Clear thinking is logical, it’s predictable, it’s unsurprising and it’s rational. It can also stall your train of thought, stifle your creativity and dam up your constant free-flowing stream of crazy genius ideas.
When we’re in the throes of solving a problem, working on a scene, composing music, redesigning a website or editing a video, the outcome is NEVER clear. In fact, it’s usually foggy, and filled with indecision, hesitation and frustration.
Important because the very last thing we want when we’re in the zone of creating, solving, inventing or attempting, is to be clear thinking. On the contrary, the very first thing we want is to be open-minded.
I’ve been working with a talented client who has hit a critical setback in her career, and she’s considering abandoning her big project. It’s an extraordinary, worthwhile project too, that has the potential to upgrade her career to a much more lucrative and respectable place! I keep pointing out the fact that a setback or crossroads may have all the markings of a logical stopping point, however it can also be a self-imposed halt in the action; depending on how committed you really are, your tolerance level for uncertainty, your ability to hunker down, take risks and push through, and where YOU ultimately plant the stop sign.
After much discussion at the deep end of the pool, I related a story to her that seems to have completely turned her around and reignited her commitment. It’s actually a blog I wrote back in 2012 called “Fade To Black.” I’ve posted it here, and I hope this is helpful to you too:
Fade to Black:
I worked with Francis Ford Coppola in post-production on the Godfather. Paramount insisted on using the world-class film processing company, Technicolor, and I was lucky enough to be asked to join the team. I was working in a department called “answer print” at the time, and I was charged with keeping track of each and every scene of the movie, while at the same time Francis and a “color timer” corrected the “sepia tone” color of each scene. It was a 4-month gig, on what would turn out to be the greatest film of all time.
At one point Francis told us the story of while they were in the throws of shooting, he was constantly being threatened and challenged by the producers; why are you so far over budget? Why do the dailies look so dark and faded? Why can’t you keep the production on schedule? He said directing the film was a huge technical challenge itself, however dealing with the suits made his job almost impossible. In fact he shared that he was once in a bathroom stall when he over heard two guys talking about how terrible a director they thought he was. He says that he lifted his feet because he was afraid they would recognize his shoes.
Yet even at the risk of terrible humiliation, fear of being fired, personal embarrassment, intense criticism and financial disaster, he didn’t stop, or quit. He kept going. Even in the face of big doubts he said (very loud) “nothing would stop me from making this movie!”
Important because it leads me to the question, where do you stop?
Do You Stop when others criticize your work?
Do You Stop when personal “doubts” begin to surface?
Do You Stop when there’s too much work involved?
Do You Stop when the money runs out?
Do You Stop when it’s too time consuming?
Do You Stop when there’s too much stress?
Do you stop because you just don’t know what to do next?
Does your resistance to today’s technology stop you?
Does “not being good at marketing” stop you?
Does doubting your own talent stop you?
"Anything you build on a large scale or with intense passion invites chaos and doubt. You have to really be courageous about your instincts and your ideas. Otherwise you'll just knuckle under, and things that might have been memorable and worthwhile will be lost.”—Francis Ford Coppola
“The truth of the matter is, you always know the right thing to do, the hard part is doing it.” —Former U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf.
Important because you're an exception, and rules don't apply to you. That's because artists and entrepreneurs NEVER know the “right” thing to do! We work in a perpetual state of doubt and uncertainty. Why? Because it’s our job to manifest an extraordinary experience out of nothing, so that our fans, clients and customers can enjoy and benefit from our own brand of creative genius. And while it’s true that a commander leads his troop according to the guidelines and protocol found in an official rulebook, it is also nevertheless true that a creative, courageous artist/trep runs her world without one.
Acquiring new fans, clients and customers is far more challenging than keeping your current fans, clients and customers.
That said, investing time, money, perks and freebies, to reward and acknowledge your true faithful devotees, along with frequent direct interaction via regular newsletter or blog is the most intelligent way to maintain your relationship and solidify your credibility. It also provides a foundation from which to continuously grow your base from there.
Important because if you’re not stomping all over the old worn out antique methods of marketing your products and promoting your art, then you’re going to always be scratching your head and struggling just to keep up.
All you have to do is walk into your creative space, whether it’s a studio, a set, a stage or an office, stand directly in front of your most important project, the one that’s most near and dear to you, and simply begin to do the work.
