Why just start stuff (great!) when you can finish it? (AWESOME)

TheQuiltI come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I’m wired to start stuff. Ironically, when I have something big on my plate — especially if I’m passionate about it — I’m also driven to finish it.

Starters aren’t usually lumped in with finishers. There’s a reason for that. We love variety and hate routine. We look for the zig when everyone else is looking for zag.

We absolutely need the dynamic of seeing things develop, watching them evolve.

An old boss used to tease me about being a terrible finisher. That was years before I’d led a project to stand up a big, enterprise-wide system that’s now part of business as usual for a large global nonprofit.

Did I love all the details and meetings? Not so much. But the end product motivated me so much, it was worth slogging through it all (with a lot of help from my friends and coworkers, of course).

My quilt wasn’t anywhere near a big project vocationally, but personally it was huge. By the way, it’s officially finished now. (Full reveal soon.)

But not 15 minutes had passed before I wanted to start another one.

It reminds me how completing something significant spawns the need to do it all over again — warts and all.

My quilt is far from perfect, but learning to make it ranks high on my Things That Make Me Really Happy list. More importantly, my friend’s son, the recipient, can know it was made with so much love.

And the next two quilt projects — they’re already lined up!

Is this where I get a mulligan?

Golf ball on green

Photo by Andy Steele at sxc.hu

I’m not a golfer, but I do love to borrow one of its best words, “mulligan.” It’s golfian for “do over.”

Today was one of those days when nothing on my to-do list got done – and it wasn’t even a hard to-do list.

  • My nearly finished quilt project went a wee bit sideways (although it’s fixable);
  • My family research resources exploded (a good thing, actually; a different post about a whole new list of to-dos);
  • My next project is about to come in; and
  • It was 80°F today.

Needless to say:

  • The to-do list has a very small dent in it.
  • I figured out a fix to my quilt problem but it didn’t make sense to move the sewing machine outside, so it didn’t get done.

It’ll be 30 degrees colder tomorrow. Do over!

Slow going

Up there with slow food lately is my interest in slow learning. As in, learning new things at my own, leisurely pace.

I’ve had a lot more time and flexibility in recent months for things like writing, meditating and – wait for it – learning to quilt.

The quilt that started it all. I've been obsessed ever since with modern quilting.

Hot Spot by Alissa Haight Carlton. The quilt that started it all. I’ve been obsessed ever since with modern quilting.

If you know me at all, you may need to pick up that jaw from the floor. Except for classes in Home Economics in, what, 7th grade? – now called Family and Consumer Science – I’ve really never made anything by hand in my life. Two semesters of pottery don’t count.

I have more gifted artist and craftsman friends than I can count, yet I’ve always assumed I couldn’t make much besides food, music or a little trouble on the dance floor.

Then again, until recently I’d never found a craft I wanted to learn. Enter modern quilting, my new inspiration.

Today, I was mostly offline, and it was great. I am nearly finished making my very first quilt (to be revealed later, probably on Instagram, after I’ve gifted it to my friend).

The idea of taking things slowly today gave me the time, permission and freedom I needed to get this project near the finish line. One more step and I’m done.

From what I hear, unfinished bindings mean Purgatory for most quilts. So getting over that hump the first time around feels like a pretty big deal.

Not only am I happy to finish it — I’m thrilled to pick up a new skill I can enjoy and share with others the rest of my life. It can be my new gift of choice — along with fruit cake.

Process is never the goal

Process is a means to an end, the Yellow Brick Road on the journey to Oz.

Photo by Melissa Bent

I’ve been mistaken for a process person before — more times than I care to count.

And it’s true – I’m good at process. I can be pretty religious about it, actually. My mantra is simple: If your work requires recurring activity, for goodness’ sake, save yourself some gray hairs and make a process for it. It clears the way for creativity and innovation by providing margin to discover without the pressure of producing.

I’ve had to become good at process because for so much of my career, I’ve been faced with widget-making at scale. Translation: Lots of repetition. And, if there’s one thing I hate to waste time on, it’s repetition. There’s a reason for the saying, Work smarter, not harder.

