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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 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.

If the idea of writing and creating in a group of likeminded, supportive folks sounds like fun, consider joining us for the Six Week Sprint.We have a few spots left!