YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALONE
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled
by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause
to think with deep gratitude of those
who have lighted the flame within us.”
-Albert Schweitzer, physician, philosopher and Nobel Peace laureate
How many wonderful ideas have never been put out in world because their creator was afraid of appearing foolish? How many people have stifled their creativity because of fear? How many of you have never allowed your creative vision to become reality for fear of asking for help or creating a partnership? Far too many, I’m afraid.
There is sometimes a very fine line between excitement and fear and, therefore, between success and failure.
Let me tell you a story about telling a story.
Two months ago, I was approached by best-selling author, Dr. Spencer Johnson (co–author of The One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard and author of The Present and Who Moved My Cheese?), to bring his new book – “PEAKS AND VALLEYS: Making Good And Bad Times Work For You – At Work And In Life, to life on stage in a venue that would be presented primarily to business groups.
I was thrilled to be asked and immediately said “yes” without batting an eye. It was only after the first blush of excitement wore off that the reality of the challenge I had just accepted hit me over the head.
What in the world had I just agreed to? How was I going to turn a one-hundred page parable into a living, breathing, enjoyable, engaging, interactive program that would help people navigate their lives in these turbulent times and – remain true to the story?
I had no model to go on, no roadmap to follow and there was sense of urgency since the publication date was March 3rd. In more than three decades of writing, speaking and coaching, I had never taken anyone else’s work and attempted to bring it to life.
Suddenly, I felt my first nibble of fear. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Wouldn’t it just be simpler to finish my own book, the one I’ve been working on for seven years? On the other hand, wasn’t this a great opportunity? I was reminded yet again that there is a very fine line between fear and excitement and – I was excited.
The truth is: Spencer Johnson’s book deeply resonated with me because, contained within this simple parable, lie all the basic principles and skills I both live and teach: the power of imagination, vision and focus, breaking through fear, controlling what we can control, being grateful, being of service to others and holding your friends and loved ones close.
That was when I realized that if I was going to successfully create this project, I could not do it alone. I was going to need many willing and friendly ears to listen to my creative process and bounce ideas off – and a very understanding wife. The reality was that I would also need a great deal of support on many levels because, when I take on a new project, I am focused and obsessive.
I began by asking questions of everyone I encountered. How do you get out of an emotional valley sooner? How do you stay on a peak longer? How do you have more peaks than valleys? How can you get to your next peak? I asked and asked and listened and listened. Finally, a couple of ideas began to float around.
I made a very rough outline of the presentation including some possible mental exercises to help the participant gain insight. Then I began testing out my theories at every dinner party and social engagement my wife and I attended. I talked to people when I worked out and I quizzed local merchants when I went shopping. In the middle of all this, Susan and I headed down to St. Thomas for what turned out to be a working vacation because, even in my sleep, I was navigating those peaks and valleys. More dialogue – more contributions from friends – more ideas springing forth. I began to delete, change, add and refine.
I have learned from the past that unless you impose your own deadline, or a deadline is imposed on you, there is no real commitment nor does one take the necessary action to more forward and – if you don’t take action, the idea simply floats around as a wish. So, I took a deep breath and set a date to put this not-yet-completed program on its feet in front of an audience in a very special venue.
Twenty-five years ago, I was one of the founding board members of the Theater Artists Workshop, now located in Norwalk, Connecticut. The original concept was to create a safe place for actors, writers and directors – to fail. Every week, various creative projects are presented in front of the membership who – hopefully – offers constructive feedback to make the project better.
So, swallowing hard, I committed to a date. I would present my “work-in-progress” to – gulp – a live audience. In addition to workshop members, I invited several friends whose opinions I respect.
Even with all that support, I was worried. What if it didn’t work? What if it was a total bust? What if, heaven forbid, I came off as just plain stupid?
This is where the rubber meets the road with any creative endeavor. This is where fear becomes a friend or foe.
The week before the event was a flurry of activity with my assistant organizing the audience. I reworked the program. The workshop rallied behind me with assistance that even surprised me. Both the media arm of my speakers’ bureau as well as friends at Save The Children graciously volunteered to help create a power point slide program. Someone else volunteered to tape the presentation.
The hour arrived. I had not rehearsed and was still writing the program up until three hours before my first live presentation. The lights went down. One hour and fifteen minutes later, I sat down in a chair before the audience and said to them, “Please give me your honest feedback. Tell me what worked and what you would have like more of.” They did and two days later I had a solid, viable presentation.
Could I have done this alone? Not a chance.
Here are some strategies to help you make your next creative idea – a reality:
1. Ask for help.
2. Surround yourself with positive people, people who give you energy and are
willing to support you.
3. Ask for feedback.
4. Create an environment in which people can tell you the truth without you
explaining, defending or rationalizing.
5. Thank those that support you.
6. Don’t take it personally! You are not your creative idea.
We are in this life together and as my wife says, “We are not here to see through people; we are here to see people through.”
James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach.