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How the Meaning of Life Comes Down to a Squealing Pig

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A few years ago I had spent a good part of a day sprawled on my studio floor as I mapped out plans for the next year – events and services and offerings and webinars and travels. Yadda, yadda. I have to admit that with all my sketchbooks and markers and Miles Davis waxing in the background, I felt like a big kid playing with his big boy tools.

But then I thought about the word “services” and wondered, Just who am I serving? And how am I serving? And what is the meaning, real meaning, of all this service?

Psychologist Martin Seligman suggests that the meaningful life comes from being connected to and serving something larger than yourself. And I suspect there’s a lot that’s larger than myself I’m connected to.

 

*
That evening, my toddler girl, wife, and I had strolled down the road to the house where Jill and her husband live. Jill’s the hamlet’s dog officer here in the Hudson Valley who also gathers orphaned horses, goats, turkeys, geese, dogs, peacocks, and pigs. She has two pigs, a little one named Rose and a sow named Petal. Petal is huge, a pink rain barrel on tiny legs.

As we approached The House Where Jill Lives, we heard a squeal like death and glee, of squeeze and slurp churned in the same bin of a throat. “He’s not killing her,” Jill said to us as we walked up. “He’s feeding her. She gets excited.”

Then another squeal lit up. The pink toddler girl lurched from her stroller, excited with arms flailing, and flew down the path to see Petal, the grand sow, devour nectar in the form of feed. Girl met sow. Pink met pink. Squeal met squeal.

*
Galway Kinnell writes,

…Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them;
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

And I thought that evening of my neighbors and their daily blessings.

*
There is meaning in laying out the days, sentence by sentence.
There is meaning in serving others’ dreams to them on white boards and white pages and white screens.
There is meaning in bringing a girl face-to-face with “the long, perfect loveliness of sow.”

Audio version:

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Will You Die Day-Rich?

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A few years ago, after our farmhouse had been renovated post-fire, my wife and I would have Finance Evenings – one night a week when we would spend two hours or so reviewing finances. One night, we cut it short. At least, I did. I would catch up next time. Honestly, even in those times of economic madness, what drove me and what drives me more than balance sheets is the currency of a day.

We say we spend days.  We say we spend and save and waste time. Something there is about the way time flows and the way the sun appears to cross the sky that makes us pine, perhaps, for a Way of Finances that feels comparably natural.

There is something to be said about the woman who dies with no memory. Either she’s impoverished or wealthy. Either she’s memory-poor or regretless-rich. Either she savored each moment that no memory was needed or she zapped past each moment with such busy-ness that no moment was heeded.

Why not hoard moments?
Why not invest in images by being present?
Why not cancel out regrets with contentment?
Why not invoice hope?

I want to leave an inheritance of how to relish relationships.
I want to die day-rich.

I hope my wife and daughters don’t mind.

 

Creative Commons (Moyan Brenn)

The New Story of Publishing

Creative Commons (Moyan Brenn)

Creative Commons (Moyan Brenn)

2016 might be the year you create a book that matters. I hope so. We need books that change our minds and change our lives. We need stories that expand our imaginations and expand our hearts.

My team and I are devoted to helping you become a captivating author – or an even more captivating author – this year.  I’m committed to helping you become an artisan-author, someone who learns the fine craft of her medium and genre so she can create exceptional work for her audience. And I’m driven to help you sort through the confusing multi-directions of publishing in the 21st century.

I hear and read a lot of anxious talk around publishing these days. Random House (#1 in the world) recently acquired Penguin (#2) so soon there may be just one mega-publisher. Or with the digital revolution maybe no books. Or with Amazon’s and Jeff Bezos’s dominion maybe no bookstores. The angst-ridden speculations go on and on.

I’m committed to filtering through this “Babel” for you and myself.

Among the things I’m sorting through are the several stories about the nature of publishing, past and present.

Let’s take a look at these stories about publishing and discern what matters most for you to focus on. I’m curious what your take is. Share your views in the comments below.

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Courtesy of Creative Commons (Fabiola Medeiros)

How Persistent Sprints Build Businesses & Books

Courtesy of Creative Commons (Fabiola Medeiros)

Courtesy of Creative Commons (Fabiola Medeiros)

Are you time-strapped or focus-challenged, but you have a book to write or business to build?

It might seem counter-intuitive – even threatening to your cherished beliefs – to imagine writing a book or building your signature business Story 15, 30, 45 minutes at a time. But that’s how you can do it.  Read more

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The Heroine’s Journey & The Business Artist

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11169549_10152840355971161_3650447059151620528_oNote: Saundra Goldman is a smart, quietly powerful mentor and leader. She has been leading a conversation for a few years at Creative Mix where she helps women connect the dots of their creative lives and step up with work that speaks to their deepest calling. Saundra has been taking stock of what the heroine’s journey entails. What is the heroine’s journey? How is that different from the hero’s journey? How do we live out a heroine’s journey as an artist or business artist – especially when we must contend with our own health and life constraints? Those are the questions Saundra has been living.

I’m grateful that she has agreed to share this piece here.

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Opportunity by RK Rockefeller, Flickr

Do Your Best Work, Not Someone Else’s

Opportunity by RK Rockefeller, Flickr

Opportunity by RK Rockefeller, Flickr

He had made up his mind.

Archie told his two friends he just couldn’t risk starting his own animated studio. “It’s a stupid fantasy.” Benjy and Sahib sat silent and stunned.

Archie had come from a long line of respected business innovators and creative people – his mother and father both investors and business owners; his grandfather played sax for Bennie Goodman; his grandmother, a jazz singer. The youngest of three brothers, Archie had admired his older brother Sam, his best friend, a talented artist who always saw the best in his younger brother. “Little Archer,” he nicknamed him. He would watch Archie excel at drawing or playing sax or amateur video production. “Man,” Sam would say,” little Archer, when you set your aim on something, you’ll hit it, brother. You’ve got the knack.”

Then at 18 Sam left for Europe and never looked back.

Archie could’ve gotten lost. But amidst a family tree of accomplishments, he had found his own talents and own way of grieving his brother’s absence through animated design. Still, he drifted through his 20s, getting jobs at agencies and studios more out of prestige and security than anything else.

Then on the same day, he lost his job and his girlfriend, the one person who moored him. Over the next several months, he took stock of his life until, boom, it became clear that his next mission was to start a small animation studio. He’d start it with his two colleagues and chums – Benjy who had business smarts and Sahib who had smarts in many areas plus brilliant artistic talents like Sam. Read more

Courtesy of Creative Commons (Jef Safi)

Imagine Your Future To Be Wholly Present

Courtesy of Creative Commons (Jef Safi)

Courtesy of Creative Commons (Jef Safi)

Creativity is a revived currency in business. The New York Times Magazine ran a full feature on the burgeoning field of us creativity consultants and idea leaders. Advances in technology have automated numerous jobs and made follow-instructions-and-gather-information managers almost obsolete.

Yet what do we entrepreneurs, business owners, and business artists do when we make professional plans and goals?

Some of us complain that we’re not analytical or MBA-savvy enough and forfeit our innate creative tools. Yes, rigorous analysis of data and competition and the market are necessary, but analysis alone will not get you to the heart of your professional life and future. And for most of us motivated by meaning more than money, we must get to the core to keep our business’s heart beat thumping through good times and bad.

One oft-forgotten tool, inherent to your creativity, can help you get to your professional heart and envision your professional year accordingly. Read more

To Envision Your Best Year, Get Clear with Yourself

VisionQuest_AlicePopkorn_FlickrAlison had published three books, delivered a talk at a renowned conference, and advanced her distinct brand enough to garner gigs around the world.

So, what was the problem?

“I’ve kind of run this thing to its end.  I’m ready for what’s next, but I don’t know what that is. And whenever I get an inkling, it seems radically different from what I’m known for.”

She wanted to Break Brand.  And sometimes, most times, that’s fine and necessary. But this kind of situation raises profound doubt. The kind of doubt the Alisons of the world experience has a different hue than the kind of doubt, say, someone just starting out with his first venture ever. Alison’s kind of doubt comes post-success, post-mastery. So, for her to arrive again at uncertainty makes her think she’s a failure or a fool for surrendering success. To become an uncertain apprentice again who must ask for guidance feels, to the accomplished professional or creative, kind of vulnerable.

But this junction of doubt turns out to be profoundly normal for successful people who excel in creative and entrepreneurial fields.

