October 29, 2020No Comments

7 Small Ways to Practice Asking for Help

I heard a story recently about an older woman who lived alone. She fell in the middle of the night and couldn’t get up. Instead of calling for help immediately, she waited for hours until she knew people would be awake. “She said that she didn’t want to bother anybody,” the story-teller said, shaking his head. 

Looking at it from the outside, it’s easy to think that is ridiculous. Surely anybody, not least of which the EMTs, would have been happy to come help. But as I sat and thought about it, I realized I understood. 

I thought about the time I drove myself to the hospital at 3 am with severe abdominal pain from an ovarian cyst. I thought about the time I moved my giant, temperamental dresser by myself. Sure, there are certain things I can do myself and things I genuinely want to learn how to do, hang a shelf using a toggle bolt for example. But there are also situations in which asking for help is the most reasonable thing we can do. 

It’s hard, though. To ask for help is to admit we need it, to let people peek behind the curtain of our self-sufficiency. It can feel like an intrusion, a bother, and it’s not fun to have to rely on others who might (let’s be real) not come through. 

I’ve found it helpful to give myself small opportunities to practice asking for help. As with anything, laying a foundation when things are semi-fine sets us up well for when things are very not fine. Not only that, but it has the potential to deepen trust between you and your friends.

To practice this in small ways, you can ask a friend to...

Hang onto your spare keys. 

You probably have a friend who is responsible enough to put your keys in a safe place in case you ever lock yourself out of your apartment. If this feels weird, you could offer to hang onto theirs as well. A bit of mutually assured destruction can go a long way. Or you could call it a mutually beneficial arrangement, depending on how you see the proverbial glass.  

Help you figure out how to hang a shelf, etc.

Choose a household activity that neither of you knows how to do and learn how to do it together. Whether it’s putting together an Ikea bookshelf or changing a tire, invite someone over, watch a YouTube video and get to work. You can always call in an expert if things go totally off the rails. 

Show you how to make [insert baking trend you saw on their Insta].

Odds are that you have a friend who learned to make babka or sourdough during quarantine. Invite them over and ask them to show you their expert secrets. This also gives you someone to share the delicious treat with, because the quarantine fifteen is real. 

Use their washer/dryer while you watch their kids.  

Ok, maybe this isn’t the best trade-off. I rarely babysit, but they presumably nap at some point or have homework or something during which you could do your laundry. Mayhaps you live in an apartment that has a washer and dryer in unit and you don’t have to pay $5 in quarters to use the triple loader. It doesn’t have to be laundry, it could be their dope kitchen or piano or spare room. That might feel like a big ask, hence the trade-off of watching the children.  

Pick up something you forgot at the store. 

I don’t think I’ve ever gone to the store and actually made it out with everything I need. Even if I use a list. Chances are you have a friend going to the store in the near future who would be willing to snag that thing for you. And because Venmo is a thing, it’s really just a matter of picking that thing up and hitting a button to reimburse them. 

Give you a hug. 

If you’re like me, this whole isolation thing that’s been going on for the past seven months has meant some serious touch depravity. I’m not even a hugger, going ten weeks straight without touching another person is enough to mess anyone up. Be safe, wear your mask, and all that jazz. But every once in a while, as you are both comfortable, ask a friend if they’d be willing to exchange a hug. 

Help you plan your next celebration. 

Whether it’s a birthday, a lease signing, a promotion, or whatever, ask a friend to help you mark the moment. It can be as big or small as seems reasonable to you. You could meet up for ice cream and go for a walk, or you could plan to meet a group of friends at a local bar, or you could all attend a live event (assuming that is a thing we will be able to do in the near future). 

Don’t do all of these things at once. Mayhaps just start with one thing per week or month. You might get some rejections, but you will probably get some positive responses as well. 

Try it and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below!

October 21, 2020No Comments

Internal vs. External Pressure–and the One Question that Reframes It

In my time auditioning for musicals and operas as a professional singer, I got exactly one call back. Auditioning success, as with much creative work, is a combination of the practice of resiliency, a numbers game, knowing people, and what can feel like dumb luck. And also, being in the union. 

The audition in question was for a production of The Phantom of the Opera, but not the Lloyd Webber version. It was one of the few open calls I attended that actually heard non-union singers. I arrived just thirty minutes after 8 AM, the time at which we could sign up. 

I was number 186. There were exactly two female roles available. 

We were told to arrive back at 10 AM for typing. Typing is a fun thing where auditioners walk into a room, ten at a time in this case. The casting director had a stack of our headshots with performance resumes glued to the back in the same order as our line. He looked down at our resume, up at us, down at our resume, and placed it in one pile or another. After he made his way through the ten of us, he read off the names in one pile and instructed those who made the cut to see the assistant for our time slot. 

