous journey, becomes racked with self-doubt.

After all, why should the king let him go? Why should he be able to get what he wants? He doesn’t deserve it. Maybe it’s a trick. The king is surely going to win. He thinks he has no choice. But he does.

We know how this ends. How it always, always ends:

He’s almost home. The light is just cresting the hillside. At that last moment, just as he’s almost home—

…He turns around.

His love has been there the whole time. At this moment in the show, she covers her face and sinks to her knees as the floor drops away, drawing her back down to the underworld, forever.

It’s a sad song, Hermes says, but we must sing it. Again and again. Each time we hope it’ll be different, but it isn’t.

Orpheus’s story is your story. My story. We go through this over and over again. Sometimes doubt seizes us and won’t let go.

We are all trying to do work that matters, work we care about—our epic song, as it were. We believe that if we could do that, if we could just get that song done, it could change everything. And it can! But if we can’t shake that doubt, we’re stuck in a vicious cycle.

The question is: HOW do you know you’re creating great stuff? Don’t rely on the critic to tell you that. It won’t.

We can’t banish the critic forever, but we can become better skilled at seeing the brilliance in our own work.

When you practice seeing what’s working, you can weaken the grip of the belief that every effort you making is going straight to hell in a handbasket.

Come experience it first hand. With me.

Join me for 30 Days on the Page, my audio program where you will get out of your own way—and feel your own work expanding, instead of feeling constricted by fear and self-criticism. 

Check it out here. It’s just $1/day. Seriously, don’t wait.

When’s the last time someone pointed out what you were doing right? Not just “good job.” I mean, specifically and in detail something you did really, really well.

Ok. And when’s the last time someone pointed out an error you made, or a change you might consider, or ways to improve what you’ve done? Probably 30 seconds ago.

I believe that most feedback comes from good intention. They think they’re helping when they point out what’s wrong, because that way you can be better.

The problem, as Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall wrote in their HBR cover story this spring, “The Feedback Fallacy,” is that traditional feedback is flawed. Deeply. And it doesn’t do what you think it will do.

“People don’t need feedback,” the authors write. “They need attention to what they do best.”

You wouldn’t believe the pushback I hear on this. People LOVE their criticism. We so want to believe we’re right about what needs fixing. And maybe we are!

Part of the problem is we dive into criticism too soon—right at the tender moment when we’re risking new ideas, new efforts. And criticism can seriously tamp down your creativity.

But part of it is just that we assume that what’s working is so obvious we don’t need to pay attention to it.

That’s incorrect. Because often we DON’T know what we’re doing right. We’re all so focused on not messing up! We’re out there tiptoeing around landmines, which ties up a lot of our bandwidth, making it hard to do, well, much of anything else.

How helpful is positive feedback? Maybe at least just as helpful as negative? Maybe two times, five times as effective? Try again.

“Positive attention is 30x more powerful than negative attention in creating high performance on a team,” say Buckingham and Goodall.

Think this is some special snowflake stuff? Some kind of everyone-gets-a-trophy tactic that panders to weakness and a need for acceptance?

Wrong again.

I’ve seen what happens when you take a group of smart, successful professionals of all stripes who’ve spent a lifetime avoiding criticism, and put them in a room with new groundrules and expectations, and no fear of criticism. .

What they create blows me away, every time.

I was so excited about the HBR article because it confirms what I have seen and learned as a Gateless trained facilitator. Gateless is a methodology, an approach to creative work (read: any work), designed to quiet the critic so that you can tap your own potential—for creativity, big ideas, all of it.

We write to a prompt and share that work out loud—and what you hear back from the group is what is specifically working and why. It retrains the mind to see what’s working in others’ work, so you can see it in your own. It challenges habitual ways of thinking, and can catapult your work forward.

What does Gateless feedback sound like? Take a listen.

My fellow Gateless teacher Becky Karush has a podcast that’s based on the Gateless method. It’s called Read to Me: The Podcast to Listen for What We Love, and each week she takes a piece of work, ranging from song lyrics to classic works to modern authors, and shares a short passage, and then does a Gateless “read” on it.

