THIN SECRETS FOR SUCCESS no. 1: Put Yourself First

by Luann Udell
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.

Learning how to say “no” can help you say “yes” to your art.

 (5 minute read) (I had to put this in because someone complained repeatedly that my columns are way too long. So, you’ve been warned!)  :^D

Inspired by Lorie Parch’s article “Secrets of Thin People”. It’s been years, but the secrets still apply.

So here we are, Thin Secret No. 1:


Thin people can put themselves first.

People who have a hard time losing weight often put other people first. Then they find they have no time to exercise, no time eat right, or to prevent stress–which causes them to gain weight.

And people who want a successful business, have to do the same: They have to put their business first, and learn to say “no” to the demands of others.

It’s the same with the business side of our art.

When I start to feel like I have no time, all it takes is a quick look at my calendar to see where I’m “spending” it. A volunteer commitment here, board service there, a school project here, family commitment there. And sometimes a little “trim” is in order.

I’m not speaking about the delicate balance of having a rich family, social and professional life. I’m talking about the commitments we take on, with good intent, that end up be a distraction.

How do we know when that delicate balance is tipped? Simple. You don’t have time to make art or grow your business.

Is that always a bad thing? No. As human beings, we enter and leave different phases of our lives that call for constantly changing balance. Very young children and teens need a lot of time–the former because they keep trying to explore electrical sockets, the latter because they do the same with the “electrical sockets” of adult life. Other life demands intervene, and sometimes art and business have to take a back burner for awhile.

But when you constantly find yourself responding to everyone else’s crisis, and your own business suffers, it’s time to find a different fulcrum. (Aha! I KNEW physics would come in handy someday!) We once invited a couple we really liked for dinner. But they couldn’t come, because their cousin’s husband’s mother’s brother (or something like that) was having a birthday party.

Either it was one hell of an excuse to get out of having dinner with us, or they needed a new fulcrum, and fast.

When I was an at-home mom, I had many requests for my time. Possibly people perceived me as having “tons of time”–because I wasn’t really working, right?

But as my business grew, the requests continued. I was perceived as having tons of time because I worked out of my home. That seemingly infinite flexibility was interpreted as constant availability. (By me, too, I should hasten to add. I still find it hard to say no.)

Then when my business was more established, I still received many requests on my time–because I was perceived as “knowing how to be successful” and “having figured it all out”–and everyone wanted a piece of that.

And even now, as I reboot my biz and grow my audience on the West Coast, I still get such requests. I’m now part of an art community (loosely) and I’m (somewhat understandably) expected to support that community, often. (I actually did take on a huge project a couple years ago to do just that. After spending weeks on the project, a technical glitch made it all blow up in my face. And rather than saying ‘thank you’, many people made it clear they found it amusing to see yet another “naïve newcomer” take on such a project, and fail. (To the few people who were thankful, I am so grateful!) 

What makes it hard to say no is, many of these requests are made by worthy people for perfectly worthy causes. And it’s not wrong for them to ask.

But I have to be responsible about saying YES. Or NO.

Also, people have been very generous to me in this industry. It seems only fair to “give back”.

But ultimately, I have to come first.

Only I can make the work I do, to tell the story that’s my story. The art that’s in ME, I’m the only one that can let ‘er rip.

I’m learning to limit the one-on-one “giving back”. I now try to keep it to “one-to-many” model. That’s one reason I started a blog.

And why I joined the Arts Business Institute faculty for a year. And why I write a column for (the former) CraftsBusiness magazine, and now, the Fine Art Views newsletter. These are all ways of “giving back” to my community without feeling I have to constantly respond to requests for free consultation sessions. (It’s no coincidence that they also serve my desire to write, too!)

And as for larger commitments, well, sometimes before another door opens, a window has to close. Another commitment has to draw to a close before I take on another one.

But there’s another, less obvious corollary to this “put yourself first” secret. And that is: Only YOU can do what it takes to make yourself successful.

Parch quotes Anne Fletcher, a registered dietitian who wrote the book THIN FOR LIFE  (2003) which Parch based her article on.  Fletcher says, “When people take the reins (responsibility for their own weight loss), they realize that the solution to weight control is inside them, not in some magic potion or fad diet that their mother or sister is on.”

hmmmmmm……The secret of a successful diet. Doesn’t this sound like what I wrote last week?

Yes, there will be many times when life forces us to make different choices, to take on different priorities.

And yet….

Knowing when—and how—to say “no”, may be the biggest ‘secret’ to creating success for yourself with your art.

(Disclaimer: I’ve used the ideas in the “thin people” article only as a metaphor for other life goals we have, in this case, our art. And not to “lecture” anyone about losing weight. Because, well, look who’s talkin’ here!)

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Editor’s Note:

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TIME FOR A CHANGE! Workshop on managing time to support creativity

Months ago I told you about Lyedie Geer’s extraordinary presentation on time and time management for creative people.

