Burnt Out? Get Your Vision Back!

georgewashingtoncarver158551We all have those moments – I hate my job, I’m burnt out, I can’t take anymore, I’m stuck, I give up, why bother, it’s hopeless! Whatever “it” is that is driving us to feel this way (jobs, crowds, living arrangements, parenting, you name it), the worst part is that we feel hopeless to change anything. So – nothing changes.

We can’t always change jobs. Although sometimes we do and we find that the negative feelings pack up their suitcases and come right along with us. 🙂 We can’t always change our friends, families, etc. But these are all external factors. We don’t have control over those things and that’s frustrating. But there is one thing you can change: how you think.

I believe this starts with thinking about you, instead of everyone and everything else around you that is driving your crazy. Hit pause on all of that for a moment and think about you instead. Build a vision for you and your life that will become your purpose and direction. I know about this because I help companies craft their mission, vision and values – and this becomes the purpose and direction that guides everything from employee motivation to acquisition decisions. But you know who my first customer was? Me!

When I was 9 years old, I created my vision for my life and it was this: I want to write things that make people think. In a speaking engagement on this topic last year in Dublin, Ireland, I only changed one word of that vision: I want to write things that make people think differently. Whenever I am feeling stuck, burnt out or worn down, I return to my vision. And it helps bring me out of that funk and move forward with renewed inspiration. I almost always find one little thing I can do to execute against my vision – and before I know it, I’m back on track.

Want to build your vision? Start with these six questions:

  1. What did you want to be or do when you were a kid? No crossing things off because it’s impossible. Just write it all down. If you don’t remember, dream a little. See what you come up with. Write it down.
  2. What are you really good at? Maybe it’s cooking. Debating. Care giving. Mowing the lawn. Researching data. Whatever it is, put it on the list. Make it a really long list!
  3. What do you believe in? It could be a value – loyalty, kindness, integrity. It could be connection with others; giving back; spirituality. Sky’s the limit here. Once you have a few, rank order them. Pick  your top three.
  4. What do you need? Do you need lots of introspective time alone or do you get your energy from being around people?
  5. What do you miss? Think about your current situation. What’s lacking? Are you getting enough connection with people? Has your job changed so you don’t get as much collaboration as you like?
  6. What brings meaning to your life? Think about the times in your life where you felt like you were really doing your thing, what you were meant to do. What did that look like? Feel like? Where were you? When was it? Who were you with? Try to capture as much as you can about the context.

See what emerges from this. What insights do you see? What connections can you make between the answers on your list? What can you change? How can you be more ‘you’ and do more of your ‘thing’ in your current situation? What would you need to change – and are you willing to do it? Is it practical and financially feasible? Is there a way to make small changes in your current situation – and how you think about it – that would make a difference?

Ultimately, you want to come up with a short vision statement for your life. It looks like this: I want to “fill in the blank.” What you fill in should be high level – short and crisp, memorable, easy to remember. It should be a big, hairy, audacious goal that feels a little nebulous, a little scary, a little like – how the hell do I do THAT? Be idealistic. Esoteric. Go for it! This is your vision. Make it BIG.

Your vision should feel like a stretch to get there. Something you can work toward and build upon for a long time. You won’t know at first how to get there. But you’ll have that vision and it become the guiding principle for your next steps into the future you deserve. It works for me – every time I feel like I’ve lost my way, my vision reminds me that I have a purpose and it drives me to find ways to execute against that purpose in my everyday life. More importantly, it brings me back to the real, authentic me, and the story I want to tell myself and to others. And that’s the only thing that any of can really control.

Go for it! 🙂

free to see the possibilities

This is my daughter in Florida the very first time she saw the ocean. I feel like this photo captures her true spirit and joy in life. Wouldn't it be great if we could all be this open to joy at every age, not just at age 8?
This is my daughter in Florida the very first time she saw the ocean. I feel like this photo captures her true spirit and joy in life. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be this open to joy and the possibilities of life at every age?

