Entries in happiness (92)


GUEST POST: My Creative Process: Disorganized Organization (Part One)

Jon C. Lundell's sketchbook. September 29, 2014.

Leslie's Note: Back when I started this blog, I promised you readers guest posts. I haven’t delivered until now. At least I can claim that when I did finally make it happen, I went big. The post below comes from Jon C. Lundell, an amazing artist (one of his works hangs prominently in my living room and never fails to elicit comments) and a man who honors me with his friendship. Learn more about Jon and his work on his Web site and read his other writing on his personal blog, which I highly recommend you follow.

I admire Leslie a great deal. I like her energy, her positive attitude, the way she maps things out and gets them done.

I long to be able to do things just like she does. Over the course of several decades, I have attempted to impose order on my creative process.

But it just doesn’t work.

Who Needs “Creative Process” in Childhood?

When I was young, I could spend what seemed like all eternity copying pictures of Spider-Man I found appealing on pieces of oak tag cut to particular sizes, coloring them in with flair markers, and doing the whole business just so.

I developed an early taste for doing things just so with very hard pencils (Venus 6H) and smooth pads of paper. I liked the lack of tooth on the paper because it did not influence my mark making in any way—something I still consider an unwanted intrusion.

I prefer soft pencils now (anything 2B) but still like my paper smooth, because I still don’t like anything influencing my marks but me.

Art Gets Easier, Right?

The trajectory of my creativity seemed pretty consistent over time, so I assumed that by a certain age, the momentum would carry me and I would crank out the masterpieces at breakneck speed, barely able to control the massive and joyful production.

Boy, was I wrong.

Art, for some reason, still resembles work: Hard at times, time consuming. But unlike some work I’ve encountered, I seem interested in doing it.

It Doesn’t Get Easier

Art at its best seems to take on a life of its own, and you are one day in service of the WORK, a living, breathing, honest thing with direction and purpose. Sometimes relentless, greedy, incessant and inconvenient, but full of resonance, voice, light, and the promise of something roughly resembling immortality.

I hear this in music, in books, and see it in museums—maybe not always when I should, but I know it’s there.

Vermeer is an example of this for me. Although we know factually little about my man Jan, I know something about his life, his time, his family and love from his work. And it seems to me I know the best part of it. I couldn’t quantify it in any appreciable way other than what is there on the panel or canvas. And because he did such a bang up job of it, I really don’t need to.

I came to a decision not long ago that I was only going to make work I wanted to make, recording the things I found beautiful. Life is too short, and I waste enough time.

Why I Create

Like many, I venture, I found myself compelled to engage in the creative act to express myself in ways I was unable to otherwise. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I just started doing it and was knee deep before I even noticed.

I think here of other artists I’ve met along the way that express similar feelings. One actress sticks in my mind. She said she was more herself on the stage than anywhere else. I find that to be true of the creative act. I also thought it would be a handy way to meet girls. Sadly, not so much.

Not every piece of art is a meaningful work of lurid introspection. Sometimes I draw just to keep busy, or as meditation, a way to keep my mind off things, and to keep in practice for those times when lurid introspection is appropriate.

I have not found the answers to life’s greater questions in my work, which I maybe expected. I’m disappointed by this. I envy the certainty of people with beliefs. I have never been able to manage it. I do find satisfying sometimes the premise that in life’s rich pageant, we may each contribute our verse (picture, page, blah blah biddy blah whatever).

It’s a lofty conceit, but one to which each of us is welcome.

And How I Live to Make Creating Possible

I’m acutely aware that I no longer have all eternity to get things done. I can find most intrusions on my free time, even those I enjoy and invite in, an annoyance. I feel I must keep as much of my free time as possible open for making things, and that this does not necessarily guarantee things get made, although I entertain unrealistic expectations of myself.

I work a paying job full-time-plus and live alone, so another time suck is every little thing that needs to be done, including, but not limited to, unexpected house repairs, dinner, dessert, cleaning, and laundry.

Could somebody else do some work around here?

And sleep. I have to do that sometime.

I give these things priority more often than not, and find myself resentful of it. This could be dumb of me.

I make the choice to work full time since I discovered, after an initial period of working under duress as a youth, I need to be relatively comfortable, calm, and secure in order to create.

For me that means a steady paycheck, roughly regular meals, and a home full of neat stuff, including big soft bed, books, guitars, gadgets, and heat. I have a tiny helicopter I can make fly around the studio in times of great need.

