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? 

September 17, 2020No Comments

How I Finally Made Progress in My Writing

A year and a half ago, I sat in my office watching a masterclass. It was 8 pm, long past the time I should have gone home. But there I was, listening to an author named Emily P. Freeman talk about “How to be a Working Writer Without Losing Your Mind.” A friend forwarded me an email that I’d already received after signing up for the hope*writers email list, suggesting I check it out. I’d bought Emily’s latest book, The Next Right Thing, which many of the Christian authors I followed on social media were raving about. It was also a fun bonus that she lived in the town where I went to grad school. 

I’d been in the writing game for over a year and still felt like I was floundering without a sense of who to ask for guidance, or even what I should be asking. Most of my days were marked by frustration and anxiety as I thought about the future of my writing career. So when I read the title of the webinar, it hit on a need I felt day after day toiling away on my own. I joined at the prescribed time and took notes as Emily went through the slides. It was encouraging, but I was ready for the hard sell I knew was coming. 

I knew the tactics, having attended many-a free webinar that ended with a pitch for a product or service. It’s how I ended up in B-School, Marie Forleo’s online business course. Because I’d stalled in module 4 (of 6 total modules), I was hesitant to sign up for yet another program. Why would this one be any different? My heart raced as I listened to the pitch. They were offering bonuses! They had a writing path that I could follow! There was a community of writers to engage with and learn from! But I was reluctant to get caught up in the moment.

I didn’t want it to be yet another thing I bought and didn’t use. Who were these people, anyway? I’d read one of Emily’s books in college before stumbling across The Next Right Thing, but the other founders? They were unknown. How did I know these people were truly interested in helping me? Could I trust them? I wasn’t sure. I closed out Chrome and shut down my computer before the masterclass finished. It wouldn’t be the last time membership opened and they offered special bonuses. I was content to wait and see. 

Over the next few months, I got regular emails from hope*writers with encouragement and practical tips. Sure enough, in a few months, hope*writers opened again. After a steady stream of emails, I was still on the fence. How did I know that they were genuine when they said they wanted to help me? Having heard so many entrepreneurs swear that they wanted to help me, yes me, I was skeptical. 

And yet, I needed what they were offering. I needed the structure of a weekly event that would help me learn. I needed the community. I needed the wisdom of authors who had been in my exact shoes and could speak to the specifics of being a working writer. And so, with much trepidation and on the last night of enrollment, I gave them my money and I was in. 

In the year and a half since I joined, I have come to know in my bones that hope*writers is the real deal. Through the Mastermind program, an intensive cohort they offered for 2020, I have worked with the cofounders personally, and I can tell you that they absolutely care and they absolutely know what they’re talking about. Not only have I learned practical skills, but my mindset has also shifted, and I’ve come to love the reality of the writing life, instead of being frustrated when it doesn’t live up to my romanticized version. 

Hope*writers teaches you about the craft of writing, but also the business of getting your words out into the world. And it’s not about becoming a cartoon version of yourself, like a greasy used car salesman. They taught me that it’s about serving a specific reader. This has helped me slowly let go of my perfectionistic tendencies and get out of my head. I still experience internal resistance and the self-doubt that used to paralyze me. In that first webinar I watched, I wrote down a quote that has continued to guide me. Emily said, “You can’t get rid of the fear, but it doesn’t get to drive.” 

If you’re struggling to make progress in your writing or struggling to just get started, check out hope*writers, the most encouraging place for writers on the internet. Enrollment is open through Friday, September 18th. Click here to learn more and sign up.*

Not totally sold? Check out this teaching from Holly Gerth for a peek behind the curtain.

*I am an affiliate for hope*writers, which means that if you sign up, I get a commission at no cost to you. This is the only thing for which I am an affiliate, and that is because it has made such a difference in my writing life.

August 14, 2020No Comments

What Is a Single Christian Creative?