So I saw this quote early today at the gym and I had to share it with you: “Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther” by John Pierpont Morgan.  (Note to self: love that the source says, “This quote is about possibilities.” – Thanks for clarifying!!) You know how people and quotes and things come into your life at seemingly just the right time? This quote did that for me. And I hope it does the same for you.

I think we are all looking for possibilities. I’ve been talking to a lot of folks lately who are dealing with some tough situations – my creative cohert in crime and one of my all-time favorite people Susan is convinced that there is something in the air polluting things for everyone. (Thinking about all the toxins in the air, water and food, I violently believe she is correct – I will specifically mention my personal aversion to Sweet ‘n Low for those I have been trying to talk out of using – you know who you are. 🙂 ) But there are always tough situations that need to be managed. People lose their jobs and their homes, die, divorce, move on, get pissed, you name it. The questions should be not – why me? Or, why did this happen? The questions must be: where do I go from here? And most importantly, what do I want? (Another wise friend gave me that last one – lucky for me I know all these wise people.)

Continue reading “free to see the possibilities”

Be more creative. Yes, you!

Do you see that guy? He's diving off of a platform about 120' up in the air into the ocean at Rick's Cafe in Jamaica. Creative? Stupid? Brave? You be the judge.
Do you see that guy? He’s diving off of a platform about 120′ up in the air into the ocean at Rick’s Cafe in Jamaica. Creative? Stupid? Brave? You be the judge. (I jumped off the 30′ cliff and was scared to death!!)

Being in a creative profession, I live, eat, sleep, breathe and dream creativity. It’s my job to be a master of my craft. I’ve spent 20+ years working on this – and every day I learn something new. That’s what I love about this journey that I’ve chosen to pursue. Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to meet interesting, creative, smart, cool people – and every one of them has a story. One refrain that I hear a lot is, “I’m not creative at all! How do you do what you do, especially in a short timeframe?”

I want to dispel any misconceptions right here, right now: creativity is a gift that we all have. It just looks different in everyone. I happen to make a living with my creativity, so I’ve dedicated a lot of my energy and time to understanding it. Creativity is a muscle that needs to be developed, trained and used. But the important thing to know is that we all have this muscle. Whenever someone tells me they are not creative, it makes me want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them and say, OH YES YOU ARE! 🙂

So if you’ve ever thought that you are not creative at all or wish to add more creativity in your life, here are 7 tips that have worked for me – and I hope they work for you, too.

Continue reading “Be more creative. Yes, you!”

feeling lost? think back to when you were 9

When I was nine years old, I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up. After exploring options like veterinarian, teacher and librarian, I finally settled on one thought: I want to write things that make people think.

Flash forward…a lot of years. I am now helping really smart people build compelling stories about very complex products. A big part of my job involves being a good listener. I listen to engineers talk about the fantastic, creative products they have dreamt up, designed and built, then created with the help of a team of other really smart people. I extract what I know will make a great story and help them build it with the tools and techniques I have honed through…a lot of years of studying the works of great writers and building stories for many companies.

There is nothing more satisfying to me than helping someone tell their story – whether it is a biography, a product messaging platform focused on the customer’s needs, or a white paper on the benefits of 40G or Class 4 antennas. Recently, I helped a team hone the strategic message for a new product launch. The product is cool, innovative and complex. At the end of a two-day messaging session with a team of eight, the leader of the team delivered a pitch based on the foundation we had just built that was clear, concise, and truly compelling. It truly confirmed that I am doing exactly what I set out to do: write things that make people think.

Continue reading “feeling lost? think back to when you were 9”

the power of doing nothing

As a creative professional, I’m constantly faced with new challenges and decisions: what’s the best way to tell this brand story? What will resonate most with the audience? What will make them laugh, cry, comment on Facebook or order the product I am helping to market? What’s the best way to get all the different people on the project engaged and aligned? But the toughest challenge by far for any project I work on is this: where do I start?

