“…Because you told me I was a stuntwoman and I believed you…” Painting by Lesley Perdomo
Allot Fifteen Minutes a Day to Your Project
If I could actually make you do stuff, the first thing I would get you to do is to spend fifteen minutes each and every day working on your project.
As it happens, you are the agent of change in your life, and I can’t really make you do anything.
But I strongly urge you to make this daily commitment to your project.
Do fifteen minutes every morning
— before you check your email, before you check your email, before you check your email…working on your project.
You will need an iron will to resist the siren call of the Internet, but it’s worth it.
Whatever’s out there can wait while you put yourself first for just a few minutes.
So get out your kitchen timer, or use the timer on your cell phone (in which case you can select an alert sound that you particularly enjoy), and even if you just sit still for fifteen minutes, you will profit.
I’ve heard from my students with attention deficit disorders that using a timer is an especially useful focusing ritual.
You will be amazed by how much work you can get done in fifteen minutes. You will be flat-out astonished by how much progress you make by putting in fifteen minutes a day, seven days a week, for a week, for a month, for three months, for a year.
Intellectually, this makes perfect sense. You know that if you practiced guitar every day for fifteen minutes, before long you’d be a better guitar player.
If you spend fifteen minutes a day writing a novel, eventually you will have written a novel.
If you spend fifteen minutes a day working on your abs, pretty soon you’ll have strengthened your core.
But emotionally this strategy doesn’t feel like it will work. It feels too small and too half-baked.
It may also trigger some feelings of rebellion, anger, despair, or fatigue. Sometimes those feelings show up right when you’re on the verge of a breakthrough.
You might want to think of this as your Daily Fifteen Minutes of Fame.
It ’s your chance to treat yourself like a famous artist for fifteen minutes every day.
After all, would a famous artist have any trouble claiming this small amount of time for herself ? Of course not.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, Sam, but how do I go about this fifteen-minute thing?” Here ’s what I recommend:
Your Daily Fifteen Minutes of Fame — the Why
Quickly — without pondering — close your eyes for a moment and ask yourself, “What does this project represent for me? What value of mine does it represent?” and just let the answer bubble up from inside.
Maybe your answer will be “freedom” or “joy” or “self- expression” or “love” or “escape from the cubicle” or “to prove everybody wrong” — whatever word or phrase brings a little smile to your face is the right one.
You might even make yourself a little sign with your word or phrase on it and post it on or near your timer. (You could even grab a paint pen and decorate your kitchen timer if you were so inclined — a bit of glitter and glue, anyone?)
Your Daily Fifteen Minutes of Fame — the What
Working swiftly, brainstorm a list of fifteen-minute tasks.
Include a wide variety, since some days you might wake up feeling bold and want to tackle something brave such as “entering poetry contest,” and on others you’ll feel quiet and shy and want to do something simple like doodling or daydreaming. With this list at hand, you can quickly select the task that matches your mood.
For example, if I were writing a play called Romeo and Juliet, my list of fifteen-minute tasks might look something like this:
• Write a quickie character sketch of the nurse.
• Research poisons and sleeping draughts.
• Work on the balcony scene.
• Call agent.
• Brainstorm titles (Capulet vs. Montague, Why Fifteen-Year-Old
Girls Should Not Be Allowed to Go Dancing Unchaperoned )
• Write an author’s bio for the back cover.
• Double-check penalties for dueling.
• Write a blog post about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
• Research whether a rose by any other name really would
smell as sweet.
Your Daily Fifteen Minutes of Fame — the When
I usually suggest working in the morning, just because getting stuff out of the way first thing seems to work for a lot of people, including myself, but you might find that working after school works well (family homework time?) or just before bedtime.
Some people like to work in the middle of the night. Experiment.
My friend Emilie Beck is an award-winning playwright and theater director, and once she wrote a play (two plays, actually) in twenty-minute increments.
She had two small boys at home and a very demanding full-time job, and twenty minutes each day during her lunch hour was truly the only time she had.
It was not her preferred method of working, to be sure, but she made the best of it.
She found not only that she was able to do some great work but also that the action of writing every day helped remind her of her life goals, and kept her in touch with her artist-self, which was, I imagine, in danger of getting temporarily swallowed up by her mommy-self and her executive-self.
LESLEY’S STORY (In her own words)
I will be honest, I didn’t believe you at first. You were so adamant about how only fifteen minutes a day can help you complete a project. “Yeah, right,” kept sounding in my head. It was that same voice that always held me back from starting a project because I never knew where to start.
Whether I was starting a necklace or a painting, I always felt that if I started it, then I would have to finish it right then and there. That is a lot of pressure, so I would sometimes just shrug off some great ideas.
I figured I had nothing to lose by following your advice. I set the timer on my cell phone and started a neck- lace right away. It took me three fifteen-minute sessions to complete one, but by the end of the week, I had three more necklaces than I had anticipated.
I filled in my fifteen minutes with production, and I started to value what fifteen minutes can bring you in a day, a week, and a month! So I decided to transfer this wisdom to my paintings.
Sometimes I would feel inspired to go longer than fifteen minutes. However, if I had only fifteen minutes to give to a project, I was okay with it.
