Priming the Pump for Inspiration

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Over the past few months, I’ve felt frustrated. I love writing. It’s like dancing for my soul. Yet, when I sit to write only a stray sentence or two comes and nothing else.

I became interested in this phenomenon. What was the cause of what is commonly called “writer’s block”? As my frustration grew, I sat less often to write. I felt despair that I would be able to get back in the groove, so to speak.

I read my past writings. Some were good, and I wondered who wrote them and my frustration increased. I would sit quietly early in the morning and make sure I didn’t have distractions. Nothing changed. A few sentences came and that’s it.

One day I picked up a book of poetry by Billy Collins. I was grilling hamburgers and wanted to read between turning the burgers. As I read, my mind felt freed. Ideas came flowing and the apparent blockage was gone.

The next day, I continued the practice of reading what inspired me and left me with questions. Boom. Ideas flowed and the blockage wasn’t there. As I thought about this, I realized that my mind had gotten into a rut so to speak. Busy doing stuff and little or no time to disconnect and allow the creative flow.

I wondered if this isn’t at the root of all creative blockages. We get caught up in the rhythm of life. The getting up, going to work, coming home and going to bed routine that becomes all life is. This routine gets more and more entrenched, and creativity ebbs until it’s mostly gone.

The way out is to stop. Find out what inspires you. Could be seeing a movie; walking in the woods; gazing at a sunset; a fine meal. Whatever it is, approach it outside your routine. Make the time to fully enjoy the experience. I don’t claim that my realization is universal or will help you. What I do know is that it is right for me and may help someone else reading this. If it does, let me know.

So you want to be a Star?

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I think somewhere inside each of us, we want to shine. We have a desire to be thought of as a “star” in our world. We just have to look at the intense interest in celebrities to see evidence.

I’ve been working once again with my old friend, Jeffrey Hayzlett. Over the past 18 years, I’ve watched him rise from amazing to a star. I’ve had the opportunity to closely observe what makes up the change in him.

So many people come around our work and want to be like him. I can see why they would want this. Jeff has been generous with so many to show them what he does so they can appropriate it if they want. Yet, few have been able to grasp the golden ring of their ambition. Why?

There are five qualities that Jeff exhibits that few have. The first is Jeff has an amazing clarity of vision. He is clear what he wants and uses that clarity in making all the key decisions in his life. Most people have an idea of what they want but hold back for a variety of reasons.

Which leads to the second reason why others don’t succeed as he does – commitment. Jeff has an unfailing commitment to do all that’s required to bring his dreams to life. If this means three red-eye flights in a row, he does it. If it means he needs to shift his business model, he does so without looking back.

The third reason is courage. Most of us worry in some form about failing at what we do. We know this worry will likely attract the thing we are afraid of and yet, we continue to worry. Jeff is fearless and bold in his leaping into projects and initiatives that he feels are necessary for his vision.

The fourth reason is relationships. Jeff is in relationships with literally thousands of people. This is not a cursory kind of relationship we see often in social media. He knows people and what they are concerned with. He is constantly looking for ways to connect with them in meaningful ways and link them to each other.

The final reason is generosity. Jeff does not engage people thinking about what he can get out of them. He looks for ways he can offer something of value to them. He’s been doing this for all his adult life. His network of friends and associates have all benefited in some way from this extreme generosity.

So you want to be a star. The path is clear. Are you prepared to do what it takes to make that happen?

Finding the Quite

I must be on a fall theme. I’m sitting here in the early morning, enjoying the fire in our newly installed woodstove. There’s something about heating with wood that you can witness burning through the glass doors of the stove that brings warmth that seems unavailable in traditional heating.

The treat for me of this quietness is the feeling of grabbing some precious time for myself. Just the fire and I, sitting here talking with you. In the daily quest for a life filled with service and learning and family and friends and everything outdoors, I seem to have overlooked quiet time.

I know it’s easy to justify this oversight. Sure, I’m busier than I can remember. Physically I feel pretty maxed out, in terms of my capacity. Yet, I know that if I can pry away minutes that have no agenda or mission or task, and just sit with the silence, I feel rejuvenated. Nothing else restores me this way.

