Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert proposes a new way to think about creativity

Getting the ego out of the way sure would eliminate the pressure involved in the creative process! I think this perspective is pure genius!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Adapt, Adapt, Adapt

It's freezing cold in Asheville and it's only going to get colder in the upcoming days. My office area is located in a sun room surrounded by windows, which is a pleasant place to be most of the year, but not when it's cloudy and 23° and the wind is beating on the walls at 25 knots, exploiting every crack and crevasse to gain entry to the room and ensuring that my shoulders and toes remain frosty.

I could choose to shiver and complain about this problem, but that would do me no good. Instead, I have chosen to adapt to the situation so I can be more comfortable while I work. I  put a space heater at my toes, put on a heavy sweater and thicker socks. If that doesn't do the trick, I'll turn up the thermostat and put on the comfy fingerless gloves that Beth knitted for me. In short, I have chosen to adapt to the situation.

However, when I look at my business, I have to face the sad fact that I have chosen the "shiver and complain" non-solution.

Today, I discovered a new blog by Jonathan Fields called "Awake@The Wheel - Tips, strategies and conversations at the crossroads of work, life, entrepreneurship & play". Hey, with a title like that, it sounds like Jonathan is writing his blog just for me!

I read a few of Jonathan's astute posts, but the one that resonated for me today is titled "If Your Business Sucks, Don't Blame The Market." I immediately began comparing Jonathan's story to my business.

During the recession of the 1990s, my graphic design business was located in Los Angeles. It continued to thrive, not so much due to adjustments I made, but because other potential clients adapted their businesses: they fired their high-overhead advertising agencies and gravitated toward smaller, boutique design houses like mine. Lucky me, (in the short-term, at least)! However, that experience lead me to embrace the faulty belief that my business was recession-proof, a misconception which is plaguing me today.

That's not to say that I didn't adapt to marketplace and technological trends during the '80s and '90s. As When I graduated college, I was armed with all the old-school, analog graphic design skills. Less than a year after graduating, I sat in front of a Macintosh for the first time. I knew immediately that the computer would revolutionize the way I did my work, so I taught myself how to use the new digital tools. When the internet grew in popularity, I jumped on that bandwagon, teaching myself HTML, image optimization, and all the web-development skills that kept my business marketable as the more people embraced this technology.

In recent years, however, I feel like I have lost that willingness to learn new technological skills. My rationalization has been that, "I signed up to be a graphic designer, not a programmer!" The technology changes so rapidly, and many of the latest web advancements are more akin to programming. I often tell myself I don't want to wake up some morning to discover that I've become more of a programmer than a designer. So instead, I let these excuses stop my forward momentum, and for the past few years, I have done little to change the way I do business, and my business has suffered as a result.

I've tried partnering with a few web developers. I've lost money on a few partnership projects, and haven't found the right fit yet, so I'm currently unsure if that is the way I wish to proceed. I bought a big fat book about CSS programming that is staring me in the face. I know I need to adapt, but I'm not sure if plunging into CSS is the best way to invest my time and energy.

Or maybe it's time for a more radical shift, one that requires the pursuit of a completely different career? I have been assessing my talents and skills, but have yet to find a new direction I wish to pursue. Many of the career counseling books I've read steer me right back to graphic design and marketing, but I have the niggling intuition that there might be another career I'm better suited for - one that will help me better serve my community.

I have been searching for an answer for the past few years, and meanwhile, business continues to slow and options seem to narrow. I feel blocked by confusion and the limits I have imposed upon myself.

It's hard to resist the temptation to blame the current financial problems for contributing at least partially to my personal problems. But that relegates me to the role of victim, and I firmly believe that the path to success requires taking responsibility for all my actions (and inaction, as the case may be).

I realize that there is another way I need to adapt. I have been clinging to the belief that since this is my problem, I have to figure it out for myself. But I have to confess that I have been doing a poor job of solving this problem on my own.

Yes, I am responsible for making the final decisions about how to proceed from this crossroads. But I have to admit that right now, I need help. I know myself - once I find the right solution, I'll do the work. That's where I shine.

In Jonathan Fields' post, he offers some very viable business solutions to his optometrist. I need help to find the solutions that I am currently incapable of seeing. And I pledge to be open to right solution when it lands in my lap.

When I started this blog, I reminded myself that if it was to offer value, it would begin with the admission that I don't have all the answers, and become more valuable through the recounting of my journey from the crossroads where I now stand to choosing a new course in my life that will lead to increased happiness, fulfillment and prosperity.

So starting here and now, I'm asking for help. Your advice is welcome - I am soliciting it! Please send me your ideas, referrals, links to articles, book recommendations, suggestions, comments and insights. I promise graciously accept your generous input and seriously consider each and every tidbit you have to offer.

I'm done shivering and complaining, and I'm ready to come in out of the cold.

Thanks in advance for your wisdom, your support and your help!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Mid-Winter's Comma

The most interesting thing I ever heard said about the comma has to do with its function in relation to the passage of time. When you read text aloud, the comma denotes a place to insert a pause - a short period of silence to allow you to digest the previous phrase before delving into the next.

I have just been given the gift of a big plump comma by my girls: Beth, my fiancee and Rebecca, my 8-year-old "practically" daughter. They have just departed for a 5-day trip to West Virginia, where Beth is calling at the Contradancer's Delight Holiday dance festival.

Part of me has been dreading the time alone. I mean, it's the holidays, right? It's not a time to be alone, it's a time to gather around family and friends and create our own warmth on these darkest, coldest days of the year - especially after experiencing such a difficult year. Right?

But the more I think about it, a pause for reflection is just what I need right now.

It's been a humdinger of a year - one that included the short sale of my home and my filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Needless to say, my lifestyle has changed drastically, and I have struggled to adapt. Most of the challenge to adapt has centered around my emotional state. It's a lot to digest.

My fiancee has been amazing, understanding and supportive. I don't know where I'd be without her. She's beginning to convince me that unconditional love really is possible.

One of my biggest challenges is holding it together as my fiancee and I co-parent a very precocious 8-year-old. There are times when I simply want to turn off the world and meditate, or quietly plan my next steps - ironically that seems to be when our small house is the most chaotic and noisy. Sometimes, I remember to breathe deeply and take it in stride. More often, unfortunately, I succumb to frustration and impatience, asking curtly to be left alone. This tends to happen at the moments when my fiancee and/or daughter need attention the most. Eventually, I settle down and approach my girls to apologize for being such a grump and then make the time to give them the attention they deserve.

Though I already miss them (they've been gone maybe 90 minutes?!), I know I must make the best of this time.  Though the girls wish I was with them, they know I need a little solitude, and let me have it without a second thought. So for me, 'tis the season for introspection.

I want to explore my options, decide what my next move will be. Right now, the choices seem overwhelming: A new career? A slight shift in career? What kind of shift? Where to search for guidance? What can I do differently right now that will benefit me and those around me?

At this moment, I think the best thing to do is to look, listen and explore. I want to limit distractions, which can be so easy indulge. I have some great books to read. I can meditate. I can sit in the sun and listen to the birds go about their business. I can teach myself a few more web development tricks. I can simply BE.

In short, I can honor that comma by being as present as possible during this generous pause between Christmas and New Year's. I pledge to keep my eyes, ears and mind wide open and create as much mid-Winter's silence and peace as I can. I will trust that by embracing the void for a few days, the very  things I need will arrive to fill it.

And lastly, I will heed the message my daughter left me just before she left:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

When Being Right Can Be Wrong

I had a mini-epiphany today. I starting thinking about my years as co-host of a weekly community radio program, and the stories I chose to cover. About 18 months before housing prices sunk, before the so-called "recession" picked up steam, I pored over dozens of articles predicting financial calamity was on its way to most everyone in our nation and the world.

I thought the best way I could serve our listeners was to warn them about the upcoming fiscal crisis. I felt that if our listeners had knowledge of the factors that precipitated the financial hard times, they could better protect themselves as the markets began to shift. I grew frustrated that more people weren't heeding my warnings.

Every Monday evening, I'd take to the microphone and sound the alarm bell, saying, "The economy is going to hell in a handbasket!" I didn't use those exact words, but this basic thought became my mantra, and I chanted it week after week.

As a news/opinion broadcaster, I was also concerned with my credibility. I prided myself on researching all my stories, on making sure the information I presented was accurate and current. I took care to present fact as fact, and opinion as opinion. And when I did present opinion, I represented it cleary as such, and supported it with as much data as possible to show why I thought my opinion was valid. Basically, I wanted my opinion to be correct.

When I told listeners, "The economy is going to hell in a handbasket!", I wanted to be right. I'd often say "I hope I'm wrong about this", but deep inside, my ego was concerned with my credibility, so in essence, I really wanted to be right. God forbid the economy should remain stable and I end up with egg on my face!

When I look back, I realize I focused more on stories involving people who were being harmed by the economic trends and I minimized covering stories about people who remained resilient despite the fiscal challenges. I thought the resilient folks were probably anomalies, so I discounted them. My own need to be right was affecting which news stories I chose to cover on the radio show.

Unfortunately, I took my need to be right a step further. What better way to prove my claims but to show the economy downturn affect me personally, and in a big way? And that's exactly what happened. From personal experience, I could now say, "See? I was right!"

I'm not saying that external conditions didn't play a part in what happened to me personally, but I am saying that my attitude and intention toward how the economy would affect me played a much bigger part in my personal economic downturn.

In other words, my need to be right didn't serve me very well.

I realize now that in order to turn things around, I need to change that mantra. I need to find a better mantra that will help me better serve myself and my family so we can prosper, which in turn will provide the resources I need to serve those around me.

What would that new mantra be? Maybe this: "I have the intelligence, talent and resources to thrive, no matter what the external economic trends may bring. I am able to prosper and find abundance, and to show others how to do the same." Repeat after me!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Gift

Yesterday, I met with John Miles, the owner of Integritive, an Asheville web development company, to discuss partnering on a project. John's company has grown steadily over recent years, due to his team's professionalism, integrity, and dedication to generosity, value and service. Integritive has also received press coverage for the kindnesses they have performed in the community. Needless to say, I respect John immensely.

After we discussed the project, I asked John for some advice regarding my own business, which is in dire need of resuscitation. We discussed ways that I could stay ahead of current online trends to become more marketable.

During our conversation, I mentioned that I thought marketing was like sowing seeds in the corner of a field, but that you shouldn't necessarily expect plants to sprout in that same corner of the field. Instead, plants might sprout in another section of the field, where you least expect growth to occur. The important thing is that the marketing work is accomplished, that the intention has been sown. After that, it is best to trust that the effort will bear fruit.

With that, John walked over to a conference room shelf and handed me a book. John mentioned that he had met one of the authors of the book, who told him of the very same phenomenon I had just described.

The book John gave me is called The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. John said I could have the book under one condition - that I read it. I started reading the book last night, and though I have only covered a few chapters, I have discovered the basic tenet of the book:

The key to success is giving.

This got me thinking about my business, and the times it has prospered most.

Back in the 80s, I was an avid hang glider pilot. In addition to soaring above the mountains of California, I gave back to the hang gliding community by editing the local club's newsletter. Through the newsletter, I met a couple British hang glider pilots who worked for a software company. They introduced me to the Macintosh, which I knew would revolutionize the way I worked. Soon thereafter, Brits left the company they worked for to start their own venture, and gave me the job of creating all their marketing materials. That project allowed me to quit my 9 to 5 job and start my own graphic design business. Editing that newsletter lead to two gifts - my introduction to computer graphics, and the start of my graphic design business, which is now 23 years old!

When I started playing Appalachian fiddle, I created a website,, dedicated to my passion: Southern string band music that was popular over a century ago. The site contained no advertising; it was a labor of love. Before long, a popular fiddler contacted me to ask if I could do music CD package design for his upcoming album. "Of course!" I replied. That fiddler put me in touch with the record label that was producing his album. That was 1996. I have been working with that record label ever since. Other musicians and traditional music labels sought me out and also awarded me their projects. For the past dozen or so years, graphic design for the traditional music industry has accounted for at least half of my business.

When the Supreme Court decided the 2000 election, I realized that having political opinions was not enough - it was time to become politically active. As soon as I made that decision, opportunities arose. I lead a delegation to a then-Senator John Edwards' field office to protest the imminent Iraq war. I became involved in a local Peace Coalition. When the war began, our local police unjustly arrested many law-abiding protesters, and I joined a movement to hold our police force more accountable. Later, I helped found a group that prevented a private developer from building a hotel on public park land. I co-hosted a community radio show that focused on news and politics. For each of these causes, I donated my time and my graphic talent. I created logos, bumper stickers, posters, announcements to help market our causes. During this period, I was very happy. I felt connected and valuable, and my business thrived.

On the radio show, I began to focus on the economic downturn, the greedy corporations who were exploiting our government and our citizens for their own gain. I became emotionally invested in the downward financial trends. I became afraid. I saw the house I had just bought plummet in value. I watched my business wither.

As a consequence, my generosity waned. I curtailed pro-bono projects, and started worrying only about myself, and my own survival. I stopped participating in activist causes. Business shrunk even further, and I became more tight-fisted as a reaction, which lead to a bigger decrease in business. Fear turned to desperation, and now it seems like I barely have the resources to pay for essentials.

In short, I became so worried about my own welfare that I forgot to give, and that fed the downward spiral. I am ready to change direction.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of The Go-Giver. I need to remember how gratifying it is to give generously of myself without expecting anything in return. I want to get back in the practice of giving unconditionally. From past experience, I know that the rewards will come, and will exceed my wildest expectations.

Starting now, I will keep my eyes wide open for opportunities that allow me to share my talents with the world. I know those opportunities will practically land in my lap. And I will trust that through sharing of myself, prosperity will return - both for myself, and for all those around me.

Also read: "When Doing Good Helps A Company's Bottom Line" by John Miles.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Grand Ebb

It's the Winter Solstice. At 12:47pm, the sun was at its lowest angle to the earth and the daylight was the shortest of the year.

It seems appropriate that financially, I am at about the lowest point in my career. Today, my fiancee and I debated about buying birdseed for the local birds, since the ground is covered with snow. I never thought I'd see the day that buying a little birdseed would be an extravagance.

There is no room for luxuries in my current life. Anything we purchase must have a purpose.

In the last year, I have lost my home to a short sale, I have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and even still, I'm trying to figure out what other bills I can jettison. It seems like almost every day, I am redefining what is essential. This month, my business has generated the least about of billable hours in its 23-year history.

I'm hoping this is the bottom of the ebb. I'm hoping this is simply the lull of a mega-recession coupled with the usual holiday lull.

I'm not sure what to do next. Do I scramble for a menial job? Do I bone up on web development skills I need to catch up on? What is the best next move? Will it be enough?

And those are all the practical, physical considerations. Those seem like the tip of the iceberg compared to the emotional considerations: Am I enough? At age 51, do I still have value? Do I still have something I can contribute to society that will allow me not just to subsist, but to thrive?

I don't even think I mean "thrive" in the same terms I might have thought about the word even 2 years ago. I don't need to be rich. I don't even need to buy new clothes once a year, though that would be nice. I want to be comfortable, I don't want to have to worry about money, and I want to feel acknowledged and valuable. And I want to feel connected to friends and family.

I'm struggling to figure out how to achieve these things and have emotional peace. These things feel far away at the moment.

Maybe today, I need to accept this is where I am, and hold out hope on this darkest day, as many people have done for countless centuries, that the sun will return, that warm days will come again, that abundance will return, that I will find my way back to peace, contentment and happiness.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Removing the implant.

I am in the process finding ways to avoid shopping by growing and making what I need. That's not so easy in today's consumer culture - though my fiancee has a spinning wheel, we're not really up to making our own clothes just yet - but that day may come.

But the part that's most challenging isn't the physical aspect of shying away from the shiny storefronts - it's the emotional and psychological struggles that confront me now that shopping isn't the primary focus of my life.

Since the first day my mother plopped my diapered butt in front of a television, marketing people have been diligently finding ways to tickle my buying bone. They hired teams of psychologists to get in the recesses of my head and implant synapses that speak to me with messages like "I gotta have that thing! It will make me feel successful and happy. My friends will like me more if I have that thing. I'll get that thing home and unwrap it from its shiny package and I'll experience unbridled bliss!"

And even though countless times, I would get the thing home and a few moments after unwrapping it, the promised bliss would melt away like a crayon in the sun, and I would realize for a flicker of an instant that the advertisements had lied to me yet again. But then, the implanted messages would resume, and I would head for the store again to find the next trinket that would make me whole again.

For decades, these messages have been subtly and expertly implanted into our brains! In blatant disregard of the Hippocratic oath, marketing psychologists have turned our own monds against us, exploiting our mental weaknesses to coax a few more bucks from our wallets via a never-ending cycle of consumerism that has left many of us in a cycle of indebtedness that places us further and further from the real fulfillment and happiness we desire.

In the face of this onslaught, it's easy to fall into the role of victim, but I know I must take responsibility for my part in this destructive dance. After all, I went into the marketing business and spent my career as a graphic designer, creating attractive images to lure people into buying my clients' products. I'm one of them. I know their tricks better than most. But I still fall for those tricks just like everyone else.

I still want to go buy something to make myself feel better. Now that I am trying to change my habits, feelings of failure and shame creep into my psyche when I'm not vigilant. When they do, I head for some of the antidotes I've found that work for me: family, sun, earth, bird songs, playing fiddle, trees, woodworking.

These things help, but I'm in the process of changing some deeply-ingrained habits, and I find that these defeatist feelings well up inside me fairly often. I get discouraged frequently.

So I created this blog as much for myself as anyone else. I need a place to vent frustrations, to explore new ways of living, to purge myself of unnecessary stuff, to grow from within, to rediscover the people around me and create a richer, more satisfying life for myself. At this point, I really have no choice.

So I invite you to come on this journey with me. I'm making this journey public in the hope that sharing my experiences and discoveries will help a few other people along the way.

I'll start by sharing a book that is helping me let go of all the accumulum I've purchased over the years. The book is called "Clutter Busting" by Brooks Palmer. I was lucky enough to find a second-hand copy - maybe you can, too.


Until next time,
Rich Richard