Right now, I’m on a fairly long stretch of days off from my day job (Hallelujah!). Nine days in total to do as I please (it’s Day 3). That means: 1) focusing on my running and hitting (or hopefully exceeding) my weekly goal of 50 kilometres; 2) making significant progress on my writing projects (I’m working on two books at the same time); and 3) taking time to recharge. But I’ve never been good at really slowing down or the art of rest. [Read more…] about Primal: The Art of Slowing Down
Temperatures dip consistently below zero. Black Friday sales ads dominate the airwaves. The sun rises later and sets earlier. And soon, if you haven’t heard them already, Christmas songs will bombard us everywhere we go. Sure signs that we’re in the homestretch as 2019 winds down.
At the beginning of 2019, I started off pumped. This would be a year of transformation and personal growth. I took it seriously, too. Devoured books on productivity, leadership and high performance (High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard; Company of One by Paul Jarvis; Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt; The Latte Factor by David Bach … to name a few). Set goals — actually wrote them down and reviewed them daily. Enrolled in online training and attended webinars. Published a book. Trained for, and completed, a marathon.
It’s mid-November, and I’m still pumped. I’ve pushed myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. I’m not the same man I was when the year began. I have been transformed. And that has me asking several questions. One in particular…
Am I Headed in the Right Direction?
As the year draws to a close, something about my accomplishments feels hollow. Don’t get me wrong… Running a marathon and publishing a book are huge accomplishments. Instead of just talking about doing something, I showed up daily to do the work — even when I didn’t feel like it. Looking back on this journey, I realized that I was, in part, chasing someone else’s dream. I was no longer certain that I was headed in the right direction.
After reading so many books and completing various training courses, processing so much information on how to become more efficient and productive overwhelmed. I devoted too much, perhaps, time to figuring out the processes and hacks that would potentially make me more productive — elevate me to that realm of high achiever — than actually doing the work I love. Even more time spent watching and helping others realize their dreams than building my own. As they entered the homestretch, I still hovered around first base. I knew something had to change.
In these final weeks of 2019, I’ve turned my focus back to the things I love to do: writing, running, cooking/baking, reading, visiting museums, et. al. I’m showing up to be present in all that I do instead of being overly concerned about how to do these things more efficiently. Really, who was I kidding? Trying to become more productive is like binge watching Amazon Prime. Watching every episode of Jack Ryan (John Krasinski and Wendell Pierce excel in this series if you haven’t checked it) is just another way to put off doing the work.
We each have our own rhythms and processes that energize us in the homestretch. What works for one person may not work for you or me. And I’m okay with crossing the finish line at my own pace and in my own time. Because it’s all about the journey.
And now I know I’m headed in the right direction.
Do you spend too much time planning than working on your goals? Are you happy with what you’ve achieved so far this year? What can you do differently in the next six weeks to ensure your continued success? Click Reply to let me know. I love hearing from you!
If you’re anything like me, you might not be driving your creative journey the way you think.
Autumn, with its chilly temperatures and shorter hours of daylight, is settling in. I feel like I don’t have the same spring in my step, that sometimes I need a little more of a nudge to get me to my desk and write. The changing of the seasons, and what often feels like a sprint towards winter, is a time when I often find myself thinking about my life — where I’ve been, where I am, where I hope to be. And with the release earlier this month of my last novel, Everything He Thought He Knew, I’ve been asking myself this: Am I a passenger or the driver on my creative journey?
My first contact with the arts came through music. I started piano lessons when I was six, and it wasn’t long before I was performing in church and in the spotlight. I was a timid, even awkward, young boy who didn’t want the attention. Despite my love of the piano, I turned away from music in my twenties. Looking back, it was a way of affirming who I was. Maybe my parents saw it as an ‘act of rebellion,’ but I had other ideas about my life.
I didn’t want to be a church organist, and by then I’d lost any interest in a professional music career. Perhaps, too, I was scared that I didn’t have the necessary talent to succeed in the music industry. Or that I had bought into the belief that a life in music, and the arts in general, was a dead end that would only lead to alcoholism and drug addictions. Did I really want to end up like that? My mother prayed that I wouldn’t!
I went off to university, crisscrossing the country and the Atlantic Ocean, trying to figure out what exactly it was that I wanted to do with my life. By the time I finished my undergraduate degree in French literature in 1997, I wanted to be a writer. I began writing daily, filling notebook after notebook with stories, poems and tangents about the world I never dared to share. Eventually, some of my short stories, poems and essays were published. And then, after a lot of hard work and weathering the flood of rejection letters, my first novel was published. Writing began to bear fruit. Or so I thought.