The hard part for Alison and others of us like her is staying in the confusion long enough to let something real and true germinate. When we cannot endure the unknown next horizon, we often respond in one of three ways:

  1. Stick with the safe thing.
  2. Leap to another safe thing.
  3. Get stuck in paralysis.

Not fun. Read more

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Intensity Not Relaxation Inspires Creative Courage

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“It was clear…that what kept [top performers in flow] motivated was the quality of experience they felt when they were involved with the activity. This feeling didn’t come when they were relaxing, when they were taking drugs or alcohol, or when they were consuming the expensive privileges of wealth. Rather, it often involved painful, risky, difficult activities that stretched the person’s capacity and involved an element of novelty and discovery. This optimal experience is what I have called flow.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Real transformation comes not from luxury or wealth or even deep relaxation. It comes from intensity punctuated with emotional relief and delightful surprise.

They came from every coast to climb a ridge, enter a castle, and make magic happen.

Entrepreneurs, teachers, an architectural designer, writers, consultants, therapists, a mountaintop farm owner, professionals, artful parents – every single one of them pow – er- ful – had arrived at Mohonk Mountain Resort. Mohonk is a veritable 19th-century castle-like structure perched on the Shawangunk Ridge in New York’s Hudson Valley that boasts awe-inspiring views of the Catskills Mountains.

But this pack didn’t come mostly to soak in the views. They didn’t come mostly to soak in the top-rated spa waters.  They didn’t come mostly to loaf and lean along the languorous trails.

They came ostensibly for an author’s intensive called Your Brave New Story. They sought to learn how to shape their books, break through blocks, own their larger brand possibilities, consider their best path to publish.

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But they really came to taste bravery. What they gave back was the formidable alliance necessary to live bravely together.

It’s one thing to feel brave for a moment. It’s another to become brave and stay brave upon returning home.

That kind of change rarely comes from deep relaxation. It often comes from a certain kind of intensity and a certain kind of bonding.  Read more

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Ziggy Stardust & Business Owners: Different Rules?

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

In 1972, the post-Beatles music scene felt dour, pompous, overly earnest.

Then, came Ziggy.

Ziggy was a fictional character borne of David Bowie’s imagination, biography, and possibly his encounters with another musician obsessed with UFOs.

Bowie and his alter ego gifted the music scene with elaborate performance art, social poetry and commentary about the rock music scene’s drug abuse (at the time, Bowie wasn’t using drugs), and its phony glamor – all with a narrative revolving around the planet’s near-end.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars would later later be tagged one of the best, most important rock albums of all time.

Yet, at the end of the tour that brought the snow-skinned golden boy American fame, Bowie was nearly broke. Bowie cared about helping other musicians whose work he admired, he cared about music, and he cared about his future. What he didn’t tend to, at the time, was business.

By one account, none other than John Lennon – the backup voice to what would become Bowie’s first #1 Billboard hit “Fame” – sat the younger innovative muse down and steeped him in the business of music and of, especially, trusting the right people.

That sensibility perhaps helped Bowie continue to spread his musical magic for another several decades. Philosopher Simon Critchley calls Bowie the most influential, most important musician of the past 40 years.

Here’s the thing: The naive artist claims to be above business. For that matter, the naive if not philistine business owner or entrepreneur claims that art is useless.

Artists and entrepreneurs can – and I would suggest must if they wish to thrive in this time – learn from one another and contribute exponentially to the greater good.

So, are there different rules for artists versus entrepreneurs when developing business models with sustainable revenue?

Artist vs the Entrepreneur?

This question came up recently on a forum I participate in:
The Artist vs. The Entrepreneur: A query for you all. Businesses exist to solve problems (in my mind). If you’re not solving a problem then you don’t have a business. But artists (painters, dancers, sculptors, poets etc.) don’t ‘solve problems’ in the way that businesses do – and yet many of them are trying to make it as a business. I’m curious about your thoughts on this. 

Here are my unfinished reflections:

Artists in whatever culture are in a societal exchange whether financial or tribal. The artist who claims to work in silo asks to starve.

Business owners and executives on the other hand hunger to experience the freedom and aliveness they sense in artists. The business owner who shuns artful experiences potentially starves her soul and that of her customers.

Where do the two meet?

We work with this topic every day at Tracking Wonder because we call our heroes “business artists” – mission-centered executives, professionals, service providers, authors, artists, organizational team members who aim to bring forward their best work for the greater good.

In the past 100+ years, arguments have been made about whether artists need talent or practice to flourish. They need both, but they also need versatility – the real virtue.

That means they are able to experiment like scientists, create like artists (imaginative, social, emotional intelligence), and earn like entrepreneurs. Read more