I was in the favorable pile, which meant I got to come back and sing. Sixteen bless-ed bars of carefully selected music to demonstrate that my abilities lined up with their casting need. A few hours later, I walked back into the building and took the elevator to the crowded floor that held auditioners and “the room where it happens,” if you will. At the appointed time, I entered the studio, handed my music to the pianist, and exchanged pleasant banter with the director. I sang my thirty seconds of music, hitting the final high note with dramatic flair. He asked me to pick up particular copies of the script and music. I’d be coming back in a week to sing and read for Carlotta. Sure, I was too young to play the aging diva, but I would be considered for her understudy and the ensemble. 

My parents visited that week, a trip that had been planned around the Hamilton tickets we purchased ten months prior. And yet, I needed to prepare. This felt like my shot. I scheduled a vocal coaching session and a private acting coaching. I wanted to have the piece and my lines memorized. So, while I was able to hang out with them a bit, I spent most of their trip running around the city and rehearsing (read: fretting) in my apartment. 

In the end, I didn’t get the role. I didn’t even get a follow-up email letting me know I hadn’t gotten the role until I reached out months later. 

Throughout the day of the initial audition, I remained relatively calm. I had no expectation of even being heard. Every step of the way, I was surprised I made it to the next step. The week between that day and the callback, however, I was riddled with anxiety, crippled by the amount of pressure I felt. 

There was the external pressure of being in such a competitive field with people who were just as (or more) talented than I was. But most of what I experienced was internal pressure, that is, the significance and meaning I attributed to the situation. This audition had a certain amount of weight, but the pressure I put on myself as a human person in that situation was a whole other hill of beans. 

Maybe you’ve never been to a callback, but maybe you know the feeling. The moments before your first date with someone from your friend group. A big review meeting at work for a mistake you made. A difficult conversation with family after the election. We want it to go well--not just well, but perfectly (as we define “perfect”). The anxiety is normal, and I think it can be a message to us that we care about the situation. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t be afraid of what might go wrong. 

When my ability to adequately prepare or even be open to what might go right is impaired by internal pressure, I have learned to ask myself this one question. 

What is at stake here and why do the stakes feel so big? 

This question helps me see what is in my control and what isn’t. It also helps me honor the message that my anxiety is sending me--that I am in danger--and also move through that information. It was not realistic for me to hope to completely banish my nerves about the callback. But it was helpful to be able to put it into perspective. 

What was at stake? A professional opportunity that meant spending January in Wisconsin. Why did they feel so big? I had been in NYC for ten months and this was my first callback, so it felt like this one audition had the potential to legitimize my decision to move to the city. Did this audition actually hold that level of significance? Probably not, but I believed that it did. Framing this one audition in those terms couldn't possibly help me achieve my goal.

Naming the particular weight we put on a pressurized situation can help us reframe it. What seems like a make-it-or-break-it moment can become just one more step on a long path.

What do you think? When was the last time you had to move through a pressurized situation? What was at stake? 

October 1, 2020No Comments

3 Tips for Living Engaged in Overwhelming Times

It is an overwhelming time to be a person. Wildfires, persistent and systemic racial injustice, a pandemic, the upcoming election. On top of the psychological and emotional taxation of these realities, we have our own personal lives to live. We continue to work or look for work, live in prolonged isolation, cook and clean and move our bodies, engage with loved ones who see the external crises from a confusing, or even hurtful, perspective. 

It’s a lot. 

While we might feel pressure to take dramatic action in reaction to each crisis, we are overwhelmed by a deep understanding of our limitations. Instead of focusing on intense spurts of reactive effort, we can think about steady, sustainable engagement that can build over time. Spending the bulk of our bandwidth on the former leads to burn out. But the latter creates a foundation to draw from when the crises happen. We are able to commit with integrity and a long-term perspective. 

If you earnestly desire to live an engaged life, but don’t know where to start, here are three tips. 

Start with one or two.

This doesn’t mean you only care about one or two things, and this doesn’t mean that you put on blinders to everything else. But if you want to be an active participant in the restoration of our world, it’s helpful to start by looking around and paying attention. It can be easier to rant on social media than to engage with the person experiencing homelessness you pass by on the street every day or attend a town council meeting. We have all been sent to particular places among particular people with particular gifting. Start where you are. 

Start small. 

Don’t make your one thing “singlehandedly reform the infrastructure of Manhattan.” When I started working as a writer, I had the dream of publishing a best-selling book. I still have that dream, but my first step wasn’t to sit down and write 50,000 words to put into the hands of the masses. My first step was to start having conversations with people about my idea. This helped me learn and gave me a better idea of the stepping stones to getting the book into the world. Consider, instead, a couple of small habits you can implement daily, weekly, or monthly that will build on each other. 

Invite someone along. 