Ideas: Grasping at the Ethereal

For a long time I couldn’t keep track of good ideas, many of which seemed worthy and excellent.

By the time I got home from work, shopping, chores, and so forth, I was left with only the nagging recollection that I’d had a clever idea: What was it?

I read an annoying book about da Vinci about twelve years ago, which spent long pages saying this: It’s a smart idea to keep a sketch book.

This simple notion hadn’t occurred to me. Simple, easy and helpful notions rarely do. I now favor a 7” x 7” inch wire bound book. I have filled almost three, and have two in the wings.

The problem now: I have more ideas than I can ever hope to get to in this lifetime.

I am also willing to abandon ideas. Some ideas that appeared to be totally excellent when initially entertained are really dumb.

Learn to accept this.


For a long time I was easily bored and would frequently abandon works. This has changed over time and I have found themes that persist and engage me. One big help for me was reaching out and finding willing and cooperative models I was interested in drawing. This process, I will stress, includes reaching out and finding unwilling and reluctant models, which took the greater getting used to.

I am also willing to keep works hanging around until I can figure out how to resolve technical problems or design issues. Most figure themselves out over time. Patience I’m not so good at, but I’ve learned to tolerate it.

Art can’t always be rushed.

Leslie's Note: Click here to read part two of Jon’s post about his creative process.


Analysis Paralysis: How to Avoid Overthinking Business Decisions

In almost any life facet, including business, I can reason out of every possible decision. Call it a self psych out. Who needs enemies when your own brain can lead you astray?

At least I have company.

Although I often feel like I can address business decisions with greater expediency than I can personal-life decisions (which may say something tragic about how I spend my time and energy, but I digress), I’ve seen many a business associate suffer from what I call “analysis paralysis,” a state in which he so intensely analyzes every possible decision that he makes no decision—causing stalls and failures that action would have prevented.

True for hiring decisions, capital-expenditure purchases, key messages, business acquisitions, talent management—and the list goes on.

Not that taking quick action always makes for the best decisions, either. Rashness rarely does.

How do you find the balance between making a well-reasoned decision and analysis paralysis?

A few tips from my personal experience:

  • Read Decisive by the Heath brothers, which I mentioned in my post on bad advice. I particularly liked their recommendations to “ooch” by taking a small step toward the bigger decision and seeing how it goes before making a final, much more disruptive determination; to consider how you’d advise a friend in the same situation; and to think forward a few years and ponder what decision looks best from a future perspective—in other words, what would you regret not doing today when looking back on it a few years from now?
  • Talk or write it out. I analyze and often uncover my perspectives through writing. (Surprise surprise, faithful blog readers.) Some people need to talk it through with someone else, even if that person mainly listens. Reasoning through a complex situation in a “presentation” style, whether written or spoken, forces you to think through the decision from multiple angles and answer questions you might not consider otherwise. In the process, you’ll often find the right decision obvious. Some people hire executive coaches simply to have confidential sounding boards. Some just have great, trusted friends.
  • Walk or ride a bike. Gentle, meditative exercise—especially when done outside in nature—helps you think through challenges. Anaerobic workouts, while fantastic and energizing and healthful and necessary, focus you so intensely on pushing yourself and surviving the experience that you can’t truly think through any decision calmly and rationally—not even what you’d like to have for lunch.

I’m sure others have additional suggestions for taking a step, any step. Let’s hear ‘em.

What do you do to avoid analysis paralysis and make challenging decisions?


Bad Advice

If you haven’t read the Heath brothers’ books, including Made to Stick and Switch, you really should. They write entertainingly while providing useful and practical advice on how we can change perspectives and behaviors.

In their book Decisive, they write that thinking through what you’d tell a friend in the same position can provide one way to stop mulling a difficult choice.

I thought of the Heath brothers’ advice when reading an article in Johns Hopkins Magazine about a hilarious blog called Ask the Past by historian Elizabeth Archibald. In her humanities research, Archibald has turned up highly curious—and comical—guidance from the past, including ensuring a cat’s undying loyalty through rubbing its nose and legs with butter for three days straight and lengthening and blackening your hair through slathering it in oil boiled with a decapitated green lizard.

Clearly, we should take advice even from friends and “experts” with grains—spoons, buckets, truckloads—of salt.

Amused, I went to the Twitterverse to ask people about the worst advice they’ve ever gotten.

In response, Will Pora chalked “buy the extended warranty” in the bad advice category. My pal @_melissa pointed out that the commonly heard “just keep doing what you’re doing”—no matter the situation—provides no help whatsoever.

