What happens when content creators stop creating?

As a content writer, creator, maker, whatever you want to call yourself, your biggest challenge is often consistency. Life gets busy. Clients demand all of your creative energy. You have to make a tough decision about next steps and somehow posting content as an “expert” when you’re feeling lost is inauthentic.

These are real challenges. I would never even imply that the past month hasn’t been anything but an extraordinary test of my values, self-worth, and yes, creative motivation. The decision to leave RedBrick Rooster has left me with a lump in my throat so large sometimes I have to check to make sure I’m still breathing. While vlogging and writing have often acted as therapeutic tools, I denied myself their usefulness. Why? Because I actually stopped creating many months ago and while somewhere in the depths of my soul I knew it was therapeutic, I couldn’t access that part of me that sits down and does it.

I know I am good at my job. I know that I can on a semi-consistent basis create interesting content that connects me to my clients, my friends, and other kindred souls. So why it is so easy to stop writing, vlogging, engaging on your social networks and hide from it all?

Shame is a part of it. A feeling of failure which is easier to hide from with busy work, excuses, and blaming your work for sucking your creativity dry, instead of admitting that it’s the only place where you do not feel dry and so you spend more time than is necessary there. There is no problem with expending so much creative energy on your work. It’s amazing. Addictive. Rewarding. The problem is that even with that there is shame lurking in the shadows. It hides there, constantly reminding you that you could be striving higher, writing more, writing for more people, becoming more recognized. So the longer you stop writing the craftier you get at blaming your work for not reaching that next level of success. Your brain takes this as a cue to start becoming stressed every time your plate is full with client work even though that is exactly what you’ve worked your little buns of trying to achieve.

Now the work stopped. Yes I am doing speaking gigs and workshops more frequently than I ever imagined possible but that work that forces you to stretch out and knead, to poke and prod, and shape a soft gooey dough into something unique is slowing down. Temporarily yes. But still slowing down almost at a full stop now. I am left only with that lump in my throat and shame that cannot be hidden with work anymore.

Here is the useful part of this inhibited period of my “recreational” creative life: it forces me to ask myself why I create.

I create because of my love of the process. Sharing it. Being in it. Reflecting on it at the end of a transformation. I think I genuinely forgot this. I was breaking my neck bringing in new business and that took priority over creating for myself. It also made the process of breaking neck a lot more painful because I had no tool for acknowledging and processing my transformation along the way.

I want to start making things again. I want to stop feeling like being “in process” or “under construction” is not a good enough reason to write. It is the only reason to write. So I ask that you join me in taking a step towards that lack of inhibition we all know and some even love about me. I need you now. Starting today I’m burning the bra. I’m breaking down these damn walls I’ve put around creating for myself. Starting with this admittance of letting that shadowy shame prevent me from doing something that makes me smarter and happier.

Anyone want to join me at the bonfire bra-less?

 

 

 

#RealTalk

Last week I attended the C2 Conference in Montreal. This blog is part of a series I am writing to document some of my findings after being submerged in a jungle one part performance art, one part academic, one part food truck meet-up, one part business conference, and one part adult playground.

Toni-at-C2

My previous blog post focused on body language in a big way. When our bodies are forced into atypical “business” environments the way we connect with each other changes as we negotiate with our sense of personal space. Now I want to talk about – talking.

C2 obviously nailed it when they decided to break down the physical barriers between people and offer a more organic method of connecting. But let’s focus on the speakers. The rush after a particularly vulnerable and rewarding brain date is difficult to describe and the only thing that crushes that rush as fast as it sprouts is a bad speaker. One who has not translated their “industry speak” into the love language that participants were organically crafting.

Okay, to be fair, I was fortunate in enjoying all the speakers I saw but I thought this is would be a great opportunity to point out a problematic trend I’ve seen in public speakers. I will, of course, also continue my flattery of C2 and acknowledge speakers who subverted this horrible trend that I am calling “winners speak”.

