Our minds are very powerful. What we imagine, think and say can impact what we do. Creative leaders should use their imagination not only for their creative work, but also for their personal lives. Can you see yourself as a successful writer, artist or actor? Can you see yourself sitting at a desk typing that great novel or standing at a easel painting your best painting?
Do you want to change some habit or relationship? Begin by imagining yourself in a new role or relationship. See yourself successfully behaving in a new way. We call this positive visualization. Most of us already do negative visualization. Do you ever worry about the future? Worry is a negative form of visualization.
Through the process of visualization we can change who we are. This is the power of positive thinking. The easiest thing in the world is to be negative. It takes a lot more will power to be positive in a negative world. I challenge you to take five minutes each day and visualize your success.
American Author and Founder, Children's Defense Fund
As writers, artists, dancers and actors, we need to know our roots, our history and the people on whose shoulders we stand. To whom do we owe a deep debt of gratitude for paving the way. Who are your mentors? Those who have taught you about your profession? Have you said thank you?
And have you passed on your knowledge onto others? Have you been a teacher or a mentor? Do you readily share your knowledge or do you keep your knowledge hidden? Age and years of experience do not matter. Even the novice has something to teach the master. Any master who does not feel he can still learn something is not a true master. We all must be open to new experiences and new ways of thinking.
This quote also applies to our family history. On whose shoulders do you stand? Were you like me to be the first in your family to attend college? To whom do you owe thanks for who you became. Without your parents, your grandparents or your great-grand parents, you would not be here. Do you know your family history? Have you collected your family stories? Have you passed those stories onto your children and your grandchildren?
Spock wrote these words to the mothers of baby boomers in his best selling book, Baby and Child Care, and he launched a generation. And his advice is just as important to creative leaders. As artistic people, we need learn to trust ourselves -- our intuition. The knowledge we have to write, to draw and to act is inside of us. We need to learn to hear that small voice when it speaks and then to do what it says. Too often we second guess ourselves and do what we think we should do.
Believe in yourself. Believe in your talent. Believe in your creative gift. Believe in that small voice deep inside. If you learn to trust yourself, you will be successful.
Fear is a very powerful force that affects the lives of most creative leaders. Some people are afraid to leave their houses. Some people like me are afraid of heights. Others are afraid of elevators. This list could go on and on. A person who claims that he is not afraid of anything is either delusional or a liar. We are all afraid of something.
It takes courage to look fear in the face and still do something when you are afraid. If you give into fear, you will freeze on the spot and not move. Creative leaders face a lot of rejection of their ideas and work. But we must keep going. What is the worst thing that can happen? People don't like us. So what? Every famous writer, artist, singer or actor has people who don't like them. No one is liked by everyone. So why should you and me expect to be liked by everyone? In fact, think about the famous people whom you don't like. You, in a sense are rejecting them.
I learned a powerful lesson from a professional speaker. He told me that 10% of your audience will not like you. They may not like the color of your hair. Or the sound of your voice. Or the tie you are wearing. And it has held true for me. Ten percent of my audience don't like my loud voice. So I focus on the other 90%. I don't let my fear of rejection prevent me from speaking.
Rejection is a good thing. It keeps us humble. We are not perfect so we shouldn't let success go to our heads. It lets us know that we are ahead of our time. We have found people who don't like our work and that is okay. So don't let fear stop you from creating and producing new work.
(For those who read my blog regularly, I apologize for not leaving an entry yesterday. I have spent the last two days in the hospital because of dehydration. I checked out about three hours ago and am healthy again.)
When was the last time you received a compliment? Today? Last week? Last month? When was the last time you gave someone a compliment?
We all have a need to appreciated and thanked for what we do. Unfortunately, our society is very poor at delivering compliments and praise. And people praise artists and writers even less. If you want to receive more compliments, you must give more compliments. We live in a very negative world where people feel it is kool to be in your face putting you down. If we are going to change the world, we must first change ourselves.
I know that many writer groups are very negative and hostile. They seem to enjoy tearing each others work to shreds. And that does nothing but discourage the new writer. Writers need a lot of support, encouragement and nourishing. I don't believe in criticism -- negative or positive. Most writers and artists are their own worst critics. They can tell you all the things that they did wrong before you do.
I challenge you to look for the good in others and compliment them on what they do good. Compliment the good you see in their writing or their art. Be sincere and honest. Don't lie. Even in the worst of painting you should be able to find something to compliment honestly. So start today. Don't wait. It will cost nothing, but the positive rewards will be great.
