“People talk about work and play as if they are separate things, with one being there to compensate for the other, but all of it is life, all of it is precious. Don’t waste any of it doing something you don’t want to do. And do all of it with the people you love.
This was my response when my friend Richard Reed, who knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship himself, asked me for my best piece of advice.
My golden rule in life is to have fun. Life’s too short to waste your time doing things that don’t light your fire. Do what you enjoy, and enjoy what you do. Trust me; great things will follow…”
In my experience, the office has never been a particularly conducive place for creativity. Instead, it likes to pop out at times when I used to least expect it, such as during runs, or washing dishes (as mentioned in this article by HBR). I am a big proponent of time away from the office but would add that time away from family and friends is important as well. That solitude needs to be in place (as well as that phone shut off) for a complete sense of quiet, solitude and security in knowing that your ideas are yours alone to fuss over.
In our contemporary offices and always-busy lives, alone time can be difficult to come by. But successful creative thinkers share a need for solitude. They make a practice of turning away from the distractions of daily life to give their minds space to reflect, make new connections, and find meaning.
Great thinkers and leaders throughout history — from Virginia Woolf to Marcel Proust to Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak — have lauded the importance of having a metaphorical room of one’s own. But today’s culture overemphasizes the importance of constant social interaction, due in part to social media. We tend to view time spent alone as time wasted or as an indication of an antisocial or melancholy personality. Instead, we should see it as a sign of emotional maturity and healthy psychological development.
Of course, positive social interactions and collaboration are a critical part of a healthy workplace. But while some people may be inspired by experience and interacting with others, it is often in solitary reflection that ideas are crystallized and insights formed. As author and biochemist Isaac Asimov wrote in his famous essay on the nature of creativity, “Creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.”
Now science has reinforced what countless artists and innovators have known: solitary reflection feeds the creative mind. In recent years, neuroscientists have discovered that we tend to get our best ideas when our attention is not fully engaged in our immediate environment or the task at hand. When we’re not focusing on anything in particular — instead letting the mind wander or dip into our deep storehouse of memories, ideas, and emotions — the brain’s default mode network is activated. Many of our most original insights arise from the activity of this network, or as we like to call it, the “imagination network.”
Its three main components — personal meaning making, mental simulation, and perspective taking — often work together when we’re reflecting. Using many regions across the brain, the imagination network enables us to remember the past, think about the future, see other perspectives and scenarios, comprehend stories, understand ourselves, and create meaning from our experiences.
As mentioned above, activating this network requires deep internal reflection — the state that many artists and philosophers refer to when describing how they arrive at their most original ideas. This type of reflection is facilitated by solitude, which is why we often get creative insights when we’re relaxing or doing mundane, habitual tasks like showering or washing the dishes.
Unfortunately, most people rarely give themselves time for purposeful contemplation. While the modern workplace is often not conducive to this type of alone time, there are things managers and their teams can do to reclaim solitude and improve their ability to think creatively — without diminishing collaboration.
One solution is to give employees the flexibility to work remotely, particularly when they’re focused on creative assignments that require them to generate new and original ideas. Another is to designate an office or conference room for quiet work. But most of all, managers should let employees know that they’ll respect their individual work styles, and that slipping away from their desks to think in solitude is OK. In fact, managers should actively encourage this, as well as urge employees to take all of their vacation days. Having time for periodic rest and reflection will give your team the space to replenish their creative energy.
It’s time to allow creative workers (and who doesn’t have to solve problems creatively these days?), as Zadie Smith advised, to “protect the time and space” in which they work. Doing so helps lay the foundation for true innovation.
In my experience, the folks who have no doubts about their abilities are usually the ones that absolutely should. Enjoy this article from NYT.
On paper, your investments in stocks, real estate or even cash may look like your greatest assets. While all those things are superimportant, you have something else that’s even more valuable. It’s the investment called you.
Finding ways to increase your value while doing the things you love may be the most important thing you do. Maybe you pursue more training to qualify for a raise. Maybe you find a way to sell the photography you did as a hobby. Maybe you find a way to turn your freelance writing into full-time work.
They all involve doing something new for you, but when you head down this path, you are probably going to run into this thing, this fear that you’re bumping up against the limits of your ability. Then, the voice inside your head may start saying things like:
■ “Who gave you permission to do that?”
■ “Do you have a license to be an artist?”
■ “Who said you could draw on cardstock with a Sharpie in Park City, Utah, and send those sketches to The New York Times?”
I think you get the idea. It’s at the moment when you’re most vulnerable that all your doubts come crashing in around you. When I first heard that voice in my own head, I didn’t know what to make of it. The fear was paralyzing. Every time I sent a sketch or something else into the world, I worried the world would say, “You’re a fraud.”
During a session with a business coach, I shared my fear. I was shocked when she told me this thing had a name. As you’ve tried new things or done anything outside of your comfort zone, you’ve probably felt that fear, too. The first step to dealing with this fear is knowing what to call it.