The Struggle Within
As I pursued my writing — and certain that I was doing what I love — something was missing. I couldn’t pinpoint what that something missing was. Writing prompted me to pick up a paintbrush after a long time away from the easel. Still, despite expressing my creativity through words and painting, something still felt off.
When I moved to Ottawa in 1999, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t have regular access to a piano. The only time my fingers touched the keys was when I returned to Halifax to visit family, which wasn’t that often. There it was, the something missing from my life. Music. Despite having ‘turned my back’ on it, music kept calling to me.
When Providence Moved
A week after I’d started a new job in 2004, one of my colleagues mentioned that the person whose position I had taken was looking to sell her baby grand piano to make room for the incoming grand. Without batting an eyelash, I bought the piano. I was making music again.
From 2005 to 2013, I bounced creatively between music, painting and writing. Some days I ended up completely lost in my writing, and that was all that I could do. Other creative projects ground to a halt. There were also days when I spent the early morning writing, then a few hours in my painting studio after lunch, and then sit down at the piano not just to practice but to compose. And the music rained down on me in torrents, and I struggled to take it all down — to let ‘God’ or the ‘Universe’ work through me in a new way.
There have been many twists and turns along my creative journey, and I realized that I had been a passenger more than the driver. At that time, I didn’t mind being the passenger because the adventure was, in part, not knowing where I’d end up.
But I realized that as I explored the different facets of my creativity, I wasn’t moving forward, wasn’t making progress. The thrill for me, what got my mojo working, was creating all these different projects (through music, words or painting), and then just putting them out in the world and walking away from them. I’d sit back and hope the world would take notice. No wonder I was always disappointed.
Since 2013, I’ve been focused singly on my writing. And recently I realized that I’ve still been a passenger, hoping the winds of chance would blow in my favour. Not the best approach. Far from it.
Do the Work
If I’m serious about achieving my writing goals, I need to move out of the passenger seat and into the driver’s seat. Sitting down and doing the necessary work is a big part of that. It’s not just about writing. As an indie author today, it’s also about tackling the aspects of the writing life that don’t come naturally to me, like marketing and social media engagement.
The biggest challenge is having the right mindset: Acting like a successful writer. I’m still battling my inner critic. Still doubting my talent some days. Still battling Resistance.
To live the life I imagined, I can’t sit back and wish, hope, or cross my fingers that what I want will magically manifest. I’ll keep writing, publishing, reading and honing my skills. I may fail, but I’ll keep it in perspective.
I am determined. Determined to drive my creative journey.
It’s time to do the work.
Where are you on your creative journey? Do you see yourself as a passenger or the driver? Hit Reply or let me know in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.
The road is often long, filled with sharp, unexpected turns that almost send us tumbling. Some days we struggle to climb the mountain and its treacherous terrain. Other days we soar, feeling like nothing and no one can stop us — that anything and everything is possible. I like those days the best! Yet no matter what we face, no matter how daunting it may seem … we, as artists, keep on keeping on.
It’s an exciting time for me. I’m getting close to publishing my next novel, Everything He Thought He Knew. I now have an amazing cover (sneak peek to the right) thanks to Lieu Pham at Covertopia. The proof of the print edition arrived yesterday, and it looks great. The eBook edition is being formatted. It’s all coming together. Finally.
When it comes to Everything He Thought He Knew, the road has definitely been long, hard and, at times, seemingly impossible. It’s not just, as it started out to be, a ‘revised edition’ of Freestyle Love (published in 2011 by Lazy Day Publishing). It turned out to be a top-to-bottom rewrite of the story, with the central premise still intact. I had done a substantial rewrite of the original manuscript (Freestyle Love) before having it edited by thEditors. I thought, in hindsight naively, that I had nailed it. Until I received the manuscript back from my editor.
It wasn’t that it was a bad story or that the writing was mediocre. My editor did what he does best: he pointed out the problems with the character and plot development, story arc, structure, continuity, et. al. And he wasn’t wrong. And that sent me spinning and back to the drawing board. I got to work and hunkered down. What I thought would be a rather smooth and fast rewriting process took a lot longer than I had imagined. (According to my Master Projects List, I started working on this book 21 February 2017.) For a time, that had me down — wondering if I could actually get through the rewrite and publish the book.