Do you an unfinished novel laying on a shelf in your office? Do you have unfinished paintings hidden in a closet somewhere? I spent 4 years working on a novel before I quit to write a book on pet loss with my wife. Many published and unpublished writers have books they have never finished. And the same is true with painters. In fact, painters often paint over old paintings.
In an essay, Burn Before Reading, recently published in the New York Times Book Review (March 6, 2011), Dan Kois identifies a few novelists with unfinished novels.
So take heart, my friend! You are not the only one who did not finish a novel, a painting, a song or a poem. The difference between those who are successful and those who are not is the successful artists and writers keep creating new works even if the old ones are not finished. So keep writing. Keep painting.
Do you experience the world in a spirit of wonder? Are you surprised by the things that happen or have you become cynical and negative? A creative leader must be like a young child soaking up life and enjoying every moment of it. Everything that happens to us — good, bad and indifferent — is fuel for our creative lust. I don't believe artists and writers experience the world at a deeper level then other people. It's more they have learned to use that experience to feed their creativity.
Creativity is both sexual and sensuous. When we are painting and writing, we have a deep desire to create, to give birth. We can feel the lust in our loins, the joy in our hearts. How powerful is your desire to create? Can you feel it deep within your body? Does every part of you tingle with excitement? Can you taste the lips of your lover?
Life is about learning and everyone we encounter, whether in the virtual world or the physical world, has something to teach us, but no one is the master of all knowledge and wisdom. No one deserves our devotion or discipleship. We need to each independently investigate truth for ourselves. We need to come to our own conclusions. If we choose to blindly follow one person, we have failed ourselves. We have let ourselves down.
From time to time in my life, I have wished I knew someone who had all the answers and I could sit at his feet and soak in his wisdom. But I have never encountered that person and I have had to depend on my own thoughts and wisdom. I have had to learn to investigate what truth is for myself. And sometimes I make mistakes and sometimes I get it right.
People often feel they need heroes and gurus. They keep looking for THE answer. We put people on a pedestal and when we discovered their actions don't match their words, we tear them down. We punish them for leading us a stray. What we fail to realize is that there are no perfect people — no wise men sitting on a hill, only fools trying to get by.
As artists and writers, we must be careful not to worship other artists and writers, not to put them on pedestals. We need to independently investigate what they have to teach and then make our own choices. Truth is a slippery slope. What we believe to be true today we may discover tomorrow was an illusion.
For your listening pleasure, here is one of my favorite Beatles song: Fool on the Hill.
When one door closes, another one opens. There is a method buried within the madness of the world. The universe wants us to succeed, to find our way home, to taste the fruit of the vine. Yet most of us do not listen with our hearts. We hear only the shrill sounds bombarding our ears. To be successful, we must first understand the power of desire.
Do you have the passion to be a creative leader? Do you desire to write? Then write as if your life depended on it. Do you desire to paint? Then paint as if your heart will explode if you don't put paint to canvas. When our actions are aligned with our passion, then the universe opens and we are lifted into the heavens. We are able to find beauty in the mundane like a jar of pickles, a can of tuna or a bottle of orange juice.
When one door opens, another one closes. The end can be found in the beginning. We all travel circles within circles. And nothing changes but what must remain the same. So believe that your gift of creativity is yours to share with the universe and accept that the universe is a flower within your heart.
Suzanne Valadon was the daughter of an unmarried laundress. When she was 15, she joined the circus, but was forced to quit a year later after falling off a trapeze. She eventually became a model for artists including Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec where she studied their artistic techniques. She is best known for painting female nudes but also painted landscapes, florals and still life. She sometimes worked as long as 13 years on a painting before showing it in public.
To be a creative artist, you need to be persistent because many obstacles will get in your way including your own need for perfection. The creative journey is only for the stubborn. How long are you willing to work at your painting? Your writing? Your acting? Or do you give into family pressure? Societal pressure?
What are you willing to sacrifice for your creative work? What are you willing to give up? Life is never easy and the same is true for the creative leader. There are many days when you will take one step forward and three backwards. Do you have the stubbornness to keep going even when you see very little light at the end of the tunnel?
Suzanne Valadon was the model for these paintings by Renoir:
For me, people are central to being a creative leader. The stories that writers share are about people and their relationships. When I speak on leadership, I talk about leadership being defined as people working with and through people. I love paintings and photographs that involve people. People communicate so much meaning through their expressions and gestures. I find people fascinating because in them I see bits and pieces of myself. Through interactions with others I learn more about myself. People teach me important lessons that I need to learn.