Two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, gave it a name in 1978: the impostor syndrome. They described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.” Sound familiar?
All About the Impostor Syndrome
Listen to the Sketch Guy’s financial advice.
Once we know what to call this fear, the second step that I’ve found really valuable is knowing we’re not alone. Once I learned this thing had a name, I was curious to learn who else suffered from it. One of my favorite discoveries involved the amazing American author and poet Maya Angelou. She shared that, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”
Think about that for a minute. Despite winning three Grammys and being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, this huge talent still questioned her success.
I’m also a big fan of the marketing expert Seth Godin, and even after publishing a dozen best sellers, he wrote in “The Icarus Deception” that he still feels like a fraud. I’ve heard that American presidents can feel this thing, too. The first time they find themselves alone in the Oval Office, they think to themselves, “I hope nobody finds out I’m in here.”
So now that we know its name and that other people deal with it too, our third step is to understand why we feel this way. I think part of the impostor syndrome comes from a natural sense of humility about our work. That’s healthy, but it can easily cross the line into paralyzing fear. When we have a skill or talent that has come naturally we tend to discount its value.
Why is that? Well, we often hesitate to believe that what’s natural, maybe even easy for us, can offer any value to the world. In fact, the very act of being really good at something can lead us to discount its value. But after spending a lot of time fine-tuning our ability, isn’t it sort of the point for our skill to look and feel natural?
One day, Buddha was teaching a large group, and Mara was moving around the edges, looking for a way into the group. I envision Mara rushing frantically back and forth in the bushes and trees, making plans to wreak havoc. One of Buddha’s attendants saw Mara, ran to Buddha and warned him of Mara’s presence. Hearing his attendant’s frantic warning, the Buddha simply replied, “Oh good, invite her in for tea.”
This story captures beautifully how we should respond to the impostor syndrome. We know what the feeling is called. We know others suffer from it. We know a little bit about why we feel this way. And we now know how to handle it: Invite it in and remind ourselves why it’s here and what it means.
For me, even after six years of sharing these simple sketches with the world and speaking all over the world, you think I’d be used to it. In fact, the impostor syndrome has not gone away, but I’ve learned to think of it as a friend. So now when I start to hear that voice in my head, I take a deep breath, pause for a minute, put a smile on my face and say, “Welcome back old friend. I’m glad you’re here. Now, let’s get to work.”
For all you entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and change agents out there…
Earlier this week I watched some young musicians perform Lady Gaga songs in front of Lady Gaga. As India Carney’s voice rose and swooped during the incredible anthemic versions of her dance hits, Gaga sat enraptured. Her eyes moistened. Occasionally her arms would fling up in amazement. Finally, she just stood up and cheered.
It was at a dinner hosted by Americans for the Arts, a leading nonprofit organization promoting the arts and arts education. Gaga received an award, along with Sophia Loren, Herbie Hancock and others. Her acceptance speech was as dramatic as the music. Tears flowing, she said that this blessing of respectability was “the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” And she remembered her childhood dreams this way: “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.”
That passage stuck in the head and got me thinking. When we talk about living with passion, which is sort of a cliché, what exactly do we mean?
I suppose that people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves. We are the only animals who are naturally unfinished. We have to bring ourselves to fulfillment, to integration and to coherence.
Some people are seized by this task with a fierce longing. Maybe they are propelled by wounds that need urgent healing or by a fear of loneliness or fragmentation. Maybe they are driven by some glorious fantasy to make a mark on the world. But they often have a fervent curiosity about their inner natures and an unquenchable thirst to find some activity that they can pursue wholeheartedly, without reservation.
They construct themselves inwardly by expressing themselves outwardly. Members of the clergy sometimes say they convert themselves from the pulpit. By speaking out their faith, they make themselves faithful. People who live with passion do that. By teaching or singing or writing or nursing or parenting they bring coherence to the scattered impulses we are all born with inside. By doing some outward activity they understand and define themselves. A life of passion happens when an emotional nature meets a consuming vocation.
Another trait that marks them is that they have high levels of both vulnerability and courage. As Martha Nussbaum wrote in her great book “Upheavals of Thought,” to be emotional is to attach yourself to something you value supremely but don’t fully control. To be passionate is to put yourself in danger.
Living with this danger requires a courage that takes two forms. First, people with passion have the courage to dig down and play with their issues. We all have certain core concerns and tender spots that preoccupy us through life. Writers and artists may change styles over the course of their careers, but most of them are turning over the same few preoccupations in different ways. For Lady Gaga fame and body issues predominate — images of mutilation recur throughout her videos. She is always being hurt or thrown off balconies.
Passionate people often discover themselves through play. Whether scientists, entrepreneurs, cooks or artists, they explore their issues the way children explore the possibilities of Play-Doh. They use imagination to open up possibilities and understand their emotional histories. They delight in new ways to express themselves, expand their personalities and move toward their goals. Gaga, to continue with today’s example, has always had a sense of humor about her projects, about the things that frighten and delight her.