As a speaker you have two jobs. 1) Know your shit. And 2) educate yourself in what words have become meaningless as they are overused and melded in with “industry speak”. Having a powerful message is one thing, but delivering it in a powerful way is what creates momentum and ensures your message will penetrate the behavior and thinking of your listeners. So how do you do this? You create a love language for the thing you are passionate about. You ingest it in all the forms its available in so that when you are asked to speak on it your words are as varied and rich as your perspective on the subject.

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Jargoned speech is like a Coca-Cola. In the moment you could not imagine being more refreshed and satisfied as its carbonated sparks electrify your throat. Of course, this doesn’t last. The short term effects are fatigue, irritation, and yes, thirst. The very thing we were hoping to rid ourselves of. Real momentum is staying hydrated with clean substances throughout the day. Every once in a while we surprise our bodies with a fresh watermelon, which carries with its appeal a messiness, and inconvenience.

Before I get completely carried away with my analogy here let’s reel it back in. “Winners speak” is problematic. It relies on our fears of failure, it feeds our weakness for fast results, and it misses out on the “why”. Why this is important. Why this is truth. Why this is devastating. Why this is beautiful. Why this is sad. Why it’s allowed to be all of those things at once.

A speech is not there to flatter your senses and then just as promptly leave you craving the very thing you went to satisfy. Perhaps if you were about to play a football game and needed a bit of pep, or about to enter into a situation where nerves had to be met with a fierce sense of invincibility. These, however, are intended to be in short bursts. They are there to represent the larger more complex mechanics of something you’ve worked hard at. Key being – you’ve already engaged in.

Okay, so how do we fix this? I obviously don’t have all the answers. But I’ve been paying close attention to the speakers I have had the pleasure and displeasure of seeing. Partly because I myself am moving into public speaking and needed to see what worked and what didn’t. Here are my thoughts:

  • Find and nurture your love language. It could be your ability to turn a call to action into poetry that speaks to deeper human truths like Massimo Bottura. He nourished our minds and sense as he lovingly and poetically described how “cooking is a call to act”. Just like poetry we were feeling it before we understood it. So when he walked out onto the stage and began telling us of his project Food for Soul our mouths were already hungry for the realness and truth of the devastation of food waste.
  • Tasha McCauley spent the majority of her talk on VR and its potential for redeveloping our intuitive thinking. She started by telling us the story of “the first page”. As in, the first documented piece of history that humankind recorded symbols and language onto. What made it so special? What prompted us to shift from oral-only to a written language? Her love language is history, discovery, and adventure. She made me look at my own writing as a vehicle for exploration in a way I hadn’t before. It was through this unique and creative lens that I began to understand how we are moving to a more intuitive and symbolic thinking space and our language for it is not ‘text speak’, as some naysayers want to believe, but technology; things that allow us intuitive modes of interacting with our environment.
  • Struggle and failure cannot just be acknowledged. It must be treated with the same respect we inherently give a win. My biggest complaint against “winners speak” is its terrible habit of indulging in the win and acknowledging the suffering only as a means of enhancing the win. With mental illness being so prevalent, you’d think we would work harder to develop a love language for it that didn’t rely on a win. At C2 the vast majority of speakers chose learning over winning. Learning relies on failure. There is just as much, if not more, joy in seeing a child trying to walk for the first time than seeing a child walk perfectly for the first time.

The language we are given to explore a topic is in a large way going to dictate its course. When ideas start to shift in society, one of the first things that crops up is a call to action for a change in the language we use. So why in a business setting do we often forget this? Well, its fear. So first we need to acknowledge that for fear to grip us that badly, it must mean there is something deeply personal intertwined in the way we do business. Ah okay! We know this. So let’s make a commitment then to prioritize personal expression even in a business setting. Let’s not let our ideas only flow from our heads out our mouths. Let’s take it on the scenic route, straight through our heart, winding through our toes, up and down our shoulders, giving it a clean jump off our tongue and out into the world.

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The Mindful Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs are often a labeled as aggressive, stubborn types who let nothing and no one stand in the way of their vision. I have no qualms with this type of entrepreneur. They have given us Facebook, intuitive tech and software, and agency to customize our daily experiences from apps that track our monthly cycle (down to our eating and pooping habits) to adjusting to our music tastes to give us only what we desire. But I am finding another type. They have existed for a long time but their space is opening up in a more integrated and interdisciplinary way. These people I am going to call “Mindful Entrepreneurs” and as it happens, my clients so far all fall into this category and it’s exhilarating.

