Thursday, November 29, 2007

Respect Your Bliss

I was over at the Copywriter Underground blog today, where I saw this amazing rant by author Harlan Ellison:

What strikes me as relevant about this rant--which is about the need for artists and creatives to be properly valued, and therefore properly paid--is the transition you make from amateur to professional when you start seeing your work as "real" and worth making a living from.

Sometimes, when you begin to follow your dreams, you feel almost guilty about charging for your work. After all, you may not have a ton of experience, or you may just get so much enjoyment out of what you're doing that you feel like you'd do it for almost nothing, just because getting paid to have fun doesn't seem to be allowed.

Indeed, when people say, "When are you going to get a real job?" what they really seem to be asking is this: "When are you going to get a job that makes you as miserable as I am?"

That's why it's so important to charge professional wages for the work you do, even if you are following your bliss and having a great time. Not only does it help you, it helps all the others working in your field or hoping to work in your field, especially if there is a low barrier to entry. For example, an accountant or an engineer must pass some kind of accrediting test in order to practice in that profession, but nearly anyone can call himself a writer or a designer. It's hard for a potential employer to pick the hacks out from the pros. One of the ways to distinguish yourself as you embark on your path is to make sure you value your work, because others see that, pick up on it, and begin to value you as the professional you are.

So whatever your path is, research what the professionals earn, and make that a near-term goal. If you want respect for following your bliss, you must first learn to respect yourself. This is harder than it sounds, but if you can do this, you will succeed.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Support Bliss-Followers as You Shop

I've said before that if you're going to spend money, you should try to spend it on experience rather than material goods.

I stand by that advice, though I recognize that some material things can be functional, necessary or add beauty to life. If you find yourself in the position of having to buy a gift this holiday (or anytime, really), you might consider something that satisfies the three qualities mentioned above, and has the added benefit of supporting a working artist or artisan.

The place to browse for these gifts is a wonderful marketplace website called, where handmade items--from art to pet food dishes to clothing to jewelry--are sold directly by the maker to the buyer.

What I love about this is that you can give a beautiful or functional (and often both!) handmade, one-of-a-kind gift, and support someone else who is trying to follow their bliss and engage their gifts and talents as they make a living. Also, the items are often extremely affordable, which is nice if you're on a budget.

Really, what's not to love? So spread some holiday cheer and good karma when you do your gift shopping and make the holidays a little more handmade.

If you like what my hands made--this blog--consider subscribing to my feed! It's free!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How to Shift to Solution-oriented Thinking

Everyone bitches and moans. I think it's human nature to have those days when all you want to do is whine. After all, it's easy, it makes you feel vindicated and maybe even a little self-righteous, which can be helpful when morale is really sagging. Sometimes, it makes you and your fellow sufferers laugh. Some of my favorite turns of phrase have come out of bitching sessions.

Ah, but it can be addictive. I know first hand how addictive it can be, and I've seen many of my friends and colleagues succumb to the easy pleasure of moaning about the incompetency! the cluelessness! the suckitude! of the workplace or situation.

While it takes almost no effort to bitch, it is not a harmless activity. A subtle mental shift occurs with a lot of bitching, and it gets worse the more of it you do. A feeling of victimization colonizes your mind, and you begin to see yourself as a helpless pawn in a situation out of your control. If only those people weren't so stupid! If only the boss could see your genius for what it is! If only, if only, if only.

The will, and indeed, the urgency, to act is slowly but surely extinguished, and one day you wake up and your life and opportunities have passed you by.

It can be difficult to pinpoint why people change courses after being so long on one path, but in the last year, I awoke to the fact that I controlled my fate, and that I could act. Bitching and moaning was not the only way to deal with a difficult situation. I could actually extricate myself from it!

