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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 my one-day, standalone Pop Up Story Salon, where you will learn the Gateless method—and see what it’s like to trust your own work for a change.

I have two upcoming dates for this in-person work at the Pop Up Story Salon, and would love to have you join me:

POP UP STORY SALON DATES:

⇒ Wed 12/4, 9-5p in NYC

⇒ Thu 12/12, 9-5p in Chicago

(Learn more on the Pop Up Salon and how to snag a seat.)

I know this is a bananas time of year—even more reason to give yourself a LITTLE bit of space and quiet to focus before we plunge headlong into the holidays again.

When’s the last time someone listened to you. I mean, really listened.

Like, you could tell they were right there with you.

It’s rare, to have someone’s attention like that.

Even right now, I only have a share of your attention. And I’m holding on to it for dear life. 

Why? Because someone’s talking over your shoulder, your texts are going off like crazy, and you’re debating whether you should go get a coffee or not (I vote yes. YES TO COFFEE.)

I bring it up, about people listening, this because lately I’ve been doing a lot of speaking and speaking ABOUT speaking (solo presenter and moderator trainings), and to me it always comes down to this:

Attention is the MOST expensive resource we have. And if you want someone to pay you with it, you better earn it. 

When you get on stage (or on screen, or at the front of the room) your job is to give people a reason why they should KEEP PAYING YOU with their attention.

Ask yourself, why should someone listen to me, and what am I doing to earn that attention? 

It’s one of the things I’m thinking about as I prepare to speak to the women execs and emerging leaders at Hearst this week (which I’m very excited about).

And if your answer to that question is, “Because I have important information to share,”—well, I think you can do even better.

Going in with info is the low bar.

I say aim higher: Go in not just to give information, but to change their minds. 

Yes. EVEN if they didn’t know there was anything to change their minds about.

For instance, I give a keynote based on my TEDx talk, “Stop searching for your passion.” The assumption I’m working with here is that people DO think that if they followed their passions, they’d be happier, and then they worry that they haven’t picked the right passion or missed it altogether.

I start there, and overturn the idea, showing them how flawed it is, and why it’s profoundly unhelpful.

Anytime you get up to say your piece, a host of invisible obstacles, assumptions, anxiety, all kinds of clutter, get in the way. So the first job is to dismantle that stuff so that the path is clear. 

That is the critical heavy lifting for ANY public speaking effort.  Not just knowing why you’re there, but what this audience believes and how your insights can affect, or even overturn, that belief. That’s how to meet them where they are.

This has never, ever steered me wrong—but it’s a step most people skip.

ALSO, GOINGS-ON TO SHARE…

DO SOMETHING COOL!

> POP-UP STORY SALON in NYC | Weds 12/4, 9:00-5:00

> POP-UP STORY SALON in Chicago | Thurs 12/12, 9:00-5:00

I’m running two live, in person Pop-Up Story Salons—ideal for business owners, execs, entrepreneurs, speakers, writers, marketers—anyone who wishes to God they had a few hours to think clearly and go deep into their own work, instead of putting out fires all day. Find out more + reserve your spot.

If you had asked me last week if I’d be moved by a closing performance by Queen at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, I’d say, umm, probably not. 

But then on Thursday, I watched Bohemian Rhapsody, and that changed everything. 

Have you seen the movie? You kinda can’t take your eyes off Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. He’s mysterious and sexy, and just by being, well, him, he challenges convention and elevates personality to a high art. 

And so when I turned on the TV tonight (you crazy? I wasn’t going to shove my way into Central Park with 60,000 people in it), and saw Queen (with Adam Lambert as the Mercury stand-in), I was…enthralled. And moved. 

Like most of the world, I already have Queen melodies and lyrics baked into my brain. But having seen the movie, I felt emotions I wouldn’t have felt—even a surprising wave of nostalgia. 

One particularly moving moment was when they cut to actual video of Mercury doing that call-and-response thing he was famous for.

There he was, calling out in his bright yellow jacket at the London Olympic games in the 80s…and 60,000 people in New York in 2019 called back. 

THAT moment struck me, hard. 

Mercury died in 1991. Would he have imagined, from that stage, that day, that three decades later, people would be shouting back at him across that void, even then? Maybe he did.  

It doesn’t matter if you saw the concert, or if you have any feeling about Queen at all. 

The point is that art that moves people lasts. And not nice, neat, polite art that you do to please someone else, or when you have time for it, but the kind of art you’re willing to risk things for. Maybe everything.  