Well, now you can experience it for yourself! I’m goin’, and I hope you’ll join me!

A WORKSHOP ON MANAGING TIME TO SUPPORT CREATIVITY
FRIDAY, JANUARY 25TH 2013
HANNAH GRIMES CENTER, 25 ROXBURY STREET, KEENE NH

9AM TO 4PM

COST: $150

Call to Artists and Entrepreneurs: Invest a day in learning some resourceful and “out of the box” ways to approach managing your time and energy from an Integral Coach™ who specializes in advancing the capacity of artists and creative entrepreneurs.

• Learn the secrets of generating creative states more consciously and within time frames
• Get to know your relationship with time and how to work with it instead of against it.
• Come away with new methods for managing your energy so that you can make the very best use of time.

Lyedie Geer is a Certified Integral Coach™ who brings twenty-five years of experience in the areas of leadership, artistry and entrepreneurship along with a Masters Degree in Management & Leadership to her coaching practice. Lyedie has managed a number of artists over the years and is currently devoting herself to coaching. Her professional experience ranges from philanthropic roles in education and the arts to small business ownership. She was the Founding Director of The Moving Company Dance Center
(Now known as MOCO) and is currently serving as Vice President of the Board at Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

($50 DISCOUNT TO Creative Professionals Guild MEMBERS WHO SIGN UP BY JAN. 11TH)

http://www.Lyedie.com

802-881-3124

LYEDIE.GEER@GMAIL.COM

LYEDIE GEER – INTEGRAL COACH™ AND COUNSEL

L. Lyedecker Geer, MS ICC “Lyedie”
Integral Coach™ and Counsel
Leadership, Artistry, Entrepreneurship
Walpole, New Hampshire 03608

“Advancing my clients’ capacity in the fields that deeply matter to them.”

Website: http://www.Lyedie.com
Email: lyedie.geer@gmail.com
Voice: 802-881-3124

LEARNING TO LOVE YOUR TO-DO LIST

My to-do list: It's not what you think it is!

Your to-do list is really a travel brochure.

My plate is loaded. Full up. Spilling over.

I have so many projects in the air, I’ve been suffering major brain buzz. I hardly even know where to start.

Now, life coach and writer Martha Beck has a great article on how to unhook yourself from a to-do list. I think she actually suggests scheduling “empty time” in there.

And I know my life is so much more than a to-do list. One of her clients, on her deathbed, jokingly said, “At least this is one more thing I can cross off my to-do list!”

But I needed something more. Something that felt more like my whole approach to life. And this morning, I found it.

I was writing my morning pages–the “brain data dump” I try to do every morning. Sure enough, “more things I have to do” kept popping up as I wrote, and I dutifully added them to today’s ever-growing list. It’s already so long, I couldn’t possible complete the tasks in a week, let alone a day.

With a big sigh, I started to prioritize my tasks. What could wait? Which ones were more important? Which IS more important–the ones about my family? The ones about the latest foster puppy? The new open studio tour I’m working on? Cleaning my studio so I can HAVE an open studio? What about my upcoming surgery? Should I focus on getting healthy? What about my phone date with Lyedie this afternoon? (You can read more about integral coach Lyedie Lydecker here and read my article about her here.

Ah. Lyedie. What was that she said about time?

It’s not about priorities. It’s not even about balance–balancing family time with art time, friend time with exercise, pet care with health care.

It’s about awareness, and intention, and engagement.

For me, it’s about crafting a whole life. Seeing, learning, participating, growing. Not sideways(sigh), but inside-ways.

That’s when it hit me. What my to-do list really is.

It’s a travel guide for my life.

It’s not an AAA road map. It’s a list of possibilities.

Priority be damned.

Some of these tasks aren’t high priority. But they also won’t take much time or effort. Or I can do them on my way to another, “higher priority” task.

Some are totally unimportant. But I like doing them. They look like work, but they are actually fun.

Even some of the most important ones aren’t necessarily time-sensitive. They’re big, but they can wait. And sometimes, they can’t happen until other smaller, simpler steps are taken.

But what really blew me away today was thinking about the unimportant, quick, not fun, actually dreaded tasks on my list from a week ago.

It involved picking something up from a person I’ve had totally negative encounters with. This person is sarcastic and resentful, in a job they hate and not getting the recognition they feel they deserve.

I thoroughly dreaded the pick-up, and had to force myself to do it. Actually, I did it first because I wanted to get it over with.

I decided to be my higher self for just a few minutes. I said I was sorry for the circumstances behind their donation.

And the walls of anger came tumbling down.

I’m sorry to be so circumspect, but want to protect their privacy. Let’s just say that I saw another side to this person, a totally different aspect of their life that blew me away. They opened up to me, sharing their sadness and joy, their dreams and hopes.