Perhaps you’ve never heard the term “single Christian creative” before, so you’re not exactly sure if it describes you. Let me break it down.

Single- a whole human person who happens to not be married

Christian- a person who follows Jesus

Creative- a person who makes things

If each of those things is true for you, then you are a single Christian creative. 

Back in March, I decided to tag the word “creative” onto the label of who I write for. Writing for “single Christians” seemed to imply that I write about dating. You should know up front that I do not, though we need to talk about it as a church, and there are people who are talking about it well. 

Simply put, it felt disingenuous to write something I wasn’t living. Though I have thoughts about dating best practices, your girl doesn’t date much, and so those are not practices that I’m living out. Not that writing about something means you have to do that thing perfectly. I’m saying that’s not my lane, and it might not be yours either. 

Maybe you’re a single Christian who, like me, doesn’t date much, but is really connected with your calling. That is a fulfilling thing in your life, whereas thinking about dating can send you into an anxiety spiral about all the things that you aren’t doing. Perhaps every once in a while you meet someone you’re interested in, and you think, Oh, right, flirting... how does one do that? But otherwise, you aren’t actively dating. Though you have moments of longing and loneliness, you’re doing your own thing for now. 

“Single” isn’t really a word you gravitate toward as a primary identifier, but it is one fact among many that describes your reality. Perhaps you know there can be negative connotations to that word, and all that baggage does not feel like a good place to hang your hat. But saying you’re single can feel like defining your life by a relationship you do not have. And there is a frustration in that feeling of being externally defined  by the person you’re standing next to (a spouse) or the empty space (single). And so owning the part of ourselves that is single can feel like seeing ourselves as less than whole, because we experience that to be the perception. 

Sometimes, you just want to be a person. 

I started to use this phrasing because in my own struggles and joys as someone who is single, I wanted my life to be about more than my relationship status. And yet I couldn’t completely abandon the moniker, because I saw in my own life and the lives of my friends and podcast guests that our relationship status doesn’t just affect the romantic relational part of our lives. Just like marriage will affect the way a person makes decisions and what decisions are made, being single affects our decisions in the same way-how we spend our money and time, how we set boundaries on our work, what food we are able to buy, who we spend our time with. 

And so, there is this tension that we live with. We might not like identifying with the word “single,” and yet it affects our reality in both positive and challenging ways, including the way we are viewed and the way we view ourselves. 

It felt like, as a non-married person in the church, I was on some alternate path from the ideal one. Adding being a creative on top of that, there was a similar feeling of displacement. Maybe you’ve felt that too, particularly if you don’t create what would be deemed “Christian work,” like praise music or Christian nonfiction. Maybe you’ve given up on the church altogether. 

I found myself drawn to the intersection of these two experiences that can be particularly lonely, and filled with rejection and uncertainty, and it lit a fire in me. Because when I thought about the people I know, have worked with, and interviewed, I also saw promise and potential. 

I started to believe that, with a well timed yes, some support and specific guidance, single Christian creatives have the potential to radically impact the church, culture, and the world. Not necessarily by doing big, dramatic things, but by faithfully saying yes to the next small step in front of them. I started to see that the beliefs many of us have internalized about ourselves and our role in the church and the world is built on a faulty foundation--that there is one right relationship status for a Christian. And I started figuring out what it would take for a human person to live a full life as a single Christian creative. 

Because I believe that everything Jesus did was on purpose, and one of those things was not getting married. I believe that those of us who are single live out the Gospel in a deeply compelling way, because our sufficiency has to come from Christ. I believe that the church was intended to be a place where our differences are valued as an essential part of understanding the breadth of God’s love. I believe that those of us who are passionate about making things are living out of the image of our intrinsically creative God, whether what we make is overtly Christian or not. I believe that being single doesn’t mean waiting in the wings until we are un-single and are granted the privileges of belonging and credibility that the marriage status would afford us. I believe that, just because we experience a specific type of unmet longing does not mean that is all we experience. I believe God has filled our lives with meaning and purpose. I believe that we singles and creatives uniquely live out of the reality of the right-now and not-yet Kingdom. 

