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.

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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. 

April 14, 2020No Comments

Should I Be Creating Right Now?

Yesterday, I hit my quarantine threshold. I've been doing everything that a good quarantiner should--creating routine and sticking to it, making time to move, connecting with my people. Even so, the indefinitude and my lack of control caught up with me. As if on cue, the pervasive rain of the day broke and the sky cleared. I frantically threw on my shoes, a flannel, and my mask, and escaped to the park.

I walked the four avenue blocks, desperately wanting to take off my mask so I could breathe in air that wasn't my own. I snuck a gulp of the cool, fresh breeze, grateful it lacked the smell of urine that is quintessential New York.

I entered the park at my usual spot, just north of the Met, and was immediately greeted by a whiff of spring. The trees, missing the memo that the city was on lockdown, bloomed. Their defiance was so strong, I smelled it through my mask. In that moment, all of my frenetic, swirling thoughts stilled and I remembered that buds and leaves operate on their own schedule.

Spring happened without anyone telling it to. The empty branches were filled in their own time regardless of what was happening just a few blocks away.

Four weeks ago, I, and many of my fellow singles, found myself facing a new reality-living alone without a sense of when I’d be able to regularly resume meeting with other humans in three dimensions. When was the next time I would receive something as simple as a hug from a friend? Where the parents I knew still had overfilled lives, mine was empty. And I was faced with the reality that I was responsible for filling it.

Like the textbook performer and achiever I am, work was the obvious solution. Not just because I needed the distraction, but because problem solving is caffeine to my brain. All of a sudden, we were all faced with a new set of obstacles and unnavigated areas of stuckness.

Staring down the barrel of a nationwide shut down that has meant unemployment, anxiety, and a paradigm shift for so many, not to mention the actual life and death risk placed onto essential workers, the stakes felt too high to play it safe creatively. I wrote and I started an IGTV series and I strategized. But I also assessed what I already had in the works and stayed the course in those. In considering how to add value, I thought about both creative pivots and consistency. 

But most of all, I filled my time with purposeful work because it’s what I needed to keep the emptiness from overtaking me. I knew myself well enough to recognize how much my mental health depended on creating as much structure as possible, and also leaning into the creative problem solving part of my brain. 

Many of my creative friends, married and single, did not receive the upheaval the same way. They gave themselves time and space to grieve. Deep feelers that they are, they needed to first acknowledge and honor those feelings. 

Creative community has a way of bringing together the thinkers, the feelers, and the doers. As one of those groups continued to meet virtually, I noticed the pervasiveness of a word. 

Should

And as someone who was driven to create in this time of crisis, my questions were Should I not be writing publicly right now? Should I stop? But for many of my friends, it was Should I be writing right now? Should I be doing more? 

Whatever our situation, we were looking at each other and wondering if their way of coping and adjusting meant that mine was wrong. 

Under the best of circumstances, the struggle to stay in our own lane is challenging. When our nerves are on edge and everything feels extra insecure? Dial that up to eleven. 

As creatives, our job is to communicate and express, to entertain and evoke, to encourage and challenge. And the beauty is that we each have our own way of doing that.

Those of us who are action-oriented thrive when there are problems for which we can offer solutions. Those of us who are more deliberative thrive when they give themselves margin to absorb and notice and think. Those of us who are feelers ground us and refuse to gloss over what is hard in favor of what is ideal. Each has their strengths and pitfalls, and each has their own way of using their orientation to create beautiful and useful work. 

As we enter week five of quarantine, mayhaps some of the adrenaline is wearing off. Mayhaps you’ve picked up a few tools and learned what you need (and even what your audience needs). Given the nature of pandemics, normalcy can shift in a moment. But as the newness wears off you might be left with the guilt and pressure of should. What if we were free to consider a different option altogether?

Maybe now isn’t the time to produce, but to plant. 

All of what I have produced in the last four weeks was already in the works, or was wisdom I cultivated through nearly three decades of tumultuous life experience and two decades of living with anxiety. The fruit you are seeing didn’t just happen, it was the result of seeds that were planted months and years ago, and countless small steps and moments of healing. And it came to fruition in its own time.