One of the best lines in the movie is delivered by Mercury to famed manager John Reed, who asks him what’s so different about Queen. 

Mercury doesn’t say, “oh because we’re passionate about what we do, we love it, we love playing music.” Nope. 

He says: 

“We’re four misfits who don’t belong together, playing to the other misfits…who are pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.” 

If you want someone to fall in love with what you do, with what you offer, they have to feel it belongs to them, too. They have to love it so much, they’d shout across decades, just to keep the song alive. 

Art doesn’t last because of that one person’s passion, or because of its “owner.” If art (in whatever form yours takes) is to last, someone else must feel they own it, too.

Art lasts because you own a piece of it; it’s yours to keep. The question is, do you have something to share that someone else wants to keep?

 

HOW SERIOUS ARE YOU ABOUT THIS? 

…If you want to spend more time creating thing sthat matter, you need to make the time to do it. You can’t wait for inspiration to strike, or someone to ask you for it. You need to push aside a lot of things and people so you can have SPACE to do it in. 

I have two ways that I can help, if you want. If not, that’s fine, too. 

  1. REGISTER FOR MY 2-PART MASTERCLASS (online), “Rekindle Your Content: Fire up your creativity and fuel your marketing efforts.
    Oct 3 & 4 @ 12p ET for about an hour each. It’s free!
  2. GO FULL IMMERSION—AT THE INTENSIVE (in real life!). Join me for The Intensive, an all-inclusive 3-day writing workshop designed to tap your inner genius. Oct 17-20 in Austin, Texas. No previous writing experience required! 3 SPOTS LEFT. 

 

P.S. Check out the video for The Intensive—it captures the vibe and venue beautifully. If you can’t make the October dates but are interested, let me know because we’re opening enrollment for spring 2020. Same location!

You have a big talk coming up. So you say to yourself, I’m going to sit down right now and write it.

You type one sentence: “Good afternoon.”

You delete it. You wonder if you’re a fraud. You wonder why you’re doing this. You wonder what to have for dinner.

Then: Oh would you look at that. I just got an email! I better go see what it’s about.

There isn’t a person who’s ever been asked to speak who hasn’t done this dance. Not. One.

Myself included. I also delay, procrastinate, worry. Except I have the best out ever. I can easily avoid prepping my talk—I’ll work on yours instead!

As a consultant who helps people identify their messaging and develop their talks, yes, working on yours is a whole lot easier than working on my own. But I also realize that sitting down to a blank page will stop anyone cold.

For most of us, sitting down to “write a talk” from start to finish just doesn’t work.

You’ve got to give yourself something to work with first; think of it as getting a lot of clay on the table so that you have something to shape.

So here are my tips for working on your talk–without writing it from scratch.

(And if you want a hundred more talk-writing insights, but live and in-person, come to my signature event, Tapped to Speak LIVE, happened April 4&5 in Boston!)

First, do a big ol’ brain dump.

Note, this is NOT the same as “writing your talk.” Fact is, you don’t know what you really think about a thing until you express it—it’s in the cognitive act of putting it into words that you give form to the ideas. You may even be surprised about what comes out. I know I often am.

Here are some prompts to use to fuel this writing session. Use whatever ones work for you, or do them all:

  • What I love about this topic is:
  • What frustrates me about this topic is:
  • The thing people don’t realize about this topic is:
  • The one thing I want the audience to walk away with and why:

The only rule is that you KEEP WRITING. If you hit the brakes as you do it, you will not get to the good stuff. Whether you type or handwrite, set a timer for 15 minutes and just write out your opinions and thoughts on the topic—in no particular order. Jot down any stories or scenes or examples that come to mind. But just a quick sketch–don’t get bogged down.

Remember, this is not for anyone to see but you. This blurt onto the page captures your first thoughts, which often prove valuable.

I started my TEDx talk process this way–I tried to get out of the way of my internal editor and just say everything, messy and loose and all over the place. Just to get it OUT of my head. Say the unpopular things. Say the things you really think.

The only rule is that you don’t hit the delete button and you don’t pause to reread or think about it. You keep your pen or fingers moving, even if what you write is nonsense. Don’t judge, revise, or edit. Just get it out.

Now, put it away and don’t read it until later. Let it sit. Like a good stew, those ideas will mingle and marinate and be better tomorrow.

Next: Get it onto cards (or stickie notes!).

