Balancing the right and left brains at work and at home

Why I Quit Perfect

I used to put a lot of stock in perfectionism—as the mark of someone genuinely good at what they did, and a necessary trait for those in pursuit of greatness. I did recognize that it’s also an incredible burden; holding yourself against an impossible standard is a lot of work and intrinsically without absolute payoff. But until pretty recently, the whole “reach for the stars and maybe you’ll hit the moon” thing just made a lot of sense, particularly in terms of career. The reasons against were many. There are mountains and years of published wisdom debunking the value of perfectionism, elucidating the importance of mistakes and even failure, about progress-not-perfection, and yet none of that felt personally viable for most of my life. I can’t in good faith say my striving was derivative childhood stuff: sure, my parents had high standards, but they were also flexible and really only half serious. And I do a lot of yoga—subscribe to the philosophy—and perfection has no place in that practice. So why did I gravitate towards it so? Simple: I thought it was effective. In my mind, being hard on yourself—particularly in the pursuit of a talent, career, self actualization—was a practical, motivational tool. A way to stave off the gravitational pull of Lazy. Now, kind of suddenly, I’m over it, both in practice and on principle. Instead of an ideal, I now consider perfectionism a personal inhibitor, a tell revealing weakness over strength. Big change. Getting older has a lot to do with it. 36 is pretty rich in that you’ve got some distance from the insecurities, idealism and identity crises of your 20s and you’ve got a pretty good handle on—if not exactly who you are and what you stand for, because...

The 70% Rule

One of my favorite yoga teachers has said, while cueing various poses, “Make sure you’re only going to 70% of your maximum depth here. Find your 70% point, and hold there.” The first time I heard this, I immediately took pause: Say what? Once, she elaborated a bit more, something along the lines of “You don’t want to max yourself out in any one pose, or in life. It will leave you depleted. Take care to preserve some energy, so you have that for yourself, so you don’t feel totally spent.” The concept struck me hard, and I’ve had to think about it a lot, mainly because it’s so damned counterintuitive to my natural psyche. My most primal instinct, in both yoga and life, is to always give it my all. Always. I’m energetic, and the feeling of being “totally spent” is typically my holy grail, the actual endgame on any given day. Squeezing the juice out of my existence is the mark of time well spent. Put 100% in, get 1000% out. Am I right? In yoga, likewise, I always push myself, always try the thing there is to try. No matter my mood at the outset of a guided practice, or a kind teacher’s reassurances that child’s pose is “always an option”. It generally seems like the best investment of my time to just, well, go to my depth. Still, yoga wisdom is usually pretty wise, and I like to challenge my nature now and then. And, all told, I am sometimes depleted, and not always in the feel-good kind of way, or at least not always at the optimum time. If I use everything I’ve got in...

“The Secret” to Creative Work

I’ve never read The Secret so I might be way off base here. But back when Oprah was hot on it, I recall someone telling me that a big part of the whole Secret is visualization: to go about changing or achieving something in your life, you practice consistent visualization of the outcome in an almost meditative way. Paint the mental picture and refer back to it so attentively, wholeheartedly and frequently…that it eventually becomes real. Or, rather, you begin to naturally design your life choices around the intent of making it real. The hard work part of getting to the place you want to be becomes that much more effortless, easy. There’s more to The Secret than that (at least I assume there is), but this notion alone really resonates with me. I fully buy it, probably because I experience it all the time. Because visualization is not just a self-help principle—it’s an important part of the creative process. It happens intuitively: I’m tasked with an assignment—it could be an identity design or a storyline, a speech or an event theme—and at some point, if I’ve consciously set the right conditions, a picture of it pops into my brain. Sometimes the picture is nuanced and I can see colors and shapes and typefaces, hear a voiceover, the delivery of a pitch. Others, it is kind of devoid of detail, a more general, sensory thing, like a mental mood board. Regardless, this focus on the final outcome lights the fire, gets the wheels turning, and most importantly, it becomes my motivation. It gets me excited to do the hard parts of the work, the actual planning, the editing, the selling, the vetting, the revising—and it carries me through the inevitable tedium that comes...

You’ll Move Mountains

Self-confidence is a pretty consistently hot topic for women. And maybe, below the surface, it’s just as big a thing for men, but we certainly address it more. Women devour magazine articles about the magical age at which we’re finally more comfortable in our own skin, how confidence is key to success in business, how it’s the ultimate beauty secret, how men seem to have more self-esteem than we do, sometimes undeservedly. We give it weight of almost mythical proportion, as the ultimate cure-all. And often, we regard confidence the way we do creativity, like it’s a binary, congenital thing, a trait versus a skill, innate versus obtained. This confidence connundrum—it holds a lot of us back from more fulfilling experiences. And it’s unfortunate, because like most things, confidence can actually be learned, and with practice, even honed. Allow me to anecdote… Throughout high school, I took art classes at the Art Institute downtown. These were a highlight of my week, and my parents were basically awesome about it, both footing the bills and hauling me back and forth across the city to make it happen. And on my sixteenth birthday, they handed me the keys to a brand-new, ten-year-old Toyota Cressida, and taught me to check the oil and jumpstart the engine. Then they kissed me good luck and told me I could take over those Sunday commutes into the Loop, just me, myself and I. Obviously this was extremely good news, but it was also long before something like Google Maps (let alone Waze) was even thought possible, and I’ve never been great with maps. Bravado aside, I had no actual idea how to get to my classes, or where or...