What I am sharing with you today is a painting that I started in February 2011 and finally completed it August 2011. This painting is very meaningful to me and expresses the journey that I have embarked on since starting the fifteen-minutes-a-day process.
The background is a tile collage of different tattoo images that I found in various tattoo magazines (during my fifteen minutes a day I would skim through magazines and cut out my favorite images). Soon I had collected enough to fill up the canvas (again, in different fifteen-minute segments, I glued them to every quadrant of that canvas).
Once the canvas was filled, I started painting the woman. (In those fifteen-minute segments I learned how to get the skin tones I liked, and I played with shadow.)
I will be honest: sometimes during my fifteen-minute segments I would just stare at the canvas and try to figure out what my next move would be. But those fifteen minutes of thought are what helped bring about the spiderweb, the filigree, and the crystals, all of which helped me complete this painting.
I call this painting the Stuntwoman, which is something you once called me. I have found balance in my life, in my career, by just appreciating fifteen minutes every day.
By the way, I gave Lesley the stuntwoman idea because once as she was talking to me about feeling overwhelmed by her schedule, I suggested that she consider the idea of being busy without buying into the story that busy equals being stressed out:
“Think about being busy in the same way that a surgeon is busy during an operation,” I told her. “Be busy like a trapeze artist flying through the air, or like a stuntwoman — just cleanly moving through each task with great clarity, concentration, and grace.”
Disappointment is, literally, failing to keep an appointment. Which is why I think it hurts a little more than the other bumps and bruises of life.
When you feel disappointed, you are feeling deprived of something you thought was already in motion. If you’re feeling like you have an “appointment” with a promotion or a successful presentation or a new love, having that thing not work out is especially crushing because it was kind of a done deal inside your mind.
And that old saw about “don’t get your hopes up, and that way you won’t get disappointed,” is the biggest bunch of hooey I’ve ever heard.
First of all, it’s a bad strategy because it plain doesn’t.
If something you want doesn’t work out, you’re going to be bummed whether or not you had anticipated the failure.
And missing an opportunity to have delightfully high hopes seems. . . churlish.
I understand the impulse to say, “I just don’t want to get hurt again.” But guess what? You’re here to get hurt.
We’re here to try again. and again. and again. We’re here to gain resiliency.
So I say go ahead — get your hopes up. Dream big, lush, vivid dreams. Imagine your ideal of success with the full knowledge that reality may never measure up.
Then when things do work out, you haven’t wasted one moment tamping down your enthusiasm. And if they don’t work out, well, then, you are free to feel the full force of your disappointment. Which may or may not be as bad as you had imagined it might be.
I bet that if you stacked up all your disappointments you would you would find that very few of them make you think, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t even tried that.” I bet you would mostly think, “Well, I sure learned a lot.”
And that’s the other thing we’re here for: our soul’s education.
Nevertheless, disappointments can leave deep scars. And some disappointments take longer to heal than we’d like, even when we know we “should be over it by now.”
(Over it by now? Says who? What is this mysterious global time frame on getting over things? Honestly.)
Disappointment is a wise and valuable teacher. It acquaints you with grief. Grief, said the Greeks, is the daughter of anger and sadness. These two powerful emotions need to be felt, explored, and lived through.
Otherwise we are only a living shadow of our true selves: pretending we don’t care about the things we care about most.
So there’s a time to cry and a time to stop crying.
Another block to creativity are the ghosts of failures past.
A client once told me, “I’m afraid to get my work out there because the last time I tried, I was sabotaged and betrayed by a group of women I had trusted.”
I said, “I’m so sorry that happened. That must have been excruciatingly painful. But I’m noticing that there is no group of women holding you back now. It is you holding you back. You are sabotaging and betraying yourself.”
She launched her new business exactly seven days later.
Almost every working creative person I know has a story about the overly critical teacher, the cruel playground remark, or the scathing review that made them feel like quitting.
Some of these slights were imagined, some were real, and some were richly deserved.
After all, even the best artists fail from time to time.
But if you let the ghosts of your failures, errors, and wrongs derail you, they will define you.
You have the power to exorcise those ghosts, but it will take determination and persistence.
You must first notice when those ghosts take control, and then mentally paint them pink. Now you have hot-pink ghosts — they seem a bit lighter and sillier, yes?
Good. Now call to mind a memory of one of your great successes, a time you felt valued, gifted, and good inside. Really dive into this memory and let the feeling of it suffuse your body.
Repeat this process any time those old pink ghosts threaten to keep you stuck again.
1. Write down all the activities that you typically do in a day, such as:
drive in the car pool
make phone calls
get the mail
work with clients
play with the kids
plan upcoming travel
coordinate volunteers for charity event
go to the grocery store
2. Now put an asterisk next to the tasks that only you can do.
So the asterisked items might be:
work with clients
play with the kids
3. Find a way to get the un-starred items off your plate.
You may need to hire someone, or you may need to simply ask some of the other grown-ups in your life for help.
Teach the kids to do the laundry, and get a co-chair to work with the volunteers.
Yes, you will have to get over some of your perfectionism — nobody else is going to do as good a job cooking dinner or sorting the laundry as you do.
But guess what? You have bigger fish to fry.
Your creative life is never going to take precedence over your everyday life unless you make it happen.