Grab a stack of index cards or stickie notes. Whatever you prefer. Think of each one as like a tiny dish to hold a single mouthful of an idea. The only rule: You must do this by hand, with pen and paper, not on your computer.

Here’s why this works: In his book Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon says he has an analog desk, where there is no digital equipment, just paper, markers, and other physical tools.

“The computer is really good for editing your ideas,” he says, “but it’s not really good for generating ideas…The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us–we start editing ideas before we have them.”

Here’s what to do now:

  • Identify your key ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Go back through your brain dump and pick out the ones you know you want to include. The rule is that each card gets ONE idea; i.e., “Companies overestimate the value of perks,” or “Searching for your passion is a waste of time.”
  • Sift and feel around for examples, stories, or anecdotes that you want to share. And you need several! A talk without scenes or stories is dry indeed. Write ONE story or scene per card. So you might write, “The day I quit my job,” or “what my father said to me”—you know what these things are. You just need a phrase to capture the idea so you can include it in the talk. What scenes do you want to show in your talk? What moments or stories matter?
  • Capture the evidence you want to share. What information will help create the frame and context for your talk? Maybe it’s a few statistics or other things, experts, case studies you want to include. Again, one per card— “Seth Godin quote about how to stand out,” “Domestic violence stat,” or “Client case study: XYZ company”

OK! Now you have a stack of cards, and you will continue to add more. In fact, spend a few days doing this. The benefit is it’s non-linear–so you’re not worried about what you’re saying in what order. Just capture the key stuff and put it in the stack.

  • Shuffle the deck. When you have a solid set of cards, start shuffling them, or put all those stickies up on a wall. Stare at them. Move them around. This is what’s so handy about using cards vs. writing out your talk first: You can physically manipulate them and look at them in a few different ways.
  • Experiment with flow. Move them around, look at them, and see how doing so changes the shape and flow of your talk. This is way more fun than trying to write it from beginning to end, which is too hard.
  • Talk it through. Once you have your cards in an order (and it can change), start talking them through, out loud, as if you’re giving the talk, but you don’t have to be all formal. Do it as if you’re telling someone a story (which, by the way, you are). The talk actually can take shape this way, without having to write down or memorize a script.

Rather than write a script and memorize it, practice talking it through with the cards. You’re not writing for your audience; you’re speaking! So practice speaking. Because every time you do, you’re burning it into your mind and walking those words across your tongue so that they get used to being there. You may never say the same thing the same way twice. That’s ok! You can’t forget your own stories and ideas.

(Tip: Those cards may be a clue as to where you might use a slide. You don’t need a slide for every single thought. Think of slides as a place for the audience to perch while you unpack your idea.)

Boom. You will have a talk on your hands, without blank page syndrome. That’s a win!

Speaking from the stage is one of the most influential things you can do for your career. If, that is, you can get the best part of YOU out of your head and into your talk. That’s exactly what you’ll learn at Tapped to Speak LIVE, April 2109 in Boston. Click here to join us!

Old books on a wooden shelf.

Old books on a wooden shelf.

I sat next to a woman at a lunch recently who heads up the magazine publishing program at NYU, and she said the students are, understandably, feeling down about what they see as bleak prospects in magazine publishing—simply because those seats are becoming fewer and fewer.

It’s easy to interpret the shuttering of (many) print magazines and newspapers as ‘death’ to publishing, but I don’t see it that way. What we’re seeing is a shift in consumption habits, in expectations, and in business models. Content may be king, but we’ve also become accustomed to having it be, well free. What is and will continue to change is how we pay for it, and who is paying for it. Yes, that changes things.

Print magazines are, simply, a platform. No different from any other platform you use (newspapers, books, blogs, and so on). As beloved as they are to you, they were a platform, and platforms evolve or die off. We’ve gotten attached to them, of course—we’ve had them longer. Now social media and other content platforms come and go so fast that they seem disposable; we hardly have a chance for habits to form around them!

But one thing is for sure, and this I can say without question: There will always, always be a need for great writers and storytellers, people to create and curate. We need them to see, capture and interpret the world for us and always will.

How can we not? With all the content pouring at us from all platforms, streaming toward us through every device, we rely on editors to tell us what to pay attention to, and what not to. The era of the Big Magazine and Big Publisher may be shifting dramatically (and yet as you can see, they’re not totally gone), but what that means is that the role of the storyteller is even more important. You go to the salon for the stylist, not the other way around, right?

Enter: personal branding.

