Are You Willing to Ask?

January 27, 2014

How much do you want it? 

Whatever ‘it’ is, how often have you wanted something so badly that you could taste it? But for whatever reason you were afraid to ask?

Even though I’ve known forever that if I want something, I’ve got to ask for it or else I’ll get either the standard fare or nothing, I still have difficulty asking.

Most of the time we don’t ask it’s because we fear rejection. That fear can manifest itself in living with the status quo or, as I often do, try to do something on my own that I really need help with because I don’t want to be told “I can’t help” or worse, be thought of as inadequate because I asked.

Either way, that fear is causing you and me to achieve less than we’re capable of and enjoying the process less than we should because of it.

I had the good fortune to hear Jia Jiang speak at a Storyline conference recently. It was Jiang’s quest to face rejection and move into the resistance that the fear generates that helped me decide to choose the word ‘ask’ as one of my guiding words for 2013. You can read about Jiang’s ‘100 Days of Rejection’ and watch his TED talk if you want to be challenged to face your own versions of rejection.

What I’ve come to realize in trying to grow beyond my current abilities to have an impact through my work is that I need other people.

I can’t do what I believe I need to do without learning more, unlocking the access to people and places that I don’t have keys to, and collaborating with folks who have skills that I lack but are critical to delivering the quality of service that I expect.

To take ownership of my vision and see it through I must face rejection. Because what I’ve discovered is worse – far worse – than rejection is missing a significant opportunity because of fear.

Jia Jiang states it well.

My rejection therapy taught me that “the worst they can say is no” is actually not true. In fact, the worst they can say is “you didn’t even ask”. It implies I said ‘no’ to myself before others could reject me. If I have a good reason, it is my duty to step out of my own comfort zone to ask, no matter how difficult and impossible the request is.

Although I’ve focused on the process of ‘asking’ throughout this year, I have yet to find that it comes easy to me. Every time I ask for something that I’m uncomfortable with, my stomach churns. Every. Time.

But I am learning to ask anyway. Discomfort is a modest investment to make to get the abundant returns that most ‘asking’ allows for.

Becoming more cognizant of my own fear has heightened my consciousness of others’ as well. It has made me acutely aware of the self-imposed limitations that many of my friends and business associates are living under. I’ve come to understand that I can nudge them to increase their boldness but I cannot force them to grow. Their boundaries are what they are.

Often, the fear we recognize in others is a reflection of our own angst. I’m trying to use the anxiety that I encounter as a mirror to reflect my own walls of comfort.

The discomfort of trying and the possible disappointment that threatens when we consider trying are great impediments to making the effort. But as Seth Godin pointed out in a recent post, “For many people, apparently, it’s better to not get what you want than it is to be disappointed. The resistance is powerful indeed.”

Indeed.

How are you facing resistance and asking for what you need to manifest your vision? 

Charles

 

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Holding the Focus Still

November 21, 2013

Holding focus on one spot will create a fire within seconds. Moving it around leaves you with a pile of sticks.

In my previous post I talked about the struggle of sticking with new behaviors and the need for accountability from people who have some skin in the game with you.

One of the primary behaviors I need to focus on is simply that. To focus.

With so many distractions and too many great – much less the really good – opportunities that come across our paths every day, staying on task with the matters that allow us to have an impact seems to be an almost insurmountable challenge – hey, did someone just ‘like’ my Facebook post???

I need to narrow my options and field of view.

I was having coffee with my friend – and very strategic thinker – Karin Wiberg sometime back and lamented my lack of headway in a number of areas of my life. She calmly and thoughtfully started asking me about the various activities and commitments I was enmeshed in. And how each was contributing to my overarching goals. 

Since then I have continued to question each activity before I commit. There have been several times I’ve cut an event that I later regretted as part of learning where the boundaries need to be set. As a victim of ‘iwanna know-itus’ and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), it’s been, and continues to be, a very difficult process of being deliberate in my choices. 

The image that comes to mind when I think of focus is of a magnifying glass being held over a stack of kindling. If the glass is held firmly in place but out of focus you’ll have no fire. Conversely, if it is held in sharp focus but moved constantly, you’re still gonna get no flame. But harness the power of the sun through that glass on one spot for a few seconds my friend and you’ve got yourself some heat you can cook with.