This is where the power of doing nothing is absolutely critical. Everyone has a process that they use to get things done. I’m no exception. Doing nothing is a big part of my process, especially when I am faced with what seems to be an overwhelming task. I find that this has been helpful in even in my regular life. When I am most overwhelmed and uncertain where to begin, I start by doing…nothing.

I sit in my screened-in porch. I take in the swaying oak trees taller and older than I will ever be. I let the whoosh of the wind in the leaves wash over me. I watch the flash of the red cardinal darting in and out of the bushes. I listen for squirrels’ feet padding along the top of my neighbor’s falling-down wooden fence in desperate need of paint, then watch them chase each other in circles around my yard and up a tree. I watch my dopey 110-pound dog try to catch them, climbing damn near two feet up the tree with her huge claws dug into the bark as she strains every muscle in her neck to reach the squirrel chattering, taunting her from a branch one dog nostril out of her reach. I listen to music that moves me and baptizes my brain of everything but the rhythm and the pattern of the harmonies. As the lyrics wash over me, I feel the worry and the fear – Will I be able to do this? Will I find the right words? Will I ever find my way in to this story? Maybe I don’t have it anymore. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe this is too much. Maybe I should give up. – all of that recedes as my brain powers down, forgets, feels, senses its way to…

…the answer I have been toiling to reach for hours or days to reach. It is murky and mysterious at first, I can’t make out what it is. So I make a grilled cheese sandwich, go sit down in the family room and stare out the bay window at the trees trying to see it until I smell something burning and remember I was making a grilled cheese sandwich. I toss it in the trash and walk the dopey dog around the pond. As I watch the ducks take flight from the water, tiny droplets falling from their webbed feet as they rise into the air in perfect unison, I feel the idea growing in me as sure as I felt my first-born flutter in my belly for the first time as I sat in a poetry reading 12 years ago. (He was stirred by the words, of this I am certain.) The idea is there. But it’s not ready yet. I’m not ready yet.

At six o’clock I make dinner and as I stir a pot of rice, my idea simmers as I wait for the water to boil. I sit at the dinner table and listen to tales of best friend sacrileges, Minecraft dramas, and remind everyone to keep their elbows off the table and put their napkins in their laps. I make sure homework is done, permission slips are signed, teeth are brushed, allergy medicine is consumed, and everyone is tucked in happy with all technology devices powered off and out of reach.

At midnight when the house is quiet and dark and no one needs me anymore, I drive to the grocery store and buy a case of Stella for me and a carton of Oreo Cookie Ice Cream for the kids and as I’m paying, the old, bored cashier with her spiky hairdo and bubblegum-pink lipstick and more gold bracelets than any human should be allowed to wear at one time surveys me in my sweats, t-shirt and converse sneakers with my beer and ice cream purchase and I know what she is thinking. This girl has just been dumped by the love of her life and is now off to drown and eat her sorrows away. I grin and shrug my shoulders in a sheepish “sorry no, these are my writing clothes” kind of way that writers learn to master over the years. And as I swipe my credit card – then dutifully swipe it again because I did it upside down the first time, the flicker of the idea flaps its tiny wings, becoming more clear, more recognizable as it slowly takes shape and floats to the surface, creating ripples of recognition.

I am ready to start. Ready to write. Ready to tackle that overwhelming challenge. I have found my way in.

I once attended a reading by David Sedaris, humorist, essayist, NPR speaker and one of my favorite authors (“Me Talk Pretty One Day,” among others). Afterwards, my friend and I waited in line for him to sign our books. After he scribbled a lewd drawing on my friend’s book for her twelve-year-old son and made a wisecrack I can’t repeat, I handed him my book and asked him what the toughest part was about writing funny. He told me about having to write a Thanksgiving dinner story for the New Yorker and how many times and ways he tried to start it. People behind me were impatient and muttering, but he took his time telling his story. I hung on every word. Finally he said, “The hardest part? Finding my way in.”

Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, unsure of where to start, try doing nothing. I hope you find your way in. Let me know how it goes.