Important because at that moment everything changes. Your attitude shifts, your edginess softens, your confidence rises and the grip of resistance is released. At that moment, even in the shadow of uncertainty, so long as you stand face-to-face and toe-to-toe with the work you love, it’s as if the gates of inspiration and possibility open wide, and the entire universe begins to blush with joy.
Boredom is good. Without it our minds could not wander and our imagination could not run free. Without it there would be no empty space for new ideas to reveal themselves. Without it our fantasies would be fleeting, our daydreams would be dampened, and the light bulb over our head would be forever dim.
Important because without boredom we would not ask the question “What should I do next?”
Stealing away into your private space to do some deep soul searching about the value of your work and the direction you’re headed is not only important, it’s absolutely imperative for a crazy, genius artist/trep. And obviously, the more often you do it, the more insight and wisdom you’ll gain. However, when you’re faced with a specific career challenge, problem or crossroads that has left you stressed and perplexed, the last person you should consult is yourself. The last person you should ask for advice is yourself. The very last person you should have a conversation with is yourself, because you’re the one inside the belly of the beast!
Important because while YOU will ultimately make the final decisions, a profound, pragmatic conversation at the deep end of the pool, with someone whose opinion you trust, always provides a unique, alternative POV, which can provoke a welcome shift from belly to breakthrough.
So many of my clients are at wit’s end with how to market and promote their work. Doesn’t matter if it’s music, art, screenplays, a major acting career, a giant corp, or a small business.
I know it’s hard to get peoples attention these days. It’s also frustrating and challenging to figure out ways to promote your art & commerce—especially with so many social marketing choices—and especially when you rarely get the results you expect. Makes you want to toss in the towel! I get it!
However, often when we're faced with a challenging problem, we inadvertently add more anxiety to the mix by searching for the one solution that will make the problem go away. Therein lies the rub. This is no longer a “one-solution” industry. It’s a multi-solution one.
Important because the truth is, more than ever before in the history of show business, these are the freewheeling days of unlimited possibilities. These are the days of trial & error. These are the days of hit & miss. These are the days of experimentation and exploration. And these are the days of dreaming it, producing it, packaging it, and tossing it overboard to see if it floats! If it floats, whaoo! Keep doing more of that. If it doesn’t, head back to your creative space and keep working on more ideas. Honestly, for all of us artists and entrepreneurs, heading back to our creative space to improve our work, over and over, even though it’s frustrating, is the ONLY option we have...other than the towel toss.
No one remembers who was king when Beethoven was alive.
No one remembers who published The Lord Of The Rings.
No one remembers what company produced and distributed the original Star Wars film.
No one remembers who invented the “mouse.”
No one can forget the definition of “Carpe Diem.”
Important because art outshines uniformity, culture eclipses commerce, inspiration dwarfs policy and innovation trumps protocol. And even though we have entered into a time of political ambiguity, and even though the industries of certainty are continuously being disrupted all around us, what matters most is the art you create, the songs you compose, the books you write, the movies you direct, the products you invent and the worthy ideas you produce. Those manifestations will outlast and outlive adversity and mediocrity, and they will be recalled over and over again for generations to come.
Some interruptions are necessary, some pauses are helpful, and an unexpected break in our routine can be valuable. However, some other disruptions really suck; career failures, money loss, project flops, personal heartbreaks, etc. And getting the motor running again, at top performance, after a dramatic, drawn-out delay can be an effort. Why? Because the brute called “Resistance” will stop at nothing to keep you stuck in the drama of your circumstances.
Important because When you finally reconnect with your desire to succeed, and your resolve to push through “resistance” becomes ruthless, then getting back in the groove can be exhilarating. Not to mention that reinventing yourself can be empowering, and starting over can actually be a blessing in disguise. And if you're really smart, the choices and decisions you make after your big upheaval should actually put you further down the road than you were before. Why? Because you’re starting from HERE. And as a result of your disruption you should be stronger, wiser, more experienced, and a lot clearer on where you want to go, and how your going to get there. That said, experiencing an “upheaval” is never a back step, it’s actually progress in disguise.
Your new career scheme, business plan, or marketing strategy doesn’t have to be set in stone, it just has to be set in place. Not budging from your tired old method of producing results, just because it’s easier (or you can’t think of anything else to do) is a crummy strategy.
Important because everything in our wonderful industry is changing—especially the means to success. And if you continue to replicate the same tactics and schemes over and over, convincing yourself that you’re doing something different, your fans and customers will move on to something new, your numbers will start to drop, your results will continue to decline, and that dream you have of making it will eventually begin to dwindle...just when you were expecting it to peak.