Charles

 

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Have you ever started something and then had difficulty sticking with it for the long haul? 

Several years ago, after reading a blog post by Chris Brogan, I decided to give his “three words” exercise a shot. You can see one here and another here.

Illustration of my three words by Mike Davenport.

As with so many attempts at trying new behaviors, I failed to not only stay focused on my guiding words, I couldn’t even remember what they were just a few weeks after completing my deep deliberation and engraving them into my calendar. Undaunted, I made the attempt again the next year, with similar results.

I believe the primary reason I didn’t stick with my resolve was my lack of support and accountability. I either tried to go it alone, as I often do, or else I asked for accountability from people who didn’t share my aspirations or zeal.

Getting encouragement is simply different when you’re receiving it from someone who has some “skin” in the game. Too often, I hear people talk about their dreams/goals/vision for their better selves. But they do little to put opportunities in place to actually accomplish them. Asking someone who’s already given up on their own weight-loss regimen to then encourage you to stick with yours ain’t likely to lead to a successful result.

This time around, I decided to seek my encouragement from an online community of people that Chris established who were walking the same trail. Although our goals and passions are varied, the purpose of each is to reach their individual destination.

For me, the purpose of the Brave group was to get some initial encouragement from Chris and others in the form of seeing their struggles and how they’re doing battle with their particular obstacles. But the ongoing process of encouraging others and seeing them move into and through their roadblocks helps me as I clear my own.

Throughout this year, I’ve extended my participation into several additional online communities, each with its own set of interests and pursuits. What I already knew in concept – but have watched play out repeatedly this year – is that web-based interactions call for many of the same commitments that face-to-face relationships require.

If you want a community to both grow and create a place within it to grow yourself, you must make a commitment to participate. Most people who participate do so because they want feedback and encouragement, but when they get busy, they often neglect giving those things back to others. It’s something I have been guilty of far more times than I want to admit, even to myself.

But having the community, as imperfect as it may be, to act as a cheering squad in the early stages of a new effort, and then give “shout outs” as you make progress, is priceless. I appreciate when someone has a hope that a plan will pan out. But having a structure and relationships that support it can have a far greater impact on it coming to fruition.

For too long, I have looked to build community with people based on proximity. I fought the concept of building a web of connection on the web. Although I’d prefer to have some opportunity for face-time with the web-based relationships, I trust that in time some of that will occur as well. In the meantime, the virtual relationships I’ve developed are feeding my resolve and giving me some of the support I was lacking in my previous, more solitary attempts at following through on my three words.

As for the three words I used to stimulate my growth for 2013, they were, focus, ask, and process. More to come on each in the following posts. 

How ‘bout you? What do you need to further your vision? Is there any way that I could encourage your journey?

Charles

 

 

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Power of Following Up

November 5, 2013

Thirty years ago as I was trying to get a significant break into the editorial market, I would visit New York a couple of times a year and schlep my portfolio around from one magazine to the next. Knowing that I was one in a million photographers rapping on the picture editors’ doors each week, I figured I needed to do something to keep myself as close to top of mind as possible.

At the time, I was hard pressed  to afford more than two trips a year, but I knew I had persistence, a telephone, and the postal system at my disposal. So I used them.

I picked a small number of picture editors that I particularly wanted to work with, and every month or two I sent a post card or left a phone message reminding them that I was interested in the opportunity to work with them.

Although it took a few years, I eventually developed a working relationship with most of the editors on my list. I remember one in particular saying when she phoned to assign me a story: “I bet you’re thinking, ‘I thought she’d never call me!’, but I did call because of your tenacity.” I nearly dropped the phone.

The lesson stuck with me.

It doesn’t seam like such a big idea. But the power of consistent, gentle follow up to let someone know you’re interested in working together can have a powerful impact.

Charles 

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Have you ever been severely constipated, your bowels aching to relieve themselves of the blockage? All you want to do is move along with your day but your intestines won’t cooperate.

Writing is often like that for me.

I’ve just spent the last two hours straining to push words out of my brain into a book project that I’m working on.  And much of what has come out appears to my eye to be crap. But I continue to strain. Why?

