When Things Fall Apart

rally

I didn’t write anything in November.

That’s not entirely true (I have been working on some poetry and fiction, and I did publish two blog posts mid-November that you may have read here and here), but based on my regular posting schedule (and in light of what is going on in the world today), I haven’t really written much of anything in the past few weeks. At least that is how I feel. This definitely was not by design. In fact, I had a much different vision for how November would turn out and how I wanted to wrap up the year. I even had a few blog posts sketched out in advance.

I could probably find a few plausible excuses to share. For one, I recently started a new job and prior to that point, I was primarily focusing on the interview process. A better excuse would be that I allowed procrastination and doubt to cripple my creative efforts during the first half of November (and creeping into December now . . .). It seems that the more I write, the harsher of a critic I become. And my goal is to produce the best work possible so that I continually grow and improve, so I’d rather wait than post something shallow and trite.

Moreover, I know that I want to write (or rather, share) more essays and fiction and poetry in the future (like a Baldwin mixed with a Morrison dipped in some Hughes), so I have been grappling with how that fits into the kind of writing I typically do on this blog. In other words, should I even continue to prioritize this kind of writing?

Even still, notwithstanding the excuses, I had big plans to publish two blog posts during the week of Thanksgiving – one about an amazing book I recently read (Mastery, by Robert Greene) and another about the value of gratitude.  But then Robert P. McCulloch, the Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County, Missouri, announced that a grand jury had decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting and killing of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown in August of this year. And I thought, damn, why would anyone want to read about charting your career like a “craftsman,” or about the value of gratitude when young black kids are getting shot in the street?

Then I figured, okay, I will wait a few days and then publish my blog post. After all, I haven’t been writing about political issues. Better to “stay in my lane” and focus on the safer topics – creativity, habits, writing, personal development, entrepreneurship. Better to do what I do best and read (finished like 7 books in November like a champ . . . I should be proud, right?). That’s what everyone else is doing, it seems. Staying in their lane. Observing and commenting here and there on social media.

But then a grand jury in New York decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, an officer who was recorded on camera killing an unarmed black man named Eric Garner with an illegal choke-hold as the man breathlessly repeated in faint whispers ‘I can’t breathe’ . . . a black man who was suspected at the time, of all things, of illegally selling cigarellos on the street.

That is when things began to fall apart.

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Give Yourself Stickers: The Power of Small Wins

stickers

In third grade, my teacher used to give out stickers.

There was this board on one of the walls in the classroom with every student’s name listed in alphabetical order down the far left side, arranged in a series of rows. Beside every row, there were small boxes where you could place a tiny sticker, maybe a smiley face or a gold star. When a student’s row was completely filled with stickers, he or she would receive a prize. I don’t remember if the prize was an extra hour of recess, or maybe simply a coloring book, but we were competitive kids and we all definitely wanted to win the big prize.

But everyone didn’t always receive a sticker at the end of each day. No, getting a sticker was something that you earned. Only students who successfully submitted their homework and completed their classroom assignments could receive a star next to their name. Some might call this a form of cheap bribery, but I think it’s really an indication that my teacher understood the power of recognizing and praising small wins.

When did we lose sight of this powerful mindset?

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Imposing Boundaries Can Set You Free

baseball player

When I was in the fourth grade, I started playing little league baseball.

I was an athletic kid. Although some adults would have called me “big-boned,” which really just meant that I was a little chubby for my age, I was stronger and faster than many of my peers and had great hand-eye coordination. So, of course, this translated well onto the baseball field. I was routinely asked to play different positions and I enjoyed the flexibility of being a first baseman or a pitcher during one game, and a third baseman or shortstop during the next.

Most likely, my coaches were simply testing me out at different positions to get a sense of where I felt most comfortable and where I could make the greatest contribution to the team. I eventually settled into being a dedicated middle infielder and pitcher, although I spent a long time as a catcher and left fielder too.

Interestingly, baseball introduced me to the notion of setting healthy boundaries.

I loved that there were specific section of the field where each infielder was responsible for making important plays. Although the baseball field was large (which felt even more so the case when I was playing in the outfield) and the tiny ball could travel very fast, when each player focused on their small section of the field, it became easier to prevent the other team from scoring. In essence, setting boundaries on the baseball diamond was empowering and helped the team succeed.

I have since learned that setting boundaries between your personal and professional life can be empowering too.

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Where do creative geniuses come from?

creative genius

Picasso. Beethoven.

Mozart. Walt Disney. Steve Jobs.

We remember these individuals for the incredible works of art that they produced during their lifetime, works of art that continue to amaze and astound us. Guernica. Ode to Joy. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Allegro. Disney. Apple. They were true creative geniuses.