You can do this too, and all it requires is a little attention on your part. I began to tire of hearing myself say the same things over and over again; the same words, the same phrases, the same pattern of thoughts. Here's what you need to do to break the pattern:
  1. Identify the words, phrases and thoughts of your bitch-sessions. Make note of them. Write them down or just promise to remember them. See them as triggers for zooming out and examining your thoughts.
  2. When you notice yourself in this pattern, analyze what you're saying. If you hear yourself saying that so-and-so is a clueless idiot, think of why you're wasting energy repeating something that you already know and that won't change. If so-and-so is truly a clueless idiot, no amount of your whining is ever going to change that.
  3. When you realize that what you're saying is of no use, ask yourself what you can change. In the clueless idiot example above, you can't do anything about the idiot, but you can change how you deal with it, and in several ways, too. You can either accept that the idiot will always be an idiot, therefore not wasting time thinking about it, or you can change your relationship to the idiot. You can either resolve not to invest in anything the idiot says, or you can remove yourself from said idiot by removing yourself from the situation, i.e. getting a new boyfriend or changing jobs, or the like.
  4. When you identify what you can change, do it! Figuring out that you need a new job or boyfriend does you no good unless you actually put your realizations into action. How do you do this? Start by identifying your resources.
The minute you raise your awareness and start devising solutions to the problems you're simply bitching about is the minute you empower yourself to act and develop a better life, whatever it is that you may need to achieve it.

The fact that the human mind is capable of inventing things has always fascinated me. That we are able to create that which did not exist before is a powerful ability and one to be in awe of. Recognize that you have the power of invention within you--it's not just for light bulbs and plastics--but can be used to help you find a new path that will help you overcome the obstacle currently facing you.

As the new year approaches, resolve to solve.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Give Thanks for Ritual

Well, Thanksgiving is here, and millions of people around the country are going to crowded airports, getting on congested roads and dealing with a whole lot of hassle for what is basically a big dinner. (And one that takes a heck of a lot of energy to make.) On top of that, people will be seeing family and friends, but there will be no shortage of annoyances, from the minor to the major, that is part and parcel of being around relatives on a day full of high expectations.

Sound terrible? Or is Thanksgiving your favorite holiday? Whatever your feelings, Thanksgiving is a ritual most Americans choose to reenact every year. But even if you love it, you have to admit it is a hassle. So why do we do it?

Because it's a ritual, and we need ritual. If you doubt the human need for ritual, re-read the first paragraph, or consider the time, cost and trouble it takes to plan a wedding. Consider every culture's need for funerary rites. Ritual instructs us, it gives us a safe harbor in times of transition, it provides comfort, it provides closure, it provides renewal.

Consider the very American ritual of Thanksgiving: the gathering of family in an established homestead, the preparation of traditional and time-worn family recipes, the giving of thanks for the food and the blessings of the year. It is a ritual of reflection, and one that helps to prepare us for the dormancy of winter so that this time of rest is quietly productive.

Consider the meaning of this ritual and of ritual in general in your life. What do you gain from it? What is difficult or frustrating about it? What kind of daily rituals help you to navigate your life, and what are the rituals you rely on in times of great need or great happiness?

As you give thanks this holiday, give credit to ritual, and find its place in your life. Once you acknowledge your human need for it, ritual can find a very useful place in your life's journey.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How to Identify Your Resources

I've just placed the quote below in my "Favorite Quotes" box over there in the sidebar. Read it, and take a moment to let it sink in:
"A strategy is a vision with identified resources. If you haven't identified your resources, you just have a hope that something will happen." -- Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey
OK, so you've read it and really mulled it over, have you? I know it's not particularly sonorous or poetic or catchy, but it is profoundly helpful. I heard McCaffrey say this at a conference I had to attend for work, and out of the fuzz of stuff that just didn't apply to me or my life, this rang out like a bell.

Perhaps you're like me, and you're a person with big dreams, a vision for what you want your life to look like, but that's as far as you get. You stop, because like me, you have no idea where to start. I have spent a tragically large portion of my life in just this paralyzed state, primarily because no one had ever told me that 1) I needed resources to execute a vision, and 2) how to go about identifying the aforementioned resources.

You need not waste any more time paralyzed, because if you have a vision or goal, you will now have a strategy for achieving it.