So I put in the time upfront to smooth out a process and get that repetitive stuff out of the way – all to free me (and others) up to do the more strategic stuff – the fun stuff.

The way I look at it, process is the foundation for building something strong and enduring. It’s a means to an end, the Yellow Brick Road on the journey to Oz.

The road, however, shouldn’t be confused with the journey. The road is what we must travel to get from point A to point B. The journey – for all its struggle, getting lost and finding our way again – lies in how we face what we encounter along the way and, ultimately, the end result.

Hunting for story

I’m on a mission.

I have a very special friend, Kris, who is lovely and complicated and talented – all in the best possible ways. We met at work over 10 years ago and still share similar – not identical by any means – but similar interests and passions.

One is a love of things creative. I’m definitely more of an observer and Kris is more of a Maker – in the truest sense. Some people sew (I try), knit or crochet.

Well, she does all of the above (and way more), often using her own exotic fibers and textiles and tools she procures from all over the world. It’s not the exotic that makes her talented. It’s what she does with her God-given abilities, powered by the tools, that is so spectacular. And she is so open to sharing and teaching. (Check out this great project she’s involved with that is empowering women in Uganda to generate their own income and support their families.)

unyunga-journals

Just a few of my friend Kris’s handmade journal gifts. I usually have at least one journal with me, wherever I go. If the occasion is special enough, I use one of hers.

A few of my favorite things

While I don’t know what the heck she is talking about half the time, I simply LOVE hearing her dream about and brainstorm her projects. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she shares – pretty liberally, I might add – her incredible handiwork. Kris has gifted me with some of my favorite writing instruments, beautiful handmade scarves and so many gorgeous journals, I can hardly count them.

Lord knows, as a paper-and-pulp lover, I hate to violate these pieces of artwork, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Like many I know, I love to write by hand, but it is getting harder and harder to write as fast as I’m thinking these days. Such is the plight of a straddling generation – one foot in the analog, the other, digital.

Had paper, did travel

Anyway, Kris, who did much of her growing up in West Africa, challenged me sometime ago to blog about my own international experience and travels.

Thing is, many of those memories are locked up in my travel journals…somewhere. I’m getting warmer in my search, but so far, those little pocket-sized Moleskines are eluding me.

To be honest, I’m kind of nervous about finding and unbundling them and rediscovering what I first learned on my first trip to Haiti in 2003 and one of my last trips to Dominican Republic. So I pray again for courage as that wall of memory comes down.

I guess que será será.

Fear, too, is a story

There’s been a lot of talk about fear lately – of overcoming fear to find your voice, be yourself, etc.

In the end, says novelist Karen Thompson Walker, fear is just another story that propels imagination.

If we approach fear – one of a number of possible stories –  with the “coolness of judgement of a scientist,” Walker says, we can face it with more clarity, as one of many choices, and make better decisions.

Take a listen to Walker’s illuminating perspective.

30 days and going strong

waze iconsI’m a huge fan of Waze. For my commute to Denver for work a couple of years ago, I relied on this traffic app to know when I needed to take an alternate route, when a cop was in the area or when it was going to be an extra-long drive home.

I still use it for local driving, because it’s great not just for telling you where you’re going but when you can expect to arrive. Of course, it first has to understand where you are now.

Thankfully, when it comes to blogging, I don’t need Waze to tell me where I am now. After 30 days straight of shipping, I have a pretty good idea.

Now, I’m excited about where I go from here.

Lessons learned

After 30 days of blogging, I discovered I can do it. I can blog regularly and reliably. Some days, it’s meaningful. Other days, I don’t feel like shipping at all. But I know now I can push over those hurdles. That stopped me many times before.

I’ve also discovered I have something (lots, actually) to say. And I’m discovering new things to learn and share. Not necessarily out of my initial scope for my blog, but different angles than I expected.

I am HERE

For the record, here’s where I am on my little journey now:

  • Completing a demanding commitment through #YourTurnChallenge (I did it!)
  • Inspired to keep going and keep learning
  • Freed up – liberated – to move forward
Where to go from here

From here, while I’m not exactly certain where my blog will end up, I am excited about the journey. It will probably be someplace I’ve never even imagined for myself.

