just enough

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I had a chat over coffee with the pastor of our local church. He asked me what sorts of things I’d been up to. After I’d recounted to him everything I could think of, he looked surprised. “Wow, you’re doing a lot.”

“Yeah,” I admitted, “I guess I am.”

I don’t bring this up as a matter of pride. Internally, I’m usually driving myself so hard that most of the time I feel like I’m not doing nearly enough. But most of the time, when I tell people all the activities I’m involved in and projects I’m working on, I get the same reaction.

My pastor had a few follow-up questions: was I doing too much and was I spending enough time with my wife?

Both great questions.

For the second one, yes, I believe so. We try to be intentional about spending at least a couple evenings a week just hanging out. And we do have intermittent date nights. I tell ya, it really helps having family nearby to assist  with childcare.

As for the first question, I really don’t know if I’m doing too much. But I do think it’s an important question to consider on a regular basis.

On our anniversary, my wife and I visited a local museum. One thing I enjoy about where we live is how much history it has, especially for a place on the western side of the US. At the museum, we saw many depictions of the frontier life.

The common family lived rather simply back then: mostly they just did their regular work from sunup to sundown and only saw their neighbors for church on Sunday or for big community events.

Life is very different today. We’re connected with so many people and we do a lot more than just working the farm or taking care of household chores.

That’s not a bad thing, but just being more busy isn’t good either.

So how do you (or I) know whether or not we’re too busy?

Here’s a couple determining questions:


First: Are you getting enough rest? 

If you don’t take time to take a break—to reflect and relax—you’re bound to burn yourself out. 

I’m not super strict on observing the Sabbath, but most Sundays are rest days for our family. It’s a healthy practice to plan at least one day a week where you don’t work, or at least keep it to a minimum.

Also, lack of sleep is a proven detriment to personal health. It’s something I struggled with for a while, but have been focusing on this las year. As a result, I feel much better overall.


Second: Are you stressed out?

How do you feel most days? Do you take on more than you can reasonably handle?

I know this one can be hard to gauge (it is for me anyhow), but if you notice a distinct lack of contentment and gratitude, if you don’t have any margin in your life, or if you aren’t spending regular quality time with the people closest to you, then you’re probably doing too much.

It’s one of the reasons I recently changed the posting schedule on this site to one every two weeks. When I first started this blog, I was actually posting twice a week. I managed it for a while, but it got exhausting and wasn’t worth the stress.

It’s really easy to take on a new commitment and a whole lot harder to quit one. I’ve heard that Bob Goff gives something up every week. I can appreciate that, though I don’t think I’m there.

So, how are you doing? Is it time to let go or back out of a few things in your life?

As for me, I’m doing alright, positioned on the thin edge of just enough.

Still, you should probably ask me again in a week or two. Until then, the cows need a’milkin’ and the butter a’ churnin’.

making the cut

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Cutting content is one of the hardest parts of editing. Seriously. 

I mean, I put all that time into writing something, why should I get rid of it now? But, as the saying goes, learning to kill your darlings is an essential part of becoming a good writer. You’ve gotta be willing to let go of those things you love that are bringing everything else down.

I’d like to say I’m getting better at this. Even so, how do I know if something should go? I’ll scrutinize over every passage and phrase, wondering if it’s just another “darling” or an exquisite piece of prose.

Alright, so it’s most likely the former, but how can I be sure?

I’ve found life can be this way too.

It’s easy to accumulate a bunch of stuff—be it physical possessions or personal responsibilities—and you start to wonder: do I really need all this? Is it helping me or dragging me down?

That’s what Marie Kondo (from Tidying Up) is all about: organizing your closet and your life, getting rid of those things that don’t produce joy.

But even if you make joy the qualifier for what goes and what stays, it still isn’t always easy.

Does that old baseball cap or cardigan bring me joy? Maybe…I think.

I don’t personally get a lot of joy out of clothing to begin with, it’s more a question of whether or not it would be useful to have in the future. It’s certainly that way with the camping and sporting gear I’ve acquired over the years.

Sure, I haven’t used it in a long time and tend to forget I even have it, but there just might be (and sometimes is) that one instance where I’m really glad I still have it. I mean, who knows when I might need to pull that old sweatband out for an 80’s themed Halloween costume!

This is probably no surprise, but, when it comes to travel, I’m a notorious overpacker—OK, a recovering overpacker.

Whether we’re talking about editing your writing or your life, how do you decide what makes the cut?