I feel a bit selfish. There is so much to do. I know this inner voice of concern is a distraction, and not true anyway. Earlier in the week, when I started writing again, I felt like I had regained a lost friend. For that’s what writing is for me. A friend, that listens patiently, offers reflection if asked, and never complains about anything.

I know that my day has a different music whenI start it this way. I tend to be more patient, more aware and way more peaceful. What needs to get done, does and things don’t, weren’t that important anyway.

So why doesn’t every day start this way, I wonder. Simply put, I get sloppy. I know that being deliberate is so much richer than living in reaction to the stimulus around me. Yet, I forget this simple truth and fall into the pattern of reactivity.  The good news for this morning is, I remembered. I celebrate remembering and sharing it with you.

May you find your own quiet moments today and remember what matters most.

Why would I do something that’s less than great?

I love being behind the microphone. In 2003, I hosted a radio program in Cincinnati. From the first broadcast, it felt like home. I eventually walked away from this program, when I couldn’t produce it the way that I felt would be the best program we could create.

I moved from Cincinnati to the Chicago suburbs, and knew at the right time I’d be back on the radio. I loved listening to This American Life. I felt their storytelling was the best on radio. As I listened to an episode, a vision of how I would come back to radio emerged. I knew that the most powerful force on the planet wasn’t government or religion, it was business. Businesses were setting the agenda for our communities, countries, in fact, the planet. This agenda was often narrowly focused on maximizing profit at any cost. This cost was producing significant challenges that weren’t always obvious. Traditional media, including public radio, was ignoring the real behind the scenes stories of the good, bad and ugly of business. I knew it was important to get these stories out.

As this idea percolated, I could feel the qualities of the new program. I wanted each episode to be a masterpiece. Everything about it enhanced the story telling, and this attention to quality would enable it to be a widely listened to program. For me to stay focused on this dream required deadlines, which in the radio business meant having a regular time and date for the program to be broadcast.

I started looking for a radio station to be our home. I discovered a local AM radio station that offered about half its air time to paid programming. I contacted the station and we quickly struck a deal. OK, now I have a start time, but how am I going to find a team to produce this program so it matches the dream I’m have.

My previous experience was with live radio. I felt that this format wouldn’t support the quality I wanted. I also didn’t know anything about the production stuff. I advertised on Craig’s list, and after several false starts found someone who could produce the programming I was envisioning.

We were off to the races, and Business Matters was birthed. Our first program was not half bad and it gave us a good reference point to improve from. I was having a great time and the quality improved from week to week. We added a producer, who helped with finding guests and promoting the program. The only problem was that no one was listening. At least, that’s what I thought.

How could I find out if my hunch was right? I decided to run a promotion on the program. The first ten people who called our toll-free number, would receive $50. That’s right, free money. We received NO CALLS. What could I do? Our producer heard that there was a potential change in the programming lineup at WLUW, the station owned by Loyola University in Chicago. We met with the station manager and boom, we were on the air in Chicago within four weeks.

The program team changed over time. For the first year and a half,we consistently produced programs that were good. Then I took my eye off the ball. From time to time, we would create programs that rocked, but we also broadcast mediocre programming. I had a great rationalizing story, “the program may not be great, but it’s good enough.”

When I see this sentiment, I cringe. How have I let this happen? I lost touch with the dream. I’ve allowed perceived limitations to justify inferior content. I’m not saying this from the perspective of comparing our program to something else. I’m saying this because the program doesn’t feel like the dream.

I would like to say that I realized this from some moment of personal insight. That’s not the case. I was recently inspired to find collaborators for the program, who feel the dream, and can help bring that dream to the radio. One of these people wrote me a note yesterday about a recent program. He was blunt, which I’m very grateful for. He said the program was disappointing compared to some of our earlier work. I knew in an instant he was right. I also knew I needed to either renew my commitment to the dream or stop production.