Were these artists born with their amazing talents, or was something deeper at work? What role do nature and nurture play in helping individuals produce masterpieces that stand the test of time? Are there ways to tap into our own hidden creativity to produce incredible works of art that will inspire others in the generations to come?

Is it possible for anyone to become a creative genius?

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This is why you need to play

playing outside

Most of us were not taught to appreciate the value of play when we were children.

Instead, we picked it up instinctively, either by ourselves or with peers, and used our imagination to create make-believe games that were fun and exciting. Cardboard boxes become castles and action figures become soldiers and ninjas. But as we grew older, we learned to stop playing silly games and instead, were told to focus on more important things.

Ironically, one of the places that discourages play is school.

It seems that most schools only honor competitive forms of play, like team sports or competitions. And although the word school is derived from the Greek word schole, which means leisure, much of our time at school is purely focused on work. In his popular TedEx talk, How Schools Kill Creativity, Sir Ken Robinson suggests that our modern educational system actually hinders our creativity and imagination. Instead of encouraging freethinking and exploration, students are taught to “paint inside of the lines” by memorizing facts and figures to accomplish routine tasks.

This makes sense in a world defined by the Industrial Revolution.

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Invest in Fewer Things. Yield Bigger Returns.

investing

Not too long ago, I was invited to become co-chair of an impressive committee on the board of an association for young lawyers. Undoubtedly, the position would have looked really good on my resume and probably would have expanded my network in a positive way.

I was excited about the opportunity and quickly said yes. However, only a few days later, once I realized that my overloaded schedule would prevent me from doing a good job, I was forced to re-evaluate my commitments. Ultimately, I decided to revoke my acceptance and enable someone else who was more available to undertake the task.

Maybe you’ve experienced something like this too.

You establish a clear purpose and focus for your career, you work hard and buckle down when times get tough, and the result is a great foundation for future success – increased responsibility and an improved reputation amongst your peers. Unfortunately, once people determine that you are a high achiever, you will eventually become bombarded with more and more opportunities, which lead to more and more demands upon your time and energy.

Sometimes, being hardworking backfires.

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Begin With The Customer In Mind

customer

You have been exploring a side business and have settled on an idea.

Maybe you would like to create a fun new product, or perhaps you would like to offer your services as a consultant. In the last segment of the Before You Launch series, we talked about finding your idea, defining your story and creating a vision for the future. These items are important because they not only help us define a vision of success for our business, but they also help us identify the important metrics and goals that will help get us there.

Now we will dive a little deeper and begin exploring the issues that are most important to our future customers.

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Don’t Plan to Sell, Plan to Matter

paper airplane

So you want to start a side business.

You have this cool idea that just won’t go away. Something fun and unique, an innovative product or service offering that you believe could revolutionize the market, bring you great personal joy, or perhaps allow you to make a little extra income each month. You don’t necessarily want to quit your job (not yet anyway). You simply want to explore the limits of your creativity and share your unique gifts. Rest assured, you are not alone. Entrepreneurship is incredibly popular these days.

And truthfully, people have been launching their own business ventures for a very long time. Starting a side business – whether it’s offering your time as a consultant or creating products that educate or entertain – can be a lot of fun. However, before you put up your ‘lemonade stand’ and begin seeking clients, it’s important to plan strategically.

Do you have a clear grasp of the problem you are targeting? Have you explored various business models? What about a business plan – do you need one? How much planning is even necessary? Do you need a Twitter account too? Even if you’re not thinking about starting a business, learning how to plan for a new venture is valuable.

As Daniel Pink suggests, we are all in the sales game.

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The Secret Reason Why No One is Reading Your Articles

type messages

There is a possibility that no one will read this.

That’s always the problem with publishing articles online or sending newsletters through email, right? There is always that small chance that every reader who finds your article or opens your email message will take five brief seconds to sift through your quotes and scan your headlines for anything compelling before quickly pressing the DELETE button. Goodbye. Have a nice day. Your efforts have failed.

See, even after discovering a great story or crafting an inspiring message, the challenge is figuring out how to grab your readers’ attention long enough for them to digest your great content. How do you organize and convey your ideas in a way that resonates with your audience and keeps them engaged? What is it about a piece of content – an article or picture or video – that makes it not only interesting, but worthy of being shared on social media through mediums like Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest?

Simply, what makes a story go viral?

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What I’ve Been Reading: 5 Book Recommendations for September

bookshelf

I hope September is off to a great start!

This past month, I read more fiction than I usually do, which has been really wonderful. It is helping me think about ways to improve my own writing, and more importantly, it has been a lot of fun to explore new worlds. Sometimes, I find that reading fiction helps me process things going on in my own life in a way that non-fiction never will.

I am excited for the books I have on deck for September. In the meantime, check out five books I read in August (and early September) below.  I hope you add one or two to your list for this month.

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