Joy is fine and well, but first I say go with your gut. If you’re even questioning whether or not you need it, there’s a good chance you don’t.

Next, ask why you even have it in the first place, what’s its purpose in being there? Lives and stories change, it’s easy to end up with a bunch of junk that, while once useful, no longer serves a purpose.

Following that, examine how it fits in with everything else. A good book has cohesion: everything belongs together. The same is true of a good life—when you choose to spend your money, time, and attention on the things that matter most to you, you’ll naturally experience more fulfillment.

Not all of my commitments bring me immediate joy all the time (household chores for instance), but I know they’re a good and important part of my life. They fit with my role in the family. Having plenty of utensils in the kitchen drawer makes sense, because being able to host other people is an important part of my life. For someone else, that might be an unnecessary possession.

And last, if you still aren’t sure, get advice. Ask someone with experience whose insight you trust. It may be your parent, writing coach, coworker, counselor, or even that neighbor with six broken down Landrovers and a dried up swimming pool full of yard waste in their backyard.

Okay, maybe that neighbor could use some of your help when it comes to letting go. But who am I to judge? It could be that rolling a rover into a pool of yard waste is the most amazing experience a person can have. I’ll probably never know—and I’m alright with that.

creative types

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No, despite what the title may have you believe, this isn’t a post about fonts. You’ll need to find a professional typographer if you want one of those.

However, this is much more fun.

You’ve probably seen those online personality tests that tell you what type of person you are, like what Disney princess you most identify with or something like that. Yeah, I finally saw Wreck it Ralph Breaks the Internet. Fun movie at that.

Well, someone shared this on a Facebook writing group I participate in and I gotta say, it’s pretty cool. Even if you care not for such quizzes, the visuals alone are worth the journey.

So, enjoy this brief and splendid test brought to you by Adobe Create Magazine.

Creative Types


If you’re curious, you can find descriptions for all the creative personalities right here.

So, what were you? And do you feel like it’s accurate?

According to the test, I’m The Visionary. It seems right, or at least pretty close to the mark. I mean, let’s face it, us creative types don’t adhere to labels, amiright?

mindset

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I may have mentioned this a time or two before, but the way you view something can really impact your behavior. This is just as true when you’re learning something new.

Along those lines, I got this email from a health coach friend of mine, Jennifer Brown, who works for OPTAVIA. I enjoyed the content and thought it was more than worth passing on, so here it is:

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

According to a Stanford University study, researcher and psychology professor Carol Dweck, demonstrates that people cultivate one of two mindsets in a learning experience. In a fixed mindset, people believe that their qualities are innate and unable to change. They also believe that pure talent leads to success with no effort required.

On the other hand, those that have a growth mindset believe that learning and intelligence can improve with time and experience. They believe that their effort has a direct impact on their success, so they are usually more willing to put in the time and work since they believe that their abilities are just the starting point for potential.

It’s important to develop a growth mindset to realize your ability to succeed, no matter what obstacle you may face. It can also have a positive impact on your self-esteem and relationships. Here are some tips for developing a growth mindset:


View challenges as opportunities.
 Embrace challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow. The more we challenge ourselves to achieve a healthier lifestyle, the more opportunities we open up for ourselves.

  1. Choose learning over approval. If we’re more concerned with getting acceptance from others, we lose perspective on the real benefits for reaching our goal. It’s important to focus on improving ourselves for our own benefit to increase our growth potential.

  2. Focus on the process. Major change usually does not happen overnight, so it’s important to be realistic about the timeline for reaching our goals. Implementing new, healthy habits in the learning process will make them more likely to stick over time.

  3. Reward your effort. Set mini milestone goals to reward yourself for all of the effort and progress that you’ve made along your journey. For example, if you’ve stuck to a healthy sleep schedule for two consecutive weeks, treat yourself to a massage or movie date with a friend or loved one.

  4. Reflect on your learning. Journaling is a great way to reflect on the new lessons you’ve learned. Keep track of healthy tips and also document your physical and emotional feelings to allow the lessons to sink in. This can help identify what is working well or if there are any changes that need to be made. 

authentic

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Authenticity has been a big buzz word for a few years now. These days, calling a product or person “authentic” is high praise.

But I have a problem with it. 

Now, I’ve got nothing wrong with being authentic in itself, but when you’re trying to be authentic or when your authentic appearance is part of some ulterior motive, that’s another thing altogether. 

This quote sums it up pretty well:

“Sincerity - if you can fake that, you've got it made.”