Personally, I found most dating advice completely unhelpful. Most times, I ignored it. When I did take it—including making the man do all the work to further the early-stage relationship, from initial contact to the first move—my attempt at suavity backfired. (In my experience, the guy just assumed a lack of interest due to minimal encouragement and moved along to other options.)

Some of the business advice I’ve gotten has led me down bad paths as well. I’d heard so often that personal lives should stay out of the office that I went through a stint without sharing even the most mundane outside-the-workplace details.

Although I do believe it inappropriate to spill messy, overly detailed personal stories in an office setting, giving insight into why you might seem a little distracted or tired can provide understanding and perspective that help everyone work together more smoothly. (Tip: Nothing is ever purely business. Life happens outside the office that affects what happens in the office. And besides: Work comprises far too much of people’s existence for it to have no personal resonance.)

What bad advice have you gotten? And did you take it?


What Fear Should You Face?

When preparing to record the next FrogDog Marketing Minute, I recalled to a colleague my father’s program of filming my book reports each morning throughout elementary school. As a litigator who had gotten recorded and critiqued for closing arguments during his legal training, Dad thought the exercise would help me get over my fear of public speaking.

Aside: Before my mother moved out of my childhood home, the remaining, mostly unlabeled VHS tapes stayed stowed in a drawer in the game room. In the last one I remember watching during a trip home, I wore pink pajamas as I talked through an autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt and leapt off the fireplace hearth between takes.

I suffered from crippling shyness until I forced myself to shed it in young adulthood—so I started well behind outgoing kids in the speaking regard. Thanks to Dad’s videos, my starting point had to place higher than it would have otherwise, once I put my shoulder into gaining confidence about speaking.

And, without video book reports, who knows how much longer it would have taken for me to gain a foothold in business, where I’ve had to regularly give sales presentations and speak at conferences and before groups. When you start a company, you must speak up.

No options. Sink or swim.

Today, though I’ve had colleagues and friends balk at standing in front of cameras and audiences, I walk right off the pier. Though I don’t like seeing myself on screen or hearing my voice (do I really sound like that?), I’ve gotten over myself.

Because, let’s be honest:

Obsessing about your appearance on camera or in front of an audience presumes that people pay the same amount of attention to you that they do to themselves—and that you pay to yourself.

And they don’t. As I’ve outlined before on this site, people worry so much about themselves so much of the time that they don’t have enough bandwidth to pay too much attention to someone else.

Further, with the remaining bandwidth people have to notice anything other than themselves, they notice your attitude more than what you say—whether for good or ill. Sound confident, speak with authority, and carry yourself well. Done.

Yet I wouldn’t know any of this if I hadn’t had public-speaking practice starting in elementary school, which I continued in college and graduate school and then forced on myself through my choice of career. Most people never practice what they hate—even though the more you do something, the better you get.

Without question, looking away feels easier than facing a fear—even if conquering it could transform your life. I know overcoming my fear of speaking up gave me the only way toward success in business.

And so I wonder: What else should I face that I avoid out of dislike or fear?

What skills do you need to practice? And how can you get the practice you need?


What’s Off Limits for Sorry?

At least on the surface, I’ve written two seemingly contradictory entries about apologizing. In one, I ask people to stop saying “sorry.” In another, I argue that you should sometimes feel sorry for telling people how you feel.

Yeah, well, I stand by both posts.

Actually, the two articles don’t actually contradict each other. People really should stop reflexively apologizing, whether for no good reason or because apologizing means little without considering the reason you should feel sorry and thinking through how you can prevent harm in the future.

So, yes, you should feel sorry sometimes. Including times when you’ve willy-nilly and indiscriminately spewed your feelings all over the place.

Yet occasions must exist for which it makes sense to call foul for feeling sorry:

  • No one should feel sorry for experiencing and enjoying the fruits of his hard labor and honest success.
  • No one should feel sorry for staying true to what she likes and how she dresses and wears her hair. No one should feel sorry for his sexual orientation.
  • No one should ever feel sorry for speaking up in unjust situations, whether for herself or on the behalf of someone else, no matter how awkward it may make bystanders feel.

Perhaps you can feel badly that your success thwarted someone’s plans, winning the race and putting them in second, and perhaps you can feel sorry that, in staying true to yourself, someone’s feelings got hurt or they felt jealous. Even still, feeling sorry for the side effects doesn’t parallel to feeling sorry for their cause.

Chime in here, my friends.

For what should we never feel sorry?

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