This is the secret sauce. Just because you don’t have a built-in partner does not mean you have to do the thing alone. And, even if you were married, that wouldn’t guarantee that your spouse would have the same goals and passions as you. Maybe you know someone who is also an initiative taker who would be interested in exploring where they might be called to engage. Ask them if they would be interested in joining you in your one small thing. 

We don’t have to do a whole big thing and we don’t have to wait. Let's start where we are with what we have. Let's take small faithful steps toward that thing. And then let's build from there.

August 27, 20202 Comments

5 Practices for When Your Friends Leave

Friendships can feel tenuous at the best of times. Someone gets a job and moves within a month. Someone starts a dating relationship and disappears into the ether. When things change and friendships shift, it can be challenging to talk about that kind of loss. But if we don’t do the work of feeling our feelings and moving through the grief, it can negatively affect how willing we are to invest in our friendships moving forward. 

Now that things are particularly uncertain in every area of life, our feeling of tenuousness has only grown. Perhaps you’ve had friends who have moved back home, or are not seeing other humans, or found a quarantine bae. With so many things up in the air, it’s important to be honest with ourselves, our people, and God about how we’re feeling. 

In order to help you with that, here are five practices for when your friends leave. 

Write them a letter, but don’t send it

It can be helpful to express your unfiltered thoughts and feelings in order to move through them. However, not all of those feelings need to be expressed directly to the person in question. It can be helpful to get them all on paper and out of your head. Then you can sort through them, present them to God, and see them more clearly and objectively. 

Ask, "What story am I believing in this experience?"

Writing through our thoughts and feelings can also give us insight into the deeper stories we might be projecting onto our friends. Sometimes, the stories match the situation. Other times, we are letting old thought patterns prevent us from seeing the situation clearly and generously. If, for example, a friend is leaving in order to follow where God is leading them, but you feel they are abandoning you, that’s probably got some roots that are worth exploring. 

Write down what you will miss about having that person nearby. 

Even if you and your friend commit to staying in touch, there’s something about proximity that no amount of FaceTime calls can replace. Your friendship will look different, and that’s ok. But name the specific things you’ll miss about being able to see each other in real life on a regular basis. 

Think of a few friends you want to spend more time with

People move out, but people also tend to move in. Is there a new person at work or in your Bible Study group who you could grab coffee with? Is there a peripheral friend who you’ve always wanted to spend more time with, but haven’t yet gotten the chance? Make a list and send them each a text asking if they want to hang out. 

Establish new rituals you’re excited about

If you and that friend used to meet for a walk every Friday, give yourself something else to look forward to. Maybe you and another friend can have a picnic in the park on Sunday afternoons. Maybe you can start having themed movie nights or a game night with a couple of friends every Saturday. Maybe you still go for a walk on Friday, but you listen to your favorite podcast instead. 

Once you’ve processed through some of these hard feelings, consider reaching out to a trusted friend or counselor. Plan to spend some time praying and reflecting as well. The loss of a friendship is still a loss, even if we are not so good at honoring that fact. I hope that these five practices serve you well. 


I am not a mental health professional, so this advice is not a substitute for what a trained, certified counselor can offer. If you are feeling anxious or depressed, please reach out and get some help. 

July 15, 2020No Comments

10 Things that Kept Me [Relatively] Sane in Isolation

In preparation for my vacation to North Carolina, I spent 14 days in isolation. If you plan on traveling, odds are there will be a recommended quarantine on one end or the other. So, for those of you looking down the barrel of fourteen days of making friends with the inanimate objects in your apartment, here are ten things that can help keep you [relatively] sane. 

Rituals

It’s vital to give yourself stuff to look forward to. On Mondays, I have therapy (praise be). Tuesdays, an anti-racism class through Brownicity. Wednesdays are for virtual community group (bible study). Thursdays are the days of a million calls. Friday, virtual movie night with my pals from grad school. Saturdays, deep cleaning and puzzlin. Sundays church. It’s like giving yourself somewhere to go without actually going anywhere. I also sprinkled in check-in calls with friends and friends offered to deliver various treats to my door so we could say hi from a distance. Figure out what you look forward to and pick a day that thing can happen each week. 

Full Focus Planner

I am aggressively Type A, so this quarterly planner has been a God-send. It’s helped me focus and pull out of my frantic “I -must-do-everything-now” mindset. It orients goals for the quarter, week, and day to help you keep your long term goals in mind as you plan your days and weeks. Heads up, there are tutorials that teach you how to use this. Like 45 minutes worth. You better believe I watched every second and took notes. The advice I got from my pastor when I got my first Full Focus Planner: “Don’t worry about filling every page. Just start where it’s helpful and build from there.” 

One Minute Pause

This app by John Eldredge helped with my workday boundaries. I chose to deal with the emotional difficulties of fourteen days by myself like the Enneagram 3 that I am. I worked. So, to help keep a healthier perspective on my work and my worth, I started implementing one minute pauses, courtesy of this app. It’s one minute of guided prayer and soothing music to help reorient your focus toward God. If you’re a control freak (like me) who likes to bury yourself in work (also like me), adding in pauses will be a game changer. 