While walking my own path, I have experienced the challenges of both the single life and the creative life. I’ve felt the deep need for community, but I didn’t know how to create it. In fact, just thinking about creating it was exhausting because we don’t have a model of what that support system would even look like. Our experience is so normal, it’s hard to picture a better way. 

So, if you’re a single Christian creative, you’re in the right place. This space was made for you, and I look forward to continuing to serve you. 

If you’re a single Christian creative interested in moving from overwhelmed to empowered in your calling, check out The Creative Refresh, a six week group coaching program designed to help with just that alongside a group of collaborators. Enrollment is open August 11-18.

July 30, 2020No Comments

How Do We Rest in a Pandemic?

I came back to myself after an hour and a half of workflow. Though I had the intention of working on titling my new group coaching program for forty-five minutes at the most, I got sucked in. Surely the perfect title would emerge if I thought about it long enough. I’d been asking myself the same questions in the hopes that I would land somewhere that felt right. What do the single Christian creatives I serve need most from a coaching program? What words do I use to ensure that when they read them, they will know the program was designed for them? 

Long past the forty-five minute mark, I told myself, I’ll stop when I find those words. I’ll rest once I’m done

The habit of only taking a break once the task was done had only gotten more pronounced in quarantine. Perhaps this mindset is a hangover from farm life, when a project such as mowing a pasture had a definitive start and end. I’d climb onto the tractor with my noise canceling headphones and a Gatorade. Then I began to cut an increasingly shrinking rectangle of unruly grass. When there was no more rectangle, I would leave the tractor where I found it and walk back to the house. 

“Done” is less straightforward these days, when the finished project is by nature incapable of perfection. Words can always be rearranged to make the intent clearer. And for almost all projects, I get to decide when it is done. I get to determine what is good enough and what needs more work. The decision is subjective, rarely presenting a clear right or wrong. 

After coming up with two pages of potential titles with nary a satisfactory option, I looked up from my computer. I felt hunger and the tension of clenching my shoulders, neck and jaw. It was day 8 of my two week isolation in anticipation of a trip to North Carolina. There was nowhere to go and no one to see. It felt like all I had was the work. And Ramon, the decorative metal deer head that hangs in my living room. 

I rose from my workspace, a 29”x29” Ikea table I moved into my bedroom during week 17 of the pandemic. My 450 square foot apartment is railroad style--one long, narrow rectangle split into a living room/kitchen, and a bedroom. The two outdoor-facing windows are in the bedroom. After 17 weeks of working in my windowless cave of a living room, I finally succumbed to the “rearrange the furniture” stage of quarantine. It was one of my many weekend projects, which included purging my wardrobe, trying new cookie recipes, meal-prepping for the week, deep cleaning my apartment, reorganizing the cabinet that is my pantry, and rearranging all the books in my apartment into sub-niches (then alphabetically by the author’s last name). 

Though I increasingly felt the pull to take some time off, I couldn’t see the point. What would I do, sit around my apartment all day? Even if I were to plan some sort of trip, where would I go? Could I ask friends to go with me, though we hadn’t been quarantining together? And yet, I was becoming increasingly dependent on productivity to stave off the boredom and frustration of living through a pandemic in a tiny apartment. The beauty of this crutch laid in the fact that when one is self-employed and lives alone, the work is never done. There’s an endless list of tasks that nobody is going to do for you. 

In a sermon on Sabbath, Abe Cho said that taking time to intentionally not be productive trains our minds and hearts to trust that God will continue to move and act without us. He said that resting works the truth of God’s provision into our bones.

It’s easy to get caught up in self-importance and obsess over all my work. There’s part of me that believes that, if I just work a little harder, I will be able to guarantee the outcome I want all on my own. If I just finish the next thing, then the next thing, then the next thing without stopping, maybe I will finally reach that last line of grass to cut. 