Second, people with passion have the courage to be themselves with abandon. We all care what others think about us. People with passion are just less willing to be ruled by the tyranny of public opinion.
As the saying goes, they somehow get on the other side of fear. They get beyond that fog that is scary to approach. Once through it they have more freedom to navigate. They opt out of things that are repetitive, routine and deadening. There’s even sometimes a certain recklessness there, a willingness to throw their imperfect selves out into public view while not really thinking beforehand how people might react. Gaga is nothing if not permanently out there; the rare celebrity who is willing to portray herself as a monster, a witch or disturbing cyborg — someone prone to inflicting pain.
Lady Gaga is her own unique creature, whom no one could copy. But she is indisputably a person who lives an amplified life, who throws her contradictions out there, who makes herself a work of art. People like that confront the rest of us with the question a friend of mine perpetually asks: Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
I’ve been following a system I created for myself in 1989. It’s worked dramatically for me, and it’s worked dramatically for others.
I’d like to share it: I promise it can work for you…
Why 90 Days?
When I first started setting goals, I’d set six-month goals. But I discovered I didn’t start working on them until I had 90 days left: I’d procrastinate.
Procrastination is the killer of all goal setting. You have to set a goal with a time limit that causes you to take action today.
I picked 90 days because I wanted to give myself enough time to accomplish something, but not so much time that I’d procrastinate.
Don’t make a goal so far out that it doesn’t affect your behavior today. You need a goal that makes you start now.
How To Start
The key to setting a goal for anything is to make them time-bound, measurable and written.
The vast majority of people who make goals fail to give themselves a deadline, and they fail to write them down. But, according to Stanford’s executive program, 90% of high-performing people:
• set specific goals—with outcomes,
• set a deadline for their goals, and
• write them down.
I set my goals at the beginning of each quarter. I set three personal and three professional goals.
First, Set Three Personal Goals
When I say personal, I mean personal. They’re just for me: I don’t share them with anyone.
I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. I’m trying to push myself to get better. I want to make myself reach new heights.
Most of our lives, we’re told what we can’t do and what we can’t become. We get a lid placed over our self-belief and our aspirations.
But successful people won’t accept that. They push themselves beyond what others tell them they can’t accomplish.
When I set these personal goals, I ask myself this question:
“What can I accomplish over the next 90 days that will make me feel good about myself?”
I really believe this is important: You must set goals that help you feel good about yourself. Aim to lift yourself and your expectations.
Why? When you feel good about yourself, you act differently, and you carry yourself differently. This creates a personal feedback loop that changes you.
Then, Set Three Professional Goals
The second set of goals is focused on identifying what I can achieve that has an impact on my business.
In contrast to my personal goals, these three time-bound, measurable goals are shared with my boss and with those I serve. I ask my boss and my team how they’d feel if I were to achieve the goals over the next 90 days.
Most times they feel good about my choices, but at times I get great feedback about the goals. This helps me hone and focus them.
The beauty of getting feedback is that it helps me sharpen the goals before I’ve even started work on them.
And Finalize Your Goals
Now that I have my six goals—three personal, three professional—there are three steps I follow.
First, set the goals aside for a day.
Second, come back and read each one, asking myself if I’d be proud of myself to achieve the goal.
At this point I may tweak the goal to aim a little higher. Not massively, but enough to affect me. Push yourself as high as you can go. The goals don’t have to be huge. They can be small steps to achieve—so long as they stretch you.
(Remember: You’re not setting these goals to make others proud. You’re doing this to make yourself proud. Once you realize this, it’s like a breakthrough in your mind.)
Third, make these goals your highest priority. Schedule action items for each goal. They’re appointments you cannot break.
For example, if your goal is to exercise more, and you schedule your exercise at 7am every Wednesday morning, then that appointment has to be your highest priority: It doesn’t get rescheduled or moved down the priority list.
Treat it as if it’s the most important meeting of the day, because it is. You are important and you need to treat yourself as important.
Do all this, and you’ll do things you never dreamt possible.
Time To Reach Higher
At the end of 90 days, you’ll have done something you’re proud of.
And you’ll realize you can do more. You’ll expect more of yourself, as will others. You’re on your way.
This is a system, but more importantly it’s a change in mindset.
But it’s not a failure if you don’t achieve all six. In fact, the first time I did this, I hit four of the six goals. But I was ecstatic: I’d aimed at something and made tremendous progress. Then came the realization that I could aim higher.
So every quarter I started to shoot higher.
The Bottom Line
I define my goals, I have a target to aim at, I write down and commit to my goals.
For more than 20 years this system has worked for me. Many high-caliber professionals have adopted this system and found success—they’ve contacted me over the years to say so.
I promise it can work for you. It changed my life and it can change yours.