If I were the only human remaining on this planet, life would be boring. When I was young, I thought I would like to be a hermit and withdraw from the world, but I no longer feel that way. I do need people. Having said that, I must confess that I am still an introvert. What that means is that many people take energy from me and I must have alone time to restore my energy. Extroverts by nature enjoy people and are re-energized by being with people. After spending two hours in a mall, I am exhausted and must withdraw to replace my energy and recharge my spirit. One of the few places where I can be re-energized by people is when I am speaking in front of an audience. Some audiences will take the energy that I give out when I speak and return it to me ten-fold. Other audiences will absorb my energy and suck me dry.
Who are the people in your life? Do they help restore your energy or do they drain your energy? What about the people in your stories, your paintings and your songs? Are your relationships positive and life-giving? Or are your relationships toxic and destructive? What are the people in your life teaching you? Even the most difficult people in our lives are there to teach us lessons. What are you learning about yourself? And what are you teaching the people in your life?
Those of us who set goals sometimes get so caught up in the goal that we live only in tomorrow's world and forget about today. We think that when we publish our first book or sell our first painting that everything will be perfect. The future that we imagine is never what we thought it would be. We still carry the negative baggage that we have today into the future. If we have marital problems today, we probably will still have them tomorrow. We need to learn to live with ourselves no matter what our living conditions are. Whether we are poor or rich, we are still the same person. If we are unhappy when we are poor, we will be unhappy when we are rich. Learn to be happy now. Enjoy the moment.
Have you stopped to smell the roses today? Spring is just around the corner and the hard winter of 2011 is sliding out the door. Are you finding joy in the moment? Have you seen the first robins or the red-wing blackbirds? Have you given those you love a hug and told them that you love them? Take a walk today. Taste the wind on your lips. Smell the fresh air. Dance with the rain drops.
Goals are important but they should not dominate our lives to the point that we ignore the beauty around us. Don't live in the future because it has not come yet. Don't live in the past because it has already gone. Live in the moment where you are. Love yourself for who you are now.
"Finishing a painting demands a heart of steel: everything requires a decision, and I find difficulties where I least expect them. . . . It is at such moments that one fully realizes one's own weaknesses."
Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Messolonghi (1826)
In one of my filing cabinets is a novel that I spent four years writing but never finished. As artists and writers, we often start projects but never finish them. Sometimes we lose interest. Sometimes we are not happy with the outcome. It does not match what we see in our mind's eye. Sometimes we are afraid to finish — afraid to make the necessary decisions. The joy and excitement is in the creation of something new. The hard work is in finishing.
What paintings have you not finished? What songs have you stopped writing? What stories lay buried in a drawer unfinished? Maybe it is time to pick up the manuscript or the painting and try again. Approach it from a new angle, a new perspective.
Then again, maybe it is okay not to finish the work. Maybe we were just practicing, preparing ourselves for greater work yet to come. So don't beat yourself up because you didn't finish. Things come to fruition in their own time, not our time.
There is a paradox here. If you seek success, you rarely find it. If you do what you love, you will be successful even if it is not in the way that you imagined it. As I grow older, I begin to define success less as money and fame and more as loving relationships. The same is true of my artistic work. It becomes less about the money and fame, then it is about the process of creating.
What is your passion? What is your love? Are you following your passion? Are you doing what you love even if it is for only five minutes a day. I dreamed for years of writing full time, but it was not to be. But I have spent lots of hours writing. The value is in the writing, the creating, not in doing it full time. I challenge you to find 15 minutes every day to do what you love. Don't wait until you can do it full time because it might never happen. Do it now and success will follow. Just be ready for the unexpected. If life throws you a wrench when you are making other plans, just tighten the bolts and keep going.
Of the arts, music holds the greatest sway over the soul. It has the power to soothe the pain and free the spirit. For many of us, certain songs bring to mind special moments and times. What music do you listen to during times of trouble? Do you sing in the shower or while walking alone along the railroad tracks? What music inspires your creativity? Do you paint to the sounds of rock and roll or write to the concertos of Bach? What music moves you to dance with joy and to celebrate life?
Memory is a sly devil that pretends to wear the cloak of truth, but deceives us both in our youth and our age. He helps us forget our deepest pain and yet remember the slightest hurt as if we were crushed by a gigantic rock. We confuse the facts and remember only partial truths. As writers and artists our memories can serve as either our greatest muse or our evil jailer. Our memories help us create powerful stories that fill the hearts of our audiences with tears. When our memories marry our creativity gifts we give birth to a host of angels and when our memories seek a divorce we our left standing naked in the garden.