In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown writes, “For a type A personality, it is not hard to push oneself hard… The real challenge for the person who thrives on challenges is not to work hard.” The more I sit in this chair and write words, the more I know this to be true. And yet, the how of it all wrankles. 

How do we build in habits of rest when so many of our leisure activities are no longer available? How do the achievers among us, particularly those of us who are not quarantined with a spouse and/or children, establish and maintain our workday boundaries? And how do we plan rest-filled times that honor vulnerable neighbors and loved ones while still caring for our own mental health? 

That day, as I plowed through planning work for my up-coming group coaching program, I forced myself to stand up and pace the length of my apartment while breathing deeply. It was my substitute for the walks through Central Park I used to take to break up the day. I thought about how lovely the beach would be, how good it would be to see my friend who was to pick me up in just six days, and the call I scheduled with another friend for later that day. 

After a few minutes, I grabbed my lunch from the fridge and sat back down at my desk. I took a bite of my salad and mulled over my list of potential names. With my head cleared, a quote from Anne Lamott rose to the surface of my thoughts. “Almost anything will work if you unplug it for a few minutes, even you.” 

I put down my fork and searched for the source of the quote, a TED talk she gave called “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.” Anne Lamott is about the only person who can use a title that vague and still get almost 6 million views, I thought ruefully. As I listened to her wisdom and her quintessential humor and lyricism, I knew what my people needed. They need a refresh--the intentional time to take a step back, reconnect with their why, and to learn new, sustainable creative practices. They could use a coach who has cleared the way for them and a group of companions to walk with. 

I texted a friend my top 5 titles, and she replied that “The Creative Refresh” was her favorite. I thought it could be better, but it was good enough. Though I felt the temptation to continue noodling with it, I moved on. I worked for another hour, then shut down my laptop and climbed out onto my fire ledge for my end-of-day activity--laying on a towel and listening to Jim Dale read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Though there are no longer big signals that the work day is finished, like leaving my coworking space and getting on the subway, or meeting up with friends for drinks, this little ritual has been sufficient. 

As I put in my headphones, I made a mental note of what I learned that day. Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do is stop being productive.

If you are interested in learning more about "The Creative Refresh," click here!

July 1, 2020No Comments

Nine Books by Singles that I Love

This blog contains affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission on purchases made through those links at no cost to you. Click here to read more.

If you’ve been around the blog or the podcast for a hot minute, you know I am all about promoting the work of singles. Whether they are singers, composers, poets, or multi-passionate, there are singles out there creating authentic, beautiful work. The following books were written by people who are single, and mostly fall into the Christian non-fiction genre. A few of these authors have gotten married since writing these books, but to the best of my knowledge, they were single while they were working on and publishing these books. 

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years- Donald Miller

Donald Miller has gotten married in the recent past, but most of his memoirs were written while he was single. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years remains one of my favorite books. His style is approachable, but well-crafted. In this book, he wonders what it would mean to live a good story. Miller currently writes and teaches about business and marketing at Building a Story Brand

The Very Good Gospel- Lisa Sharon Harper

Lisa Sharon Harper is a writer, speaker, activist, and artist. I listened to her first appearance on Jen Hatmaker’s podcast a few years ago and she blew my mind. In The Very Good Gospel, Harper writes about the Biblical concept of “shalom,” and how that might look at all levels. She recently finished recording the audiobook, and her manner of speaking is powerful, so that is a good option. 

Remember God- Annie F. Downs

Annie F. Downs is an author, a podcaster, a speaker, and a boss. Her most recent book, Remember God, asks the question, “Is God kind?” and follows Annie’s journey to find the answer. 

