When opening my mailbox, I generally smile when I see a small package. As I turn the key and open the small red metal door, anything that says 'I am not a bill' makes me happy. And sometimes, though rare, I even get good surprises when I collect my mail.
This spring, for example, someone sent me a book, and I don't know who the sender was. At the time, I was taking part in a couple of workshops and online courses, so I gathered it was one of the two: Akimbo or On Deck. Either way, this reminds me that adding a note is a nice touch so that I can thank or credit the surprise (or even delight) to the right person.
Indeed, it matters because I found the book to be amazing. So good that I often read only one or maybe two pages at a time and put it down. That way I let the words, the ideas, the creativity sink in. I savour it.
Good books, good art, or even good messaging does that to me. And, as you may know, and as I was reminding you a few weeks back, what happens when we love something is that we tell others about it. So ta-dah! The book is called Your Music and Your People by Derek Sivers.
The author, in case you've never heard of him, is an eclectic multi-hyphenate. A former musician (I say former, I may be wrong) who is best known for launching an independent music store called CD Baby. Perhaps like me, back a few years ago, you have even purchased a couple of records from the pioneering online store. In my case, from memory, my purchase dates back to dial-up modem times.
I don't know much about the author and entrepreneur, but upon reading the tome, a collection of his online posts, I did the best thing I could think of: I went online and registered for his newsletter.
The email sign-up confirmation came, and a little like the famed marketing emails sent by his earlier company CD Baby, it was direct, warm, even charming. Moreover, he was prompting an exchange. So I indulged and replied to tell him who I am and where I am in the world. Sivers answered me shortly after, which, to be clear, was both expected (he said he would) but still a touch surprising. I thought to myself: 'how nice'. And that was that.
Now back to the book.
I loved it because it's about business, but also creativity, kindness, people, art, communication and consideration.
Some of the pieces resonated with me because I know the life lessons or advice he writes about are true.
For example, in 'Get Personal', which I think every young person should read before or after uni (if you know such a person, please do share), he frames in his own story how he learned that business is personal, conducted by people, with people. And that people want to work with people they like. Simple. True. In my mind, not talked about enough.
Some other posts had me laughing out loud, like this one called Captain T.
When this next one pulled me back to my earlier musings about the importance of experimenting, I felt a tug. The author called it 'This is only a test':
'In America in the 1970s, they would test the Emergency Broadcast System on TV, with a long “BEEEEEEEEEEP”. At the end, an announcer would say, “This is a test. This is only a test.”
That phrase is burned into my brain.
“This is a test. This is only a test.”
It’s very useful to remember when pursuing your career.
Everything usually feels so serious — like if you make one mistake, it’ll all end in disaster.
But really everything you do is just a test: an experiment to see what happens.
My favorite times in life started with a “see what happens” approach.
Let’s see what happens if I run my vocals through my guitar pedals.
Let’s see what happens if I invite that famous producer out to lunch.
Let’s see what happens if I call that radio station to ask their advice.
It’s actually impossible to fail if your only mission was to see what happens!
“This is a test. This is only a test.”
There is no downside.
I liked this 'see what happens' approach.
Let's see what happens if I pitch my ‘idea worth spreading’ to TedX.
Let's see what happens if I email my three favourite writers to interview them on the podcast.
Let's see what happens if I launch an online course.
Your turn to fill in the blanks.
Seriously. Take a minute, indulge me, and Mr Sivers.
Is there anything you've perhaps taken too seriously, preventing you from experimenting?
Let's see what happens if ...
Let's see what happens if ...
Let's see what happens if...
Now let me tell you a joke.
Do you know how to eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
FYI it also works with frogs, unless you are French. Then there's a more complex (albeit delicious) recipe.
I love the 'let's see what happens' approach because it reminds me (hopefully you too) that the greatest tasks, the biggest dreams, the most fun projects are all accomplished one baby step at a time. Super coach Martha Beck thinks baby steps are even too big and ambitious. She advises us to consider taking turtle steps instead.
Incidentally, my wonderful friend Yasmine, who regularly made her guest bedroom available to me when I visited her, was the owner of a small turtle (think dessert plate size) called Caroline. She also owned a very small (think dwarf, kitten size), yet very scratchy, fierce black cat called Shisha (see pic of Shisha and me below).
From observation, you'd be surprised how far and how fast one gets to their goal when they get going, even a turtle. In her case, Caroline's dream goal was the cat’s food. The only issue was that once she'd climbed into the bowl, she'd topple over, headfirst into the dry food, unfortunately, incapable of getting out. Laugh out loud funny for those of us who witnessed it, but I digress.
Sometimes, the step is small (a single call or email) but feels huge due to the pressure, the status or the relationship we have towards that step or the person involved in it.
THE KEY BEHIND TURTLE STEPS
Back in 1999, all those years ago when I was an aspiring singer, I'd recorded a demo of three songs, which I'd also written and arranged. I had proper baby blues after finishing. I'd look longingly at my achievement thinking: 'So what?', and 'What next?'. After asking for signs (that's another story), there I was, under torrential November rain in London, pitching my demo to a bunch of different executives. A small bunch.
It didn't go very far. Although I continued singing, if not recording. I made wonderful friends on the music scene, sang my little heart out with really cool people (and some scary ones) and found a completely unlikely other career.
So what happened?
I stopped testing. I was petrified, not only of rejection but of what would happen if I succeeded.
So I never went all in; not once was it about a career. It became too serious. I became an annoying perfectionist (still am in that domain, eek). Then to close the circle, I reverted to my younger, shier self, the one that I'd managed to override in the pursuit of my goal.
So yes, it's all well and good to be passionate about whatever goals we want to reach, and it's great to test, but at some point, we need to go all in.
Testing once only is not much of an experiment. One needs not be a scientist to understand that. We need to try again, and again, and again. I greatly appreciated how Mr Sivers illustrated this very point in the story 'Repeatedly follow-up to show you care', where he tells the true story of a music publicist who created a system to solve her inbox overwhelm and also helped her automatically sift through projects to surface the very highly motivated ones. The ones who followed up at least three times.
She doesn't explain what happens to the ones that followed up too much by the way, but I'm guessing that she had another ‘ignored’ inbox for those.
So here's your cue: persist, up to three times. Then if no luck, pivot, adjust the course.
Ah that word, pivot. Used so liberally in business, I still chuckle when I hear it because I have the image of Ross and Rachel and a broken sofa (insert clip). An image that incidentally doesn't at all help the point I wanted to make.
When I think about the word pivot, I mean to go back to the work/project and see where or how you can better it, update it, refine it. And try again.
PERSIST AND ADJUST
Martha Beck, mentioned above, who leads the Wayfinder Life Coaching Training, which I am currently finishing, describes this as a 1% adjustment to the course.
Choosing to pivot is also an act of faith towards our project or our goal. It takes a lot to keep testing or pivoting. Giving up may feel so appealing in comparison. Persistence is a skill that some of us have in certain areas of our lives and not in others. At least, that's true in my life. Persistent at working to become proficient, to gain a creative skill, not persistent at all in trying to sell myself.
Not long ago, one of my clients was reflecting upon a group of people she admired a lot. She admired them not for their creative pursuits, rather for their creative output.
We both knew at that moment that doubt is one of the great inferences that stops many of us, creatives or not, in our steps. Doubt that we are good enough, smart enough, accomplished enough, good looking enough, strong enough, etc.
And as I considered the words I heard, what I recognised in these artists she described was persistence. Putting out the work consistently, even if we are riddled with self-doubt, or rather despite self-doubt.
The writer Anne Lamott calls her inner critical voice KFKD Radio. That voice that is constantly reminding us that we are not good enough, etc. In calling it a radio, she was also inviting us to consider that there may be modalities to dial it down.
So here's to the 'let's see what happens' approach, taking turtle steps, even when we doubt ourselves.
Because when we persist consistently, eventually, magic happens.