In my experience, pro artists and entrepreneurs are always stronger than they seem, braver than they believe and smarter than they think. Those who see the future first are never convinced that their big idea is unique, or their unproven strategy will work, or their precarious project will ever get off the ground.
That said, every pro artist & trep has been granted the gift of seeing the future, then reporting back to the rest of us by manifesting what they see; awesome music, extraordinary designs, jaw-dropping performances, amazing business solutions, must-have products, inspiring blogs and thought-provoking, gut-wrenching, soul-searching screenplays, videos and movies.
Important because seeing the future is nothing like a Nostradamus prediction. It’s more like a light bulb over the head that you simply MUST turn on.
You deserve a week where the phone doesn’t ring as much and emails slow to a crawl.
You deserve a week where to-do lists are replaced with greeting cards and worries are replaced with a shoulder shrug.
You deserve a week where you can take in a big, deep, gasp of fresh air, and let out a long, slow sigh of relief.
Important because after a full year of daily successes and failures, you deserve these slower, quieter days between Christmas and New Years where the choices and decisions you make are more about food and friends and less about goals and objectives. Revel in this well deserved respite from the madness:)
You may be burnt out on it but I’m a sap for this movie. I wrote about it in 2012 and after watching it again I was compelled to write about it now. I’m talking about the original “Miracle On 34th St.” released in 1947 with Oscar winner Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. The film was written and directed by George Seaton, who won an Academy Award for best screenplay, and was also nominated for best director (and best film).
There are far too many sub plots in this movie to dissect them all, including the Macy’s head of personnel who goes beyond his scope, trying to pass as a psychologist—risky stuff in those days. But the most well written, persuasive character in this ensemble cast is not Santa, it’s John Payne’s character Fred Gaily. He’s the attorney who risks his law career by putting his reputation on the line, all because he’s really in love with Doris, and he has such compassion for o’l Kris Kringle. By taking on the “impossible” task of proving Kringle is the real Santa Claus, he definitely places in jeopardy his reputation as a respected attorney, and also puts at risk his relationship with Doris. Here’s a poignant excerpt from the original script:
Doris (Maureen O’Hara): You're not really serious about this?
Gaily: (John Payne) Of course I am.
Doris: But it’s IMPOSSIBLE to prove he's Santa Claus.
Gaily: Why? You saw Macy and Gimbal shaking hands. That wasn't possible either, but it happened.
Doris: It’s completely idiotic. What do your bosses say?
Gaily: That either I drop this IMPOSSIBLE case or they will drop me.
Doris: I can’t believe you would risk everything to prove the IMPOSSIBLE...that there IS a Santa Claus!
Gaily: But no one else has the courage to stand up for Kris, and what he stands for!
Important because doing what’s obvious and ordinary provokes obvious and ordinary results. However, courageously stepping out on to the skinny branches and taking on the “impossible,” lifts us out of the box, where ALL possibilities exist. No less scary, just more opportunity. The wisdom of Fred Gaily (and studio chief Darryl Zanuck) tells us to be courageous, do what’s right, go for the impossible, and prove to us that you are who you say you are.
—This film itself was considered to be a long shot. However, Darryl Zanuck (head of 20th Century Fox) took a big risk and changed the release date from December to May, taking advantage of the summer season, rather than the cold winter when no one went to movies.
—The house shown at the end of the film is a 1703 square foot single family home built in 1943. It’s located at 24 Derby Road, Port Washington, New York. The home looks practically the same as it did in 1947, except that the roof line has been altered by the addition of a window.
This is an excerpt from an email exchange between me and one of my clients—a film director who I admire very much. Not so much for his film credits, but for his commitment to continue to better himself and his art.
“Paul: Whatever it is that causes you to pause, flinch or hesitate from dreaming any bigger or working toward a bigger vision, it’s that same hesitancy that causes you to slow, stall or even stop the process (actually the effort) of producing extraordinary results in your work—instead, choosing to settle for mediocrity just to make a buck. Can you see that? And really, that’s what we should be going for; extra-ordinary results…right? Especially a guy in your position! Because today, “ordinary” does not hold the attention of the audience, nor the interest of potential producers/investors. And your best “ordinary” work will rarely get shared, forwarded, advanced or even “pitched.”
