Regret occurs in our lives when the consequences of “bad” choices we make slam into the ideal we have of ourselves as good people.

Three recent examples from my life:

• I did not complete a written contract for a project several months ago before undertaking the work. That oversight led to a number of misunderstandings and miscommunications that have bogged down the project, wasted an inordinate amount of time, and potentially exacted a huge toll on the working relationships.

• I loaned money to a buddy to try to help him get out of a financial bind only to learn that he’s used the resources to dig a deeper hole of debt to climb out of rather than use good judgment to get out of the mid-sized hole he was in when he came to me.

• I did not move quickly when I learned that my aunt’s step-daughter took her to an attorney to have herself named as my aunt’s personal representative. Had I moved more quickly and decisively, I believe I could have prevented a legal and personal quagmire that has lasted three years to date. 

Although I consider myself fairly reasoned and intelligent, in each situation, I allowed urgency to over-shadow my better judgment. I was caught up in the busyness of too many commitments, and simply tried to make an important decision without the clarity of quiet separation from the critical issue at hand.

Because I see myself as thoughtful and deliberate, each of these oversights was like a kick in my stomach and something I greatly regretted doing. But each instance has also taught me a huge lesson in discernment.

What I am learning is that the bridge needed to cross the chasm that separates regret from wisdom is built with personal forgiveness and grace. In none of the situations did I intend to do something wrong.

By moving away from regret and towards understanding, I spend less unproductive time wallowing in shame and more constructive energy producing work that can have an impact for other people. Wallowing in regret and shame drains my heart of the willingness to risk again, if I let it.

If you do anything of any substance, that has any chance of making a difference in people’s lives, you’re going to face failure. And when you do, regret is going to raise its nasty head. I’ve yet to learn how to decapitate and leave it for dead. But I am learning to not sit down with it and let it devour me. I’m learning to build that bridge and move to greater wisdom.

In my work with clients, I frequently hear mistakes and regrets pop up in our discussions. The fear of making errors shuts them off to possibilities. I try to use those conversations as a sounding board to hear my own angst and address it. Because often we can’t recognize our fears until they’re revealed in the lives around us.

How about you? What are your regrets? How are they holding your story hostage?

Charles

 

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Is Good, Enough?

June 10, 2014

 

                                              “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”                                                                                                                  ~ Annie Dillard

Surely, you’ve experienced it.

As you’re working out the details for a pending project — or maybe while you’re in the middle of a vexing complication — your client comes to the conclusion that maybe the problem is the bar Is just set too high.

“Maybe we should just settle for something more realistic.”

“I’m not sure we’re going to have the budget to make this baby a prize-winner. Maybe on the next one.”

“Sometimes good enough really is, don’t you think?”

When I ask, “What do you want to eliminate and still keep the outcome acceptable?”, the response is usually a reflection of the decision maker’s fears or lack of commitment to excellence rather than the actual constraints of the situation. Seldom do the extra resources required to make a project stand out really cost significantly more in terms of budget or effort.

Will settling for ‘Good Enough’ be good enough to build your life on?

The more deeply I become aware of the impact of self-protection issues in the workplace, the more I realize that many people, even those in seemingly high positions in organizations, are often afraid of excellence. They don’t want their work to stand out in a way that raises the bar because their next project may be compared to what they’ve done and new expectations set.

Are there ever times when “good enough” is? Sure!

But I believe making that decision in the planning stage of the project – based on the desired impact – is the right choice, not as a rationalization or an excuse for lack of commitment in the middle of the process.

As the opening quote by Annie Dillard suggests, when you spend your life – day after day after yet another tedious day – settling for good enough, you may one day find out that it wasn’t. 

Charles

 

 

 

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“Do not fall in love with people like me. I will take you to museums, and parks, and monuments, and kiss you in every beautiful place, so that you can never go back to them without tasting me like blood in your mouth. I will destroy you in the most beautiful way possible. And when I leave, you will finally understand why storms are named after people.” ―Caitlyn Siehl, Literary Sexts: A Collection of Short & Sexy Love Poems

As I was reading this opening verse on “Art Parasites,” I was again reminded how much I want to allocate my “people time” to be with individuals that I care for so much that I feel pangs of hurt to be away from them. Friends that I ache to be apart from. Clients that I care about so much that I wonder how their business and personal lives are faring.

As part of my planning schedule, I’m trying to incorporate an “energy review” where I think about the kinds of people and events that either add to my reserves or draw them down. If people I’m spending my time and energy on are consuming my resources, I need to be assessing my return on investment from being with them.

Have you ever been around someone who had the ability to just light up a room – by leaving it? Or the flip-side — the people who make everything seem bright and possible when they’re around?

I wrote out my core business values several years ago after an experience of working with a client who was a drain on my immediate energy resources and my reserves. Up to that point, I hadn’t realized that my values were based on emotional energy. Energy generated by positive, collaborative relationships. Energy I needed to re-invest into doing great work.

I’ve had a habit for most of my life of using my energy the way most people use fossil fuels — with the thought that, even though the price may fluctuate for various reasons, there must be an unlimited quantity because it’s always there when I want it. 

But no energy source is either infinite or without infrastructure costs.

Over time, I’ve realized that particular people have a particularly high cost of infrastructure maintenance. And upon reflection, because I wasn’t cognizant of how I burned my own emotional fuel, I’ve been higher maintenance for people around me than I ever should have asked them to tolerate.

As an introvert, I understand that “people time” taxes my energy reserves. Therefore, it’s critical for me to invest my time into being with people that I long to be with, that challenge me to grow into my best possible self. These are people that encourage me to jettison those parts of myself that are impeding my potential. People who will destroy me in the most beautiful way possible.  