A Woman’s Place- Katelyn Beaty

Katelyn Beaty has written for outlets like The New York Times, Christianity Today, and The New Yorker. She is currently acquisitions editor for Brazos Press and before that she was the youngest and first female managing editor of Christianity Today. In this book, Beaty uses her journalistic chops to chronicle the role of work in the life of women from a Biblical and personal perspective. 

Just Mercy- Bryan Stevenson

Hopefully you’ve already heard of Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (the book and/or the film), and the Equal Justice Initiative. My introduction to Stevenson was watching a talk he gave at my church that had been recorded maybe a year prior. It completely wrecked me. After that, I got my hands on this book and y’all. It’s so good. Devastating, illuminating, and hopeful. Chapter 15 will stick with me until the day I die. Get yourself a copy and donate to EJI. 

Learning to Speak God from Scratch- Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is an author, speaker, teacher… well, suffice to say this guy wears a LOT of hats. His work has been featured in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times. I’ve gotten to hear Jonathan speak a couple of times, and let me tell you. This dude is legit. He’s working on a new book right now and I can’t wait until he drops some details on it. Learning to Speak God from Scratch is a look into the spiritual words that are vanishing from everyday language and how that can prevent us from the common vocabulary we rely on to have spiritual conversations. The first part digs into the linguistics, and the second part is a series of small chapters in which he chooses a select number of spiritual words, and writes about what they mean to him. 

Traveling Mercies- Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott. She is just the best. She got married recently, but most of her body of work was done during her single years. It says a lot that she can be a NYT best seller with a vague subtitle like "Some Thoughts on Faith." Her style blends humor and wisdom in a way that is approachable and profound. 

Kindred- Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler wrote science fiction--really good sci-fi, like won a MacArthur genius grant for it good sci-fi. Kindred isn’t the alien or magic variety of sci-fi, but falls into the genre because of her use of time travel. Here’s the synopsis, “The visionary author’s masterpiece pulls us—along with her Black female hero—through time to face the horrors of slavery and explore the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.” 

The Wisdom of Sundays- Oprah

The legend that is Oprah (actress, talk show host, writer, speaker, teacher… if you don’t know who she is what rock have you been living under?) collected these stories and nuggets of wisdom from her Super Soul Sunday guests, and it has been fascinating to dig into. The book itself is gorgeous, but the text is made up of answers she's gotten from guests to the question, "What is spirituality to you?"

*Point of Clarification: While Oprah is not married, she does have a long-term partner, so many would not consider her "single."

What are your favorite works by single creatives? Leave a comment and let me know! 

June 17, 2020No Comments

Three Things New Creatives Need to Know

This blog contains affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission on purchases made through those links at no cost to you. Click here to read more.

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.

June 11, 20204 Comments

The Unseen Work of Creativity

In years when the solstice was just so, we planted corn in our family garden on Easter Sunday. Though I started the day in boots, I was barefooted before long. I reveled in the loose, warm dirt, feeling my feet sink in and small clumps of soil crumble over top. The day or weekend prior, my father drove the tractor down the pasture to the rectangle of land. First, he went over it with an attachment that unearthed the weeds and grass, then another that formed the tilled dirt into rows. Then, it was time to plant. 

We went to the local hardware store with its paint-chipped exterior and plywood-patched floor, where a man my brother and I called Dr. Seuss took us back into the warehouse to scoop fertilizer-dusted pink corn kernels into a paper bag. He always showed us the new chicks, which were kept in a large, raised wooden box. He lifted the worn, hinged lid to reveal peeping, the red glow of the heat lamp, and a dozen or so chicks scampering around. 

Back on the farm, my dad divided up the tasks. One person would drop the corn at measured intervals directly in the center of the row. Too close to the edge, and the stalk would fall over as it grew. Too close together, the corn wouldn’t be able to flourish. The next person, usually me, would come behind, pushing the corn into the ground. The part of my finger at which I was supposed to stop changed as I grew each year. At first, it was my full index finger. Today, it would be to the second knuckle of that same finger. I then covered the hole and moved on. Then someone would come behind and water. 