Here's what you need to do:
  1. Identify your vision or goal in concrete terms. Be specific. So, for example: "I want to open my own business selling widgets by the end of 2008."
  2. Identify your personality resources. You can do this in several ways. Ask people what your strengths and weaknesses are, or create a list yourself, being honest and as objective as possible. Or take a personality test like the kind I wrote about. Figure out what you have going for you and what is working against you before you invest anything or commit to a big decision. This way you can be sure to harness your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.
  3. Identify your time resources. When do you have the most amount of time to achieve what you want? Afternoons, evenings, mornings, a lunch hour? See that time as a resource instead of just something to kill or get through.
  4. Identify your financial resources. These aren't actually as important as most people think, though it is good to know where you stand. If you have a savings cushion, that helps you feel less fear when you start your business, and if you know you don't have one, but you want one, you can start saving. If you don't have a lot of extra dough lying around, don't worry. There are plenty of ways to convince other people to give you money if your idea is good enough and you're willing to work hard.
  5. Identify your social resources. Make a list of every single person you know who could possibly, even tangentially, help you achieve your vision. Go as far back into the past as you need to, and remember that most people want to help friends or family. If you want to open up a business selling widgets, but you don't know any widget salespeople, first start with anyone you already know who sells something or owns their own business and start asking advice. Then expand your social resources through networking events and friends of friends.
  6. Identify organizational resources. When I started on my quest to become a full-time freelance writer and editor, I had no idea how many organizations, blogs, professional associations and other businesses existed to support freelancers. Seek these out and absorb all the information they have to share. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when so many have gone before, and they have made it relatively painless to learn from them.
  7. Identify educational resources. Perhaps you already have a background in business or writing or beer-making because you majored in this in college, or you worked a job that taught you skills you need in your new venture. Use this knowledge to your advantage! And if you don't have this education, find out where you can get it. There are classes in person and online on almost any conceivable topic. If there aren't, find a person doing what you want to do, and finagle a way for them to share their expertise with you.
  8. Identify role models/mentors in books or in person. As I did my research, I found that people who were very successful had published books on how to do what I wanted to do. Their books and other writings gave me models to emulate and aspire to. These real-life inspirations can do wonders for your morale and faith in yourself.
OK, so now that you've identified your resources, I'm betting you feel a little bit more confident, like your dream is actually doable! This is why you need to know what you have supporting you before you can execute, and why without identified resources, paralysis sets in.

Once you know what you've got going for you, a plan emerges from the fuzziness of the vision, and you can begin to see what steps you need to take.

As we approach the end of the year and the come upon the dreaded Time of Resolutions, begin by identifying your resources first, and then set your resolutions. With a strategy in place, they may actually get done!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Save Time and Money with Amazon Prime

That headline just sounded like an advertisement, didn't it? I promise you it's not, though if Amazon wants to pay me, they're more than welcome to.

As I've written before, one of the ways you can help yourself in finding your bliss is to reduce your expenses so that you're no longer forced into work you don't like just to keep up your lifestyle. In my household, that means that we don't have cable, but we enjoy Netflix. We also cook more often than we go out.

With the holiday shopping season bearing down upon us, it seems like now is the time to recommend time and money savers that can keep you sane and keep your wallet (mostly) full. My husband and I have found that one of the ways to do this is through Amazon Prime. What is it, you ask?

Basically, you pay $79 a year for free two-day shipping of pretty much anything Amazon sells directly. Yes, I'm advocating you spend $80 a year to save money.

If you're like us and you buy a lot of books, CDs, DVDs and other small items for Christmas, the fact that you can order as much and as often as you like and not worry about racking up hundreds of dollars in shipping fees is a blessing. Even more of a blessing is that I don't have to go to the mall or bookstore to procure gifts for my lovely friends and family. Time saved right there. It's also great for last-minute stuff, because hey, it comes in two days! So if you forget something, or you don't want to wait a whole week, this takes care of that too.

Another perk is that up to four people can use the same Prime account, so if you have a lot of family members who need books or music throughout the year, this cuts down on costs as well. Add to that the fact that Amazon is consistently cheaper than most stores and you don't have to use any gas and you're saving money there, too.

Of course, there are times where used books will work fine--for this I like you don't need to own the book and can use the library, but for gifts and hard-to-find books and music, Amazon truly is a godsend.

Just as I discovered with Google Reader, there are some things the internet brings us that we've never had before. I am a big believer in finding ways to streamline the time and money you spend procuring information or the items we use on a daily basis, and I think it's worth sharing the experience if it can help others.