Just because I’m producing blogs and posts and a new website doesn’t mean you’re behind or missing out. Consider the words of Psalm 126: 5-6, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”  

Maybe right now is the time for journaling and keeping up with your day job (or looking for a new day job). Mayhaps getting creative and casting vision is what your soul needs right now. We are all speculators at this point, exploring what is possible based on the variables available to us. Part of the beauty of being part of a body (ie the body of Christ aka the church, or being part of a creative community, or a friend group etc.) is that we all get to learn from each other. 

We need the doers and the thinkers and the feelers. We need the “right now” and the “not yet.” We need the pushing forward and the pulling back. We need the reaping and the sowing.  

As for me? I’m both reaping in joy and sowing in tears right now. It’s part of the job, balancing present and long term. I recently received the advice to be the most MaryB. I can be, and MaryB. is a relentless doer, but also an eager learner. Because of the seeds that were planted, I get to steward those gifts in an outward facing way, while also being mindful of the ultimate vision God has given me for this creative work that has not bloomed yet.

Our work is to plant the seed, to nurture it, but it is not in our power to make it grow at a specific time. Today, if you find yourself caught up in a web of should, consider where you are and remember that God is present in this moment. Whether we are creating publicly or God is germinating something within us that hasn't reached its time, should will only distract us from the good work that's happening now.

April 9, 2020No Comments

For the Moment You’re Ready to Throw in the Towel

Dear single Christian creative, 

At least once a week, sitting alone in my office, I wonder why the eff anybody thought this writing thing was a good idea. I think, Who in their right mind would choose to do words for a living? 

Typically, I’ve written something truly brilliant that has not become an instant sensation. The indignation of my ego that demands to be recognized as the greatest mind of our generation rises up and the reel of nagging questions begins. 

What if I’ve gone all in on the creative life only to find that I am merely mediocre? What if I can’t do it?

Perhaps this doubt is what has brought you to this particular moment today. Or maybe you got your ninth rejection letter from your dream agent, or worse they didn’t deign to respond at all. You’ve arrived at a moment where the weariness of continuing to put one foot in front of the other is finally too much. And you wonder what would be so bad about moving anywhere cheaper and selling ad space in airports. 

Yes, that could actually work. Because you know that there truly is nothing wrong with moving or selling ads. You even imagine that it would lift a weight off your shoulders. And it just might appease the voice of self-doubt. 

Afterall, doubt speaks in the voice of people you respect. Maybe it’s right. 

In these fraught moments, I like to blame God for calling me to the creative life in the first place. I mean, it’s his fault the ideas form almost of their own volition and spill out onto the page as if having a will and life of their own. He’s the one who was all I want you to use your voice

Truthfully, I was the one who asked, and I was the one who said a begrudging “Alright, then.” But he’s the one who incepted the notion of pursuing the creative life into my soul. In these moments, I like to tell God what a big mistake he has made. Surely if this was his idea and I was good and obedient to the call, he owes me an immediate spot on the NYT bestseller list. Them’s the rules. 

You know what I’m talking about. You’ve made sacrifices. You’ve done scary things and been vulnerable. And the payoff for all that you’ve laid on the altar of creativity seems to have gotten lost in the mail. This is not what you signed up for. 

But even as you allow the resentful thoughts to bubble up, even as you think about turning around, you worry that God will be disappointed in you if you do. You hear that same voice, unbidden, drift into your head, the one that haunts you with its almighty proclamation of unsuitability, the one that has convinced you that if you give up on your call you will have failed your test and be sorted with the goats and the chaff. Everything you feared to be true about yourself will be confirmed and God will shake his head and go spend his time and energy on someone more worthy. 

It begins to occur to you that maybe the voice of self-doubt isn’t going anywhere. Whether you are in Manhattan or Akron, mayhaps that accusatory voice will follow you no matter where you go or what you do. 

An interesting thing happened when I was finally honest with God about this particular fear. It started with a story from my pastor. He talked about his own moment where he told God that he was done, that he didn’t want to do ministry any more. He was drawn to the story of Elijah, the one where he’s just done some of the most badass propheting and called down fire from heaven, defeating the prophets of Baal in an Old Testament showdown. He flees to the mountains and basically tells God, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I would rather die.” 