These are some traits I have found these people to possess in various combinations:

  • Holistic in their approach
  • Their mission involves contributing to a social good
  • They desire a “tribe” and often feel lonely or disconnected in traditional friendships
  • Their inspiration can reach the heights of Everest but just as quickly they can get caught up in a web of existential worry about their own worth.
  • They’ve undergone at least one major transformation if not more
  • They have not always known exactly what they wanted to do but they had a pretty good sense of they wanted to feel about what they do
Photo by Kaj Peterson. Licensed under CC at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Photo by Kaj Peterson. Licensed under CC at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

So why do we need to pay attention to these people? They are going to be the ones who connect the two seemingly disparate paths of our desire for the simplicity of the past and the drunken lust with which we stumble to our complex futures. When I talk about the past I mean our dreamy vision of “simpler” times where language was less important than spirituality and storytellers played the roles of healers and magicians. I also mean our own simpler pasts as children. The time where we felt an inherent connection to the dirt beneath our feet and freedom felt like outside.

So now that we understand these types a little better let’s talk about their typical business challenges and is often what brings them to me:

  • How to monetize (this being the biggest and most difficult challenge)
  • How to balance maintaining professional relationships without comprising their natural desire to connect deeply with people on a truly personal level
  • What to call themselves (job title, position etc.)
  • How to make a sustainable business out of doing but also teaching others how to do
  • How to make a living doing what they love without losing the love by making it about money
  • When to protect their ideas and when to share them with anyone who will listen

An unexpected calling that has revealed itself to me this year has been to understand these challenges and find solutions for them that resonate with the mindful. Second to that, I feel a strong need to curate these ideas and solutions into a larger vision for the world to start seeing how valuable these people will continue to become.

I’m not one for New Year resolutions since my feeling of renewal and the need for freshness only came Jan. 8th after an impromptu night out with my tribe. That aside, I am on a clear path to deep dive into these topics and challenges. Because I believe that we do not need to be afraid of business. We do not need to feel like a cop out. We just have to pay attention to what we are offering in the exchange between us and a client or a customer. Because while money is a necessity of modern life, we are all capable of more meaningful exchanges and one does not erase the need for the other.

 

 

ARTPRENEUR 2015

Chicklets and chuckles – this past weekend I attended a seriously rad event. It is a trade show held at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans for artists of all kinds looking to turn their craft into a business. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend any of the seminars as I was the only one at my table and had to guard my free chocolates with my life (and my mouth…sluurp). It was my first trade show and I as such I wanted to share my findings and observations. Keep in mind I wrote these as the day went on so they don’t necessarily reflect my overall view. This is more of a play-by-play of the day.

  • Some delegates only come to give YOU advice. Not the nice encouraging kind either. The mean kind that leaves you eating mini chocolates for breakfast.
  • The size of your display is meaningless. It is the size of the personality behind the display.
  • Make friends with all the vendors. Not only are they totally awesome people but they will send people your way.
  • Everyone likes chocolate.
  • Artists are apparently a step ahead of the game. Their outfits were so rad and so reflective of their personal brand that I was inspired!
  • DO NOT make a sales pitch. Engage in real conversations and give out real advice! It was like a free focus group and I’m so pumped to work on content aimed at artpreneurs over the next couple of months.
  • Anyone can inspire you if you just ask the right questions.
  • Art organizers are such a wonderful and entertaining combo of jaded and passionate.
  • Mini Crunch bars and by far the favourite.
  • If you see people you know tweet at them to come to your table. They will bring friends!
  • I need a cool hat.

Crazy Little Thing Called Clients

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Let’s crack open the elephant egg in the room – clients. You may want to buckle up, because we are going to talk about this via my favourite source of inspiration – online dating.

Why, you ask? Two words: personal branding. Online dating was a moment of confidence and clarity in my life. I knew who I was and what I wanted. So when I was faced with doubt and anxiety at finding clients I turned to that experience for help.

Spoiler alert! Despite my best efforts to avoid being a poster child for anything conventional (convention, yuck!), I am a poster child for online dating. I joined on a Tuesday and on that Friday I went on my first date with the man I would end up marrying 2 years later. And ladies, this is not some Cosmo bull$h*t on how finding a husband is like climbing the corporate ladder. This is instead about a trend we should take note of in terms of how we connect to people online and offline.

Personal Branding

Your typical online dating site works using a three-pronged system; photos, match %, and a descriptive profile. While I could easily draw conclusions about the use of photos and personality-based metrics, for the sake of space I will only focus on the third-prong: the personal description.

Lets start off by filling out a profile on OkCupid and along the way I will show you how in meeting my husband, I learned an incredibly important lesson in branding and client hunting.

Fill in below and find love instantly…

Below I have copied the sections from OkCupid that they ask you to fill in. As an aside, this was no random choice. I am not just a fan of this site for delivering me my husband (express): I am a fan because they really understand what connects people. The questions below may look fairly standard but in them is a goldmine of critical information. You just have to know how to read it and then write it.

* If you are interested in doing this personal branding exercise – scroll to the end of the post and print out the detailed list. I encourage you to try and fill it in before reading the rest of this post and then again at the end of reading this post. Please feel free to share some of your insights in the comments section.*

  1. My self-summary
  2. What am I doing with my life
  3. I’m really good at
  4. The first things people usually notice about me
  5. Favourite books, movies, shows, music, and food
  6. The six things I could never do without
  7. I spend a lot of time thinking about
  8. On a typical Friday night I am
  9. The most private thing I’m willing to admit
  10. I’m looking for
  11. You should message me if

Step 1: Who am I?

Imagine for a minute that you are doing this exercise for the purpose of dating. You may see self-summary and think, “I will list all my relevant experience to prove how valuable I am”. You begin with a list of your schooling, dating experience, relationship skills, and end with an account of all the high-fives you’ve received in your climb to being an excellent partner. We do this when we look for work so why don’t we do this in dating? Because we know that this is not how real connections are made. Entrepreneurship relies on the relationships you build with customers and clients. So why do we forget that when we enter a professional situation?

There is evidence all around us of the things we are good at. That evidence doesn’t just take the forms of certifications, awards, recognitions, and degrees. Open your mind and think about all the things that you do well: all the moments in your day/week where you feel particularly strong. Here are mine:

When I first did this exercise (as in, when I decided to go off on my own) this was my list:

  • Video production
  • Project management
  • Strategic thinking
  • Team work

The list goes on but I think you get the idea.

Now I will show you my list after I decided to open my mind and take away those pesky boundaries that are reinforced in resume writing:

  • Meeting new people
  • Connecting friend groups
  • Hosting parties
  • Public speaking
  • Caring for pets
  • Communicating my boundaries
  • Getting people excited about something new

I look at that last list and see a few themes pop out at me. One of those themes is nurturing. So how does that translate into my work? It is important for me to feel like I contribute to the quality of life of the people (and animals) around me. So maybe instead of presenting myself as a digital media service, I should talk about how I love to: nurture projects, understand each clients needs, and help clients develop a work environment that strengthens the type of work they do.
Boom! I am good at that! It is my authentic self. “Nurturing Toni” is going to attract much better suited clients than “video production Toni”. Why? Because not only is it authentically imbedded in my sense of self, there are way more access points for a conversation about my skills as a nurturer than my skills in video production.

Step 2: What are my tastes?

Ira Glass says it best when he says:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.”

Your taste is important because it foreshadows your professional thinking. Even in online dating, this section can be the most revealing if you know how to read it. Some people will list EVERYTHING they like. The “cover my bases” thinking is counter-productive. If you want someone to taste a new wine, you don’t drown them in it, you give them a small glass of something you’ve carefully selected based on their palette. Under ‘what books I like’, you might only put those you read as part of your high school curriculum. This could mean you aren’t a big reader, or perhaps you fear admitting you don’t like to read (or, even worse, that you secretly only like to read trashy crime novels). But imagine going on a date with someone who is super into literature and was attracted to your profile because you like the modern classics. Well by lying you’ve not only become unappealing but also untrustworthy. If you’re not comfortable with your own taste (or you’ve misrepresented it), how is a client expected to trust the choices you’re going to make for them?

Step 3: Are you my taste?

Clarifying your tastes will also help reveal the type of client you want. Filtering out the incompatible types is often a self-reflective exercise in business. It is about understanding your authentic self to attract the right fit. I am in no way suggesting that you are responsible for attracting shifty clients or dates; even the best of us can encounter people who misrepresent themselves. This is certainly not some sideways argument on short skirt means open invitation.

“I’m looking for” and “You should message me if…” exists for good reason. If you can define yourself, you can define your ideal client. If you can define your ideal client, you will have a point of reference to begin your search.

So here’s the deal – there is no way to get clients without doing the modern day door-to-door; talk to everyone you know about what you’re doing; cold call companies you’d like to work with; look for other small companies where you might compliment their services. However, if you have the tools to describe exactly what you do, how you’d like to do, and with who you’d ideally like to do it with you are sure to hit the target more often.

The Exercise

Now look at the questions below, fill those suckers in, and tell me what you discover!

  1. My self-summary – I encourage you to fill this in last. Treat it as the section on your website or Facebook page where you would describe who you are and what you do. You’ll need more info before diving into the belly of the beast. So come back to it!
  2. What am I doing with my life – What you are doing with your life in a combination of what you are currently doing (for real) and what you are working towards.
  3. I’m really good at – Take a look at Step 1: Who am I?
  4. The first things people usually notice about me – These are usually aesthetic. Start thinking about how your personal style reflects your business personality.
  5. Favourite books, movies, shows, music, and food – Taste! Check out this video for more of Ira Glass’ supreme wisdom. Don’t just think about your favourite things – think about your favourite apps, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers etc… and figure out what it is you like about their work so much.

  6. The six things I could never do without – If you are finding that what you need to do relies too heavily on resources you cannot yet acquire, think about shifting your offered services to reflect more accurately what you could immediately do. This will save you a lot of grief and self-doubt.
  7. I spend a lot of time thinking about – Your aspirations, fears, academic obsessions, etc… Knowing what you want and what you are afraid of can put you ahead of the obstacles you are going to face.
  8. On a typical Friday night I am –translate to – how do I imagine a typical/ideal work day?
  9. The most private thing I’m willing to admit – “Willing” being the key word. This doesn’t mean share beyond your comfort zone. Take a look at the previous blog post I wrote about vulnerability in business: Why Women Need to be a Part of Your Business Plan
  10. I’m looking for – Take a look at Step 2: Who are you?
  11. You should message me if – Take a look at Step 2: Who are you?

Until next time!

Why Women Need to be a Part of Your Business Plan

At the risk of whacking you over the head with yet another preachy article about why women are awesome (side note: women are awesome), I want to spend a quick minute putting my two cents in the ceramic pig.

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Diversity is not just about visually representing everyone equally. That is a crucial aspect of course, but I want to talk about the importance of diversification in emotional thinking.

Women are trained to be vulnerable. Not all women are and certainly a lot of men are as well but hear me out. Women are often very good at communicating the greyer, messier, much harder to track and measure aspects of life. Maybe it is because society has bashed it into us that its okay for women to be vulnerable, talk about feelings, and have every step of their journey publicly scrutinized. So let’s think about a recent work situation where it would have been useful to bring some of these elements to the table.

An example I see a lot is a company making a blunder. Some companies will immediately jump to re-positioning or rationalizing their way out of failure. But this is a real opportunity to demonstrate reflective thinking to those who feel betrayed by your brand. Start by saying “we made this mistake” “we grew too much, too fast” “we missed a key step when developing this product” and change the conversation to a chance for learning. Give your customers the opportunity to rationalize for themselves. This will generate a much more authentic sympathy. A great example is one in our very own Ottawa. I won’t disclose any details but I think this example will still serve well.

