Last week, I came across life coach Christine Kane’s call to action: Pick your Word-of-the-Year (Word of the Year.) (This is a free download, with no call to sign up with your email.)
It’s a cool concept. Our modern culture focuses on action steps, especially during this time of year. Soon we will be making resolutions, setting goals, etc.
Christine believes simply choosing a word that resonates with us manifests our intention. Intention, she believes, comes from the heart. And it’s even more powerful when it unfolds in a more natural, organic way than saying, “I’m gonna do this, and this, and that, and then THAT will happen!” Which starts with selecting a word that resonates, even it it’s not what you think it is.
The idea did resonate with me. But I didn’t even know where to start.
This year has been a clusterfuck, personally, economically, physically, professionally, financially, in addition to the stuff that we see on the national and international stage. Everything right down to how I feel when I get up in the morning and go to bed at night is filled with anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, resentment, and confusion.
So I downloaded the free workbook, and looked over her list of words, dozens and dozens of them. Nope. Nope. Nooooope. Hope? Maybe… Joy? Well, yeah….but no. Expansion? Maybe. Power? Power!
Now why did I pick power?!
I don’t want to be the boss of anything or anyone. Yes, I love to offer advice, but don’t want to be responsible for other people’s actions and life decisions. I don’t want to be “big” or “important” or “in charge” of anything except my own life.
So where did power come from?
I thought back over this past year. Loss. Death. Discord. Grief. Fear. Physical pain.
I thought of where I got to, working through this stuff. I have explored, and almost mastered, true forgiveness. (Okay, in bits and pieces.) Letting go of the need to belong. (Doing okay, still needs work. Still hurts to be told you don’t belong…) Accepting that we may choose to be connected, but that we are also actually alone. (SCARY STUFF.)
Where does power come in?
Following the instructions, I wrote down the words that came to mind:
Brave. Integrity. Stand tall. Move forward. Work hard.
Okay. That felt more actionable. But I still wondered.
Then some incidental acts of cruelty stopped me in my tracks again. OK… I’m reading more of Brene Brown’s newest book, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution, which is (I think) about elements of The Hero’s Journey. I think I’m in the “rumble stage”: That is, I think I know what I want. But everything seems to be conspiring against me. The stage in the Hero’s Journey where we realize it’s gonna be a heckuva lot harder than we thought. Perhaps even impossible.
With the mean remarks, I thought power might be “empowering myself to set boundaries.” Very important for creative people. We thrive and create by being open to the universe, allowing our pain to show, making our art to heal it, and then sharing it with the world.
When people respond negatively, that hurts. But we have to keep making! Hence, boundary-setting becomes imperative, a way to protect ourselves without shutting ourselves down, and shutting the world out.
So imagine my surprise when the very next chapter I read in Rising was about…..power.
Brown suggests that power has a negative connotation, because “…we automatically conflate power and power over…”
But, she continues, “The type of power I’m talking about is more in line with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s definition of it: The ability to achieve our purpose and to effect change.“
Powerless leads to fear and desperation. We are at our worst when we feel powerless.
She says moving out of powerlessness and despair requires hope. We can soften the experience of failure by asking ourselves, “Were we all in, and were we true to ourselves?” If so, then we can focus on the true lessons of regret: “We regret most our failures of courage, whether it’s the courage to be kinder, to show up to, say how we feel, to set boundaries, to be good to ourselves.”
I do not regret chosing “power” as my Word of the Year.
It’s already started me on a journey of introspection, a journey of hope, a journey of achieving my purpose….
And as fellow narrative artist/writer Teri Sloat shared after we talked in our fledgling artist support group about this, “Do you know who you meet at the end of the “Hero’s Journey?”*
Yup. I think I have the right word.
Wish me luck! (And courage, and perseverance, and most of all, patience.)
*Teri added a clarification, a lovely one, and I quote: I think my comment about the hero’s journey is a bit off, if people are thinking the the actual Joseph Campbell structure of the hero’s journey. What i should have said is that before the ‘resurrection’ we have to deal with the shadow side of what makes our strengths. Once we accept them we can accept them in others. You have made me think as I read your work that it is only when we acknowledge these shadows in ourselves do we accept them in others and neutralize their danger to us.”