The pastor went on to describe that God responded by giving Elijah a nap and a snack. And when Elijah again said that he didn’t want to do the work anymore, God said that he didn’t have to. I don’t know what translation he got that from, but the idea stuck with me. It hit me at one of these moments where everything in my life felt like a burden. That idea shifted something in me, a truth that I’d lost along the way. 

We have a choice in this. 

The call I feel to write and create is not a demand. It is an invitation, one that I am free to ignore. I owe God everything, but he does not hold it over me. Jesus has already paid that price. If I were to never write another word as long as I live God would not love me any less. 

But I know that keeping all this creative energy pent up would eat me alive. I know what it was like to live with it inside of me, to be too afraid to speak and too doubtful of the need for the words to get out of me and into the world. I still feel that resistance when I sit down at my piano or with a blank page.

I know the self-doubt, the resistance is part of the job. I know it will always be there. But the doubt wants me to forget that I don’t have to listen to it. It wants me to think that I don’t have the audacity to believe that this voice is a gift that the world needs. It wants me to believe that I am powerless against it. 

It wants me to forget that the louder it gets, the closer I am to the good stuff.  

Perhaps if you are at a point when you want to walk away, that’s something to listen to and bring to God. Perhaps that’s a nudge from the Spirit that you need to take a break. Building endurance means learning to listen to that nudge. If you don’t, your body will listen for you.

And if it truly is time to walk away and do something else for an undetermined amount of time, maybe that’s ok. After almost ten years of classical training, I walked away from singing and I didn’t know if I would ever come back to it. I just couldn’t physically bring myself to do it anymore. I felt like a failure, and I listened to the accusation for a while. 

But the reason you are reading these words is because I took the time to walk away. And the creativity inside of me found a different outlet. Eventually, I wanted to sing again and I'm learning to love it again. But if I had powered through and kept pushing, I don’t know that I would have arrived here. 

If you need to walk away for a time, trust that the invitation will still be there when you’re ready to come back. You’ll still have the fear and the doubt and you’ll never truly be ready. You’ll still wrestle and want to give up. But maybe in your time away you’ll realize, like I did, that success and fulfillment in this creative work isn’t measured by a best-seller list or a Grammy or whatever. 

Success is completing the thing you started. And therein lies the secret to finding joy in the work again. I have the goal of publishing a book, and it is a good goal. But I cannot control when that will happen or how that book will be received. All I can do is be faithful to today’s small steps that will inch me closer to completing that good work. 

One of my favorite verses is in Isaiah, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, there will be a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’” (30:21, NIV).  The pressure you feel to do this work perfectly, the striving, the fear of not living up to the expectations? That’s not from God. 

You are free to walk away if the pressure has become too great. And you’re free to stay. Whatever you choose, God will not walk away from you. 

All the best, 

Marebs

April 7, 20202 Comments

How to Read a “How To” Blog without Losing Your Mind

There are over 512 million blogs on the interwebs right now. That translates into an average of 5.8 million new blog posts each day.

Holy. What. 

Many of those 512 million+ bloggers are vying for your attention. Including me. You might have noticed an uptick in content like “How to be productive in quarantine,” or “5 ways to stay in shape in quarantine,” or “How to look sexy while wearing your mask.” 

If you’re like me, you probably clicked, thinking, What the hey, they probably contain some helpful insight. But after setting up ambitious plans to write the next King Lear while simultaneously becoming a master chef and wellness guru, mayhaps you’ve arrived at, If one more blogger tells me to put on real pants, I am going to lose my ever living mind

You might get the nagging suspicion that you’re somehow failing at this quarantine thing. If some blogger in Portland can do everything on her “how to” blog post while preparing locally sourced, nutritious meals every day and learning to paint pieces of fruit, what can’t you? 

As one of those 512 million+ bloggers, I would like to give you a peek behind the curtain, and some tips on how to take what’s helpful and let the rest go.  