The Creative Process

There are very, very few feelings that can top the high of a great idea. Seriously. When something clicks in my head—an answer becoming clear, an approach that can differentiate, a script that feels preordained, a visual that will seal the deal—I can practically hear the clicking sound, and it’s always followed by a burst of the kind of totally pure energy that only comes with really, really wanting to do something. It’s a fantastic, soul-nourishing thing, that feeling of your mind really earning its keep, and lately I’ve been paying closer attention to the pre- and post-ideation stages in an effort to better understand the creative process. You know, so I can repeat it, or at least set myself up for more frequent success. Turns out, there are some consistent patterns to the formulation of magical ideas, and certainly some processes around their realization. Here are my learnings so far. Befriend your body clock.  You have to become attuned to when you’re hard-wired to being your most creative, and—spoiler alert—it’s probably during the same window every single day. Freelancers and others who set their own schedules are usually pretty well versed here. But if you’re used to 9-5’ing it, you might autopilot your day so much so that you’re not even conscious of when you’re firing on all cylinders. The only way to figure it out is to really turn inward, as my yoga teachers are fond of saying, and dial up the awareness to what you’re feeling, and when. Note these nuances—do your thoughts take awhile to heat up in the morning? Are things sharpest late, in the quiet of the night? Are you sluggish in the late afternoon? When you...

Design Within Constraints

The inherent challenge of designing within constraints is so great that many simply won’t engage. They won’t even try. Self-professed specialty presentation designers are few and far between, and, frankly, most of them are crap. I’ve interviewed and managed lots of young talent over the last few years, motivated, top-of-their-class visual designers with slick portfolios and advanced skills. And I’ve seen nearly every last one brought to his and her knees in the face of presentation design, turning out shockingly basic layouts with painfully-clichéd stock photography and typography that made me want to gouge my eyeballs (we’re a melodramatic lot).

Differentiate or Die

I have twin older brothers less than two years my senior, so my mom likes to say she had three kids in diapers for awhile, and, all told, life was fairly chaotic for her. When we were small and she a budding family therapist, she practiced at home what she preached at work. Knowing that same-sex twins, even fraternal, would likely be subject to comparison over the years, her learnings left her determined and prepared to mitigate the risks of any resulting negative outcome. So she parented in a way that fostered individuality and mutual appreciation for what made us unique, and differentiation was a major theme in our house. This was the early eighties, and, as I now realize, my first real lesson in branding. We kids were encouraged to stake claims all over the place, in even the most benign of categories: we each chose a trademark color, and you didn’t go painting your room with someone else’s. We were in charge of separate species in the vegetable garden. We learned different musical instruments respectively (and with varying levels of success). We played specific characters in the soundtrack of Little Shop of Horrors around my dad’s prized baby grand, and we had designated spots around the dining room table. And the truth is, even as we got older and added two more siblings and myriad hobbies and interests to the mix, while I won’t pretend we didn’t fight, I can honestly say we didn’t compete with one another. We each had territory, individually carved-out corners of the world where we were encouraged to excel. Fast-forward, and here’s how it turned out: my four brothers and I each wound up on unique and specific career paths that seemed fairly...

Unbalance

About a year and a half ago, I began a committed yoga practice that pretty quickly became an obsession. As in every yoga cliché you’ve ever heard, it truly was, and continues to be, a journey into self-awareness, self-discovery and self-esteem. Also? A helluva good workout. Yoga is both addictive and empowering in a way I think about constantly, and (warning!) probably a subject I’ll weave into many a future blog post. Though I had done some of it on and off throughout my adult life, this super-consistent approach was new for me, and it paid off. I built strength quickly, surprising myself with how good that felt. And I became more flexible with each return to the mat, reaching depths unimaginable to me the week prior. But then there was balance. Balance was a struggle from the start, especially any poses that involved leveling on one leg. While increasingly capable, even as I continuously discovered muscle groups I hadn’t known to exist, I also seemed to be eternally wobbly. The same postures that seemed so simple and centering with my eyes opened were a rollercoaster with them closed. Seems I like both feet on the ground and to be able to see what lies ahead. Big epiphany. As with most things, it got better with practice. But unlike the strength I’ve come to rely on, and the flexibility I can order up with a good stretch, balance continues to be a day-by-day, practice-by-practice calibration. Some days, I’m steady. Some, I’m not. It’s as simple as that and I’ve learned to accept it. I set a drishti (yogaspeak for a visual focal point) and do my best with what I have each time. And let’s...

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