But to ask someone to be that source of encouragement for me, I have to develop the character traits that allow me to provide the same support to them.

Developing awareness may help you become cognizant of the times when you are a possible drain on others, but most importantly, it may be the first step towards making the changes needed to conserve energy for what matters most, your work. 

Charles

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As a result of several unexpected events over the last few months, Linda and I have been entirely out of sync with our normal routine. All of the systems that guide our work and productivity have been affected. It seems as if every form of traction has instead sent us spinning; and virtually all plans for forward motion have come to a grinding halt.

In our struggle to get back to “normal,” we’ve started asking – with great fear – is this our new normal? Will this be the way it will always be from here forward?

Have you ever been there? Are you there right now?

It was in this mindset that I happened to listen to the most recent TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert entitled, “Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating.” In it, Gilbert talks about discovering the need to return to her “home,” her name for that place where she is safe and most needs to be in order to create. For her, ‘home’ is her process of writing.

As Linda and I talked about our “home” – or place of creating – I realized for me, “home” is the implementation of  understanding, or rather, taking action on what I’m learning.

What that means is that for me, knowledge isn’t practical without applying it. My satisfaction comes from learning something and putting it to use. Whether it is in the form of producing a still photograph, short film, blog post, presentation, or even a resource shared with a friend over lunch, the place I realize my contribution is when I transfer my value from what I’ve gleaned and synthesized to someone who can use it to add meaning or impact to their life. It is the process of that exchange that determines my place of comfort.

I’d like to be able to say that my place of comfort is simply “being.” That wherever I am, I’m just comfortable with myself, whether at rest or in motion. But my reality is that I need to be synthesizing information and sharing it in some form. In that process I actually find my rest and my sense of purpose combined.

It’s in these small revelations stacked one upon another that I find great insights. It’s these insights that turn on my lights of understanding and empathy to help other people tell their story or reach their higher potential.

Because, as Seth Godin wrote in a recent post on generosity, when you turn on a light for yourself you often make that same light available for others.

Where do you find your “home,” that place for safe creating? How does creating in that space allow you to turn on the light of insight and value for others?

Charles

 

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Working your Fun

May 13, 2014

Because most people shoot pictures either as a hobby or just for the fun of capturing keepsakes of their lives, many assume that shooting pictures started out as, or continues to be, a pastime for me as well.

Although I absolutely love my work and the process of creating images, there is a distinct but indescribable line between enjoying a process in which you are paid to meet an objective and doing something simply for the enjoyment of doing it.

I used to get quite annoyed when someone would remark that I must not really love photography if I didn’t carry a camera with me everywhere and spend my free time (whatever free time is…) snapping pictures. I couldn’t adequately explain it because I couldn’t quite grasp how I could love creating images so much but not consider it my hobby.

But I gained greater clarity recently as I re-read Stuart Brown’s book, Play. Brown describes seven different play languages or personalities of which, one or two predominate in every person’s life. For me, the primary ways I play are through physical movement and exploration.

Understanding your play personality can help you understand why some activities should not be brought into your work life and vice versa.

As a “Kinesthete,” I have loved playing tennis since I picked up the game in my early teens. I richly enjoy bike riding, dancing, improv comedy, bowling, and ping pong. And, if I have any serious thinking to do I have to walk to process the information. Although competition can be a component of the activities I enjoy (the “Competitor” is one of the personalities Brown describes), it’s the pursuit of mastery and movement that allows my mind to rest and play, not winning.

Activities that lure my “Explorer” have been travel, writing, reading, playing music, cooking, conversation dinners, gardening, and sketching. In hindsight, all these endeavors have been for the pleasure of seeking deeper insights and ideas, invigorating my mind in a similar way that movement energizes my body.

Understanding how I play informs where I draw resources from to do more impactful work.

As a result of working in a creative field all of my career, I frequently get asked questions about how to turn one’s passion into a source of making a living. Just because you may love to cook doesn’t mean you have the skills – in addition to the ability to cook on a commercial scale – needed to run a restaurant.

If your play personality is the “Artist,” producing photographs to please a client’s requirements may destroy the very reason you pursued your love of art in the first place. It doesn’t have to. But understanding your motives and desires will help you achieve satisfaction rather than frustration with your heart’s desire. Also, to have a client hire — and pay you — for your services is a different animal than accumulating ‘likes’ and comments from friends on social media.

I encourage others – as I attempt to do myself – to pursue their heart’s desires in the process of doing the work they love, But, I’ve watched far too many folks that I care deeply for distrust their own heart, not realizing why their heart found delight in their love to begin with.

In what kind of activities of play do you find your heart and energy renewed?

Charles

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Weight of the World

May 6, 2014

Although the weight of anxiety hung from his shoulders like a logging chain, he still paced from one elevator opening to the next as if the angst alone would cause one of the doors to open. We were on the third floor of the hospital, the Surgical Intensive Care Unit.

As the door finally parted and we entered together, I asked, “You have family here?”

The weight of anxiety can hang off you like a logging chain. 

With a nod, “My wife.”

“What is it?”

“Colitis. Third surgery. Not looking real good. Might have to take a lot of her intestine this time.”

“Kids?”

“One boy. Fourteen. Been real hard on him.”

“Hmmm…”

“Not sure what I’m going to do. I love my wife more than myself, I tell ya. Don’t know what I’m gonna do if I lose her. I don’t think I can go on.

By this time we were in the parking lot, heading to our cars to take care of things at home.

“Anything I can do?”

No, man. I don’t know, pray? Hey, just letting me talk helps. I keep all this bottled up and I don’t know what to do. Talkin’ ‘bout it helps. Thanks, man.”

We waved as he pulled out ahead of me into the traffic. Everyone seems to be carrying their own chain. Pulling some pain in their own world of hurt. 

Charles

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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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