This episode features a very fun mashup of Taylor Swift and our colleague Cass McCrory, a digital marketing strategist who shared something quite personal from her own life.

The reason I point it out to you now is because Cass wrote it in about 15 minutes in my Pop Up Story Salon in NYC in August. She wrote it, read it, and we all fell in love. You will too (listen to that episode here).

It just goes to how what can happen when you give yourself TIME to write and ATTENTION to what you do best.

Try it today. Go around and point out specifically what people are doing well. All day. All week if you like. Then, see what happens.

(…If this sounds like fun, btw, I’m running another Pop Up Salon in NYC WED 12/4/19. Learn more about it + hold your spot here. )

 

When’s the last time someone pointed out what you were doing right? Not just “good job.” I mean, specifically and in detail something you did really, really well.

Ok. And when’s the last time someone pointed out an error you made, or a change you might consider, or ways to improve what you’ve done? Probably 30 seconds ago.

I believe that most feedback comes from good intention. They think they’re helping when they point out what’s wrong, because that way you can be better.

The problem, as Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall wrote in their HBR cover story this spring, “The Feedback Fallacy,” is that traditional feedback is flawed. Deeply. And it doesn’t do what you think it will do.

“People don’t need feedback,” the authors write. “They need attention to what they do best.”

You wouldn’t believe the pushback I hear on this. People LOVE their criticism. We so want to believe we’re right about what needs fixing. And maybe we are!

Part of the problem is we dive into criticism too soon—right at the tender moment when we’re risking new ideas, new efforts. And criticism can seriously tamp down your creativity.

But part of it is just that we assume that what’s working is so obvious we don’t need to pay attention to it.

That’s incorrect. Because often we DON’T know what we’re doing right. We’re all so focused on not messing up! We’re out there tiptoeing around landmines, which ties up a lot of our bandwidth, making it hard to do, well, much of anything else.

How helpful is positive feedback? Maybe at least just as helpful as negative? Maybe two times, five times as effective? Try again.

“Positive attention is 30x more powerful than negative attention in creating high performance on a team,” say Buckingham and Goodall.

Think this is some special snowflake stuff? Some kind of everyone-gets-a-trophy tactic that panders to weakness and a need for acceptance?

Wrong again.

I’ve seen what happens when you take a group of smart, successful professionals of all stripes who’ve spent a lifetime avoiding criticism, and put them in a room with new ground rules and expectations, and no fear of criticism. .

What they create blows me away, every time.

I was so excited about the HBR article because it confirms what I have seen and learned as a Gateless trained facilitator. Gateless is a methodology, an approach to creative work (read: any work), designed to quiet the critic so that you can tap your own potential—for creativity, big ideas, all of it.

We write to a prompt and share that work out loud—and what you hear back from the group is what is specifically working and why. It retrains the mind to see what’s working in others’ work, so you can see it in your own. It challenges habitual ways of thinking, and can catapult your work forward.

Want to know what it sounds like?

My fellow Gateless teacher Becky Karush has a podcast that’s based on the Gateless method. It’s called Read to Me: The Podcast to Listen for What We Love, and each week she takes a piece of work, ranging from song lyrics to classic works to modern authors, and shares a short passage, and then does a Gateless “read” on it.

This week features a very fun mashup of Taylor Swift and our colleague Cass McCrory, a digital marketing strategist who shared something quite personal from her own life.

The reason I point it out to you now is because Cass wrote it in about 15 minutes in my Pop Up Story Salon in NYC in August. She wrote it, read it, and we all fell in love. You will too (listen to that episode here).

It just goes to how what can happen when you give yourself TIME to write and ATTENTION to what you do best.

Try it today. Go around and point out specifically what people are doing well. All day. All week if you like. Then, see what happens.

P.S. Want a taste of Gateless Writing? Come to 30 Days on the Page. Every day I send you an email with an audio link. Click it, listen to the prompt, and write. You don’t have to worry about a thing. I even tell you when to stop! Seriously–it could be just the spark you need. And it’s just $1/day.