Writers are now responsible for their own brands. Many of them cry that the surplus of content has driven the fees (and quality) down. If you are a writer and your claim to fame is that you can string words together, you’re no different from a plumber; you both can combine separate objects so that something vital can flow through them. Fine. You can do a thing. Doesn’t mean I need to pay you for it.

Some writers feel they should be paid to do what they do because, well, they like doing it. Sorry! That’s not a reason for a job! Would you hire a plumber because he said, “But I really love plumbing! It’s my passion!” Nope. You hire a person based on how well they solve your problem, period. (See my TEDx talk for why passion isn’t enough.)

Enter: entrepreneurship.

The future doesn’t belong to just people who can do a skill; it belongs to those who can find ways to create value for someone. If you want to make a living as a writer, editor, OR plumber, you have to identify a need, ideally someone who will pay you for your solution. And you need to supply that solution in a way that suits your customer, suits your market.

This doesn’t depress me, and it shouldn’t depress you, either. We are living in a very exciting time for content! It used to be you had to pick magazines or books, and jobs for content were fairly limited (even if there were more seats at traditional publishers). Now, the degree to which you create something amazing determines how well you do. And that is in your hands.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 12.15.06 PMI’m not an incredibly patient person. I have a short fuse and I bore easy. It’s bad. I think it makes me good at a few things, like keeping people entertained and engaged, but makes me bad at other things, like coping with slow restaurant service.

Over the holiday break I turned away from the world a few degrees. I didn’t call anyone; no one called me. It was wonderful for a while. And then I thought: Why don’t I have anything going on? Why isn’t this person wondering what I’m doing or why does that one not seem to be interested in seeing me? There’s an underbelly to boredom that’s ugly indeed, because it reveals our neediness, our impatience, our hunger for attention.

But here’s what scares me most about boredom, and should scare you, too:

That I’m letting it dictate what I do. I get bored, restless, worried, anxious, and then I bail—not just on people, but on projects, situations. I lose interest and wherewithal and wander away. I make assumptions about it that aren’t true, all in the name of giving up because it fails to keep my interest. Right. If I subscribe to this theory, I’m saying that boredom shouldn’t happen, and that life only has meaning if I leap from peak to thrilling peak.

We give boredom perhaps a little too much power: We end up leaving instead of sticking around. Do something easy instead of something hard. Write off people who shouldn’t be written off.

Boredom has a role, no doubt. (Read what Bertrand Russell says about it in this piece on his book on Brainpickings). We need to get bored, to tolerate boredom, in order to appreciate real highs, real moments of deep, soul-filling satisfaction. But more than that, we need to wait out boredom for what’s on the other side.

On the other side of boredom is not just thrill and excitement. and it’s not busy. In fact, busy is not the opposite of boring, even though at first glance you think it is. And yet busy is what we do to combat it.

Sometimes to get past boring, you have to be the opposite of busy.

Our problem is not that we get bored (which our culture of distraction seeks to eliminate), but that we let it unseat us so easily. It’s that we aren’t willing to wait it out.

In Big Magic, a powerful and moving missive to creative souls, Liz Gilbert cites the wisdom of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, who says that the biggest problem with people’s meditation practices is they quit too soon, or, “just when things are starting to get interesting.”

Gilbert writes, “they quit as soon as it gets painful, or boring, or agitating. They quit as soon as they see something in their minds that scares them or hurts them. So they miss the good part, the wild part, the transformative part–the part when you push past the difficulty and enter into some raw new unexplored universe within yourself.”

What’s happening is that we’re not hanging in there long enough, past the breakers of inhibition and self doubt. I’m guilty of this, and likely you are, too. The mistake is believing that interest, like an iPhone, starts to depreciate the moment you walk out of the store with it.

Not true. Interest is the opposite of depreciation. You pay back a loan with interest. And what Gilbert is saying is that it can grow in your own life, if you hang with it long enough. We have it backwards, just as we have passion backwards (a point I make in my TEDx talk, “Stop Searching for Your Passion.”)

You can’t “busy” away boring; you can’t distract away boring. Boring dissolves in the unblinking eye of attention…it’s just that we usually aren’t willing to wait that long.

Do you know how many times I’ve started to write a book, and got all excited about it, and then got bored? My problem was I burned up all my energy in the prospect of it, instead of allowing it the slow, steady burn of attention to ignite.

But I’m starting to change that. I’m not looking at just the goal, the prize, the finish line. I’m looking at the road. The road is far more interesting. It really is.