I am excruciatingly, slowly teaching myself to honor the process of the process.

Calling myself a writer doesn’t make me a writer. I’m only a writer when I’m writing, not talking about writing. Doing the writing makes me a writer.

I have been a professional photographer for 35 years. But several years ago, in one of the deepest dips of the recession, I realized that I’d not shot one picture in a nearly six-month period. What I had done during that time period was go to networking events, business classes, sales presentation appointments, and anywhere else I could to shake up an opportunity for paid work. But I had not, during that time, picked up a camera.

My attitude sucked and my energy was flagging.

If we are what we do, then I was an unpaid networker. But I was NOT a photographer. I had not honored the process of feeding my heart or keeping my skills sharpened.

I took a week off from all appointments and shot photos. I can’t say they were great images. My vision was rusty and shallow. But the process fed my heart and energized my life.

I realized that I am not an artist and communicator because it’s a glamorous or lucrative way to make a living. I am passionate about telling stories. It is the core of who I am. But to truly be something, I have to do it. It is action that creates results, not talk.

It is the same with writing. It is a process. What I’ve discovered is that the most critical part of developing a process is to honor the process.

What I want, when I sit down to write, is for the words to flow out of me like a tap. If you’ve ever written, you know that’s not how it goes. But I’ve also learned that honoring the process of writing does cause the words to flow. A lot of the process of writing is fighting back the ‘voice’ of doubt and recrimination that whispers ‘Who would ever want to read anything you have to write?’

My job at that moment isn’t to find an answer to justify my time in front of the keyboard. My job at that moment is to write. By trusting the process itself, I eventually fight back the ‘voice’ and get the words out.

I’ve talked with a lot of people who want to write/paint/photograph, etc., but stall when the process becomes painful. Although there are times when creativity does abound, I don’t think it ever becomes entirely pain free.

That’s when the discipline of honoring the process becomes critical to becoming what your heart screams out to be.

How do you respond to the resistance that inevitably inhibits your personal vision from seeing the light?

 

Charles

 

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We left home last Wednesday with great anticipation for the week ahead. We had two profiles to film as part of an ongoing project and a conference to attend. Both had our creative juices flowing. We were giddy with expectation.

Because we have six cows on pasture and a small flock of chickens – in addition to our dog and two cats – we have to make extra provisions for animal care compared to our urban counterparts. For instance, we know if the cows run low on grass in a pasture, at least one of the steers has an inclination to jump the fence looking for greener opportunities. And a cow getting in the road is a car wreck and a multi-million dollar lawsuit just waiting to happen.

As we rolled down the drive, I glanced over at the layer flock with a passing thought: “I hope today’s rain doesn’t cause the chickens’ electric fence net to sag over.” We were running about 30 minutes past our planned departure with a set time to meet one of our interviewees in Knoxville. I reassured my internal alarm with the knowledge that our neighbors were watching over our animals. And anyway, we can’t stay home and be on the road doing our work, so we had to get going.

Feathers remain caught in the electric net for days after the attack of wandering dogs.

There are times you don’t want your caller ID to show a friendly face. Friday morning at 6:11 was one of them.

Our flock of 23 layers had been decimated by a pack of dogs overnight.

When a pack of domestic dogs attacks, it’s for “fun” and it’s a bloody mess. Although several were dead, many had to be put down because they were still living but too torn up to survive. Four birds survived and we hope they’ll heal and be capable of laying eggs again.

While we grieve for the chickens – and the great eggs! – we’ve lost, the fear that so quickly escalates is the vulnerability we feel to spiritual and emotional attack when we are most open to pursuing our hearts’ desires for adventure and doing the work that, we believe, has the greatest impact.

The irony is that, at our core, we understand that our lives need to be vulnerable if we’re going to do anything that has meaning or makes a difference in the world. The higher the stakes, the more exciting the game becomes.

Most people say they want an interesting life. But most people don’t want any of their own skin in the game. It’s great to be a raving, lunatic fan of your favorite sports team, but that’s a far cry from putting yourself on the field of play.

As we got the heart-kicking news of the dog attack, we were getting ready to head to the Storyline conference we were in Nashville to attend. My first reaction was that of the angry victim – “Why did this have to happen while we’re so far from home and so out of control?”  But when are we ever really in control?