What’s the Point?
I wanted to learn from my earlier mistakes and get this book ‘right,’ make it better than the first. So, I sent the manuscript back for another round of editing, which meant another round of revisions (but much less than the first go-round). Some days it was hard to see the progress I was making. That had me feeling down again. As much as I try not to compare myself with others, I sometimes feel frustrated watching other writers put out two or three books a year. I wonder what I’m doing ‘wrong,’ why I feel like I’m always lagging behind. Then that has me asking myself, “What’s the point?”
But the point is that — despite the challenges, the disappointments, the days I feel like I’ve lost my footing — I still show up to write. I resign from competition. I keep the end goal in sight and press on. That is, to me, the art of keeping on: with persistence and courage, doing the thing we are called to do and, every day, heeding that call.
What goal(s) are you trying to achieve? Are you determined to keep on keeping on? Let me know in the comments section below.
Do you know what you want out of life?
If the answer is yes, do you know what you need to do to achieve it?
I know I want to be a writer. Wait a minute … I am a writer. I want to be a successful writer, the kind who makes a living from it. Maybe that means trying to become a New York Times or Globe and Mail bestselling author. Maybe that means going on a book tour. Maybe that means giving up my day job so I can throw all my energy into realizing my dream.
Maybe it means none of that.
Because I’m in crisis. I’ve been in crisis mode since the beginning of the year. I’m stuck in a ‘funk’ that, despite what I thought, I haven’t been able to pull myself out of completely. I keep asking myself: “What am I doing?” and “What’s wrong?” and “What is it that doesn’t feel right?”
Earlier this week I was in London, a city that has been like my home away from home since January. During my stay, I made a stop a Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street. While I was there, I picked up a book that had been recently recommended to me: Ray Dalio’s Principles. Afterwards, I stopped for a latte and scone at a café a few blocks away. It was a beautiful day, about 29°C, and the sun was shining. People were milling about the streets, weaving in and out of the shops. As I sipped my latte, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off.
I had a little time before meeting friends for dinner so, soaking up the bright afternoon sun, I opened the book and started reading. By the third page of the “Introduction,” my heart was in my throat. Reading Dalio’s first principle, I finally understood what was wrong … why I haven’t been able to lift myself out of that funk. Dalio’s first principle is this: “Think for yourself to decide 1) what you want, 2) what is true, and 3) what you should do to achieve #1 in light of #2 … and do that with humility and open-mindedness so that you can consider the best thinking available to you.” 1
Like I mentioned above, I know what I want: to be a successful writer. But what I need to do is have a frank conversation with myself — acknowledging my weaknesses and my strengths — about what that success looks like. Or maybe the better question for me to ask is what level of success am I looking for and can I live with it?
What is true… I know why I write (to make an impact in the world, no matter how small) and that writing is the only thing in life that gives me purpose and a sense of fulfillment. It is a way for me to be of service.
Where I struggle is in what I should be doing to achieve what I want in light of what is, for me, true. That is why this year has felt like I’m just spinning and going nowhere fast. When I’m honest with myself, I’m still letting fear — of failure and what others may think of me — hold me back. To achieve what I want, I need to do things in ways that I believe are best for me and not worry about what other people think. No doubt, that’s easier said than done.
2018 started out with some big changes in my life. I stopped drinking. I started paying closer attention to what I was eating, aiming to reduce my sugar and sodium intake. While I’ve been running for ten years, I’ve been pushing myself to run longer distances and started working out. These were the changes I implemented to primarily increase my energy level and improve the quality of my sleep. And the best part of all was that I also managed to drop close to twenty pounds. It wasn’t easy, but the results have made it all worthwhile.
Now, to achieve what I want to do I know I need to make other changes. I have my “5 Rules to Live By” to guide me through this transition period, but I know they’re not enough on their own. They’re a starting point. What exactly do I need to change? Honestly, I’m not sure. But I’m going to take some time to dig deep and think about the principles that will help me to get out of life exactly what I want. One thing is certain: I’m terrified. I don’t know where it’s all going to lead, how uncomfortable it’s going to get, or if I’ll even succeed.
But to succeed, I must change my habits and stay focused on what’s really important to me. As my journey moves forward, I expect to make mistakes along the way. At this point in my life, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I’ve been standing on the edge too long. It’s time to step off the edge and look fear in the face.
Are you doing what you should to achieve what you want? Do you have any principles that help you navigate through life? Let me know in the comments section below.