Last year a local business was on the path to launch early 2015. The launch date was set, the press was buzzing, and the people were ready to engage in the business. Then a crisis struck. Red tape and permit restrictions put the business in a position of not only having to delay its launch date, but suspend it indefinitely. Then they did something very clever – they started the conversation about failure. They went to the media and talked openly about the difficulty in the current process for getting these permits and how it’s been a huge learning experience for them. These articles were full of feelings! Frustration, anger, confusion, disappointment, hope, passion, etc… – but it was coming from the company. Once the ball got rolling again they posted updates every step of the way and instead of seeing a drop off in interest, the opposite happened. People were now invested in the success of this business. They wanted a win for passionate people looking to break through the red tape and do something interesting. They demonstrated immense emotional resilience as a company.

So why women? No, it’s not because they are very good at saying sorry and still making you feel at fault. It is because they are good at feelings. Being vulnerable is something we are faced with whether we want it or not. Every time we post a selfie we are judged, every time we assert ourselves we are scrutinized harshly . So a good number of us have developed some level of comfort with being vulnerable even if it is just out of survival. So a lot of women have naturally learned to be emotionally resilient in the workplace. Of course, this can be achieved without women but with diversification of employees comes a diverse set of emotional traumas, failures, and successes. Women just happen to be at the front lines of scrutiny so trust us when we tell you that it is better to be the first one to tell the story, even if its difficult to tell, than to let others tell it for you.

Vulnerability can be a real strength in business and I am by no means the first person to see this. There are tons of amazing people out there talking about just this. So below I have shared one of my favourite teachings around this marvelous subject:

Feelings are awesome. Thanks for reading!

Toni

 

 

Talking to Others

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I recently did another Brown Bag Lunch at HUB Impact Ottawa. This one was around crowdfunding videos but what it was really about was storytelling with your values. What I love most about the opportunity to speak at the BBL is that it also gives me a chance to work through some of my own ideas.  It’s like throwing spaghetti on the ceiling to see if it’s cooked properly. So here are some things that stuck and stayed:

I’m Sorry for Asking

Think about how often in the day you use apologetic language. “I’m sorry for bugging you but…” “Sorry to ask but…” “You don’t have to but I’d really appreciate it if you…”. Why do we do this? Guilt, the fear of rejection, the fear of overstepping or asking too much? While her reputation is a mixed bag of insult and awe, Amanda Palmer did break the record for the largest amount of money crowdfunded for a music project. The TEDTalk that followed her success tells us just how she did it – by learning the ‘Art of Asking’. Listen carefully to how she describes asking as a gift to be given. What she is really telling you – is have strong values which you can share with others in a meaningful way.

 

How Do We Make Friends?

There are a number of ways we make friends of varying degrees, but some of the more common ways we connect for the first time are as follows:

– Asking someone a favour

– Telling someone a secret or something that makes you vulnerable

– Sharing an interest or activity

– Being part of something larger (HUB network, Christian Youth Group, Burlesque Dance Troupe)

All of these have one thing in common – they rely on an exchange. I give you something and in return I trust you with it. It is for you. In crowdfunding it is essential to remember that people are not just buying into your product or idea but they are buying into you. They want to cheer for you and your success. So before you do anything you have to have a very clear vision of what your success looks like and what all the steps leading up to look like so that you can communicate this to your backers.

The way that people buy into your vision is through the expression of your values. For example:

My vision is a space where people can come together and grow vegetables. My values are education through mentoring, sustainable living, and getting vitamin D everyday.

So when I begin to shape my story for the video I think about how to represent those values in order to tell the story of a community garden. Perhaps I will choose a moment of a mother showing her son how to plant something. While it shows the daily application of this project, it also demonstrates that my project values meaningful human connection.

Video

There are countless statistics proving that crowdfunding campaigns with video make at least 1.5x more money than those without. This is for a number of reasons but in storytelling when we need to deliver a decisive and meaningful message we use symbols. A flower wilting tells us about the futility of life. So when you are planning your next campaign video whether for crowdfunding or just plain crowd pleasing think about your core values and ultimate vision. Think about meaningful symbols or visual moments which demonstrate your values. But mostly – don’t be afraid to ask for help. People like feeling valuable and if you reward them with the experience and story they are buying into, you are not overstepping one bit.

Keep creating…

Toni