In the moment, I had to stop the questions of doubt and accusation in my mind and replace them with statements of fact about what I could and could not do. There is action I can take that will minimize our loss but I can never eliminate the possibility of disaster.

The most important decision we each made in the moment was to not allow a fog of anger and fear to settle in our hearts. We decided to accept the pain and move into the day with excitement and the anticipation that learning and being challenged held for us. I didn’t try to ignore my grief. But I didn’t allow it to frame my days either.

There are going to be attacks and losses in our lives regardless of what we do. But if we don’t embrace them as part of a greater narrative and push through them to a redeeming conclusion – if we allow the attacks to define us rather than us define them – then of what real value is the struggle?

Charles

 

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The Power of Stuff

July 8, 2013

Over the last few years, Linda and I have been spending way more time than I could’ve imagined going through the remaining possessions of relatives who have downsized their living space or have died (the ultimate downsizing…). What I’ve seen time and again is that accumulated belongings possess an inordinate power over their owners to the point where it’s more important to them to sit amidst their stuff than be with the people they say they value more.

My Aunt Frances’ possessions stored in a unit to be sorted in eight months.

So much time and energy was spent boxing, storing, and otherwise keeping things which would eventually be sorted and trashed by us or others instead of doing something more meaningful that would leave themselves or others better off.

My Aunt Frances slipped into my grandparents’ house after my Papoo died and took a bunch of furniture and other things before her sisters arrived. She locked the stuff she’d taken into a storage building behind her house which eventually leaked and ruined almost everything she had poached. What she left behind has either been thrown away or is now being held in a storage facility at an expense of several hundred dollars to her estate to wait for her remaining relatives to sort through.

To what end?

One effect it’s had on us is to examine the accumulation of our own stuff. We’re in the process of cleaning out our own storage spaces. We’re donating or discarding stuff we don’t use. We’re examining the way we spend our time more closely.

I have been greatly moved by a quote from Annie Dillard, “The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives.” I’ve been reading and meditating on that thought for several weeks.

Our days seem to pass in a flash with little to show for many of them. But added together they become the legacy we leave. I don’t want the sum of my life to be closets and storage units full of meaningless stuff somebody has to sort through. What’s the point?

I want my legacy to be something I wrote or said that made someone else’s load a little lighter or at least more bearable to bear. I want you and others to know that you’re valued. What we all need are more experiences that shape us into our better selves. Not to become vessels of stuff that other people waste time discarding.

How about you? What are your thoughts?

Charles

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I have three angry, negative relationships that are impacting my life, but I don’t know how to extricate myself from any of them. Maybe you have some of those as well. That’s why I want to share this.

The first is with my brother. He is terribly vindictive, bitter and angry. He’s been in alcohol treatment several times, arrested for domestic violence, and had two wives leave him. Because we are the next of kin for two aunts whose estates are tied up in South Carolina probate cases and because our father is still alive, we have financial ties that can’t be severed for some years to come.

The second is with the stepdaughter and step-granddaughter of my Aunt Caroline. Because they forged an alternate will, my aunt’s estate is tied up in a probate legal case that will likely take 2-3 years to resolve. My aunt’s husband specifically wrote his daughter out of his will because of their broken relationship. She has a police record for embezzlement. The forged will only surfaced after my aunt’s death from complications stemming out of suspicious food poisoning.

The third is a neighbor who raises pit bull puppies to be sold for protection and fighting. We also have reason to believe he deals in drugs and stolen goods. The care of the animals is minimal. The stench and noise from the puppies is quite annoying. He also has a police record and is known for violence.

I find my irritation rises not only when I have to use valuable creative energy to deal with the mess these soul-sucking crazy-makers create, but also when I read or hear trite advice to simply cut the negative people out of one’s life. It’s as simple as deciding to wish away the cancer that has consumed a victim’s body.

What I’m trying to do instead is learn and grow from the experience of dealing with these difficult individuals. By sharing my observations, I hope to more deeply understand what I perceive.

