The Power of YOU (Addendum)

The Power of YOU (Addendum)

Competence is such a slippery concept. It is tied so directly to our worthiness. What makes us think we can do what it is we do. There will always be scoffers, people who think we are not qualified to do the job we have been called to do.

Sometimes we are the scoffer. We mock ourselves enough. We literally struggle to see how it is we can do what we are supposed to do. “I’m in over my head.” We’ve all sensed that feeling of being over-whelmed, but who says the “over” part?

In other words, who tells us we are out of our league? Who gets to define the league. It is ultimately us. Certainly many of the challenges we face will be new to us. Others will seem to be seasoned pros. All they have is experience, not expertise.

That’s the qualifier we often forget in self-loathing. Just because people have been doing it longer does NOT make them better. Their experience creates a mirage of confidence and competence that simply may not really be there.

Competence sounds so official, so definitive. Our tendency is to let others define what competence is. In our utilitarian ways we base it on the “average.” “Well, compared to others...”, we create a whole system upon computing average competency.

The implied message is that we “should” be competent in every area. To be a fully-functioning human (what some call a “contributor”), we need to have a working level of competence in basically every area of life (think the subjects in school).

And while there is a general sense to where a working knowledge of all subjects is helpful, our tendency is to want to be great (or “the best”) in every area. We compare ourselves with experts in each area and beat ourselves up for not being better.

As we get older (and hopefully wiser) we learn to accept our limitations, but some still with a tinge of bitterness. Instead, let someone great in one area inspire you to be great in yours. Who cares that you are not good at someone else’s “what.”

Don’t let anyone else define for you what success is. Many people will cut in on your race and offer suggestions. Don’t let them. They will try to make you their version of whatever it is. They have no authority or responsibility to do so.

We are alone held accountable for our lives. We can not blame anyone else for our ultimate decisions. Who we deeply are outside even of our actions is the person we have to listen to. No one else knows that person like we do.

The most well meaning people can be the most dangerously dead wrong. Listen to your life. Listen to the deep voice inside yourself. Certainly we can gather insight from trusted people on who we are, but it is us doing the asking, not them.

My race is no one else’s. Finishing my race implies NOT finishing yours. I am not accountable to finish someone else’s. That means I must know my race. That alone may be the one single, solitary, most important thing we ever do. God help us.

The Power of YOU (Part 7)

The Power of YOU (Part 7)

At some point you will get to the very edge. Some things will be going great. Some things will be bombing. Nothing will be easy. You will wonder the inevitable but un-answerable question: is it worth it? Is this worth the sacrifice?

What’s at stake in the push? Well, our families, our health, our well-being, our financial security, our future, our balance. All those things have to go into the realm of secondary when we really believe their is a calling on our life from God.

Of course there are rewards along the way. There are little celebrations that remind us why we do it anyway. There are also temptations. There are new opportunities, both to succeed and to fail. And in the end, there is the question of who we are.

Who am I, and what do I think I am doing here? Who do I think I am to lead such a charge? Do I even have what it takes? Do I, more importantly, even want it? These are the questions that resonate deeply, out of which creative tension gives birth.

It is exactly the fact that we can not answer those questions ourselves that we dive in. “Wisdom is vindicated by her children.” We don’t so much get to “prove” ourselves worthy, rather our work itself and its outcomes alone can justify.

There is something, in other words, in the work itself that we need to discover who we are. People will poke and prod at us, in the process up we will have early critics and others who challenge us not to do it. They are stuck on the “how.”

Like Abraham and Moses they had no “proof” God was with them. Moses asked, “suppose I go and they ask who sent me? What shall I tell them” (Ex 3.13)? Even after being answered then he again asks a bunch of questions and doubts.


“What if they don’t believe” (4.1), “I am slow in speech,” (v.10, and finally “please send someone else” (v.13). Moses was after something could not full be gotten before going. He was wanting definitive proof before he took a step toward Egypt.

No matter our excuses for not initially doing that thing that resonates deeply inside us we eventually don’t win the debate. “” get replaced with the simple but profound “go...go...go.” We ultimately move toward trust or we start to die.

We can not say “no” to life. That is not really an option. Of course people do, but they pay the price. It is steep. Saying “no” to life means denying it, and ultimately saying “yes” to its opposite. “Losing our soul” (Lk 9.25) is the necessary response.

It’s hard to estimate the “opportunity cost” for the times we have said “no.” God is a God of “yes” (2 Cor 1.20). We would rather him say “no” at times. We would rather him make up our minds for us. The universe, though, humbly submits to our wishes.

Our sovereignty is protected throughout. No one can make the decision for us. No one can will for us. Not even God. He simply submits the option and waits for our discretion. “What will we do?” Yes. Simply decide. It is yours! 

The Power of YOU (Part 6)

The Power of YOU (Part 6)

It is easy to see ourselves mostly in light of what we produce. We get very attached to our contributions to the world. We are excited to use our skills to make a difference. That is a good thing. Our skills will not always be there for us.

And many times our contributions to the world become more about us than about the world. In other words, we need it more than anyone else. We get used to things going a certain way and we learn to expect and almost need it to go that way.

Sometimes our deep desire to contribute comes not from a place of benevolence and concern but of self-doubt and the need to “prove” ourselves worthy. There is almost no escaping this need to prove in a world so full of vocal doubters.

It forces us to really qualify ourselves and what we are doing. Why are we doing it? What is it we are really after? Am I the right person for the job? Do I really have a sense of calling about this? What is it am really after here?

Somewhere in this process of self-defining and differentiating we find it. We find the core thing we are really about. We thought it was over here doing this but really it is farther out being this. It’s not usually the thing we thought it was.

What we do is not usually the thing. How we do it, or Who we are is what makes it so special. There are a thousand other guys that do this or that. Quickly surveying the vast sea of “whatters” can make you feel completely insignificant.

Our outputs are always replaceable. Our outcomes are not. No one else can effect change the way we do. No one else can represent the things we do. No one else can be the presence we are. No one else has our unique voicing.

That is the true power of you, or at least those that understand the enormous potential in their concept of self. There is no one like me. I am necessary, inevitable, compelling because I am self-realized. There is no greater power to connect and lead.

Without self-realization we can not realize the self in others. In other words, if we are left wanting of ourselves, we will apply the same to others. Understanding our own unique calling and vision is essential to helping anyone else find their voice.

It does come down to resourcing. But as every young adult knows, getting money with old strings attached is not worth it. If we are going to do what we need to do right, it needs to be funded the right way. We need to find the right money.

That is the last step of the generative process: reflect, create, and realize. Realizing our creative vision means much more than simply creating the work. We need to realize it in its full cultural context. This step requires great resources.

I have made it one of my life’s main goals to help generate the incubation capital for really creative and worthy initiatives. Resourcing means far more than simply providing money, I mean to provide support, marketing, “mavening” and sales.   

The Power of YOU (Part 5)

The Power of YOU (Part 5)

Providence is one that most people don’t like to mention or think about because it is outside us. Timing and hard work we can sort of control. Or at least we can take credit for those. Providence may be a fancy way for saying good luck.

Some more religious people may call it the “favor of the Lord.” If we think sports we know how short-lived that favor may be. One season (or even game) a team seems unstoppable, the next they are struggling to survive. it seems random.

It is! That’s where providence comes in. Life is far too random not to mention it. Even for those who do not believe in God there must be some recognition of chance in the Universe. Any tightly wound system of cause and effect fates us to powerlessness.

Randomness gives us a chance, no matter how bad our “luck” seems to be. And it evens out the playing field to some degree. If anyone can potentially ‘hit it big” out of nowhere, we all have a chance. Someone has to win the lottery, right?

So if we have a real chance and shaking things up, the world has to be somewhat absurd. Random good and evil happen. Someone finds a $20 bill on the side of the road, but somebody else has a child die in a bike accident.

We are all right of the edge of something completely changing everything. Movies and many of our stories focus on this idea. A sudden car wreck, an injury, a job change, the main character then has to deal with change discovering their life again.

It is usually a tale in our world to not get overly attached to certain external realities. A pro athlete suddenly and seriously injured who has totally wrapped his identity around his sport must find joy eventually somewhere else or he will die.

In a random universe life is more that what we do. There is something deeper to our existence than the world outside us. Cruel realities happen to the very best of us. Who are we? Who will we become when and if tragedy happens to us?

That is also the great equalizer of life. Even those who have had massive “success” in the eyes of many have personal tragedies they must endure. They are almost kept from enjoying their great success in light of their heavy realities.

In our world we might think of some pop star, take Katy Perry. On her quick rise to super stardom not only is she dealing with an incredibly grueling schedule she is also dealing with a quick romance, marriage, and then divorce.

Not only that she knows her time on top is limited. The lifespan of a pop star is short. The pressure to keep inventing is high. Once you are at the very top there is only one way to go: down. And so then we all sadly watch the downward spiral.

No one can escape the reality of our own life. Existence gets in the way of success. Thankfully. It reminds us there is something far more worthwhile than simply achieving our next goal. Life itself is the ultimate win no matter who we are.  

The Power of YOU (Part 4)

The Power of YOU (Part 4)

We so rarely in life get to see it all come together. Most times we are left wanting, wishing this thing or that would have lined up better. We are after what in some ways may not be reachable: perfection. We want completion.

We want to look at a painting, a song, a story, a project and say: perfect. We long to feel a sense of completion, one that does not leave us regretting. We want something we can be proud of. We want something with the magic sprinkles of eternity.

And how do we best get there? Keeping our head in the sky gazing into stars is definitely one way. If we fill ourselves so fundamentally and deeply with longing it does in some way bear itself in our work. The longing drips onto our pages.

But such longing can be painful. It can actually thwart progress. A great novel can literally knock you off your feet. But isn’t that the point? At least to some degree. Isn’t great beauty supposed to knock us off our feet with no apparent agenda?

Or is there a community development function within art? In other words, are there pragmatic benefits of music and art that can be clearly defined, understood, and perhaps even measured? Is there a way to define success?

That’s where of course there is a big different between those who write and those who perform. Writers are constantly producing material, and are forced to continue asking what of this is pertinent to real markets today?

A certain orchestra playing a Beethoven symphony may move local crowds to their feet for standing ovations. Is that to their success or Beethoven’s? Those currently writing original music don’t have the luxury of playing time-tested music.

Of course a symphony can play really well or not, but the difference is important. Writers are more experimenters, trying to figure out what will work. So much is left in the cutting room for those few songs that resonate but its worth it.

But how does a writer (even one who is a performer too) find out what will resonate? That is the great mystery of writing in context with the market, a moving target. We may write something that resonates deeply with us but does poorly on the market.

We may release something into the market that simply is not the right time, and it bombs. There are many stories of now famous releases that were originally flops until they were re-leases years later under different circumstances.

What makes something “hit?” That is really the million dollar question. How do we truly engage the market? And what market? Certain things will attract certain markets. But keeping to the true essence of the piece is there an appropriate market?

Will the market find the piece? There are stories where that is definitely the case. And it seems the whole process is really shrouded in mystery. There simply can be no formula for success, other than timing + hard work + providence. 

The Power of YOU (Part 2)

The Power of YOU (Part 2)

With an over-saturated information market people need more and more stimulating images to attract them. When there is so much to see and so much to view it becomes a game of who can catch the eye and lure the click.

It’s a game of seconds and inches. With so little space to manipulate marketers have to be more and more precise on placement of everything. And, of course, the human eye tends to search for certain kinds of images. Fortunately we have gotten through the lowest common denominator web browsing experience. It has been “cleaned up,” at least to some degree. Content is starting to matter more than quick, easy base images to lure the attention. For all our attention grabbing there has to be an end: a place where that attention leads. The bottom line is if that place continues to disappoint we simply learn not to go there. At some point underneath all the marketing content remains the attraction.

So those of us who are content creators may at times feel useless. We may feel that we are not needed in today’s economy. Not true. We are still the bottom line, the destination, the thing that holds it together. Our place in the food chain might have changed a bit but we are still essential. Instead of the first thing on the chain we may now be the last. And it could be argued today that marketing is just as important as the content being created.

It could even be argued that marketing is itself content creating. There is definitely some truth to that. But marketers must know what they are marketing. They must understand its benefits to the human experience if they are good. That is where content creators and marketers must work hand in hand. What is at the essence of what I do? What is the bottom line of how this effects the human experience? Where would we be if this was not happening? That is an effective but difficult question to wrestle with: what is the alternative? In other words, if not this than what? One making music can easily be overcome by the complete over-saturation of the market with “emerging” artists.

“Do we really need more musicians?” the thinking goes. “Do we need one more person making self-absorbed music?” It can quickly and easily seem like a meaningless task more akin to escapism than anything meaningful or necessary. That is, until you hear some of the music. Of course there is great stuff out there but there is also a lot that is not great. People will choose not so great if great is not out there. The alternative is a possible life without great music.

The question of whether we need more art or music in the world can be quite debilitating for a conscientious person. That is the question a 60-year old should be asking. Not an almost 40-year old need to kick it for a decade. Smart people get to ends too fast. It’s like the person in a brainstorming session who says no without the authority or the reason to do so. They just think in ends too quickly. “It won’t work. Too expensive. No return. People won’t like it.” All those statements have so much finality in them. They sound so sure of themselves. They are not. They are full of faith. Faith in a world where people are fated and where humans can not overcome obstacles. They are guessing! No one knows. That’s the level laying field. No one knows what will work. So it comes down to you. Do you believe? Do you really believe? Are you willing to commit to the thing a decade? Amazing things could happen but you will never know. Maybe this as good as you get. There are no certainties. There are no guarantees about a certain path working. There are hunches. There are sixth senses. There are bad mistakes. They are all part of our human frailty and learning experience.

We get there. Slowly but surely. But only if we are willing to try. Willing to fail. The safety and comfort of what we know is extremely powerful. The preference for what we know is staggering at times. But we know so little in the end.

Are we willing to go out “there?” Are we willing to leave our relative safety for a risky adventure? We could get hurt. We might not make it back. There are so many potential things that could go wrong. That alone can be paralyzing. But what’s so good about staying? That’s another question. What fundamental good does staying do? Can we truly experience our humanity staying safe? It’s like in the Walking Dead show when they are forced to leave relative safety for the next thing. We have to start believing that the world truly needs our art, our performative word. We need to believe our art creates reality, speaks deeply and richly to people. We need to remember the people who find something quite profound in it.

Instead of asking is it “truly” necessary why are we not asking how can we make it even better? How can we continue to ask the questions, probe the heart, and get in touch with the spirit? How can we continue to get in the belly of ourselves? We have got to get naked. We have to get to the core of who we are and what we are trying to do. There has to be a deep sense of freedom where we are not at all influenced or inhibited by the thoughts of those around us. Where we get to the beginning. Why did we start doing it in the first place? What did we believe about the power of art? That kind of freedom is possible again. It really is. Believe. It is really quite that simple. Believe. And surround yourself with people who also believe! 

The Power of YOU (Part 1)

The Power of YOU (Part 1)

It’s time to get personal. In today’s world what I produce is not more important than who I am. It’s not enough to produce great art or services. People want to know who you are and why you do what you do. This should be great news! Right?

Well, it sort of assumes and insists that at every turn you are letting the world know what is going on. In an age of information, your job is to stay in the news feed. That means a laundry list of social media to-do’s daily, from trivial to intimate.

Before one’s art was their preferred communication with the public. It was specifically and carefully chosen to be their reveal to the world. Auto-biographies would come only AFTER one had made a life revealing and concealing how they wanted.

In today’s world they want so much more than that. Content still matters. And people will still be drawn to good content, but the amount to which we have to be active is life-taking. Especially for introverts, the task can seem exhausting.

Some will refuse. They will carry on making quality content the way they have always made it. Their fan base will remain for a time and slowly start to whittle away. OR would it? Is it just the great power of suggested influence that make us think so?

Marketing certainly seems like that sort of thing that everybody does only because everybody else does it. If we all agreed to not do it it wouldn’t be necessary. OR if we at least made a pact somehow market in relation to the quality of a product.

It’s called a free market for a reason. It’s free! And it’s full. To get in there one has to work really, really hard. To have a wonderful product or service is simply not enough. However much we daydream about it, it simply won’t cut it.

We must market. Market requires extreme creativity and constant connection-making: connections between the product and customer, between the creator and customer, between the creator and product, etc. Compellingly show the connections!

Marketing in today’s world can be more of an art form than the product-creation itself. Anyone can write a song. Anyone can paint a cool picture. But to be able to compellingly market that to the public so that they care, now that is something.

While there is some definite truth to that statement it can also feel very fatalistic. In other words, only those with enough zeroes on their marketing budget stand a chance. There’s no hope otherwise. It can often feel that way.

Clearly Youtube is proving that to be false. Their so-called “content Creators” have proven that just about anybody with any amount of consistency can develop a following. And content is not king, in the sense of elaborate sets and expensive budgets.

There is a whole new market emerging. It is built on simplifying and focusing life on passion, even if that passion happens to be video games. It has managed to make millionaires out of the most unlikely of candidates. Anything goes!