Beautifully said, Teri, and thank you again!
There are people in the world who want to take you down. Don’t let them.
As the holiday season swirls around us, I find myself in alternating waves of joy and despair, lifted by appreciative hosts and customers, and devastated by the casual cruelty of my fellow makers.
Two incidents to illustrate:
I did a small maker show for a prestigious organization that unfortunately was not well attended. That was fine, it happens.
Another maker circled my set-up, someone I’ve encountered before. The pattern goes like this: They let me know they know my work and my writing, and are somewhat flattering. They approach with accolades, which soon turn into “Can you help me with x?” (which I am a sucker for, because I love helping people move forward with their dreams). This quickly declines into push-back (“Let me show you how I am more successful than you!”) on their part.
I see this from time to time, and I know it’s time to simply retreat with no engagement. But then there was the sucker punch.
The person approached me again at the very end of the event, and said, “Do you own a dog?”
I laughed and replied, “Why, yes, I do! How could you tell? Do I have dog hair on my clothes?”
They said, “You smell like dog pee.”
Uh. Oh. Stunned silence on my part.
They continued, “I have a very sensitive nose.”
I stammered a reply, noting that one visitor had brought anxious dogs to the event, and perhaps that is what they smelled. But I know exactly what was going on. (Put a pin here. Next incident!)
Second incident: Someone on social media found a series of articles my blog about display and marketing advice for artists, and shared it with a group. There were many responses from people who appreciated what I’d written, and how helpful they’d found it. I thanked everyone for their kind comments. Until I got the last one:
“Too bad she doesn’t have any photos on her blog.”
Let’s set aside the obvious: When I wrote that series over a decade ago, digital photos were a lot harder to take, almost impossible to edit, and tricky to upload. In fact, the original host site didn’t even have the ability to host images.
A book I quoted in the series, WHY WE BUY by Paco Underhill, featuring the best research on what physically/mentally keeps people from buying had no illustrations.
And most of the issues involved in “turning people off” while shopping are not easily discernible in photos. They are deeply-rooted, near-instinctive reactions, common to all humans. They were only discovered by actively observing customer behaviors in situ, and then going back to examine the environment.
But my biggest irk?
Why would you complain or criticize a resource that’s valuable–and FREE?
My favorite quip when someone argues with my articles is, “I will happily refund every penny you paid for it.”
So what’s going on here? It’s the nibblers again.
It is a short, simple, compassionate account of why some people seek to tear us down by “nibbling” away at our self-esteem. It is a powerful, restorative work that helped me heal from the tiny slashes and gashes some people inflict on others. I urge you to find a copy. It will take you no more than an hour or two to read. And then share it with someone else who needs its wisdom!
Even though these small yet thoughtless attacks hurt, once you understand where they come from, it’s easier to let go.
It also helps to find the good, the funny, the helpful. I told one person about the dog pee remark. She picked up a rolling pin and said, “I would have told her she had a 5-second headstart before I responded in kind.” (“Kind” being ironic.) I would never even try that, but it made me last.
Another person suggested, “Let me tell you where you can put your ‘sensitive nose’!”
What I wish I’d said? “I wish you had a sensitive heart.”
Another person, a store owner highly respected in our city, a staunch supporter of artists and their work, who has amazing employees who work hard to connect my work with collectors, shared their own slightly toxic encounter that week. Which also helped, because….
It made me recall the blessings of that show.
I told the store owner how their name had come up multiple times in my conversations with the other makers. (The fun part of a slow show: You get to yak!) Everyone….everyone…sang his praises, and I told him that. “You are highly-respected and loved in our art community, your store is beautiful, our work is well-represented, and your employees are amazing! You are doing it right!”
I recalled the vendor who shared a simple yet effective display idea that would work well for these small, intimate events. I remembered I thought up a way to engage a larger, younger audience for these events by coordinating an integrated social media campaign with other artists, other venues/galleries/stores, and other art organizations. I pitched another art garage sale proposal, which the other vendors loved. I chatted with employees with the organization that sponsored the event, and learned more about their own creative work, and their own hopes and dreams for their art. We had a delightful conversation about our favorite foods from Trader Joe’s, and I bought some fun holiday gifts from the other vendors.