It turns out I was able to speak to that in a way that encouraged and supported them. I gave them the small thank-you gift I’d prepared, and they were delighted and grateful.

Now, the point here isn’t that all people (okay, almost all people) have an inner beauty, if only we knew where to look.

The point is, this was an item on my to-do list I’d dreaded. And it was actually a door into something powerful and profound.

There was a connection, a reconciliation, a new way to interact with this person in the future.

And it all came from a place I never could have predicted.

Now I’m sitting here with that same to-do list.

It looks different. It doesn’t seem to fill me with as much anxiety. Time doesn’t seem like a upside-down bottle of sand with grains running out the bottom.

It looks like a travel guide to a mysterious, exciting and beautiful new country, a country I’ve wanted to visit all my life..

TIME MANAGEMENT FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE

Artifacts, potential wall hangings, jewelry or framed collages.

Last week I attended an amazing presentation by integral coach Lyedie Geer. Her website is here. The focus was time management for creative people.

Now, fifteen years ago, when I first started my artistic journey, I was on fire with professionalism. I was determined not to be that “spacey artist” with no concept of time or discipline.

I was very good at it, too. I entered juried shows early. I had a binder of my galleries, their complete contact info, my shipments to them, their terms, etc. Correspondence was carefully filed in each of their folders. My slides were labeled and up-to-date, and I had duplicates ready on a moment’s notice for any occasion. My Rolodex was full with fellow artists, show management, photographers (I had a photographer and a back-up photographer), suppliers. You name it, I had their name and phone number.

My editor at Lark Books called once, and in an hour, I’d produced every single source and resource we talked about. “Oh my GOD, you’re so organized!” she exclaimed.

Then something happened.

I can’t remember what set it off, but things…changed. I wasn’t frantic about recognition. I didn’t care about publicity or awards. I wasn’t willing to do ANYTHING to keep my income stream going.

I rode more. I wrote more. I dropped everything to be with my family or a friend in need, even when the “need” was a drink. I took in homeless puppies. I volunteered more. I took hospice training.

I paid more attention to other things: The change of seasons. Walks with my husband. Phone calls from my daughter. Driver’s Ed with my son.

The concept of time management began to annoy me. Oh, sure, I understood I could get so much more done if I actually MANAGED my time instead of letting it manage me.

But that just didn’t seem as urgent anymore. I still care deeply about my art and my art business. I just felt that more was being called for of me.

I wanted to explore that call. And everything is different.

So I attended the seminar with extreme prejudice. Borderline hostility, in fact. I assumed we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I expected we would be urged to be more ‘professional’ in our dealings.

I was prepared to be bored stiff and MAYBE take away a nice idea or two. My only defense is I was also willing to be proved wrong, which is why I even went in the first place.

Well, Lyedie blew my socks off.

Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals.

Like Bruce Baker, her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt.

Some people are monochronic, she said. Time is rigid and linear. There are rules, and expectations. This goes HERE, and that goes THERE.

Creative people are polychronic. Time is fluid, priorities are in constant flux.

To maximize our skills and impact, TIME is not the thing to be managed, but our AWARENESS.

It’s not so much about artists learning to be better businesspeople, or learning how to squish ourselves into a better business model. In fact, the monochronic world is the one that needs to adjust, and flex, and support the polychronic.

Because our creative self–WHAT WE ARE–is what’s of value to the world

And the world needs us now. Badly.

There was more, so much more. A lot of it is science-based, on what we now know about creative people, and how creative thinking works. It’s also full of hope, and wonder, and connection, and everything human. It will take time for me to process exactly what this means for me in the days–years!–ahead.

It’s simply powerful stuff.

Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) applauded when she finished.

I highly recommend Lyedie to any organization that offers professional development for creative people–your local art organization, your professional guilds, art schools. Her insights can offer benefit to creative people at every level of development, from rank beginner to accomplished professional.

In fact, as I face another dramatic surgery in the weeks ahead (total knee replacement surgery, eeeeeeeeeeeeeek!) I plan to meet with Lyedie. I want a ‘life intention’ jump start.

As I recuperate, I want something pulling me away from the pain and frustration of recovery, to the rich new path I believe lies ahead. It may not LOOK much different, on the surface. But I’m hoping for a ‘unified field theory’ for myself, a way to examine, evaluate, and include all the paths and projects on my plate.

I don’t want to feel distracted and unfocused anymore. I don’t want to feel guilty about my messy studio. I don’t want to feel anxious about the new work that’s in my head, that I can’t quite get out into the world yet. I don’t want to feel like I love so many aspects of my creative self, yet feel that none of them the full attention they deserve.

I want to feel that, whatever I’m doing, whatever has my attention, and my awareness, is what I should be doing. I want to feel that there is a place for me in the world, and a need for what I have to offer.

I’ll keep you posted! And in the meantime, see if you can get your group to host a seminar with Lyedie. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.