Encouraged by a wonderful group of companions* on this journey, I am gaining confidence daily through what I learn from and through them. I love that part.

Going forward, I want to go deeper. That may mean blogging less frequently so I can plan content with greater precision. Maybe it means punctuating more thought-out content with abbreviated posts.

But my big Aha! is that, while there are many professional blogs out there designed, down to a science, to monetize content, for once I don’t feel I have to be among them.

And now, moving on.

* Estelle, Ann, Steve, Nancy, Mona and Gwen, to name a few

The give-and-take of creative critique

diver is midair, headed for lake water with companions in background

Asking for others’ critique could just be the thing that sets your work free. (Good thing, it goes both ways.)

I used to hate having my work critiqued. It made me itchy.

Over the years, I’ve learned to love it. In fact, I’m usually much more proud of my work as a result of others’ critique.

A little backstory: I lost my job in 2012 and it took a year to get back into the workplace. Yet another year later, I was job hunting again. Since the freelance and consulting work found me, I decided it was probably what I should be doing.

But one thing I’ve missed about the workplace is being with people. I’m an ENTP (read: extrovert who likes to start stuff), I love being, working with and learning from others. That includes critique of my work.

Because un-critiqued work is almost never the best possible work.

In my view, it’s work that no one really cares about. I get it that people are busy and may not have extra bandwidth, but getting someone’s input on your work is critical, not only to quality but to buy-in, especially if your work proposes changes that affect others. Socializing ideas is always easier when others have seen the preliminary work and have an opportunity to contribute their thoughts.

The fear of feedback

It’s understandable to fear critique like the plague, since it can feel like a personal jab to something that’s a part of you…like kicking your dog or something. Consider instead that you can get a lot of satisfaction knowing the core idea is yours. Others will just help you polish it up a bit.

In the end, critique is about collaboration. If you’re a believer that “together we’re better,” it’s a lot easier to swallow.

When giving or receiving critique on creative work, try the following:

Take a dispassionate approach to the critique.

  • Don’t take things personally.
  • Take your emotions out of the equation and consider, “If this were someone else’s work, might I have asked similar questions?”
  • Consider the role – rather than the personality – behind the critic’s feedback. What bases or interests are they trying to cover or represent? Does it help more to include it than it would hurt to leave it out?

Take every piece of feedback and put it into a checklist.

  • This isn’t so much so that every single suggested change is made, but so you can see the range and scope of changes and how they can impact your end product. Maybe there’s a pattern in that feedback that begs your attention.
  • Do the suggested changes make sense individually? Do they stand on their own?
  • More importantly, would the feedback make sense if it were all applied?

Consider the end user.

  • Will they understand the work as is? What questions are they likely to have, with or without the applied feedback?
  • Does the input provide more answers than questions? If No, there’s more work to do.

Give others the benefit of the doubt.

  • It’s true, there’s a kook in nearly every bunch who wants to throw you under the bus. Ignore them. But don’t necessarily toss out their feedback. If you’re on the same page regarding end-product quality, it’s worth considering others’ insights before assuming they’d just rather see us burn in hell.

Ultimately, it’s your work and, at the end of the day, the feedback is yours to take or leave.

But there’s one more question that if you ask nothing else, you must ask, it’s this:

Will this input make the end product better? This is the most liberating question of all, because it forces us to let go of “ownership,” releasing our work into a larger community.

  • No? Nix it.
  • If Yes, the rest should be a piece of cake.

Now, go make some great stuff!

The truth of the matter

I’m coming up on 30 days solid of blogging – shipping each and every day.

Granted, it hasn’t felt like it was great shipping, but it was keeping a commitment to just do it. For that, I am very happy. I’ve built both a new habit and a new discipline, and I couldn’t be happier abot it.

What I didn’t realize is how this process will play out in stages of maturity.

While I’m getting over the fear now of “just doing it,” I find that, in this process, it is still hard for me to open up. It’s still hard to crack the nut of what hurts and what really makes me vulnerable.

So this will be my one of my new goals for Phase 2 of my personal Your Turn Challenge: