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 20, 2020No Comments

How’s That Working for You?

The three of us were discussing the unspoken rules we live by, and what happens when other people don’t play by those rules. The question: How do you respond when God puts people in your life who don’t fit into your plans, make you feel out of control, or upset your way of doing things? We took turns answering, as we had for the six previous questions in the study guide. My response: I double down, trying to keep things in control through my own perfect behavior, and when that doesn’t work, I get frustrated/defeatist and shut down/try to disappear. 

There was a pause, then one friend asked, “How’s that working out for you?” I replied, “Not well,” with a self-deprecating laugh. It was a question posed to me many times, and my answer was ready and worn-in. 

She replied, “Well, it’s working on some level. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be doing it.” 

I opened my mouth, inhaling, preparing to respond. But no words came. After a beat, I said, “Right… I guess… I guess that’s true.” I scribbled down her words and our discussion moved onto the next question. 

Later that evening, as I stood over the stove making dinner, I considered my friend’s question and comment. It was said with a good natured laugh, a recognition that she, too, experienced the tension of knowing something doesn’t work and continuing to do it anyway. I rinsed broccoli crowns, moving them one at a time from colander to cutting board to be trimmed. 

I recalled a series of moments with my ex-boyfriend. These moments all tangled together in my memory, the pattern identical in each. He did something that bothered me. I didn't know how to talk about it, so I turned it back on myself, carefully figuring out what I did wrong. I’d come to him and humbly apologize for the role I’d played in the situation. And then I waited. I looked at him, expecting him to read my mind and apologize for his nonsense. 

It never worked. Not once. And yet I kept doing it, as if a perfectly executed apology would enable him to read my mind and know what I wanted. An impulse of conscience told me that this was an effective means of communication, and if he wasn’t getting the message, well, I should just try harder. 

He should just know, I thought to myself each time, not knowing that my habit of obsessively turning interactions over in my head looking for my mistakes was not a habit most people shared.

After preheating the oven, I tossed the broccoli in olive oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet. I pulled out my non-stick pan and heated a drizzle of oil. I cut open the package of chicken and patted it dry with a paper towel, preparing it for the pan. Thinking back on slight after slight, adding up like so many papercuts, it was a particular feat of dysfunction that the relationship lasted as long as it did. 

My method, though entirely ineffective, provided me with a way around the discomfort of confrontation. I remembered the chronic turning in on myself, my refusal to direct my annoyance and anger at another person.

I didn’t see it at the time; I was too far down the rabbit hole, buried under an endless list of rules for how the world works that I pieced together in other moments. My place in the world was one that didn’t make a fuss, that didn’t ask for anything, that didn’t feel anything other than fine. 

I saw it, rifling through my memory as I pushed and turned the knob on the stove and considering how desperately I clung to my method and my rules. But I didn’t see it at the time. I thought of that moment and the ones to come. How many of my habits continued to work in a way that was not healthy for me or my relationships?

What wasn't I seeing that would one day become obvious? And why did I expect myself to know it all at once, right then and there, as if thinking hard enough could illuminate the path to perfected control.

I slid the chicken into the pan. The corresponding sizzle and lack of leaping flecks of oil confirmed that the pan was hot enough. Five minutes on this side, the recipe told me. Then five minutes on the other. The details of the new recipe jumbled together in my brain. How much cumin? When does the chicken go in? Only half of the seasoning? Why can’t I find when to use the other half?

I substituted ingredients with reckless abandon when I didn't have the right kind of milk on-hand. I missed it in my scan of what was needed before beginning. Always read the recipe all the way through before you start, I heard my mother say in my head. My method was more chaotic, a lawless rush to toss prepared ingredients here and there-this in the oven, that on the stove, this in the sink, that in a bowl.

This recipe, one from a meal kit, required me to make a sauce. I groaned inwardly. I never add the ingredients at the right time or over the right level of heat, and I always want it to simmer down to a thicker consistency than it wants to. Cooking for one allow me the freedom of cooking without fear of offending someone else's palate. Any missed ingredients are mine to reap the consequences of alone.

The timer dinged, announcing that the broccoli was done. I turned off the oven and let it sit until I had room for it on the stovetop. Stirring the fig and balsamic reduction, I watched the small bubbles dance in the too-thin mixture. I turned off the heat, resigned to a runny reduction. 


