When someone asks me who or what I’m trying to be, I don’t give them an occupation. I tell them I’m trying to be someone who the younger me would be proud of. When I was a little girl, I would look to adults I admired: authors, scientists, teachers, teachers, and other people doing inspiring work around the world. I couldn’t wait to be an adult so that I could get out into the world and make some kind of contribution.
In the shuffle of everyday adult life, this kind of memory can get lost. That little kid is still inside me somewhere, still inspired by these same people for these same reasons. The question I think about all the time is if the younger me would be inspired by the me of today. When I have a decision to make, especially when the problem is muddy and there is no clear answer, I think about younger me a lot. I try to imagine how she would see the problem that adult me faces. No doubt, it would be very black and white to her. And then I make the choice she’d admire, the choice she’d be proud of. She’s my barometer for doing the right thing.
Questions without clear answers can paralyze us. I’ve wrestled cloudy questions to the ground many times over in an attempt to get answers I thought I needed before I could make a move. I gave up that practice 15 months ago when I left my corporate job to carve a new path of my own design. Now, I have to live the questions, answers or not.
How I made my home in New York City
I didn’t know if I should act on my idea to leave New York behind and move to California so I tried out California for 2 months without giving up my place in New York. I couldn’t just toss the question around in my mind and wait for an answer. I had to try California, I had to live the question, to find my answer. And the answer was New York.
How I started my own company
I didn’t know if I could make a living independent of a company that someone else designed. Like the California question, I kicked the tires on entrepreneurship as long as I could. To find out if it suits me, I needed to give it a go, live it. I’m still trying it; still living it. The answer is becoming clearer, but I’ve got some room to go yet. That’s how I started Chasing Down the Muse.
How I decided to follow my dream of being a writer
I don’t know if I can make a living as a writer. I’ve made part of my living as a writer for a while, but I don’t know if I can fully support myself with my tightly honed abilities to turn a phrase and meet a tight deadline. That question isn’t going to answer itself. There’s no way to know until I try. So I’m rolling the dice, taking a seat at the table, and living that question every day. The cloud cover will eventually break and I’ll have my answer. All I can do now is play it as it lies. Read about my writing by clicking here.
What questions are you living?
“I like things to happen. And if they don’t happen, I like to make them happen.” – Winston Churchill
The most striking outcome of my time in California is my decreased tolerance for waiting unnecessarily. Some times, we need patience. We need to take a beat, a breath, a moment. A gathering storm needs to pass. We need to deal with a new emergency. But patience can be used like a crutch. We wait because it seems less scary than action.
So how can we tell if it’s time to wait or time to act? Remove ourselves from the decision. Imagine that a friend is asking for your advice on the exact situation you’re in. This friend is strong, capable, ambitious, and talented. She will succeed or learn trying. Should she act? Should she wait? That’s your answer.
Almost always I find my answer is to act. Try this experiment. Let me know how it goes.
Wrapping up a week in madness, I’ve reflected a lot on the ideas of creativity, transformation, and acceptance. Remaking ourselves and our lives takes courage. Some people may not understand what you’re doing or why or how. They might put us down in every way possible, and we might start to do the same to our own mad dreams. Don’t take your cue from them. Their words and actions, as much as they may hurt, have nothing to do with you. It is just an expression of them wrestling with their own demons and lost dreams that they didn’t follow. And the reasons for their choices don’t matter. They chose. Now you choose: Go down that road even though you know how it ends, and it doesn’t end well, or go in a new direction.
New directions can be frightening. We are leaving behind our history, our patterns, our expectations, and the impressions of others. Of course it’s mad to chart a new course. The old worn one is so much easier to travel. Be mad. I know it sounds so easy to say “let go”. No one tells us how painful that process can be. There’s a grieving, a mourning period. But on the other side of that grief, is light.
And here’s something else no one tells us: once we strike out on a new road, we don’t travel alone. Up ahead, just around the bend, there is someone new waiting, lots of someones waiting. They took off before we did in the same pursuit of something new and exciting, something that they feel passionately about. They are our new examples of how to be. We are both teacher and student, always. We learn and then we turn around and teach others through our example. That’s how it’s always been.
Yes, we’re here to take life by the horns, madness included, but we’re also here to give even more back. We’re here to be generous with our experience so that others may be encouraged and inspired to invest in their own mad dreams. That’s progress.
“I don’t want people to think I’m crazy so I won’t say, do, try…’x’.” How many times have you said that to yourself? I hear that recording running in my mind all the time. And I’ve learned to acknowledge it, thank it for its counsel, and then let it go. We have to release that thought if we are to do anything original. Our value, and the value of work, is found in what’s not obvious, in connecting dots that have been disparate.
That’s the place to go – into the dark corners, into the places that others won’t go. And don’t be meek about it. Hold your head up high, confident, bold, brave, and daring. Attempt to go so far in the direction of your dreams that you merge with them. Your life is an expression of what matters most to you – who you spend your time with, where you go, the actions you take, the support, encouragement, and love that you provide to others.
Don’t be discouraged if others can’t see what you see. It’s not their fault. They don’t have your vision in their minds. You have to build it for them. You have to bring along those who are interested in your path bit by bit. The expression you wear on your face and the light you emit from just being who you are, living your very best day every day no matter what circumstances you face, is all the proof you need.
As I head to Vegas this morning to be part of the mentor program at SXSW V2V, I’m excited to announce that my company, Chasing Down the Muse, is making a shift to place more emphasis on making products. I used my summer in LA to figure out my next career steps. I moved away from everything and almost everyone I know to figure out what mattered most to me.
Here’s what I learned: While I’ve enjoyed the strategy, communications, and marketing consulting projects I’ve done this year, I miss spending the majority of my time ideating, making, launching, and iterating products. Time to change that! Don’t get me wrong – the strategy, marketing, and communications is vital to having successful products and I plan to continue that work; now I want to bring the actual making of products back into my daily work life. Want to work together on product-based projects? Drop me a line!
This summer I’ve spent every day involved in the process of making and it’s been a complete delight. I have always believed that the surest way to a fulfilling life is to follow the joy wherever it leads. So I’m taking my own advice. I’m going for it – let’s roll!
Up tomorrow: Why I lean in every day
We all get stuck. But we don’t need to stay where we are. We can move, grow, extend, and transcend.
When life gets heavy, lighten the load by opening up. Your eyes, your heart, your time. Be willing to be surprised by what you find, and then be willing to act on what you learn.
Life can leave us with many questions. Are we in the right job? The right relationship? The right city? I’ve found the clearest way to figure out these big questions is to move away from what we know. When we create some distance, literally or figuratively, we can see things more clearly.
For over a year, I’ve wrestled with the idea of leaving New York to create a new home in a new city. I was very conflicted about the decision so I decided to get away. I decided to take a break from New York and be totally open to any answer that rises up. My escape to Los Angeles did something really amazing, and totally unexpected. By going to LA, I found my way back to New York as my definitive home. I answered the question of “Where should I live?” not by thinking about it, but by leaving it behind. I didn’t need to angst over the decision. I needed to let it go and give it the space to solve itself.
What a powerful lesson. What an incredible discovery. I let go, and the sky didn’t fall. The world didn’t come to an end. I didn’t break. I let go, and then everything fell into place.
“Abundance is a process of letting go; that which is empty can receive.” ~ Bryant McGill
As I prepare to spend my summer re-thinking and re-shaping my future, I’m unpacking quite a bit of my life: my work, my time online, and the hustle and bustle of my everyday life. I’m taking very little with me in the hopes that de-cluttering my life will open the way for new beginnings.
We sometimes place an unfair connotation on the concept of emptiness. I think of emptiness as a blessing, as a state of being that helps us to re-imagine and re-invent. If every ounce of time and space we have is full, then we can’t be open to the many gifts that new experiences offer.
So I’m making room. I’m letting go. I’m giving myself the gift of fully experiencing life one moment at a time and the chance to celebrate the beauty that each small moment holds.
A very dear friend of mine recently lost someone close to her. He was taken at far too young an age; he still had a lot of living left to do. Letting someone go is one of the hardest things we have to do, and it’s also an excellent motivator that helps us make the most of our own lives.
The only way I can make sense of loss is by understanding that it makes me live more fully. I don’t take any day for granted. I don’t assume I’m getting a tomorrow. It all goes by too fast, and I try to grab as much of the whirling, swirling wonder of life as possible.
Deciding on our purpose, what we’re meant to do with the small sliver of time we have, is difficult. The only thing more difficult is not undertaking the pursuit. Our purpose can be a cause, person, community, line of work, or role we wish to play in the story of humanity. It’s the only thing we have complete control over. It’s our choice.
So go out there. Discover what it is that lights you up and decide to make a go of it. In that way, no matter how much time you have it will be worthwhile. You will have done what you came to do, and you’ll inspire others to do the same.
Problems trip us up because they typically have many layers. We get so caught up in their tangled webs that we can’t see our way clear of them. We try to solve the whole thing at once. If we can break a problem down into pieces and then address each piece individually, we gain confidence by removing each roadblock and eventually the light at the end of the tunnel begins to shine through.
Learning to program has taught me this lesson at every turn. In programming, we have a goal – the thing we’re trying to build. To get there, we have to break the problem down into pieces and address each small piece line by line. The collection of all of those lines yield our desired result.
The same is true for any problem in our lives. They’re all made of tiny problems stacked on top of one another. Start where you are, see where you want to go, and chart all of the small steps to get from here to there. It’s a sure path to unraveling any challenge that ails us. And while you’re at it, why not learn to code?