THE FOUR QUESTIONS #9: “What Support Do You Need?”

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Go ahead, ask for help. It’s what tribes are for! 

(6 min. read) 

Here we are at the last question, and it’s a good one, too!

You’ve shared your dreams for your art biz.

You’ve found your action steps, and hopefully a process for finding them over and over again.

You’ve uncovered the secret screaming spooks in your brain that have held you back in the past. (Don’t worry, they aren’t gone for good! But from now on, you have spook strategies for dealing with them.)

And now, you are going to learn to ASK for the help you need.

Because that’s what we’re here for. 

I find it surprisingly hard to ask for help. There are lots of reasons we don’t think we can ask. For me, it might feel like what I think I need seems trivial. Or it may seem like too much to ask. Whatever. It makes me hesitate to ask.

Let’s try to frame these thoughts:

Too trivial.

One participant had trouble carving out time to actually make their art. They asked if someone would be willing call one or two mornings a week, and remind them to go to the studio.

Now, this was before cell phones and smart phones. Now we could simply set a reminder for ourselves. And of course, we could always just put it on the fridge calendar!

But this was before all that. AND this person valued the personal touch, a chance to chat for a few moments, and get the art mojo working.

There was a person in the group who was happy to do that. They later reported it helped them get to their studio, too!

Tiny cues like this are called micro-actions. It’s something as simple as putting on your gym shoes in the morning. This tiny action helps put your brain in “go to the gym mode.”

For almost any goal or practice you want in your life, there are micro-actions that can help.

And it works.

In fact, it can work both ways, as evidenced by the obliging telephone caller.

Recently, I asked a good friend for insight on a family matter, and their response was very helpful. So I asked them if I could do anything in return.

They said yes. Would I be willing to reach out again? Like, maybe a few times a month? The local friend support they needed for a particular new course of action is not available in their world (yet!). And I’m just a phone call/email/text away!

Of course I said yes. And our conversations have grown richer and deeper as a result. Both of us are moving forward in our vision, and both of us are the better for it.

So never be afraid to ask for something that seems trivial. Because it rarely is!

Too much to ask.

Nobody wants to ask for something, and be told, “No”. We worry others will see us as “less than”. And we all worry about getting a “no”. We think it means, “No, that’s too much trouble.” Or “No, that’s too much to ask for.” Or, “No, geez, what a needy person you are!”

But it’s rare for everyone to say “no”.

If they do, if everyone always says no, then you may have asked the wrong people. Or you have asked too many times and not reciprocated. Or you are asking for something only a professional (therapist, coach, physician, etc.) can give you.

So check your assumptions. If these don’t apply, then heck, ask away! The worst that can happen? People can’t do what you ask, they can’t do what you ask right now. They may simply not have the skills, the time, or the ability. Then you’ll have to break it down, spread it out, start smaller, or ask someone else.

Here’s an example of my “big” ask:

When we lived in New Hampshire, I did an annual fine craft retail show that lasts 9 days. One year, I signed up for a sales/demo booth, a huge tent to myself at a reduced rate, in return for demonstrating my process.

In order to do this successfully, I knew I had to hire a sales team to assist me. But who would work for minimum wage or in-trade for my goods??

It turns out a lot of people would!

There were folks who jumped at the opportunity to get a little sales training. People who wanted my work, but couldn’t justify the expense. People who wanted something interesting to do, to hang out with me, to share their own love of my work with others. People who wanted to see what being in an art fair was like. Etc., etc., etc.

I held a pre-show training session, and had enough people commit that I could create a work schedule that fit everyone’s schedule.

It was hugely successful, and I made my highest income ever that year!

    

I’m really glad I asked for, and got help. Because this was a big deal!

I did the same sales/demo thing again the following year. Not all the same people could help. Some had moved to full-time work, some just didn’t care to do it again. No worries! Some people wanted to do more, and new people wanted to try it.

It all worked out!

We don’t know what will help.

Sometimes, we are so unused to asking, so afraid of hearing, “no”, we’ve never even thought of what that help would look like!

It’s okay to ask for help on what would help. (Yeah, I had to read that again, too!)

It’s surprising—and fun!—to realize other people have been there already. They may understand where you are, and what you’re struggling with.

And that means they may have good thoughts and suggestions. (Remember, you are in charge of how much you want to hear!)

Sometimes, the support group is enough.

Sometimes, just knowing you will be checking in with your support group in a month, or two weeks, or two months, is enough to create a little momentum with your action steps.

“Accountability” is a huge factor in our busy, hectic modern lives, especially if we are so used to putting our own needs and dreams on the back burner in order to help others.

Sometimes, the support group can’t help. And that’s okay, too!

I like to think of this support group aspect as the “pre-flight safety speech”:

Put your own oxygen mask on first. (Aka, “Know your own limits.”) 

For example, I didn’t volunteer to call that person to remind them to go to the gym. I had two small kids at home, a husband who was gone almost 12 hours a day, and we were relatively new to the area—no extended family members or reliable sitters to help out. I could barely carve out time for my art, and for this group.

It’s always—always—imperative to meet your needs and set your boundaries. Don’t volunteer for commitments for offers of help if you really can’t fulfill them. No one needs a “yes” that turns into a last-minute “no”.

Don’t feel bad, or guilty. Simply be honest on what you can offer, and what you can’t.

In this particular case, I thought, “We should just make t-shirts that say “GO TO THE STUDIO!” I said it out loud. And it turned out, someone already had! The artist purchased one, in time.

So here we are, at the last of the four questions.

But we’re not done yet!

Send your questions in! You’ve got the gist of the thing, now it’s time to fine-tune and adapt for what works for YOU.

And next week: The little extras that can enhance your get-togethers even more!

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #7: What Is Your Next Step?

Trite, but true: Every journey begins with a single step.

(7 minute read) 

Okay, you big dreamers, procrastinators (moi!), those who are stuck (oops…me, too!), and people who need it all figured out before they do anything, listen up! Question #2 can be even more important that Question #1!

Question #1, What is your greatest vision for (insert-your-heart’s-desire-here), is a great exercise for going big. Especially for those artists -who have been noticeably absent in art history, art galleries, and art museums, who don’t see evidence they, too, can be successful artists: Women, minorities, other cultures and ethnicities, etc. (Well. Women do show up a lot in art, but usually as subjects, and thus without clothes.)

But for us to “get big”, it’s not enough to just have a dream.

We have to do the work to make it happen. Or at least possible.

That means figuring out a path, no matter how vague, or improbable, to head in the general direction of our goals.

This can still be hard to wrap our heads around. “How the heck do I know what I should do next??”

Consider the following strategies, and hopefully, one will resonate with you.

1)    Eliminate the all-or-nothing approach.

There’s nothing more daunting than an ultimatum. 

The person who dreamed of accepting an award for a movie? They had stopped their film-making. They couldn’t figure out a way to support themselves with it, so they took a well-paying full-time job for a national service corporation.

But they were so exhausted by their day/desk job, they didn’t have the time or energy to create films. Since they simply couldn’t quit their job, obviously they had to give up their dream. Right?

The problem with this approach is, life rarely gives us the perfect opportunity, and all the breaks we think we need to move forward.

Sure, we all hear about people who took the big leap and landed it. They left their job, struggled for a couple years, and now they’re making six-figure incomes doing what they love.

The problem with this thinking is, in our hearts we recognize how rare this is. The older we get, the more responsibilities we take on: Family, aging parents, mortgages, preparing for retirement, health issues, etc. The reasons why we shouldn’t move forward can feel overwhelming.

A small solution to this problem is to carve out a place in your life (if you haven’t already done so) to acquire the skills, the experience, and the joy that comes from making your creative work.

This wonderful little article on how to move forward when we don’t even know what we want shows the importance of making room for doing what you love. It restores us to ourselves, so we can dream bigger.

The film-maker realized making a small, intimate, low-tech, very personal film around a major issue in their life could fit the bill. No expectations of greatness, fame, money, etc. Just something they’d dreamed of doing for awhile. And the scale made it highly doable.

2)    Start small: One action step in the next 24 hours.

What is one thing you can do TODAY to move you forward? 

One small step gets you off your…er…chair…and into active mode. I cannot emphasize how important, how empowering, even a tiny action can be.

First, you have to get out of bed. Not kidding!

I’ve been in a funk the last few months. Family issues, health issues, money issues. It’s consoling to let my art-making slack off (“I don’t feel like it!”) and feel sorry for myself.

I thought the issue was unsolvable. If a huge part of my work’s attraction is seeing it in person, even touching/holding it, (just ask my editor!) then how do I use the internet to market it?? If only a tiny number of my potential local audience ever even sees my work, let alone comes to my studio to experience it, how will I ever grow an audience large enough to support it?

After journaling about this, I realized that representation by a very few, but “good-fit” art galleries and museum stores could help me achieve this.

And instead of slogging through the hundreds or even thousands of potential galleries I could research, I could simply ask my community—those familiar with my work, and me—if they knew of such places.

I reached out on my blog, and Facebook, with my criteria: Would my work fit with the gallery’s aesthetic (and therefore, their audience?) Are the venues close enough that collectors could visit my studio here in Northern California? Is the gallery’s clientele willing to pay my prices? (I know with the right demographic, my prices are actually extremely reasonable for what I do.) Are the galleries close enough I can actually approach them in person with samples? Etc., etc.

Yes, a few people responded with well-intentioned but wild guesses. But a savvy few are responding appropriately.

Now I can use the internet, to research these galleries! Then decide which ones to visit in person.

The beauty of this small step is, even if none of these galleries work out, I’ve found that if the gallery owners/managers like the work (even though it doesn’t work for their customers), many are willing to suggest more appropriate venues—which will save me hours of research and legwork.

If your goal is so big, or so far beyond your imagining you can’t even begin to imagine how to get there, then Strategy 3 might prove helpful: 

3)    Work backwards from your goal.

You can’t win the lottery unless…..

One of my favorite all-time jokes is a minister whose church is in need. Every single day, he prays earnestly, “Oh Lord, please help me win the lottery!” This goes on for months. Until one day, the clouds roll, the lightning flickers, the thunder rolls, and a great voice speaks: “Do me a favor. BUY A DAMN LOTTERY TICKET!!!!”

Years ago, I attended a conference called Craft in the Digital Age. One of the speakers shared a linguistically unique way another culture expresses intention can have wonderful insights our own:

The first panelist was Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts… She spoke about living in Japan for some years, and her difficulty learning a language so different than the more familiar Romance languages.  She spoke about having to learn totally new concepts dictating how ideas were expressed, different expectations of the culture.  One example was how the English statement “I need to finish warping this loom today” would be expressed as “If the loom is not warped today, then nothing else can happen” in Japanese.  Part of learning such an unfamiliar language is to actively embrace the different cultural traits that spawned it….

For an expanded take on how this can work, read A Review of the Re-Do of the To-Do List.

Again, the way we tend to frame this feels like an ultimatum: “I have to do this!” Reframing it (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped”) makes it possible to happen.

To put this into practice, think what your ideal outcome is. Perhaps it’s “win an award at a prestigious art show.”

What would have to happen before you win? “Create an astonishing new work of art.”

What has to happen before that? “Start working on a new body of work, then pick the best one in that series.”

Before that? “I need more canvases!”

Or maybe your steps go (in reverse order), “Be accepted into that show”, after “Apply for the show”, and beginning with “Get the prospectus for the show”.

Why do such simple little “first steps” help so much?

In a series of goal-achieving blog articles I wrote awhile back, I talked about “micro-steps”: Why does something as simple as putting on your work-out shoes increases your chances of actually going to the gym?

People: It’s science! Studies showed that even that tiny step of putting on our sneakers can increase the likelihood we’ll follow through with our intentions.

It’s back to that old saw: How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

For the person who is asking the questions, when you and the speaker get to this question, your job is to keep asking, “What has to happen before this step?” (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped.”)

And for the person who thinks they had to clean their entire studio to get weaving again, remind them: You only have to clear off the loom.

I don’t have to clean my studio (today.) I just have to clear a little space.

Stay tuned for next week’s next question! It’s a doozy! Bring your hankies!

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #4: The Roles

Continuing the series about how to create an artist support group, my column today for Fine Art Views:  The Four Questions #4: The Roles

The greatest gift you can give a woman is to LISTEN to her!

(7 minute read)

You’ve picked some peeps, you’ve set a time and date for your first meeting. You introduce yourselves. You’ve checked in: What’s been going on, what’s working with your art biz, what’s not. Everybody has brought a notebook that is for them and them only. (More on that in The Scribe section below.) Oooh! Pens!

Let’s talk about the roles each of you will take on during this process.

THE SPEAKER: We used to jokingly call this “the hot seat.” It’s the person who will be “interviewed”, the person who will answer the questions given.

It can feel uncomfortable, if you’re not used to being listened to, if you’re not used to talking uninterrupted until you’ve said all you want to say.

For some people who are quieter, or shy, or not sure of the company, it may never get “easy”. But in time, you may eagerly look forward to this role!

It’s a chance to really let your heart speak, a chance to think things through for YOURSELF. Without anyone offering well-meant but badly-placed advice, or anyone telling you your own reality.

Just speak your truth until you are finished. (Although sometimes it’s necessary to put a time limit on this, say 10-12 minutes. But you’ll be surprised how long that is to talk without interruption!)

It’s not necessary to do your homework first. But for these first few sessions, it can help to have some idea of what you want to “envision”. Once we hit the actual Questions in the weeks ahead, you’ll see what I mean.