Important because while we may think we are getting closer, just think how close we could get if we could “reject the flinch” and nip-in-the-bud whatever it is that causes us to hesitate from stepping up our vision, and playing a bigger game. A game that demands a more committed, professional, intelligent approach to our life’s work. Not like a surge of temporary confidence, more like a lifelong (daily) commitment to see beyond even our own expectations.
The road to victory is besieged with so many distractions, so many ups and downs, and so many unpredictable twists and turns. And as crazy, genius artists & entrepreneurs we get irritated sooner, frustrated faster, distracted easier, and seduced off that road much quicker than others. Why? Because we’re a channel for a never-ending flow of exhausting creative thinking, and an outlet for an endless stream of big ideas and unlimited possibilities, constantly flowing through us 24/7. And while others frantically thumb through the rulebook of protocol, the pro artist & entrepreneur courageously defers to creativity, ingenuity and intuition to navigate the road of uncertainty. BUT IT ISN’T EASY! That’s exactly why artist & treps need more support than others. No kidding! We need people who we trust to remind us who we are and where we’re headed—so we can remain steadfast and inside the “zone.”
Important because our “circle of influence” is important...very important. We’re a unique tribe of independent, creative thinkers. And it’s empowering and motivating to have regular, deep conversations with other like-minded independent artists & entrepreneurs who are confronted with similar concerns, share similar goals, and experience similar angst. And if we can’t find any like-minded peers, then we need to manifest or create a regular, on-going conversation with a personal confident, mentor or experienced coach who understands the entrepreneurial angst we go thru, and has the audacity to consistently encourage us and point us in the right direction.
According to Greek mythology, as a punishment for his trickery, the god Zeus ordered King Sisyphus to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill. Before he could reach the top, however, the massive stone would always roll back down, forcing Sisyphus to begin again and again, for eternity. However as the tale goes, Sisyphus was very content with his destiny because at every punishing push, at every sweaty shove, and at every steely step forward, the desire to succeed and the anticipation of victory made him stronger, and gave him hope to carry on.
Once the show is over, the product has shipped, the website launched, the record released or the book is published, the customer returns home to enjoy the rewards of her new purchase, and the fans leave the stadium with gratification and exhilaration. But the pro artist and the committed entrepreneur will return the next day to the studio, the workshop, the warehouse or the office and start the process all over again, pushing the giant stone up the mountain.
Important because this is the true joy for any artist or entrepreneur: to be given the opportunity to wake up the next day into a crazy, uncertain, creative lifestyle and shove that giant boulder up the hill; doing your best work, thrilling your fans, inspiring your clients and “wowing” your customers—day after day.
Best selling author Steven Pressfield said: “We don’t need to write the whole book. We just need the determination to work on it today.”
Important because we don’t need to fight with our projects, goals and big ideas...they are not the enemy! They’re on our side! And they’re always speaking to us and rooting for us to give them life! We just need the resolve to pursue them, advance them, and reveal them a little more, every single day.
They’re not very good at allowing assumptions to guide their decisions.
They’re not very good at discussing petty gossip, even worse at spreading it.
They’re not very good at allowing Internet distractions or media sensations to steal them away from their most worthwhile goals and projects.
They’re terrible at insisting their way is the only way, and they suck at needing to prove they're smarter.
Important because the more I hang out and interact with smarter people than me the more my awareness expands. The more I humble myself in the presence of smarter people than me, the more my level of consciousness rises. And the more I read smarter people than me, the more I realize how far I still need to go. Truth is, I just like jamming with better musicians than me...it makes me a better musician.
I have dreams and goals too! I have books in progress, clients to care for, groups to meet with, blogs to write, correspondence to answer and ideas to launch. However, I’m not sure about you, but for me there are so many time-sucking, thought-robbing, distractions that steal my attention and wreak havoc with my priorities. Then “resistance” grabs hold of me and pins me down like a sumo wrestler!
However, somewhere in between the urgent disruptions, the petty distractions and the continuous interruptions, there are openings where I can slip in and do my work. There are many days when the openings are so wide I can spend long hours working on my most prized projects. Other times the days are jammed with a heavy to-do list, or unexpected urgencies and there are no openings to be found anywhere.
Important because our time is so precious, and our goals are so important, and often the openings to get anything done are so small. However, what I’ve come to learn is that if our desire is true, and our commitment is ruthless, the openings will reveal themselves, and the opportunity to slip through the cracks and work on our dreams will be ours to seize.