So, laughter, support, comraderie, and future projects. All good stuff!
And I remembered that the one slightly-disgruntled comment on my lack of blog images was preceded by a chorus of gratitude and appreciation from other makers.
So when you encounter nibblers, go for the light. As Michele Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” Turn the negative into something positive, and shiny. Be a force for good in the universe.
And my final chuckle?
That evening, I went to bed and woke up one of our dogs who was deeply, deeply asleep on our bed. So deeply asleep that when I roused him and asked him if he had to go outside to pee, he obliged by urinating on our bed.
So there I was at 11p.m., stripping and remaking the bed, spraying odor-eater on bedding, and doing laundry.
And chortling to Jon along the way, “So that remark wasn’t a slam, it was a prophecy!”
P.S. You can find the forementioned series on booth design here (free!), and you can also purchase the eBook here (a paltry $5, and no, I will not refund your money if you don’t like it. Be forewarned!
P.P.S. In creating links to resources here, I discovered there is a new, updated version of Why We Buy, to include internet sales and such. I just book a copy! That’s the version I linked to above, too.
Years ago, I ran into major star at an event. (We were in line for refreshments.) This was someone whose music influenced me deeply ever since my early college years, and I’ve followed them faithfully ever since–20 years at the time, almost 50 now.
I told them that. Even as I struggled to express how much they meant to me, I could see “that face”:
“Yeah, okay. I’m tired. I hear this all the time. I get it. Thank you. But I just want to get my effin’ drink here, in peace!”
They didn’t say that. But the numb expression on their exausted face was clear. I felt awful.
And I felt awful after I did it again recently.
I had an opportunity to meet a star. Another REAL star. A famous person. I got to go backstage, and meet them. And foolishly, instead of just saying “hello” and moving on, I once again tried to tell them how much their work means to me.
And I could tell, once again, how much I bored with my little story.
Again, this person was gracious. I am not complaining. I was embarrassed I’d done it again.
They’d just completed a performance. They get hundreds of those backstage visits a year. They were already exhausted, after working the stage for hours.
And here comes a perfect stranger who hopes to “connect” at the worst possible time. What if every person, the hundreds of thousands of people who love their work, did that? “I know you, you don’t know me, I think you’re wonderful, do you “see” me????”
I have a confession to make…
The older I get, the harder it is to remember, and recognize, my own fans/customers.
This is embarrassing, because…Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? You made the time to visit my studio/website/show, you had the sense of purpose to collect a piece, your purchase helps me stay in business so I can continue making, and our conversation lifted my heart.
So when I see you again, and you have to remind me who you are and what we talked so passionately about, I want to sink into the floor.
Most people are understanding. “Why should you remember me?? I was one of hundreds who visited your studio that day! Don’t worry about it.”
But I always remember that first “star” encounter, and cringe. The second encounter was totally on me.
Where am I going with this?
It’s about a creative person’s “dream”, our desire for fame, the need for proof that the world loves what we do.
I realize I don’t really want to be “famous” anymore. I wouldn’t be good at it.
Trust me, it’s not because I’m “more evolved” than these starry folks. They have talent, they’ve worked hard to get it out into the world, and I celebrate every measure of success they achieve. They work hard to be gracious and appreciative of their audience, even when it means putting on a happy face when they are drained and exhausted.
I just realize I would not be nearly as gracious as they are if I were in their shoes.
Do I love what I do? Yes. Do I want my work out in the world? Yes! Do I want my work to be seen, and admired, and respected, and loved? YES!! Am I grateful for the people who let me know, especially when they love it enough to actually buy it? OH GOD YES.
But I also believe my work has a purpose in the world. I feel compelled to connect with my followers, my visitors, my collectors. I’m honored when my work, our conversations, inspire them, heal them, encourage them on their own creative journies.
I can only do that when the encounters are “small”. Personal. Intimate (spiritually.) Enjoyable. I know I would not handle fame nearly as well.
It’s not a “be careful what you wish for, you might get it” thing.
It’s know what you really want, instead of what our celebrity-driven, limelight-lit world tells us what we should want.
Summed up beautifully, and with humor, in my all-time favorite cartoon (Sally Forth) by Francesco Marciuliano.