How I Overcame My Creative Self-Doubt

self-doubt

In January of 2015, based on an idea I got from my career coach at the time, I decided that writing a book would be my big scary goal for the year. I actually thought I could finish writing and publishing my first book in one year.  

I WAS WRONG!

I was too optimistic and under-prepared. Aside from a few blog posts, I don’t have any experience with formal writing. Of course, I write at work, but authoring a book is a different beast. It’s a massive project, especially for anyone who has never considered himself a writer or doesn’t even enjoy writing.

I heard one of my favorite authors, Kary Oberbrunner   say that 82% of people who want to write a book either never start or never finish. Few start and even fewer finish. 

Why is that?

I think Thomas Edison explained one possible explanation when he said,

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

I’ve learned that writing a book is not about how smart you are or how much you know. It’s about doing one thing; sitting your butt down and WRITING. That’s the perspiration part.

I’m not saying writing a book is easy, but the difficulty is not where I was expecting. One of the areas where I messed up was during the preparation phase. I wasn’t prepared enough when I started and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so behind schedule.

But my biggest battle has been against self-doubt every step of the way. And I’m not alone. I suspect this is where the majority of us (the 82%) get stuck.

Steven Pressfield describes this very real mental blocker as the “resistance” a universal force that’s only mission is to stop people from creating stuff that matters.

Even after a year of writing, I’m still hit with the occasional quiet visit from Mr. resistance whispering stuff like:

  • Who do you think you are?
  • Your book is going fail.
  • Please don’t talk about your book to minimize your embarrassment when it flops.
  • You don’t know what you’re doing. 

In his book, The War of Art, Pressfield provides the best advice and mentoring to aspiring writers and creatives I’ve read. These are 3 of my favorite quotes:

  1.  “Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”

2.     “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” 

3.     “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” 

The most powerful thing I’ve learned from Pressfield and through my own writing experience is that fear and self-doubt is normal for all creatives and can be overcome with daily persistent action– perspiration.

 The remedy, at least for me, is to do it scared. I’d rather fight in the ring of life than sit safely in the stands. The world has enough critics and consumers. We need more creators. 

What I Told My Children After The Elections

character

“The two most important decisions you can make in life are:1) Who you will follow and 2) Who you will marry.”

I heard a pastor say that quote years ago and I was reminded of it today. I’m sorry to disappoint, but this post is not about politics, candidates, or political parties. It’s all about character.

It’s 2:52 AM, the night after the elections, and I can’t sleep.

My body wants to rest, but my thoughts are like a broken faucet with an annoying drip that doesn’t stop.  My mind is processing the elections, the unending social media reactions, the political pundits’ commentaries, etc. It’s like I’m holding the door shut, but all of this stuff is trying to burst in.

Instead of adding more political commentary or reaction, which I’m sick of, I want to focus on what I told my daughters during dinner.

My daughter, who is in elementary school, was sharing with my wife and I some of the political remarks she overheard her friend say.  She seemed confused and looking for a reaction from us to see which way her young mind should go.

I didn’t respond to her comments. Instead, I re-directed the conversation where it matters. I asked her not to get distracted by appearances. We’re not here to judge, I said.

I shared with her the quote above and then asked her to focus on character.

When you want to decide who to hang out with, who to marry, who to follow, who to be influenced by, or what type of person you want to become, I explained, focus on  character. It’s an invisible quality that speaks volumes.

The media has dissected every word, gesture, and tweet from these Presidential candidates with the hopes of convincing us that said actions were right or wrong, ethical or unethical, legal or illegal. I don’t need the FBI, the Supreme Court, or the media to determine where my family’s core values.

Thanks, but I got this covered.

The most important thing I learned from these elections is how important it is for parents to define, discuss, and live out their own core values. Politicians will come and go, but the example parents give will last a last time.  Regardless of who sleeps in the White House, I am responsible for defining my family’s core values.

If you’re a parent, model the behavior you want your children to follow and don’t outsource it with your vote. That’s how we build true character.