Are you already an Amazon acolyte? Or does the thought of ordering your books, music and other gifts online fill you with dread? Let us know in the comments what your favorite time or money saver is for shopping, and as we get closer to Christmas, I'll post the standouts.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Find Your Strengths, Understand Your Weaknesses

We all know intuitively that people have different personalities. Some people are extremely social, while others like spending long periods of time alone. Some people seem like counselors, so good are they at listening to their friends' travails, while others talk incessantly about themselves with no curiosity as to how someone else might be feeling.

One of the ways you can find the kind of work you are meant for is by figuring out what your personality type is through an objective measure. I did this recently using an internet test based on the Myers-Briggs typing system, and while it was a free online test and not guaranteed to be accurate, I have to say I was fairly impressed with how closely it matched my own strengths and weaknesses.

For example, I am an introvert, which means I draw energy from being alone, whereas an extrovert draws energy from being around people. No wonder, then, why being a writer appeals to me, and why the mere thought of being a salesperson tires me out.

If you're totally unsure of what you need to be doing, taking a test like this can help you at least figure out what you definitely are NOT cut out for, or what you should give serious consideration before diving in.

You say you already know your personality? Possibly, but do you know what your weaknesses are? I already knew I preferred being alone to large social gatherings, but I had never really noticed my predilection for perceiving criticism where none was intended. This is all helpful stuff to be aware of.

After you get your type, visit this page for a more detailed explanation of each type, and see what you learn about your nature. Now, there are criticisms of the typing, and people are too nuanced to be easily categorized, but even if this helps you see general trends in your personality, trends that make certain careers or occupations suddenly seem more or less appealing, then I think it's worth giving it a try.

I'm an INFP. What're you? Tell us in the comments.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Feel Rich Without Money

Ok, maybe not without any money, but without the tons of money most people imagine they need to be rich. I have nothing against money, and I certainly want to earn a comfortable amount, but as I've said before, you have to want to earn money with some kind of goal in mind, and not just for the sake of earning money.

I've been thinking about this a lot--how much is enough? And while other bloggers have tackled this question recently (like Leo at Zen Habits), I am interested in finding out how I felt so rich as a kid when I know now how little money we had. How was it that it felt like more than enough, when by most people's standards, it was far less?

I was talking to my mom about this the other day, and while I remember the occasional times my parents said that we couldn't buy something, I never remember them making a big deal out of it. It was never the end of the world. And so I guess it wasn't the end of my world, either. I told my mom the other day that despite some tight times, I never, ever felt deprived. In fact, I remember my childhood with great color, texture and richness.

I do think that some of that had to do with how much unconditional love I felt from my parents as a child, but I also recall taking joy in the smallest things. Going to the lake to feed bread crumbs to the ducks, or reading a favorite book in a tent pitched in the backyard. Or the handmade swings my mom painted for me and my brother that hung for years under the old live oak tree.

Now that I'm an adult, I want to make sure that I stay on the path of feeling rich without a ton of money. What were those ingredients? Here are some ideas:
  • Family and friends come first. This may seem obvious, but it really makes a difference. Feeling as though you are giving time, attention and affection to your friends and family and receiving it in return is the surest path toward a feeling of true wealth.
  • Being allowed to find what you love and then having time to do it. Fortunately for my parents, I was never much interested in dance or sports, but instead found the relatively cheap activity of reading my greatest pleasure. (Although at the rate I blasted through those books, we went to the library instead of the store.) I loved that my parents accepted that that was my interest and didn't try to push me into something they wanted to see me doing, like I think so many kids today are. I found what I loved, and I was accepted for it. Today, I think that means you need to find friends and loved ones who support you for who you are and what you're interested in. If you're acting to impress someone else, you'll always feel like something is missing.
  • Finding wonder in the daily world. This one seems hard for so many people, and I wonder why that is. I am constantly amazed that the world is the way it is, that my dog seems to be able to understand English words, that that paint color matcher at Home Depot is so accurate! There are marvels all around, and it's important to appreciate what an amazing thing the world really is.
  • Being thankful for everything you do have. You know, the Christmas ads have started the earliest they ever have, and I for one am indignant about the attempt to storm right through Thanksgiving. Christmas lost its magic for me about the time I became an income-earning adult and realized what a mad consumer push it is. Thanksgiving is the holiday that now has the most spiritual resonance for me, as it is the time where I reflect on how lucky, fortunate and blessed I am to have good health, good friends and a loving family (and dog!) Even if everything else is crap, if you are healthy, you have riches already beyond your imagining. We live in a time where we live longer, better and healthier than at any time in the past, and we have more opportunities to use our healthy bodies for good work and service than ever before. Even if your health is not ideal (as mine has not been this week), you can find gratitude for the capabilities you do have, and for the creative mind you've been given that can help you to maximize your abilities. When sickness strikes or a family member falls ill, do you ever give thanks for a giant TV? It's fine to have a giant TV, but it's not fine to think that it means anything more than what it is. It's just an electronic box. That's it.
I'll leave you with some more of Joseph Campbell's wisdom, from The Power of Myth:

Campbell: I came back from Europe as a student in 1929, just three weeks before the Wall Street crash, so I didn't have a job for five years. There just wasn't a job. That was a great time for me.

Moyers: A great time? The depth of the Depression? What was wonderful about it?

Campbell: I didn't feel poor, I just felt that I didn't have any money. People were so good to each other at that time.
And there you have it. If he could feel rich during the Depression, anyone can feel rich today.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

First, Be Well

I have been so sick these last few days, sick with a head cold that could fell Godzilla. I have little energy, but worse, little ability to focus or concentrate. The minute I try, some ache bothers me, or I have to blow my nose or drink some water.

This reminded me of how important your health is, and not just your physical health. Emotional, mental, and yes, physical. One of the principles of yoga is to take care of the body so that it is not in the way of your quest for enlightenment. I believe the same applies to following your bliss.

If you are distracted with poor physical health, or an emotionally abusive relationship or maybe you have been unduly angry lately and you don't know why, attend to those things first. Your foundation for following the path starts first with you, and if you are not of sound mind or body, the journey will be far more treacherous.

Just as you wouldn't attempt a marathon when suffering from pneumonia, don't forge on ahead with huge life changes without first evaluating yourself--the vessel of change--for soundness.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

When to Choose the Tangible Over the Abstract

I was reading a newsletter from the Glimmer Train literary quarterly today, and found this quote from author Melanie Thon:
The Kingdom is here, on Earth, waiting for us to step into it. Ansel Adams says: I believe in beauty—I believe in stones and water and air and soil—people and their future and their fate. If we believe in these things, then the love and patience required to evoke them for our readers becomes sacred. Art is an Affirmation of Life—not only our separate lives, but our lives within the endless body of all living things, our lives as they are connected to stones and clouds and wolves and spiders.
I love this, and here's why: Sometimes, reflection is too much. Sometimes, getting lost in thinking and ideas is unhealthy. Sometimes, you have to remember the physical world, the one you experience through your body, your senses.

After all, no matter how complex your thought processes, the experience you have of the world is mediated through the physical self.

Often beginning writers will make the mistake of writing a character who does pretty much nothing but think. This has been called the "mind on a page" problem. There's no there there, there's nothing for us to see or taste or smell or touch. And so we lose interest, and often no matter how hard we try, we lose track and grow confused about what's happening. One of the best pieces of advice I've gotten from my favorite writing teachers is to ground the action in the physical world, in tangible detail. Don't tell us that our hero is nervous, show us the nickel in his hand that he's obsessively turning over.

When you're feeling overwhelmed with mental activity, when you can't make sense of the tangled thoughts in your head, seek out the details. Focus on that. Stroke the velvety ears of your dog. Look closely at the wood grain of your dining table. Smell the aroma of a just opened jar of peanut butter. Remind yourself that this is the world, this is life. When you can identify yourself as a physical entity in the same way as a package of pasta and the wasps nesting under the eaves of your house, you slow down and take note of things in a way that is often lost.

Connect to the stones and the clouds and the wolves and the spiders, and you will connect with the self that is here on earth, now, already in the Kingdom.