Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Turning Obstacles Into Cheerleaders

Imagine this scene - You want to produce a play or write a book or paint or learn how to tattoo or make jewelry....something that is fun and rewarding but hardly super lucrative. Maybe you want to be an editor or play some role in the game design field. You'll be happy, you'll have fun, but you won't be swimming in a money vault anytime soon. And maybe upon the announcement that you're going down this new path, a whole chorus of voices is going to pop up and express their disappointment, or their doubts or their fears or guilt that you're doing something "not on the plan". Hearing these voices, seeing their faces, realizing that while you're doing this creative thing you aren't at some other job, or you're not working with a whole lot of security or wealth options,  you get scared and call yourself "stuck" and don't do anything.

That scene, in some way/shape/form happens to everyone who wants to deviate from the path other people have laid out before them, and everyone who wants to do their own thing, be they recent college graduates, new parents, new creatives or newly awoken from the Matrix. 

Lots of people feel "stuck", which is just another word, a more muted word for "afraid". 

It's time to get unstuck. 

Now I can talk about this because I've been stuck before, and was often stuck for years on end, so it's not like I'm speculating here. I'll spare you the grim personal details (they're more boring than melodramatic), but really it just comes down to some fears, which I'll talk about first, then I'll talk about the solution I found -- it may not be your solution, but maybe in my sharing it, you'll find your own solution.

So here now are some of the fears that get you "stuck":

Fear of Rejection -- Whenever we do something that goes out into the world and other people have the opportunity to see it, it is possible that some people may not like it. And from that idea of "some people", we explode and expand it to all people, so basically "everyone" hates that thing you did. You start thinking to yourself "No one's going to like this/ buy this / enjoy this / watch this / read this, so why the hell do I even bother doing it?" And then you don't do it. 

Fear of Exposure -- If you're doing something, maybe a group project on a job, or maybe something with some partners, or you're doing something with a hint of competition, you might run the risk of "being exposed", which is a nice way of saying "People are going to figure out that I'm not as good at this as other people. They're going to see I suck." so either you don't contribute or you pipe down about your contributions and play a bit part. You hold yourself back, sometimes going so far as to say that if you didn't, people would see how much better you are at this, and think you're an arrogant jerk. 

Fear of Disappointing Others -- If you go do this creative thing, there's a possibility your spouse/significant other/children/co-workers/friend(s)/loved ones/parents may not like it. They may scoff and tell you that with every step you take away from some other course of action, you're failing them. So, in order not to avoid letting these people you love down (because you're not supposed to let them down, right?), you don't do the thing you want to do.

Fear of Failure -- Sure you might go do something, but you might suck at it. Your products may not sell, people may hate you, they may sue you when your creation doesn't do what they thought it would, they may chase you out of town with pitchforks and to avoid the inevitable fall of Camelot, you don't undertake that creative endeavor. 

I'm sure there are loads more fears out there, but these are the ones I can speak of from personal experience. But, if you're following me on Twitter or reading this blog, you've likely noticed that I am currently not-stuck in any facet of my life. Now before you get mad that there's some sort of sorcery afoot, let me tell you that there's two things I'm doing:

a. I'm not giving up
b. I'm turning obstacles into cheerleaders.

I think we can all understand not giving up. I'm a stubborn, obnoxious, bristly person at times, and when I lock onto something (a project, a goal, a desire) I do not easily let it go. And often I remove the chance to give up by running down the goal at a jillion miles an hour so there's no hope of me slamming on the brakes and giving into the above-described fears. When there's something you want to do, you just can't give up. How else were you planning on getting the results you want?

As for that second bit, I can't take credit for it. I learned it from an Australian DJ once. So just imagine item (b) with an Australian accent. (for the curious, it's something like 'Opstackels inna chairliters, mate') It refers to the idea that when you're surrounded by a crowd of doubt (real or imagined, actual people or just thoughts), you can turn that negative into a positive -- you can make those fears into motivators.

Sure the easy way is to take on the fear as a challenge and say, "Oh yeah? Watch me!" and then you sort of compete against your fear, proving it wrong as you go forward. There's nothing actually wrong with that, but it's way draining to sit there and have to prove something to the people you love or the faceless "audience". 