I am not trying to “finish” a book. I’m simply writing one. Don’t ask what it’s about, because I don’t know yet. And I find the most interesting part isn’t talking about or imagining, but doing it. Writing it. And seeing what happens.

So consider making yourself that promise this year:

That rather than flee from boredom too quickly, see it for what it is: discomfort, internal conflict, fear. Decide instead to wait it out, to stick it out. To stoke the fire of your energy enough to keep you going. Take a cue from Pema Chodron and be willing to see what happens after.  Because that’s what’s most interesting of all.

How does stuff get written? Depends on who’s writing it. I know some writers obsess about their “process” but the biggest challenge for me is sitting my ass down and doing it.

The one thing that makes a writer different from anyone else, including people who “think” they’re writers? Writers write. Period.

This piece is actually part of a blog tour, thanks to Paula Rizzo, founder of listproducer.com, who invited me. And someone invited her, and I have invited three people. It’s kind of like chain mail for blogs. Except, instead of hand-copying 15 letters like you did in the 80s (whoever made that up should be shot), you get to hear from a range of bloggers on how they get their shit done.

What am I working on?

You’ve caught me at the tail end of a few projects: I just finished my first story for oprah.com, and I have a piece due out on yourtango soon on matchmaker Hellen Chen’s “marry first, date later” approach. Oh–and this just went up, the latest installment of “Full Disclosure,” a column I write for DailyWorth, about how I got into a relationship with a financial planner, and why it’s totally worth it.

Of course, there’s this blog, and if you have one, you know—starting one is like adopting a puppy. Lots of fun, lots to recommend it, but it’s always hungry. So that’s a box that never gets fully checked.

So, here are the questions that are part of the blog tour:

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Anyone can write ‘about’ a thing. I make it a point to take a side, stake a claim, have an opinion—one that makes you question your own. And I try very hard not to say a thing that’s been said a zillion times. In my own writing, I’ve found it the most rewarding and valuable to swim upstream, to see a different slant, rather than pile on with the same old, same old.

My strength has always been a clear, unequivocal voice, and a fresh, sometimes counterintuitive take on a topic that makes you think twice about what you think you know. I write a lot about relationships, and as you well know there’s tons of it out there. But I find 80% of it is recycled or straight-up trash. I don’t see why I should bother to say anything if I don’t have anything new to bring to the table. So, that’s my goal. Always.

Why do I write what I do? 

To relieve an itch. Because that’s almost always what I’m doing when I write something. Whatever’s been building up under my skin, a rash of ideas and opinions, and when I write about it, it’s like a good hard scratch. The kind that feels amazing.

Now, as to why I write the kinds of things I do? Because I’m trying to peer under the hood of not just other people’s behavior, but my own as well. I write to understand. I had an excellent professor when I was in grad school at Emerson College who said, “We write to become smarter than ourselves.” If you write something you’re already bored with, the reader’s just as bored. A discovery must be made. And that’s always what I’m doing.

How does my writing process work?

How does anyone start with a blank page and end up with stuff on it?  There are endless ways to do it, though to work, yours must involve a solid chunk of focused time.

It’s like getting into a pool: It feels cold at first (“brr, screw this”) and so you hop out, then you step back in, wade around. But until you can get IN that pool, all the way, submerge yourself, you can’t start really swimming. And that’s where the magic happens.

And so I, like a lot of writers, spend most of my time trying to GET to that point. And it does involve: loads of laundry, catching up on other shit, general avoidance, and then…relief. Once I surrender myself to it. Of course, a deadline helps.

That’s the hardest part of writing for me: Getting in that pool. Because once I’m in, the momentum takes over—that’s where you find your inspiration: from doing it. If you wait for inspiration to get in the pool? Forget it. Not happening. Some people tell you to clean your house first, get the distractions out of the way, go for a run, create an outline. Ok, fine. But nothing beats just sitting down for at least an hour, uninterrupted, to do it. Because once you’re in it, it’s actually hard to get out again.

OK. So I’m passing the baton now to some bloggers I think you should check out:

Becky Karush, a colleague, friend, and one of the most thoughtful and sensitive writers around. I recommend a read for sure.

Sandra Keros is a breath of fresh air in the healthy food and lifestyle world. She healed herself from fibromyalgia through changes in food and attitude. I also know she’s been exploring her own writing lately and I’m sure she has a lot to say about it.

Diana Castaldini is a talented young writer and editor who I’m currently working with, who recently went through a very serious health ordeal that has left her world changed. Her blog is called Thinking Less After Brain Surgery and is worth checking out.