These Pens

My sister got me one of these pens for Christmas and I almost immediately used all the ink. They’re awesome. Nice and inky, extra fine point, fun colors, and a good amount of resistance on the page. Fellow writers, if you know, you know. 

The Next Right Thing

There is nothing I don’t love about this podcast. It’s short (8-12 minutes). Emily P. Freeman’s voice is calming AF. It’s thoughtful and gently challenging. It’s the deep breath I need every Tuesday. The premise of the podcast is to help adults make decisions, but she explores so much more! It's not just me, btw. The podcast has 3,700+ reviews and its rating is still five stars. Get you some EPF in your life.  

The Blue Book

I am stoked this is for real published now. Back when I got mine, you had to know someone who knew someone who could get you a copy. This daily devotional has been with me since college, and it’s been fun to pick up again. Each week focuses on a specific topic and takes you through an opening prayer, a Psalm, a Scripture passage, supplemental reading, and focused reflection and prayer time. In these days of self-determined structure and no social outings, I’ll take structure anywhere I can get it.

For those interested in a practice outside the Evangelical framework, I love The Book of Common Prayer. It has prayer for everything, liturgy for worship, and Psalms. 

Back Massager

Now that I’m not walking around outside, posture and movement are a constant struggle. This heated massager is saving my life (aka my back) from the stiffness of sitting at my desk and lounging on my sofa. Mine requires an outlet, but the product makes up for the inconvenience.

Puzzles

I initially started doing puzzles in quarantine as a relaxing alternative to staring at my phone. But, I am excessively competitive and have no one to compete with. Except Ramon, the metal, decorative deer head that hangs on my wall, but he doesn’t like puzzles. The puzzles became a way to compete with myself. How quickly can I put this one together? I have tried various strategies for organizing the pieces from the chaos of the box. Because nothing says fun like organization and time pressure.  

I'm very picky about my puzzles. I prefer 1000 pieces, and there needs to be a decent amount or color variation in the picture, or I'm likely to rage quit. The linked puzzle isn't one I've tried, but my mom sent me a similar one of the Harry Potter book covers, and it was a lot of fun.

Making a Big Deal

As absolutely nothing was happening to me during the day, and I couldn’t have any true adventures, I started a daily series on my Instagram stories called “Isolation Adventure.” If I got mail, or a friend dropped something off, or I got oat milk instead of ice cream in my grocery delivery, that was an adventure. Another fun way to do this is to make a big deal about things that you ordinarily wouldn’t notice. Make your bed? Clean your oven? Cook dinner? Finish a season of a new show? Pat yourself on the back and tell the world. 

Books

Y’all knew it was coming. Books are a lifeline when access to the outside world is limited. I’ve been listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks each evening (Jim Dale is simply the best). I’ve also been making my way through The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground by Ryan Romeo, Called to Business by Dallas Willard, and Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Maybe you want to learn something new, or get lost in a magical world. Books can take you there. 

Above all, remember that it is temporary. Keep your eyes on the horizon. And get as many steps as you can. I believe in you.

June 17, 2020No Comments

Three Things New Creatives Need to Know

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On June 5th, I turned 30 and ye olde blog turned two.

Though two years is a relatively short period of time to have been doing this work, it also feels like an eternity. Upon hearing this, more travel-worn creatives will perhaps look at me like Derek Zoolander’s father did when, after a day of mining, Derek coughs delicately and says, “I think I’ve got the black lung, Pop.” His father replies, “You’ve been down in that mine for one day. Talk to me in thirty years!” 

I am learning that what has felt like a herculean effort (sometimes sisyphean, while we’re referencing Greek myths) is more like dipping my feet in the ocean. But above all, I know now that a learning mindset is crucial to longevity in this work. 

And so, in that spirit, here are the top three things I’ve learned in two years as a full-time professional creative. 

There is no secret. There is no hack. There is only the work. 

When I looked at successful creatives, the ones getting book deals and posting regularly for their 87 million followers and landing speaking gigs, I thought there was some secret they knew that I didn’t. And if I just discovered that secret, all of my problems would vanish. I thought there was a perfect system to create or a hack to learn that, once implemented, I would never have to touch again. 

In all of my wheel-spinning and bandwidth expending, I was taking time and energy away from the one thing that would actually help me make progress. The everyday, unglamorous work.

I didn’t realize that my frantic effort to find the perfect plan for guaranteed success was mostly procrastination from the work that was either boring or uncomfortable. It was a seemingly productive way to avoid the things that would actually help me build my business. 

A couple of tools that have helped with this mindset shift?

This work takes time, and that is a gift. 