In ensuing years, to increase efficiency and accuracy, my dad took a small plank and drove nails partially through at the allotted intervals. Instead of pushing the corn into the ground, we used this board to make the holes first. The tasks altered--one person to drop the seed in the hole, and another to come behind and cover the hole. And the watering. 

Every day, there was watering, a task shared between me and my brother. Some years, raccoons or deer got into the crop, necessitating various methods of deterrence. A scarecrow, a boom box with the radio turned on at night, an electric fence. In spite of the persistence of these pests, at the end of the summer we ended up with a harvest of corn. 

Not all the corn was ready at once. We walked the path each evening over the course of two to three weeks, a slotted orange bucket bouncing between me and my brother, and looked for ripe ears. We learned to spot a particular dark color in the dried silk tufting out of the top, and then to squeeze the top. If there was still plenty of space between the top of the ear and the top of the husk, it wasn’t ready. 

Once the orange bucket was full, my brother and I each grabbed a handle and walked it back to the house. We then sat down on the porch and shucked. Pulling the husk off was easy-a matter of peeling down the leaves and snapping off the excess stalk. The silk was a menace. Our parents taught us to rub the corn between our hands to get the silk off. No matter how much we tried, silk remained in the grooved rows. Then, we took the husks and tossed them over the fence to the grateful cows. 

We ate fresh corn on the cob all harvest, but cut the majority off the cob and froze it. And we enjoyed fresh corn that we grew all winter. With a combination of diligent, everyday work and the magic of nature, the fruits of our labor were abundant most years. And even more so, the years we spent going through the process, gave us first hand experience of what could go wrong. We saw stalks growing sideways out of a row, trying to orient itself toward the sun as it grew, then giving up, the ears thin and kernels barely peeking out of the cob. And we learned. 

The stakes were low. Farming has always been more of a hobby than a money-making venture for us. But there was room to experiment. What happened when we planted zucchini? Green beans? Tomatoes? My father would determine when to plant what, then we would wait and water and watch. 

Sitting in my one bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side, these days, I’m planting seeds of a different sort. The creative life seems to be a series of seeds planted, then seeing what grows. The investment of time and behind-the-scenes labor involved are not evident to many. I live alone, and so nobody, save me and Jesus, have an accurate sense of what I do all day. Still being new, I don’t have a sense of which seeds will grow and which will come out sideways and which will be gobbled up by raccoons, etc. But I think, like farming, there is the planting and the watering and weeding and doing all we can to provide the right environment for the growth to happen. 

But there is also the waiting. 

There is no glamour or romance in the waiting. Perhaps there is a bit of magic that I will understand better in ten years. But the practice of leaving space, the art of when and what and how much to water, the not-knowing-if-you're-chosing-best-until-you-choose ambiguity I live with--these are the unsung and unseen heroes of the creative life, the ones I didn’t imagine in my years of school dreaming about the great things I might do and be. 

When I think of the stakes that I put onto my creative life, I wonder what it would take for my overwrought brain to calm down. I wonder how to approach the process with the attitude of experimentation, like we did in the garden. I wonder at the mental shift it will take to answer the question “What would happen if…” with “Why don’t we try and see?” 

Perhaps for today, remembering is enough. Recognizing that, though there isn’t another human here to see my efforts, they are not in vain, whether I get the harvest I expect or my harvest ends up being a long list of what not to do. Remembering that no matter how I strategize and plan and prepare, there is no substitute for walking to the field, taking off my shoes, and dropping some seeds. And perhaps if I remember enough times, that truth will work its way into my bones, and the process will involve less frustration and fear, and more exploration and delight. Perhaps, with time, I will learn. 

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.


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. 


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? 


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!

Communicator. Creator. Coach.

© 2020 Mary B Safrit LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Let's stay in touch

Fill out the box to get on the list for weekly exclusive messages and offers.