― George Burns


There’s another side to that coin. If something is practiced and performed, does that make it dishonest? I expect all manner of content creators have asked this of themselves.

As a side note, I felt like the movie Galaxy Quest was a pretty enjoyable little exploration of that issue.

In my very brief experience recording for a podcast, this is something that has come up frequently. Even though I’m talking off the cuff for most of it, the whole thing still feels like a performance in a way. Knowing I’m being recorded and that the recording will be freely available online has a very heavy influence on how I think and what I say.

I don’t expect that will ever change, but I also don’t believe it’s necessarily a bad thing.

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a scripted show, but it felt as genuine as anything I’ve seen. On the other hand, many ”reality” shows feel completely fake.

To be authentic is to be true to form, the real you. But what does that mean exactly? It seems to me a performance can be more revealing, more vulnerable, than a candid recording. Not always though.

This is still pretty fresh for me and I’m sure I’ll have more to say later, but I’ll leave you with these last few thoughts:

When you pour yourself into your artwork, whatever form that may take, it’s impossible to hide the real you. On the other hand, if you’re trying hard to be yourself, you’re probably failing at it.

a beautiful game

Some time ago I finished Patrick Rothfuss’s book, The Wise Man’s Fear, the second volume in The Kingkiller Chronicle. It’s not a book I’d recommend for everyone, but I did enjoy it. Now if only Rothfuss would hurry up and finish the series instead of working on all those side projects! I only kid (mostly).

Anyways, there’s this game in the story called Tak. Though only briefly described in the story, it bears similarities with Go. I only just learned that notable game designer James Ernest actually worked with Rothfuss to create a real life version of the game, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter. Neat, huh?

Anyways, in the book, the main character Kvothe plays Tak against Bredon, a mysterious acquaintance who later becomes a friend. Though Kvothe is ingenious and a quick learner, he has a hard time beating Bredon. At one point, Kvothe celebrates after a near victory, but he receives no congratulations from his opponent.

Bredon instead corrects Kvothe’s approach. He’s been going about it all wrong. The point of the game is not to win, the point is to play a beautiful game.

Obviously, this isn’t just about the game, it’s a metaphor for life, and one I find profound. 

There are so many ways we can “win” at life (I mean the real thing, not the board game with the same name).

Winning (at least in the world’s eyes) usually involves acquiring wealth, property, possessions, fame, family, or even making significant contributions to society.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of those, but it is possible (I’d even say easier) to gain them without having played a beautiful game. On the other hand, it is possible to have not gained those things, and yet to have played (lived) beautifully.

But what does a beautiful game look like, exactly?

I think the Apostle Paul says it pretty well in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

When the goal is to live and love beautifully, we are the only thing standing in our way.

No loss, no defeat, no setback can deter you from it. The beautiful game, much like Tak, is simple yet deep. It is easily understood but takes a lifetime to master.

So, how’s your game going?

attention

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In the past, I’ve made a big deal about focus and how important it is to maintain. I still stand by my words. Or most of them anyway, generally in the same order they were written.

That said, research is showing a particular quality of creative people: something called a leaky attention. I know, sounds kinda messy.

Apparently, the propensity to shift attention often can lead to more creative thought. It makes sense to me;  creativity often means noticing the things other people ignore. And most creatives I’ve met are pretty easily distracted.

Hey what’s that over there?

Whether it’s noticing the sound of a paper bag crunching underfoot, a particular shade of blue painted on the wall, an unusual bug crawling across the table, or the fact that the man in the purple trench coat has been following you for the last three blocks—creatives have a special ability to take in their surroundings and use it toward a creative act.

But there’s a catch, this leaky attention can also become a hindrance when attempting to actually produce creative work, it can distract you from finishing the work itself—or even getting started for that matter. Hey, someone should write a course on how to overcome that. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.

As the Psychology Today article points out:

Artistic creativity is a delicate balance of spontaneity and deliberation. 

I’ve found this to be true in my own life. There is a time to be open, to breathe in the inspiration around you. But once that spark has ignited a flame, you must nourish and protect it. You must concentrate your efforts on building that flame into a bonfire, sheltering it from the winds of distraction. Like a vacuum cleaner, you’ve gotta flip the switch from intake to output. However, unlike my metaphors, fires and vacuums don’t mix. You can take my word on that one.

There are times when it’s best to pay attention and times when you’re better off taking a rain check on it. It takes time and practice to learn the difference. Still, there’s nothing keeping you from trying it now.

But first, I recommend ditching that trench-coated creeper on your trail. Based on his fashion sense, he’s either up to no good or he’s a distant relative of Grimace. Either way, not one to be trusted.

And here’s the link to that article one more time:

The Cognitive Balancing Act of Creativity

childhood dreams

Have you seen Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture

The video has been around for a while, but I just saw it for the first time recently. As a guy who works in the digital gaming industry and at a studio that has been part of multiple VR projects, this is right up my alley.

But even if you care not for such things, this final lecture is more than worth watching. In it, Randy talks about achieving his childhood dream, helping others achieve theirs, and what he’s learned in the process.

He also shares some great insights into brick walls and head fakes. I guess head fakery and walls of brick don’t usually go well together, but they’re great here!

I’m sad Randy isn’t still around, but I think you’ll agree the world is a better place for having had a guy like him in it.

Check it out, why don’t ya.

agency

How much control do you really have over your own life?

That’s a tough one. It’s a question I’ve often wrestled with and I’m not going to pretend I’ve found the perfect answer. 

I can tell you this much: it’s somewhere between absolute control and none at all.

I know. Helpful, right?

There’s a benefit to finding the balance here. If you believe you have no control, you might wonder what the point is in trying. If you think you have total control, you’ll be frustrated and disappointed when, inevitably, things don’t go your way.

Somewhere, there is a place of healthy surrender that allows you to accept what you can’t change and a determination to change what you can.

If this is sounding familiar to you, it’s likely because I’ve touched on it before.

There’s a word that’s come up a lot this past year, one I’ve rested my thoughts upon like a bag of potatoes on a scale. The word: Agency.

Just what is agency?

From wikipedia, agency is:

The capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.

Even in Christian circles (and squares too) there are some major disagreements on how much is up to us. Is God doing everything here or do I have some say in the matter? It all comes down to agency.

In story writing, the necessity to create characters with agency comes up again and again. Characters with strong desires and inner drives—the kind that make things happen—tend to be more interesting than those who just get bullied around by the plot and don’t put up a fight.

Indeed, some of the best stories (in my opinion, and probably yours as well) are those in which the protagonist refuses to back down or give up the fight, no matter how grim the odds. The movies IP Man and Unbroken come to mind here. Sorry, Japanese, you don’t get a lot of love in either of those. Does it help if I say Studio Ghibli is amazing? I mean, come on, a cat bus? Wow.

Where were we? Oh yeah, so where does agency come from? Do we muster it up ourselves or is it granted to us from a higher power? Why do some seem to have more of it than others?

Quite frankly, my dear, I’m not quite sure. There is much to consider about agency.

Like most things, it’s helpful to start with a few investigative questions:

What does agency look like in your life and in the lives of people around you?

Is it something you strive for?

Do you take responsibility for your actions?

Do you own the work you do?

Is anything truly yours?

Like I said, I don’t have the answers. But it’s something to think about isn’t it?

How about this: when I figure it all out, I’ll let you know. Until then, I’m going to try my darnedest to do my best at the things that matter most. But at the same time, I want to work on being humble and thankful for even getting the opportunity to try. 

Can any of us really say we’re the masters of our destiny? Or maybe secret agents of agency?

I have my doubts, but, at the end of the day, I’m just glad to be here and I’m glad to be me. And I’m glad you’re here too.

change of place

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Do you ever find yourself in a mental rut?

You’ve been chewing on a problem for a while, much like a cow and her cud, but so far you’ve got nothing to show for it but the bland taste of cud in your mouth. Ew.

You sit down to write and nothing comes. You just can’t figure out the next step for your grand business plan.

Here’s an idea: why not try a new locale?

This article I found (actually, it landed in my work inbox) offers some strong support for changing your environment as a way to stimulate your brain and help you be more productive, whether you’re on the job or working your creative craft.

Here’s a snippet of said article:

Checking off your tasks in a new location is a way to exercise your brain’s neuroplasticity. Essentially, when confronted with new stimuli your brain responds by creating new pathways and mechanisms to accomplish tasks. So what you see as being more efficient in a different location is actually your brain thinking about the tasks in a different light. By doing this, you are climbing out of the stale rut you were in before, activating your brain’s ability to think about things in a new way. 

Besides relocating, there are other things you can do as well. Try listening to some classical music or alpha waves. Try activating your olfactory senses with some new spices or going to a fragrant restaurant. In short, shock your mind by giving it something out of the norm.

Just be careful where you put your nose while you’re out on the hunt for some creative stimulation. Not all smells were created equal.