I recognized all the times in my life where I have drifted away from the dreams I have been inspired by. Each time, the underlying dynamics were the same. I compromised. I allowed myself to believe in some perceived limitation rather than remembering that if the dream is right I will be able to find everything needed for its continued creation.

Today, I am both energized and humbled. I’m looking through my life to see where I may be compromising, and if I am stopping.

How about you? What are your dreams? Do you follow them or allow yourself be distracted? There’s no day like today to come alive again.

Water, Water Everyone and Not a Drop for Me!

It was raining this morning, and that sets me into a mood of musing about water. I grew up on the middle of the bayous of Louisiana, and water always seemed plentiful. Then I moved to California in the mid-70s. I began to understand the delicate balance between water and our human needs.

There is a good amount of water in northern California from the snow pack of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and a system of reservoirs. Much of this water is sent via an aqueduct to the farming regions of the San Joaquin valley and the population centers of the southern part of the state.

There was great tension over who got the water that was, more often than not, resolved by the power brokers in the state capitol. This system was never particularly fair, and we just accepted it as the fate of living in a less populated part of the state.

In my water musings, I started listening to a Business Matters interview from October of 2008. In it, I talked with Alan Snitow, the executive producer of the documentary Thirst and its companion book.

Now, I always thought that water was something that was “owned” by the people. I found that to be changing rapidly with grave consequences.  When private interests “own” the water, they can set whatever price they choose, for a commodity that we can’t live without. My sad realization was that this situation has continued on this path over the past 3 years.

Hmmm…what do I want to do about that? I’m not sure. I invite you to listen and see what you think.

Thomas

Interview with Alan Snitow, Co-Producer and Co-Author, Thirst |
Download MP3

Poetry in Business

Since my original interview with poet David Whyte, I have brought this conversation back for renewed listening at least once a year. David is a most unusual man. He was trained as a marine zoologist and found his heart in the words that flow from his soul.

Why David is unusual is that he brings the muse of poetry to awaken corporate leaders to their inner courage and creativity. He offers this rich context to the inner sanctums of organizations large and small and, as a teacher, to places of business learning including Oxford.

I know you will find a pleasant knock of the door of “aha” moments should you listen to this 2008 interview.

Listen to this conversation | Download MP3

Conversation with Paul Glover on Local Currency and Health Care Self-Sufficiency

Starting today, I’m adding a mid-week feature to this blog. I will be sharing with you conversations I’ve had with people who inspire me, and who offer helpful insights for living a life without limitations.

Beginning in May of 2008, I was on the air with a syndicated radio program. This program was titled “Business Matters” for the first three years, and “From the Inside Out” thereafter.

Over the course of the next few months, I will offer interviews from these radio programs. If you want to further explore our archives, you can go to www.businessmatters.net

CONVERSATION WITH PAUL GLOVER

I often stumble over the belief that one person’s actions don’t matter, particularly as it applies to changing the behavior of big institutions. On occasion, I come across someone who doesn’t have this belief. WOW, what change they cause!

In today’s interview, I speak with Paul Glover. We talk a lot in my community about keeping it local. Paul has been an enthusiastic supporter of this movement since the early 90’s. He saw that one of the ways to assist the exchange of local goods and services was the creation of a local “currency”. In 1991, Ithaca Hours was started. Today, over 900 participants publicly accept Ithaca Hours. Additionally, some local employers and employees have agreed to pay or receive partial wages in Ithaca Hours, further continuing the goal of keeping money local.

Paul’s contributions didn’t stop with Ithaca Hours. In 1997, he led a group in founding the Ithaca Health Alliance. The Ithaca Health Alliance is concerned with the problems in our healthcare system — especially the hardships faced by the uninsured. The mission of the Ithaca Health Alliance is to facilitate access to health care for all, and to improve the quality of health choices and knowledge available to community members.

Paul continues to bring his unlimited exuberance to urban challenges in his new home city of Philadelphia. Let me know how my conversation with Paul inspires you!

Listen to this conversation | Download MP3

Until tomorrow,
Thomas