I say skip the competition. Involve those that hate or dismiss in your efforts, or cut them out entirely. There's even a John Rule (#6) about it: "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

Okay, not everything's a joke, but you can just swap out "joke" for "success", because to them, the possibility of your success may be a joke. If people are really committed to disliking your work or your efforts, no amount of success-in-their-face is going to dissuade them. You could offer favors, barter, beg, give them whatever profit you make, you could give them the moon and stars, and they'll still not like your stuff. Hell, some people won't even LOOK AT your stuff and they'll dismiss it like you just pooped on the Thanksgiving turkey.

Turning an obstacle into a cheerleader isn't magic, or a trick or even manipulative. You don't even have to talk to that obstacle at all for this to work. You just need to do the following:

i. Complete your project
ii. Be excited/happy about your project
iii. Share your project with interested people
iv. Repeat i - iv.

Rather than deal with the haters, the doubters and those who would guilt you, find the people who would support you. (You may call them "friends"). If you can't find someone to support you (now admittedly I'm assuming that your creative endeavor doesn't include making sacrifices to pagan gods, kidnapping babies from hospitals, robbing the elderly or kicking puppies), I'll support you, just send me an email with 'Support Me!" in the subject line (seriously, try it out.)

Let's look at the steps.

i. Complete your project - This will abolish that fear of failure, because if something's done, you haven't failed at it. You did it. It's the total opposite of failing. 

ii. Be excited/happy about your project - This will nuke that fear of exposure, because if you're happy, there's nothing to expose. What are people going to do, be happy with you? Your excitement is a powerful infection vector, and your job is to share your Outbreak monkey with the world. 

iii. Share your project with interested people - This will crush the other fears because people who like the thing you do aren't going to reject it (or you) nor will they be disappointed because you're giving them something they like. Key here is "interested", so it helps to know a little about the sort of people you want to see your completed project (this is also called 'knowing your audience').

iv. Repeat steps - Originally this idea was "Repeat as needed", but "needed" says to me that you don't always want to share cool things with cool people, and I've never met a situation where cool people didn't want cool things. Also, by repeating these steps you're creating a new path of thoughts in your brain (that thing you're in charge of) and training yourself to accept a new philosophy, one built on being happy and loving yourself for your successes, not living in fear of not-succeeding. 

If you do these things, and you don't half-ass them, the things (the doubts, the people) who oppose (or who you believe oppose) you will transform into people who support you. I didn't believe this at first, and thought  I had just found a Jedi Mind Trick (this is not the failure you're looking for)...but really what I had stumbled into was a universal truth.

Here's the universal truth, as I've found it -- Your loved ones just want you to be happy and successful. They're going to have their own views of success, as tempered and developed by their experiences, but their experiences aren't your experiences, so they're going through this with you (sometimes for the first time) too. If you show them the positives (the happiness, the success, the pleasure), they'll support you. The people who bitch or dislike what you're doing? They just wish they had the courage to do the same, or they're mad because your success (even your efforts) has challenged their world view that you-can't-succeed-and-be-happy-it's-one-or-the-other. And since people don't like getting their views challenged, they fight back.

So for me, it was my family and my relationships. I thought that if I really committed to doing what I wanted to do, they'd hate me for it. Now, yes, some of those relationships did hate me for it (because I didn't have to commute to work, and because I didn't/don't deal with projects that aren't interesting, because I'm going after my dreams rather than sitting in a crappy job or that I'm doing, rather than thinking/wishing/envisioning, what I want). But my family, they just wanted to make sure I had enough money to get by in the world and that I wasn't killing myself a minute at a time in some depressed state. 

And every other fear lived in my head. I fostered these thoughts by being sort of a dick to people and making really bad choices that led to crappy consequences because I was more interested in appearing "the way other people do" rather than just being me. Now, looking at everything, it is SO MUCH easier to be me, and I'm way happier.

Does this system eliminate all the obstacles? Nope. I still run into bills that need to pay, clients that need to pay me, weird situations that I can't fix, and roadblocks to awesome that are out of my hands (like seriously, I can't do anything about the factory in Singapore going on strike and therefore not producing ink). But I'm able to get past the obstacles because I'm doing what I love, so as long as I can do that, I get sort of Teflon-y and everything slides off. 

No ink? That's cool, I'll just work on the digital version.
No extra cash to take a lady to dinner? No problem, let's just stay in and cook. 
Company X didn't send me a check? Company A, B, C and D did though, so it's alright.

I leave you with this. 


Happy writing.