I entered into my current creative work with the naive assumption that the book idea that started this whole thing would be out in the world by now. L to the O to the L. In the earliest days, I worked with a few great editors (shout out to Tiffany Owens, Stephanie Nicolopolis, and Ashley Hong) who helped that version of Unsuitable translate into a manuscript proposal. I have, from day one, felt that the premise of the work to be deeply important and timely. I even believed I had the ability to be the one to do that work. The third leg of the stool, as they say in the publishing world, “platform,” has always been my biggest issue. 

I used to become irritated at the necessity of having an audience who will likely buy the book. But now, I appreciate the time that Unsuitable has had to marinate and shift. And the time I’ve had to improve as a writer and refine my ideas. In the upcoming quarter, I plan to revisit that same manuscript proposal with the expectation that it will continue to change throughout the process. And all of that time and shifting means that it will be the best it can possibly be for the sake of those it’s designed to help. That is a gift. 

Some words that have helped here:

Self-sufficiency is a death-knell to creative work. 

Another coach of mine, Brian Dixon, says, “You can’t read your own label.” While there are things only we can do, we cannot and should not do everything. If you’re like me, it’s difficult to ask for help. I think this is true for many people, but for those of us who spend a significant amount of time alone (i.e. singles and creatives) it can get extra tricky. There is the issue of not having someone we feel entitled to ask for help, and the fear of being perceived as needy. 

But the fact is, whether we like it or not, we need other people. We need another perspective. We need help sharpening our ideas and our skills. It is risky and vulnerable, and we can take feedback with a grain of salt. But with those established, trust-filled relationships, the fruit of collaboration can be great. 

Some books that have been helpful here:

Here’s to two years. And here’s to many more. Thanks for sticking around. While you’re here, leave a comment and let me know what you’ve learned in the past year.

If you love this and want more, sign up for my newsletter in the footer for bi-weekly messages to encourage and challenge single Christian creatives to freely engage in the work we were made for.

May 27, 2020No Comments

10 Reminders for Single Christian Creatives

Around 3 pm every day, my resolve starts to fade. Focus and motivation evaporate and the cloying self-doubt begins to creep in. But I'm so sucked into it, I don't notice until it seems too late. I get so far into my head that it can feel like I can't climb back out.

The creative and single life are each lonely even at the best of times. Add a quarantine on top of that and it's straight up isolating. If the pressure to self-motivate and regulate is getting to you, take a moment to stop, stand up, stretch, and breathe. Take one of these reminders and use it to focus your restless thoughts. If you choose a scripture reference, try using it as a breathe prayer. Pray the first half of the verse on your inhale, and the second half on your exhale.

  1. "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” -Zechariah 4:10, NLT
  2. "There is nothing that you are presently doing that you did not have to learn." -Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr Stewart Townsend
  3. "And he said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest'" -Exodus 33:14, ESV
  4. "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." -Thomas A. Edison
  5. "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" -Isaiah 30:21, NIV
  6. "B minus work can change people’s lives. Work you don’t produce at all does nothing in the world." Brooke Castillo
  7. "You are only free when you realize that you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high, the reward is great." -Maya Angelou
  8. "There is no secret. There is no hack. There is only the work." -MaryB. Safrit
  9. "If you’re holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time." -Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  10. "There is no losing. There is only winning and learning." -Doonam Kim

May 19, 20202 Comments

How to Talk to Your Inner Critic

I stared at my computer, at the email I’d perfected over the past month. Attached was my manuscript proposal, which I honed on and off for the past year and a half. The send button glared back at me, daring me to press it in one moment and repelling me in the next. 

Alone in my office and in spite of the fact that I had checked and rechecked and edited and gotten feedback, I couldn’t seem to trust that I’d done enough to hit send. This email would go to my two top choice literary agents. I knew that my platform was pitifully minute, and so I put even more pressure on the other elements of my proposal. 

The longer I sat there, the more paralyzed I felt, the more I wondered if I was making the right decision, if I was missing some key element, if my book idea had the legs I thought it did. 

Our brains are committed to homeostasis, to keeping things the way they are. The tension comes when we also want to grow, when we realize that just because things are a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the best way. And then on top of that we want to create things and share the result with others.

It can feel like our brains will do literally anything to keep that from happening. 

In addition, as Christians we believe there is an enemy that "comes to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). While I am reluctant to blame every little thing that goes “wrong” on the devil, I don’t think he’s not a factor in our internal process, particularly when we are working to bring light and hope into the world. 

So, how do we deal with these things? We know that the resistance is not going away, yet we want to be able to persevere in our good work. Here are some practices to walk through when your inner critic makes your creative work feel like life and death. 

What does it sound like? 

Are there any phrases or feelings that you notice coming up? Be as specific as possible. As you’re noticing the feelings you’re experiencing, whether it’s fear, frustration, sadness, or doubt, pay attention to the story you’re telling yourself. 