 

 

 

 

 

What A Nobel Prize Winner Taught Me About Courage

There’s a scene in one of greatest movies ever made, Braveheart, where the father says to his son in a dream,

“Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it.”

That scene reminds of an article about Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist, who won the Nobel Prize in the sciences this year (2016) for “discoveries on how cells recycle their content, a process known as autophagy.” I have no idea what that means, but it’s clear that Ohsumi is a genius.

Ohsumi is described as quiet, but “quietly daring.” This couldn’t be an ordinary man…  This description of someone who is quietly daring caught my attention so I read past the first paragraph, which says a lot.

As I continued reading, he explained some of the difficulties and challenges he faced at the beginning of his career. Ohsumi said, “Most people decide to work on the most popular field because they think that is the easiest way to get a paper published.” But he  did something different.

Ohsumi said,

“I am not very competitive, so I always look for a new subject to study, even if it is not so popular. If you start from some sort of basic, new observation, you will have plenty to work on.”

Did you catch what he did?

He intentionally did the opposite of what everyone else was doing.  Instead of going with flow he broke off and did his own thing.

This applies to life too.

At times it feels as if we’re being conditioned to be followers (like sheep) and find ourselves doing things only because everyone else is doing them.  Some people eventually stay on that path because it seems like the easiest and safest thing to do for success.

But Ohsumi shows us that the path of least resistance is filled boredom, competition, and routine.

It’s crazy to think that your path to success is the one with the least competition. But it makes sense. This is like that scene in “The Matrix” when the bald kid is bending a spoon with his mind.  Neo is completely shocked. The kid hands Neo the spoon and says, “Don’t try to bend the spoon. Instead, realize the truth.” “What truth?” Neo says.

Then the boy says,

“There is no spoon.”

Just like there is no spoon; there is no competition. In life, we’re really competing against ourselves. The goal is to be your greatest self, but it requires courage.

Had Ohsumi followed everyone else (the easier path), he wouldn’t have found his genius. His environment, resilience, and choices helped bring out the genius that was always in him, but it required quiet bravery to be comfortable with himself. It’s in that quietness that we can listen to what our life is telling us.

Doing your own thing will be harder, require more work, and will take longer than planned but do it anyways. Blaze your own trail. You weren’t put on this Earth to be a carbon copy of others; find your mission.

Learn from the greats, but have the courage to be quietly daring enough to be yourself. It’s like Dr. Seus said,

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Talent Versus Mindset (Part 2)

 

In my previous post, I shared the five nuggets (principles) we can take from the greatest myth in sport’s history.  We love that story, even people who don’t watch sports love it. These are the other five nuggets we can take from Michael Jordan’s experience with failure:

6. EMBRACE FAILURE: MJ learned how to convert the pain of defeat into motivation throughout his life. He checked into hotels under the name “Leroy Smith” as a reminder of the person who beat him in high school.  Leroy was a constant reminder to never stop working or take anything for granted. We all have a “Leroy Smith” experience in our lives, but how are you using it for good?

7. EXECUTION IS A HABIT: MJ’s Chicago Bulls went 6 for 6  in the NBA finals. When his opportunity came; he executed. Many of us set goals, make plans, come up with ideas, and dream about stuff we’d like to achieve but without EXECUTION none of it matters. Ideas aren’t worth anything. MJ turned winning into a habit. We can make execution a habit when we treat everything, especially the small stuff, as an opportunity to gain small wins.

8. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: After winning a game, I remember Jordan would always give credit to his teammates, but after losing he’d take responsibility.  Instead of worrying about the things that are out of our control, it’s better to focus on the things that we can control and crush it! Effort and Attitude are ALWAYS under your control.

9. SET STRETCH GOALS: Why did Jordan, as a sophomore, try out for the varsity team of a really good school? Why didn’t he focus on the JV team instead? I don’t know why. But I do know he set a stretched goal. Like Les Brown says, “Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.”

10. Sorry, I couldn’t think of a 10th thing, so let’s turn it into a question. What would you rather have natural talent or a winning mindset?

 I don’t know if you realized this, but none of these 9 principles have to do with natural born talent or gifts. The one common trait is that they are all under our control. Jordan was constantly looking for ways to take his game to the next level and surround himself with the best. He had the best coaches, played with the 2nd best player in the NBA (Pippen) and greatest rebounder (Dennis Rodman), etc. None of this has to do with natural talent. His mindset helped him create a winning environment, which turned winning into a habit.

These two posts aren’t about Jordan, sports, or athletic talent. It’s about you and I developing the right mindset, regardless of our circumstances, to create small daily wins that will eventually snowball into a great life.

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By the way, I’m including some version of this blog series in my first book which I’m working on right now.

 

Gary Vee On Success

“Greatness comes from adversity.”

“Bet on your strengths.”

“Put yourself in a position to win with your strengths.”

“My success is a product of some level of skills, but I think I win because I outwork people.”

 

 

Gary Vaynerchuck

Talent Versus Mindset

 

One of the greatest stories in sports is the one about Michael Jordan. I’m sure you heard that Jordan’s high school coach cut him the high school basketball team. Well, I’m sorry to break the news but that version is not really true!

So it’s true that his Air-ness didn’t earn a spot on the varsity team that day that rocked the universe.  But most story tellers leave out that MJ’s earned  a spot on the junior varsity (JV) team.

That’s the most important part of this story!

Jordan, who was only 5’10” at the time, was devastated. What made it worse was that his classmate, the much taller Leroy Smith (6’7″), made the team. In teenage Jordan’s mind, Leroy beat him, so it was personal. I’m not sure what Jordan dreamed about that night, but he woke up on full BEAST mode.  Jordan committed to never let anyone beat him again.

There’s so much we can learn from this one event in MJ’s life. These are some the main nuggets I took from his story.

1. CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE: Even though he was upset for not making the varsity team, Jordan used that failure as motivation. He worked harder than anyone else on that JV team because of it he developed great ball handling skills. He learned that what matters most is not what happens to us, but how we choose to respond that makes the biggest difference. 

2. CONSTANT SELF-IMPROVEMENT: MJ is famous for continuous improvement or the “growth mindset” explained in the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. To fans, he’s known as one of the greatest, but to his teammates and coaches, he was considered the hardest working athlete in the world. He was constantly improving his game.

3. HUSTLE WHERE YOU ARE: Instead of giving up, losing interest, or being embarrassed to play on the JV team, MJ hustled like a BEAST. He was the hardest-working kid on the team. He turned a setback into a setup for something greater. That JV experience gave him the chance to gain confidence, skills,  and find his niche. You can’t wait until you have the job, spouse, or life of your dreams before you decide to make the most of it. You have to make the most of what you have now in order to make it into something great tomorrow.

4. TALENT IS OVERRATED: During his tryouts, coaches considered MJ an AVERAGE player. He wasn’t a child prodigy. But his will to win (aka growth mindset) compensated for the things he lacked athletically. Often we don’t see the work ethic that high performing people invest in their craft, so we label them prodigies, overnight successes, and super talents.  But research is showing that “natural talent” is not as strong a determining factor for athletic, musical, or artistic success as people think. The coach who cut MJ said there wasn’t anything remarkable about Jordan during his tryout except that he seemed very determined. The real gift is found in one’s ability to continually practice (or “deep practice” (like it’s called in the book “The Talent Code”), focus, and stay motivated.  You don’t know how good you are until you’ve given it all you can.

5. WORK HARDER (ON YOURSELF): Why did Jordan practice more than the other players if he was already the best?  Maybe he was the best because he was always working. Jordan practiced as if someone was going to take his spot. He had a reputation for out working his teammates and was constantly seeking feedback from his coaches. For MJ, it wasn’t about beating others; it was about beating himself.

Stay tuned for Part 2.