Feed your memory well. Give him love and affection and the occasional hug. Listen to his footsteps as he wanders through your mind. Visit the rooms that he constructs and marvel at his genius for disguise. Remember to forgive him when he fails you and leaves you standing in the rain. Celebrate his victories when he makes you look good in front of those you love, but do not give him the keys to the kingdom.
Here is Barbara Kingsolver discussing the creation of fictional characters that interact with the historical figures like the Mexican artists, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, in her novel, Lacuna.
In the last 150 years the world has known many technological and scientific advances. We have put men on the moon and invented thousands of items that make life easier for human beings from the light bulb to the iPad. But the human heart has not changed. We remain selfish, angry and territorial. We kill, murder and steal. We still break the Ten Commandments as well as the laws of man. We are cruel, mean and unforgiving.
Artists create beautiful paintings that inspire us all, but are abusive to their wives and girl friends. Writers create powerful stories that touch the heart, but are rude, crude and demeaning to those around them. Actors may explore the emotional depths of characters they play, but are unaware of their own self-destructive tendencies.
Stained Glass Windows in Saint Stephen Cathedral, Metz, France
Human beings have two natures: a violent one and a compassionate one. And both often reside in the same person in varying degrees. And we have not changed in thousands of years. Every time we take a step forward and seem to be improving, we take a couple of steps backward. Consider all the greed that helped create the latest financial recession.
I learned years ago that I can't change the world. The only person I can change is myself. I ask myself, "What can I do today to make myself a better person tomorrow?" And every day is a struggle. Some days are better than others. And some days I slip back into old habits and behaviors that are destructive to myself and to others. Each day is a new beginning. A new opportunity to be a better person than I was yesterday. All I can hope for is that I am able to make a difference in somebody's life. That I can touch one heart today. Give hope to one soul.
Do you believe in your artistic talent? Do you have faith in your creativity? Do you let your creative light shine or do you hide it under a bushel basket and refuse to share it with the world? Creative leaders need to have the faith that they are on the right path. Even in those darkest hours before the dawn, you need to understand the sun will rise again — that your creative work is important. Don't give up on yourself. Don't give up on the work you do. You are unique and special. No one else can create the paintings, the poems or the novels that you can create. If you don't use your creative gift to produce art, the world will have lost much. So pick up your pen and write. Pick up your brush and paint. Pick up your guitar and sing.
Here is a poem by Tagore:
by Rabindranath Tagore
This song of mine will wind its music around you,
my child, like the fond arms of love.
The song of mine will touch your forehead
like a kiss of blessing.
When you are alone it will sit by your side and
whisper in your ear, when you are in the crowd
it will fence you about with aloofness.
My song will be like a pair of wings to your dreams,
it will transport your heart to the verge of the unknown.
It will be like the faithful star overhead
when dark night is over your road.
My song will sit in the pupils of your eyes,
and will carry your sight into the heart of things.
All creative works of art are fiction. They do not exist in reality. Even the most realistic painting or novel have no existence in reality. They approximate reality. A painting of a rose is never going to match the real rose in the garden. Human creativity does have limits. We can not create the world in which we live. And this is okay. We are not gods. We are not perfect. Sometimes it is best to accept our limitations than to become frustrated in our attempts to overcome our limitations.
Do you love history? Do you read history? Or could you care less about history? Do you incorporate history into your writing and paintings? I believe creative leaders need to study history? Artists should study art history and many do. Writers should study the lives of writers. English degrees tend to focus on the literature and studying the literature. Writing degrees tend to focus on the writing. But few writers study the history of writing, the history of writers, the history of words or the history of publishing. I have met many wanna-be poets who haven't even read other poets. They would never consider studying the history of poetry.
But understanding literature, art and theater requires more than studying the history of the arts. We need to study literature, art and theater in the context of the times they were created. We need to study the social, political and economic histories. We need to read biographies and memoirs.
Writers, artists and actors are people of their times. They creative works contain the same beliefs, hopes and biases that can be found in the rest of their society. Novels written in other times and places will teach you one perspective of that society. Their paintings are minature history books.
So I encourage you to read a biography of a favorite writer, actor or artist. Immerse yourself in the history of another time and place. What was Paris like during the time of the Impressionists? What was New York like during the 1950's and the beats?
One of my favorite movies is The Man Who Would Be King, starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine, directed by John Huston and based on the novel by Rudyard Kliping. The movie takes us to another place and time and gives us a glimpse of a world not our own. Here are some scenes from the movie.