For me, I notice the phrase, I can’t do this a lot, as well as, What’s the point? Nothing you do matters, and Your hard work will never pay off, so you might as well give up. I notice myself feeling anxious and my perfectionistic tendencies dialing up to eleven. I notice tension creeping up my neck and my breath becomes shallow. I notice that I fold in on myself and my thoughts feel like a shaken snow globe. 

Is it true? 

Our inner critic wants us to buy into the idea that our creative work is not worth sharing, that it doesn’t matter, that it’s not good enough. And so, when we notice those thoughts beginning to swirl around, we can non-judgmentally ask ourselves if the story our brain is telling us is true. 

A friend of mine suggested that I make a chart with my self-doubt’s greatest hits, and next to each one write a bit of truth. I chose to use verses from the Bible for mine, so that when one of those thoughts pops up, I can gently point my brain back to solid ground. 

Another way to approach this one is to question how we define the attributes our brains are putting onto our work. How are we defining “good enough?” What do we mean by “perfect?” What about our works makes it not worth sharing? 

What if it’s true? 

This is more of a stoic approach, but one that helps my perfectionist brain walk through some worst case scenarios. I used it more so when I was auditioning and I’d worry about puking in the middle of my sixteen bars. Another way to phrase this question is “What do you think will happen?” These questions can help us follow our logic train to the very end of its tracks. It’s helpful to do this with a trusted friend or counselor who can help us see where our logic isn’t lining up. 

If I’m worried about sending a query letter to an agent, for example, I might get caught up in the fear of making a bad first impression and landing myself always and forever on some sort of blacklist. It is good to edit and to have someone proofread. But if I get to the point where I’m so obsessed about not making a single mistake that I can’t even send the letter, it’s worth looking into that. So I might ask myself, Alright, brain, what’s going on here

I’ll walk through the naming exercise and notice that I am worried that I’ll overlook some detail that will cause the agent to dismiss everything else about my letter and proposal, and they’ll think I’m unprofessional and a bad writer. Ok, what if that happens? What if you forget something? Once I ride the wave of paranoia a bit, I then can consider, Ok, even if that does happen, is your desire to get your book in the hands of those it’s designed to help worth the risk of that happening? 

If I reach that question and find the answer to be “no,” but it’s still something I feel I need to do, I have a great therapist and some trusted friends and mentors who I know will challenge and encourage me. 

How can I imagine this differently? 

Our imaginations are powerful tools that shape our thought patterns and our perception. We can expend energy and bandwidth using our imaginations to worry about all the things that can go wrong. What if we also chose to consider all the things that could go right? What if we imagined ourselves held by God through the process? What if we imagined delight and joy instead of shame and guilt? 

I can imagine an agent looking at my proposal and picking up a red phone that connects him to other agents and telling them, “Watch out for that MaryB. character. She put a comma in the wrong place in her query letter. She is banned from the inner circle forever and always. Tell the everyone.” 

Or, I can use that same energy to imagine God cheering me on as I take a creative risk. I can imagine him saying, “This is my [daughter], whom I love, in [her] I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). I can imagine that God’s love for me does not depend on the placement of a comma. I can imagine that the agent is passionate about finding new writers with new ideas. I can imagine receiving rejection or silence and choosing to continue in my good work anyway. 

What do I believe God would say about that?

 This is one to enter into prayerfully and with discernment. The point is not to put words in God’s mouth but to examine our heart toward God. If I believe that God has invited me to participate in his work on this earth through the gift of words, how do I think he feels when I opt out? If I think he’s disappointed, is that backed up in the Bible and in my experience with God? 

More often than not, I find that my self-doubt comes from a place of pressure to follow rules that I’ve picked up along the way, but that are not from God. Somewhere along the line, I learned that I could guilt and berate myself into better behavior, thus avoiding any real heart change, maintaining my illusion of control, and making people believe I’m better than I am all in one. I am nothing if not efficient. 

1 John 4:18 says that, “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” Romans 8:1 says that, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:15 says that “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Several places in scripture call God “... gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” 

Though our brains will continue this warped effort to protect us from change, and the enemy will try to get us to live in fear and shame, God delights to invite us into this work. We are not bad or wrong for struggling with self-doubt. We’re just human, and God knows that. 

When the inner critic starts up, let’s have some practices in place. But also, whether we walk through them perfectly or forget them altogether, whether we do the work scared or put it off another day, we have more of a choice than we think we do. That choice does not determine our value or worth, but it is a choice. Today we might choose to trust the truth, tomorrow maybe we trust the self-doubt. 

One thing my therapist always says, which has made its way into my core values, “There is no losing. There is only winning and learning.” Let’s choose to learn.

May 5, 2020No Comments

How to Say “No” to FOMO

“Hey, not sure if you’d be interested, but I know someone looking for a freelance writer.” 