What I consistently notice about anger is that it stems from deep, unresolved fear. What each of these people has is a fear that is so deeply entrenched that there is almost no way to get to the cause and expose it for scrutiny and resolution. The emotion of anger has become so raw and close to the surface that there is no regard for who gets damaged by it.

What scares me most is how easily I can be infected by their hatred. I’d like to believe I’m so strong that I can’t be touched by their negative energy. But that’s like pretending I’m invincible to radiation while standing in the core of a nuclear reactor. The first contact with any of them produces a reactionary, lizard-brain flash of anger in return.

It scares me because my reaction means I must also be holding on to a fear so deep that I can’t name it or detect it. At least not quickly enough to stop my own negative flush of adrenaline. It would be so easy to point the finger at others in regards to their evil without recognizing how close to them I really am in my emotional response.

I don’t now how much I would pay to disentangle myself from these sorts of people. But even if they were gone, without dealing with my own deep fears, I’m still going to be stuck with myself.

How about you? Do you have any angry people or negative situations where an aphorism or positive mantra won’t turn your mind around? How do you respond? How is it transforming you?

Let me know. I still have a lot to learn.

Charles

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As I’ve watched the fevered debate over extending marriage benefits to gay couples, gun control, as well as a number of other issues, I can’t help but wonder what many people hope to accomplish by their fervor.

I’ve often found that when people are quick to stake a claim on a particular cause or position, they are equally slow in their willingness to shift or change their position.

The nature of humans is such that once we publicly commit to an ideology, we are very unlikely to shift our positions or views to consider new evidence or opinions. And once entrenched in a point of view, most folks get angry towards everyone who does not share their position on the matter.

The challenge is that there is seldom one absolute, perfect solution. There are nuances to all controversial matters, whether they are subjects as diverse as gay rights, fracking, gun control, universal health care, organic vs. conventional food systems, etc.

By keeping an open mind for discussion and debate, we have a better chance of understanding the nuances that lead to better possibilities rather than limiting the options to a “victory” for one side and a desire for vindication from the other.

Have you ever been persuaded by someone who was angry and dogmatic? By friends attempting to stuff their points of view down your throat? Did it change your mind or your emotions?

If you, a reasonable person, were not moved to greater understanding of an opposing view by an angry outside argument, what makes you think anyone else would be either?

When I see people changing their profile pictures on social media to represent their side of an issue or otherwise taking a stand for a particular cause, it prompts me to question their motive. Are they really trying to affect a change they believe in — or are they simply trying to say to the people in their peer group that “I’m one of you, too!”

Since most people connect on social media with people who share their homogeneous beliefs, it really doesn’t impact change. It simply shouts “Me too!”

Courage is displayed and change achieved less by shouting one’s dogma (It’s usually ‘their’ dogma and ‘our’ truth…) and more by gently asking questions which lead to our own growth and understanding.

What we need are leaders who have the ability and courage to take a stand based on core values — but a willingness to modify those beliefs as new understanding emerges. I realize that it’s human nature to demonize “them” as a means of solidifying “us.” But we don’t show boldness when we run from the things we fear. Courage comes from questioning why we’re angry and facing the fear that caused the rage to surface.

Charles

 

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At the end of a recent business meeting, the facilitator immediately began asking the participants for an evaluation of her efforts. How was the structure? Pacing? Content? All of her questions were driving for a quick summation of “How did I do?”

When a positive response – “You were great!” – was offered, she beamed and gave a quick account of her efforts in planning the details. Several people also offered a suggestion for some improvement, but were cut off with a defensive argument about why their idea wouldn’t work.

While her requests were posed as a search for objective feedback, she appeared to be looking only for approval. Nothing wrong with that. We all can use a confidence boost when we’ve pushed our comfort boundaries.

The risk lies in confusing bon mots with information we need to make our efforts better. Although we need both, the key lies in separating the two by asking different questions. And then listening – without defense – to the answers. Asking questions such as the following could give better insights to help you offer better value and ensure you’ll be asked to come back again.

What aspects of the presentation created value for you? Why?
What are some areas for improvement and how?
Who would you recommend to hear this presentation and why?

By distinguishing between where you are now with where you desire to be, you can use the positive qualities you already posses to contribute to the place you’re capable of growing to.

Charles

 

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