Bloggers are human

Anybody with a little time and $12 to buy a domain can start a blog. That’s not to say that most are not well-meaning and credible, it’s just to put things into perspective. We may very well have valuable information to share that will be legitimately helpful. But, it’s important to keep in mind that bloggers are human. 

None of us have lived through a global pandemic in the age of information. So even if we have general tips on working from home or being productive right now, there’s a lot we’re still figuring out as well. There has always been noise and competing advice, it’s just things are so nuts now it’s all getting ramped up to an eleven. Many of these bloggers could be thinking, THIS IS MY MOMENT, but what they also mean is, Dear God, please don’t leave me alone with my thoughts and fears

It is possible for a blogger to share information that is both helpful and not helpful. It’s possible that, because you’re different people, their methods of coping will not line up with yours. That blogger may very well be doing all of the things they list on their how to, but I would hazard a guess that they are not. Any tips shared, even if they are from personal experience, paint a picture of what is ideal. 

If you feel tempted to compare yourself to a blogger based on the image they project in a how-to, take a moment to notice that. Remind yourself that you have a choice in where you direct your thought patterns. If it helps, gently acknowledge that that blogger’s poop stinks just like yours. They may have more experience in a particular area, and some of the information might be helpful. Just because they’ve come up with an ideal way of living based on their experience and written about it on the interwebs does not mean they are actually doing all of those things perfectly all the time and all at once. 

Give yourself the grace to try what might be helpful and leave the rest. 

“How to” phrasing is what gets you in the door

A huge reason for writing “how to” blogs is a little thing called SEO. There are 512 million+ blogs out there. How do we get ours into the hands of the people we are writing for? Search Engine Optimization. Writing blogs with titles that are “searchable” makes it easier for the Googs to pull our blog up when you search for a specific question. 

Think about how you look for information on the internet. You take your question and either type it exactly into the search engine, or you write in a few keywords to get you started. You aren’t necessarily looking for a literary blog exploring the nature of friendship. You’re typing “How to make friends in a new city” and clicking on the first or second thing that pops up. 

Making that exact phrase the title of a blog on friendship is how I get you in the door. Once you’re in and if you find the piece useful, if you jive with my tone and style, if the content convinces you that you are the reader my blog was designed for, then you’re more inclined to click around and see what else I’ve got going on. Marketing says that you are looking at my website and asking “What’s in it for me?” I need to be able to answer that question on every page, and if you aren’t my person, then you’ll move on. 

Another question I think about as a blogger is what will make my ideal reader stop scrolling on social media and click on a blog I’ve written. If you are a potential new reader, a title like “Friendship and Growth in New York” will likely blend into the noise of your feed. But a title that promises to solve a real life problem you have in 5 steps? That’s what you’ll actually click on. That’s what I click on, too. 

When I first started learning about marketing, I thought it sounded manipulative. But the thing is, the blogger may truly have a solution to a real problem. But if they don’t do the work to write at least a handful of pieces that are “searchable,” you will never find them. 

When I share a piece of information, it’s because I think it adds value to my readers’ lives. It’s not so much about getting a bunch of random people to look at my blog, it’s about giving the right reader a real solution to a real problem. It’s about serving a specific person by giving them something that I’ve learned or a method I’ve come up with in exchange for their time or money. The “how to” blog is a way to connect that information with the people who are searching for it. 

I can’t say that all bloggers write from that exact perspective, but that’s the one I use. 

You don’t have to do everything

I remember the moment this idea connected with my reality. It was something that my therapist said after I returned from a writer’s conference in a state of paralyzing anxiety. As with many conferences, they take several months’ worth of information, cram it into 2 days, and send you on your merry way. 

The thought that constantly bounced around my panicked brain from sun up to sun down at that conference? I can’t do this

I took the frantic thought and laid it before my therapist. And, in true Dr. Therapist fashion, he helped me distill it down to the base assumption, revealing that assumption to be founded on faulty information. 

The main speakers had each been writers for 1-2 decades, and were sharing all of the best practices they’d accumulated in that time. I received that information with the belief that they were suggesting that I should be able to implement all of their advice immediately and perfectly. And, since I had the information, if I missed anything or messed up, it was my fault and I was a failure for not being able to keep track of all the bits of advice they offered. Even if I were to choose one of the 87 next steps, I felt that there was a “right” one, I just didn’t have quite enough information to know which it was. 

My conditioning and disposition assumed that all of it was on me and that I absolutely had to do everything they said perfectly and immediately. I did not account for the fact that we are different humans, that they have decades in the industry on me, and that they did, in fact, have help. 

Human beings are limited. We cannot and should not do everything, particularly when it comes to taking advice from another limited human being. When you read a how-to blog, remember that the method that the blogger is describing took time to develop. They took small steps in their everyday lives until those things became habitual. 

Start where it’s helpful and build from there. 

There might be a better way to process feelings and information

Instead of googling every question that comes to mind, mayhaps start with reflection. If we’re searching for “How to stay sane in quarantine,” what are we really looking for? “How to” blogs are really great for giving us practical steps to implement. But they’re also great for giving us behaviors to mimic that distract us from the deeper problem. When we type that question into Google, or click on the social media post the blogger made, what are we expecting? No matter how good the advice is, the blogger might not be able to address any underlying motivations we’re bringing into the piece. 

Notice the impulse that drives you to click on that article. Is it discomfort with boredom or stillness? Is it an attempt to avoid the overwhelming uncertainty we are all collectively experiencing? The answers to these questions are not good or bad, they’re just information that can help with the choices you make. There’s a place for distraction, but layering activity on top of feelings we don’t want to feel does not make them go away. 

If you notice yourself obsessively Googling or scrolling through social media, that might be an invitation to take those feelings to God in prayer, and then to talk them through with a trusted friend or counselor. 

Focus on “what is” over “what should be” 

Ahh the tantalizing “should.” Seems like it would be a great motivator, all those things you should do and should care about. Turns out it only adds pressure that keeps us spinning our wheels. The only thing “should” ever creates is guilt, and that is the way to burn out, shame, and frustration. There is, of course, nothing wrong with having a goal or an ideal to work towards. But “should” is different. 

A few months after I started seeing my current therapist, I finally got real about experiencing feelings like anger, sadness, and emotional pain. They had, of course, always been there. But I didn’t feel I had a right to them, so I ignored and minimized and guilted--all an enormous feat of mental gymnastics to avoid how deeply they ran. Once I got honest with him (and myself), that impulse was still there. I would say things like “I shouldn’t be angry,” or “it’s not a big deal, I don’t know why I’m sad.” 

His near constant refrain in those days was this: “We can’t get to where you want to go if we’re starting at where you think you should be. We have to start where you actually are.” 

If you’re scared, name it. If you’re angry, say it out loud. If you’re sad, write it down. Covering the feelings up is not the answer. We have to move through them. Best to do this with God and then with a trusted friend or counselor. 

When you’re reading one of these “how to” blogs, and you notice yourself starting to get that squirmy feeling, take a beat. What are you assuming about the piece? The writer? Yourself? The situation you’re in? 

Start where you are. Start with what is helpful. And leave the rest for another day… or never.

March 26, 2020No Comments

How to Stay Sane in Quarantine

Welcome to day 495 of quarantine. As it would seem that we’re going to be in this thing for a bit, we need tools to help us not lose our everliving minds. I am dedicated to your mental, emotional, and spiritual health, fellow single Christian. Binging shows on your couch might get old at some point, so I’ve come up with some other options to sprinkle into the mix. 

Here are ten ways to stay sane in quarantine. 

Game Night

If you live alone (or can’t stand your roommate), there are a couple of ways you can have a virtual game night. You can use Jackbox and whoever is hosting share their screen on Google Hangouts or Zoom. They also have an article about how to play virtually on their site. The party packs of games cost a bit of money, but it’s not bad, especially if you split the cost with a couple of friends. 

I also stumbled across this Harry Potter virtual escape room that can be played alone or in a group. I went through it by myself, and there were some challenging moments. If you want to play it as a group, I’d suggest a screen share situation in Google Hangouts. 

Zoom Movie Night

I tried multiple ways of doing a virtual movie night, and Zoom was by far the best. My friends and I couldn’t get Netflix Party to work at all, and screen sharing with Google Hangout caused audio and video lags and glitches. Zoom really is the best for this. 

If you start a screen share, just make sure you click the option to “Share Computer Audio” as well. I know Zoom cost money for meetings of more than 2 screens that last longer than 40 minutes. If you’re really not looking to shell out $15/month, either only watch it with one other computer or watch your movie in 40 minute increments. 

Move

There are a ton of ways to stay active in quarantine if it’s your thing. If it isn't, this would be a good time to look into stretching or yoga, as we are all more sedentary than usual. Even before the lockdown, I was using BeachBody on demand, which has a ton of great workout videos, a large number of which do not require equipment. If you’re not looking to pay for a subscription, check out this article with different free offerings divided by type of workout. There are some big names on there, including Barry’s Bootcamp and 305 Fitness!

Karaoke

Sometimes you just gotta belt out Celine Dion in your apartment by yourself. Search YouTube for the title of your go-to jam + karaoke, and it’s probably there.  I haven’t tried this as a group, but I would imagine the audio lag would be a big problem. 

My go-tos? Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, It’s All Coming Back to Me Now by Celine Dion, and Somebody to Love by Queen. What can I say, I love a good ballad. 

Spontaneous dance party

Play upbeat music as you’re cooking or cleaning and let the music take you away. Or schedule a 5 minute dance break regularly in your work day. There are a ton of awesome dance playlists on Spotify to choose from. Looking for slower grooves? Check out Kitchen Swagger. Upbeat? Try Cleaning Kit and Get Chores Done. Browse their “Mood” and “Party” categories for the music that gets you to move. 

Learn something

Entrepreneurs cannot stop doing free webinars right now. I follow a ton who are churning them out left, right, and center. But if you’re looking for something not business-related, check out “The Great Courses” on Audible, iTunes U, and Masterclass. 

Your friends also know things. Have you heard of a powerpoint party? Everyone in your crew puts together a brief powerpoint about something they know well (serious or silly), and then gives a presentation. This would be super easy to do in Google Hangouts. Choose a moderator, allow time for a Q&A, and get ready to learn. 

Laugh

There are at least 87 million comedy specials on the various streaming services right now. I’m a big fan of Trevor Noah and John Mulaney, but to each his own. You could also do a Google Hangout with friends and read dad jokes to each other while trying to maintain a straight face. If you smile, the other person gets a point. First person to 10 wins. 

Cook/Bake

When you spend most of the day sitting around staring at your computer, it’s good to get up and do something with your hands. Pinterest is riddled with amazing recipes in varying degrees of complexity. Check out YouTube for video tutorials if you want to learn a new skill, like how to poach meringue or bake a loaf of sourdough. 

Read

What’s better than a good story to take your mind off your woes? Maybe you could even host a virtual story time with your friends. I’ve been doing this on my Instagram every night, and it’s super fun. This would be a good alternative to a virtual book club (though that’s a fun option as well). Get together with the same group at the same time every day or every few days and take turns reading from the same book. 

Looking for stuff to read? I’ve put together this list of fiction and non-fiction titles. Some are on my list to read in quarantine, some I’ve already read and love. 

Listen

There are over 600,000 podcasts out right now. And the amount of ready-made playlists? Too numerous to count. I won’t even get into the number of audiobooks available at the touch of a screen. As far as podcasts go, I love Myths and Legends, Science Vs, Pass the Mic, The Next Right Thing, and The Dropout. If you’re looking for stories and conversations from single Christians on the most important things that fill their lives and the stories that have shaped them, you can also check out my podcast, “Unsuitable with MaryB. Safrit.” 


This is truly the tip of the iceberg, and all focused on things you can do inside the walls of your apartment. What about you? How are you staying sane? Drop a comment below and let me know!

March 25, 2020No Comments

How to Serve the Vulnerable Right Now

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” -Matthew 25:40

After a week and a half of quarantine and more wide-spread testing, you might have started to settle a bit into your new reality. And now you’re wondering what you can do to help. While you are not a policy maker or the head of a hospital, you have the power to impact your neighbors, community, and friends in a positive way. 

Part of the survival instinct is to circle the proverbial horses and take care of your own. But there are ways to reach out and help in tangible ways while also following the CDC guidelines and government mandates. Many of us cannot make a vaccine or bail out our favorite small business. But there are small steps we can take to generously care for our community and the most vulnerable. 

Don’t try to do all of these at once. If you are able, start with one and then go from there. 

Stay Home

You’ve heard this over and over, but it bears repeating. If you are able, please stay home. Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times daily email last week, “America is a very individualistic society, built on the idea of individual rights. So this is a big test… for America--the question being: Will people in America sacrifice individual liberty for the sake of the community?” It’s a sobering question, and one I ask you to wrestle with. 

Pray

In his sermon this past Sunday, the senior pastor of my church said this:

On the one hand, there’s nothing more helpless and weak than prayer. You sit alone in a room, your body isn’t acting, in face we take our hands and place them in our lap. And all we do is speak words. There couldn’t be a more poignant symbols of human helplessness. And yet, precisely in that moment of helplessness, we’re tapping into the eternal power of God himself… It is precisely where our limitations and weakness slam into the power and the love and the grace of God.”

Abe Cho

If there was ever a time for prayer, it is now. Pray big, bold prayers of healing. Pray the Psalms. Pray God’s promises and character. Pray for your neighbors, friends and family. Pray for the incarcerated, the immunocompromised, the chronically ill, the elderly. Pray for those who are isolated. My church is offering a daily time of prayer, which you can join here, during which we read passages of Scripture, and we are led through prayers for specific places and people. 

Who do you know?

Chances are you have a friend who continues to be deeply impacted by this, as you have been. Do you know a nurse or doctor? Do you know someone in the restaurant or retail industry who has lost their job? Do you know someone who lost paid gigs? Offer to bring them a meal, or do their laundry, clean their apartment, or make a grocery run. 

Put out a Social Media Blast

If you don’t know anyone and want to help, put out a blast on social media. Ask if anyone knows anyone who is vulnerable who needs groceries. Make sure to clarify that you’re offering to make a run to the store, not free groceries. Or start a GoFundMe for groceries or money for bills for the vulnerable and distribute it or use it to buy groceries for people in need. 

Reach out to the infected

By now you probably know someone who is infected and is in quarantine for 14 days, assuming they are not hospitalized. FaceTime them, see if they need groceries, send them cookies or chicken noodle soup (being mindful of any dietary restrictions and allergies). 

Check in regularly with those who live alone

If you live alone, create a buddy system where you’re checking in with someone on a daily basis. If you don’t, think about someone who does and set an alarm in your phone that will remind you to text them at a certain time each day

Find an Organization Already Serving the Vulnerable

If you’re in the city, check out this list from Hope For New York. They keep it up to date as to ways you can safely serve, and places you can send money. If you aren’t in NYC, reach out to your pastor or a local community leader and ask who has been reaching out to them with needs.

Contribute to a Relief Fund

My church has set up a relief fund to help those most affected by COVID-19. If your church hasn’t done so, or you aren’t part of a church, google local, established organizations that have. Look for organizations that serve the homeless, the elderly, food banks, or any at risk population. 

Send flowers to a nursing home or hospital

Reach out to a local florist and see if they can send an arrangement to a local nursing home or to the hospital. You’ll help a local business that’s hurting, and you’ll bring hope and beauty to the isolated, desperate, and overworked. Most will let you include a card, on which you could write a brief message of encouragement. 

Write to the incarcerated

Those in prison are among the most vulnerable, as they live in tight quarters and have a high rate of chronic illness. You don’t have to write the next Pulitzer, just a few words of encouragement--a prayer, a verse, or message of hope. Check out organizations that already serve this population and see if they can facilitate. 


There are probably many other ways to serve, and a simple Google search will likely bring up articles and blogs with more ideas. But I hope that at the very least, this inspired you to come up with ideas of your own and challenged you to pray and stay home. Be well, y’all.

Communicator. Creator. Coach.

© 2020 Mary B Safrit LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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