The text came on your typical Tuesday evening during which I was watching Netflix and questioning my choice to leave the relative comfort of the restaurant industry and write full time. I sat up, fully focused on the words on the screen. A contact had asked my friend in passing if she knew a freelance writer who might be interested in some work writing on recycling and renewable energy. 

I vacillated as I considered the question. It was a paying gig, but I didn’t know much about recycling and renewable energy. The familiar train of overly idealistic thought started up. Sure, I didn’t know much, but I could learn! Sure, this had nothing to do with my expertise and I’d have to do a ton of research to even begin to write on this topic, but it was a paid gig! As much as I felt the instinct to say no, I also felt the pull of what if

My friend and I went back and forth, and she ultimately left it up to me to reach out. 

If you’re a freelancer of any variety, whether a performer or writer or designer, you’ve likely come up against a similar situation. In my days of pursuing a singing career, there was the added pressure of accepting unpaid gigs. And in the opera world especially, gigs and programs for which I had to pay. It can seem like we must say yes to everything or we will miss out. We never know which opportunity might be the one that leads to more opportunities, or which one might be our big break. Especially in the early stages of our creative journey. Especially when work is particularly scant. 

How do we say no without experiencing the fear of missing out? How do we determine which opportunities are worth our time, and which will send us off in the wrong direction? Here are three practices to walk through when you feel that FOMO and self-doubt start to creep in.

Reflection

Thinking about the offer my friend presented, I needed to first determine if it was worth pursuing. In Essentialism by Greg McKeown, he lays out a strict criterion for when to say yes and when to say no. “It’s either HELL YES or it’s no.” By running through a series of questions that laid out the factors I needed to consider, I was able to gain clarity by using McKeown’s method. 

  • Is it worth the time required and amount of pay I will receive?
  • Am I the best person for the job? (don’t let this one trip you up if you’re prone to underestimating yourself)
  • Will this opportunity continue to move me toward my goals?
  • Is this a person I want to work with? 
  • Does the topic excite me?
  • Do I want to do it?
  • Is it the best way to help me meet my financial goals?
  • Do I feel energized when I think about this work? 
  • If unpaid, is this a valuable experience that will teach me a skill I need (teamwork, collaboration, working on a deadline, etc)? If so, is that worth the cost (time, stress, loss of focus, bandwidth)?

Though I could easily say no to most of the questions, I still wanted to make sure my judgement wasn’t skewed by something I might not be able to see. Which brings us to the next practice. 

Connection

Mayhaps like me you have a tendency to overthink yourself into knots. If you’re a more established creative, mayhaps you have a team you can talk through this stuff with. Or, if you’re married, it’s the kind of thing you sort out with your spouse. 

For those of us who don’t meet either criteria, it’s still important to reach out and connect with someone who knows us and knows our goals. They can’t make the decision for us, but they can remind us of our values when we get tangled up in a decision without a clear right or wrong. In the current scenario, I was able to work through these murky thoughts with the friend who brought me the opportunity. 

Normally, I would run the opportunity by one of a set list of friends whom I have known for years and whose opinion I trust. They are familiar with my priorities and personality, and can see what I can’t about myself. They also resist the temptation to solve the problem or answer the question for me. They may give me advice and point me in a specific direction, but they mostly ask questions and let me verbally process, reminding me of what they know to be true about me and my work along the way. 

Currently, I’m part of a mastermind group, which gives me access to three coaches and twenty-six fellow writers who are all committed to their work. Connecting with my cohort has been a game changer, and working with coaches? They have helped me clarify my goals, expanded what I believed to be possible for my creative work, and pushed me in all the ways I needed pushing. It has not been comfortable, but four months in, I have no regrets. 

Do you have a few go-to people who can help you see more clearly and focus? What would it take for you to find people committed to your growth? 

Direction

At the end of the first quarter (March 31), I took the day to distill my goals into a value ladder. Before that, I had a nebulous sense of what I might like to do to increase my income and move toward my larger goals. But they were murky, so it was easy to get pulled off track. I didn’t have a clear picture of where I was going. I knew there was a book involved, but other options had crept into my imagination. 

So I took the time to develop a path, a series of products and services that stack up to the ultimate thing that will best serve my audience. Now, when an opportunity comes along, I feel more equipped and empowered to stay in my lane. The ladder might change over time, but for now, it’s a filter through which I can see with more confidence what fits onto it and what doesn’t. 

Do you have a clear sense of where you’d like to go? If not, take some time to sketch it out. I used this blog as a starting point, but it’s not the only one out there, and it’s designed for more general entrepreneurs, as opposed to specifically for artists/creatives. However, it’s a good jumping off point to help clarify your path and your next steps. 

So what about FOMO?

I never reached out to the contact. Though I felt the tug of all that I thought the income promised, I said no, not knowing if another opportunity would come my way or if that might have been my golden ticket. But I learned something through the process of saying no. 