In later sessions, you can take advantage of what you’ve already covered, and what you already know, and start from there.

For now, just give yourself permission to “go big” with your answer, even if it feels too big. It may be hard to even imagine right now that you have a choice about what’s in your (artistic) life. Maybe it’s not physically possible to achieve, them, but it’s important to know what they are. And it’s important to know it’s okay to want them!

And what’s really wonderful! You can not only learn to “think big”, you can get used to it!

THE LISTENER(S): Anyone who isn’t asking the questions, responding to the questions, or taking notes, you have one job…

Listen.

Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (This is really important! More on the rules next week….

Don’t tell the speaker their reality. Don’t tell them what you think they should do. Don’t tell them what YOU would do. Don’t tell them what someone else did.

Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that.

You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.

But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay? Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)

THE SCRIBE: Your job is to record as much as possible: The actual questions asked, and the response from the speaker. If the questioner asks for elaboration or clarity, make note of that, too.

Simply capture as much as you can, as fast as you can, as accurately as you can.

Most important, try not to put your “riff” on anything. No comments, no judgments, no opinions.

You will write in the Speaker’s notebook. This notebook is for their eyes only.

They may not have time to take in what you’ve recorded. Maybe at the next meeting, when you all check in again, questions may arise and be discussed.

The Speaker may become overwhelmed with what bubbles up for them. They may become angry during the questions that pushes them (a little.) They may cry when they realize the lizard brain voice that’s hounded them all these years, can be ignored, set aside, or gently tolerated. They may become overwhelmed with joy at what they learn about themselves, and how well they are supported. 

This means it may be extremely difficult for them to recall what they actually said. They may not remember their own truth, or the truths others will share with them. It can happen with all of us. And it’s more common than you’d think.

Your notes may be the only record they have about all that transpires. 

It’s important to get it right.

THE QUESTIONER: Start with the person who is the most familiar with how this works. Hint: This first time, it will be YOU, since you’ve gotten a head start with all these articles!

You will set the tone and establish the rules. You will maintain the rules. (The rules are pretty straightforward (next week’s article!) and I’m guessing you can already guess some of them now.

You can ask more questions, outside of the Four Questions, to help frame the question itself. Because we are often unfamiliar with the idea of talking, with no interruption, until we’re done, the responder may stop speaking very soon into the process. You may have to “break it down” into smaller “bites” for them. You may have to ask them for clarification: “Can you give me an example of what that looks like?” “Can you describe that for me?” “What else do you see?” etc.

When someone gets distracted by the unlikelihood of getting what they want (“I know there’s no way that could happen…”), you will get them back on track. “Just give your biggest vision for what you want. Don’t try to figure out HOW it’s going to happen, just imagine it for now.”

When someone gets negative or self-judgmental “I know I’ll never be good enough…”, gently lead them back. “In a perfect world, what would that look like?” “If you knew you could not fail, what would you strive for?”

And when it gets hard, you will hold their feet to the fire, until you know they are speaking their truth. (More on how you’ll know, later.)

Don’t worry about doing it perfectly! I’ve done it many times, and I always feel like I suck at it. And just when I think I’m doing it wrong (I get a lot of push-back, even anger), that’s when the breakthrough happens.

Sometimes, just knowing someone is listening, someone cares what we want, knowing others want us to have what we want, is all we need to keep moving forward.

Also, these aren’t permanent “roles”. In fact, in a perfect-sized group, you will all have a turn at them, at every meeting!

Everyone should have the opportunity to speak, at every meeting. (You can get a “bye” occasionally, for certain reasons. More later.)

Everyone should have the opportunity to question, and to scribe. Even if you feel you aren’t great at asking the questions, you can learn. Practice, right?

If the group feels you have skills as a questioner or scribe, and you’re up for it, it’s okay to do it more often. I LOVE taking notes for people, so if nobody else is keen on it, I volunteer.

But I also recognize that someone else may hear something differently than I do. That’s important!

Next week, we’ll go over the rules that ensure the safety and privacy of what is shared during these group sessions.

Until then, your home is to practice listening. At your next conversational opportunity, focus on really listening to what the other person is saying. I can be really bad at that. I’m all there with the, “Me, too!” and the “That happened to me once!” Sit on the impulse to “fix it”.

In fact, simply focus on sitting. And listening. Maybe asking for more information or clarity. Or simply nodding, and saying, “And then what happened?” and “How did you feel about that?” and “What are you going to do about that?”

You may be surprised at what you’ll hear. (I accidentally typed “heart” instead of “hear”! Hmmmm……!!

Your homework today:

Have you ever been listened to, deeply? 

What was it like?