I plated the meal and poured the sauce over top, then settled onto my couch to eat. Tentatively, I tasted a bite of dripping chicken. I chewed, considering. Tastes fine to me, I thought, shrugging. I turned on an episode of The West Wing for company. I might still be operating under the same rules of conflict that I had at seventeen. But that night, at least my haphazard, fast and loose recipe-following method worked well enough for me.

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 14, 2020No Comments

Why A Great Question Is Sometimes Better Than A Right Answer

I sat in Dr. Therapist’s office recounting my week. It was my Monday ritual, to start the week sitting on that couch and untangling the thread of ordinary and extraordinary incidents. As we came to the end of the session, he concluded in the usual manner: “Any last thoughts or questions?” 

Instead of my customary “no,” I said, “Actually, yes.” I went on to describe a situation wherein I’d caught feelings for a guy who was about to move away from the city probably forever. My brain decided that I needed to confess said feelings before he left, but I was uncomfortable at the prospect.

Dr. Therapist asked why I thought that was a good idea, and listened to my reasoning. I pontificated for a few minutes about the need to be honest. He then asked two questions which hadn’t crossed my mind. “What exactly do you expect him to say if you put him on the spot like that? What would you say?” We walked through both hypotheticals, and I felt a little better. 

But the questions he left me with, the ones that wriggled their way into my brain and refused to leave me alone: “Why do you feel the need to pass off uncomfortable feelings like they’re a hot potato? Why are you unable to just sit with them?” 

I was immediately indignant. First of all, rude. Second of all, you don’t know my life. Third of all, the ever living nerve of this dude. I skulked out of his office, brows furrowed and lost in thought. 

As I pondered the questions, I remembered that Dr. Therapist does know my life, and he is very good at what he does. But my defensive instinct gave me pause. The more I sat with the questions, the more I saw moments of uncomfortable confession peppered throughout the course of my life. And with this new filter, I experienced the memories in a totally different light. I recognized the story my brain told itself to justify those decisions, to make them righteous and noble--courageous acts of honesty and vulnerability.

In those instances, I believed I was making the obvious morally correct decision. But sitting with these questions, I realized that the situation and my motives for confessing might not have been as straightforward as I thought. 

While Dr. Therapist did, in this instance, say, “No, absolutely not, that is a terrible idea,” he also took the time to ask questions that helped me reach that conclusion as well. He gave me some alternative action steps. But he left me with these questions that revealed a deeper reality that had never crossed my mind, something I’d hidden under my desire to see myself as right and good. 

As I gave the question time to settle, indignation turned to curiosity. The clarity was dazzling at first, and I had to wrestle with the uncomfortable feeling of exposure. But eventually, I realized that I also felt a release, a new found freedom to breathe. And that’s what a great question does. 

A great question is one that stops us in our tracks. A great question rankles, equal parts repellant and compelling. It feels a bit like a sucker punch, not because it is especially painful or aggressive but because there is that brief moment of breathlessness and disorientation. It takes off the blindfold we didn’t realize we were wearing. 

A great question cuts through the noise and dithering and the assumptions we clutch with white knuckles and shows us what’s underneath our desperate search for information. A great question is an hourglass, on the cusp of running out of sand, being turned over at the last second and releasing us from the pile we didn’t realize we were trapped under. 

A great question uncovers what we keep hidden, even from ourselves. 

It takes the problem we see one way and reveals a truer side to it. It takes our assumptions about the direction in which we think the solution lies and turns us around to see that it’s actually nothing like what we supposed. 

A great question humbles. It takes us outside of our limited perspective, removing the blinders and showing us an alternative we could never have imagined. 

Information is good, as is knowledge. But so are mystery and nuance. So is the inherent finitude of our humanity. 

I took Dr. Therapist’s advice, sitting down for coffee with the guy and having a normal conversation, at the end leaving the door open to friendship moving forward. Even as I felt the instinct to firmly slam that door out of a desire for certainty and comfort, I sat with the discomfort and chose to engage. And because of that decision, my brain was able to learn that discomfort would not be the death of me. 

The discomfort still happens, but this moment became an example of resiliency to cling to in future uncomfortable situations. And having Dr. Therapist’s question in my back pocket gave me a better filter for making nuanced decisions in my relationships. I realized the wisdom required to resist the temptation to give a blanket answer for what is actually a symptom, and the power of listening in between another person’s words. 

Sitting in my office the day after surviving the uncomfortable conversation, I scribbled a couple of notes and taped them to my office wall. 

The first, “Ask better questions.” 

The second, “Don’t settle for symptomatic solutions. Always go for the root.”

May 13, 2020No Comments

The Parable of the Egg Whites

It started with a dull discomfort in my mid-abdomen. Could be anything, I told myself. Until the discomfort turned into sharp pain.

I sat outside the tiny Australian-inspired coffee shop writing in my notebook. Its front wall is a garage door of windows. On nice days, they open the door and the tables and customers spill onto the sidewalk. It was just such a day, and I sipped the best cold brew on the Upper East Side and dug into a turkey wrap. I noticed that the wrap came with mayonnaise, but told myself it would be fine.

Recently diagnosed with an egg white allergy, I was still testing its limits. So far, baked goods were fine. Omelettes? Definitely not. Mayonnaise-based sauces lay somewhere in the nebulous middle. 

After consuming the wrap, I felt the familiar cramping I could finally identify as an allergic reaction to consuming egg whites. I decided to finish what I was working on before heading home to ride it out, until the pain reached a level I hadn’t experienced in this context.

I didn’t fully understand what was happening or why the reaction was so severe. I just knew it hurt more than it should and I needed to do something to make it stop. 

My pain-addled brain concluded that the only solution was to walk to the closest ER. None of my friends had a car, and they all worked normal jobs. As this was the middle of a weekday, they would be tied to their various desks. I thought about taking a cab, but I was not so far gone that I forgot that walking is free. 

I walked the thirteen streets and two avenues (one mile) with the pain level steadily increasing, but still manageable. But upon arriving at New York Pres, I realized I had no idea in which of the monstrous buildings I might locate the ER.

Pain Brain thought, I can just figure it out without looking it up, and I proceeded to spend seven more minutes wandering around the streets of Manhattan looking for an indication as to where the ER might be. 

By the time I walked in, I was doubled over and tears leaked out of my eyes. I waited for the random yahoo in front of me to ask every question under the bless-ed sun about their non-emergency “emergency” before I made it to the check in desk. 

“How may I help you?” the nurse asked.

“I… I’m having… stomach pain… I think… I think it’s… an allergic reaction to eggs… I need… to see someone,” I managed to gasp out. She handed me a clipboard with a form to fill out, and I sat down to wait. 

As I sat in the waiting room at NY Pres, still bent double and crying, I had a passing thought about a friend who was in her final year of P.A. school. Didn't she live somewhere around here?

I texted her to get her opinion, and it turned out she was doing her rotation at the hospital where I was waiting. In fact, she was about to come in for a shift, and would I like for her to come a few minutes early? Yes, yes I did. 

She sat down and asked me some questions. The pain was beginning to ebb a bit, so I asked if I was ok to leave. She said it was my call, but if I went back to see a doctor, they would do imaging, I’d be there for hours, and they wouldn’t be able to do anything for me that some over the counter medicine wouldn’t also do for a lot less money. I told the skeptical lady at the welcome desk that I was feeling better and had decided to leave. 

She raised an eyebrow and said, “Are you sure?” 

“Yeah,” I breathed, smiling to conceal any residual pain. 

“You were crying when you came in. Don’t you think you should see someone?”

“I really am feeling better, so I’m going home.”

My friend told me exactly what to get at the pharmacy and suggested I take the bus instead of walking home. Would I be able to make it home on my own or should she call someone? I said, “No, I’ll be fine.” 


I made it back to my couch without incident, and the medicine took effect right on cue. I sipped a ginger ale, texted my friend to let her know I was feeling better and to thank her, and turned on an episode of Parks and Recreation. As I watched Amy Poehler and the gang work through the minutiae of planning the Harvest Festival, I made a mental note to avoid mayonnaise and all its derivatives moving forward.

May 5, 2020No Comments

How to Say “No” to FOMO

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

Connection

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

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

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

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

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

Direction

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

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

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

So what about FOMO?

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

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

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

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

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

April 30, 2020No Comments

7 Questions to Keep Things Interesting When Talking to Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

What is my favorite song/movie/book? 

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

How long has that mark on the wall been there? 

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

How often should I clean my vacuum?

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

Should I rearrange my furniture again?

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

Which instrument should I learn? 

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

Should I start a podcast?

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

Should I cut my hair?

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

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

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

Stay strong; stay well. 

Communicator. Creator. Coach.

© 2020 Mary B Safrit LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Let's stay in touch

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