The secret to not getting FOMO is that there is no secret. Any time there is an opportunity that presents us with a series of unknowns, the what if’s will creep in and make us second guess our instincts. And sometimes we will learn something later down the road that suggests that we made the wrong choice. 

Using a combination of these three practices-reflection, connection, direction- we can build resilience and confidence over time. They’ve helped me wade through the ambiguity of the creative life and develop a system for making decisions without as much wasting bandwidth on overthinking. They help me resist the temptation to chase every shiny thing that comes across my path. 

Maybe I’ll miss something, but I’ve noticed that a win/lose mindset doesn’t serve me well in this situation. One of my core values for my business is “Learning, not Losing.” It’s a riff on something my therapist says to me a lot. “There is no losing. There is only winning and learning.” There will be times when I don’t make the best decision. There will be times I’ll miss out and times I’ll over commit. But getting hung up on making the perfect decision every time and listening to the FOMO only ensures paralysis. Take the time to step back and reflect, connect, and direct your steps. And if we whiff it, we have the opportunity to learn and try again. 

If you’re having trouble with any of these practices, or sussing out which you might need to focus on, I offer one-on-one coaches. Check out more here and sign up for your free 15 minute intro call!

April 30, 2020No Comments

7 Questions to Keep Things Interesting When Talking to Yourself

Tired of running through the same tired questions and scenarios with yourself? Looking to spice things up in the self-conversation department? 

We’ve all been there. Sure, you’re interesting and charming, but without anyone else to help steer the conversation, you always end up rehashing that argument you lost five years ago.

Or over-thinking that time in grade school the principal thought you were laughing at her, but really you were laughing at something your friend said making fun of your principal, and when your principal confronted you about it, you didn’t know what to say.

Or the time you said you knew how to pin a boutonniere (which you did know at one point), but when you realized you were 17 the last time you did it and might have forgotten some key elements and everyone was watching you and waiting for you to finish, you panicked and left a substantial amount of the pin poking out of the dude’s lapel all but guaranteeing it will impale him or someone else. 

If you’re like me, you’re ready for some fresh material. So, here are seven conversation starters to take talking to yourself to the next level.

What is my favorite song/movie/book? 

This one might seem like a surface level question, but mayhaps it’s been a while since you thought about it. For example, I chose my favorite book senior year of high school. But reflecting upon it now, I could not tell you why it holds that spot. I remember loving it, but I haven’t picked the thing up in 10+ years. I don’t even have a copy of it in my current dwelling. Mayhaps that is an indication that ‘tis time to look past the reflex answer and come up with another one. 

How long has that mark on the wall been there? 

This is an opportunity to put to use all of those true crime documentaries and detective shows you’ve been watching. Describe the color and texture, recall moments of banging into other walls to try to jog your memory. Look at old pictures to determine when the mark started showing up in them. Feel free to make a crime board on which to list your evidence and deductions. 

How often should I clean my vacuum?

This classic philosophical quandary can provide you with hours of stimulating debate. Is it reasonable to be expected to clean the thing that cleans? Isn’t that, like, its job? How is it, exactly, that that much hair has fallen from my head and gotten wrapped around the twirly part? The avenues of discussion are truly endless on this one. 

Should I rearrange my furniture again?

There is nothing quite like a three dimensional game of Tetris to liven up a conversation. Sure, you meticulously planned the optimal layout for your furniture given the minute nature of your apartment and its oddly shaped walls. But you know, maybe you were wrong, maybe the couch will fit against that wall. 

Which instrument should I learn? 

You have a guitar sitting in its case gathering dust, but you know, you never truly connected with it on a spiritual level. Yes, that was the problem. Maybe now is the time to invest in a cello. You could pick that up with a couple of YouTube videos. Or perhaps the harp, with all its regal majesty and soothing arpeggios. You could serenade your neighbors through the walls. They’d love that. Where does one even get a harp? Wait, harps cost how much??

Should I start a podcast?

I mean, your friend Brittany has one, and she’s not even that interesting, so it can’t be that hard. You’ve always thought it would be fun. What would it be about? The lifecycle of the mark on your wall? Your journey as a harp prodigy? You could honestly talk about anything to avoid the quiet stillness of your isolation. *googles “best podcast microphone”*

Should I cut my hair?

Look, you can learn anything on YouTube these days, and everyone is posting their derpy self-cut hair. Map out the pros and cons, watch a couple of how-to videos and shout questions in your computer’s general direction. 

Though we are socially distant, it doesn’t mean we have to spend our isolation in utter silence, staring into the void.

If nothing else, why not use these as a warm up before your next Zoom call so you remember how to put sentences together?

Stay strong; stay well. 

Communicator. Creator. Coach.

© 2020 Mary B Safrit LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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