How To Get Unstuck And Kick Some Serious Creative Ass

Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All of life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
How To Get Unstuck And Kick Some Serious Creative Ass

I don't have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I've felt like I have no idea what to do next with my business. There's no manual I can refer to or oracle I can seek, dishing out divine business clarity. And thankfully, I don't have a nervous tick. I'd have a big fat bald spot on my head from all the scratching.

A lot of us get into entrepreneurship because we want to be our own bosses. We're sick and tired of being told what to do, when to do it and what's a priority. We want to make the decision of what's important. But that can also drive you a little bit insane.

You don't always feel like you know what you should be doing next. And I've found that as soon as I start thinking like that, I fall into the depths of frustration. How do I keep finding myself in these situations again and again? Will it always be so damn difficult? You start to wonder if there's ever a point where you get to kick up your feet and drink fancy craft beers all day.

I've talked about entrepreneurship being a roller coaster of emotions. That it is, but the analogy makes it feel too predictable. You can't predict the loops and drops like you can riding a coaster. You expect them to come by the nature of the design. Lately, the sensation feels like one of those gigantic slingshots at a theme park. You sit, you wait and feel your heart drop to your feet as you're launched into space. You're completely at the mercy of the carny slamming the button. And that guy is one cruel son of a bitch. You can beg and plead all you want, but he won't let you off until he's had his fun.

I wrote a piece on why writing is the best possible thing you can do for your life and business. Here's another example of why this is true. Have you had those stretches where you feel too busy to start your day? I have a couch starting to collapse on one end. I know with my level of handyman skills, this will be an all-day project. This project sits upon the throne of my overwhelm. It gets thrown in with whatever other choices I need to make next without losing momentum.

This is the time to dive deep into what your emotions are signalling and capture them like an escaped monkey from the zoo (the couch can wait). These moments offer up a proverbial gold mine for writing. You feel vulnerable. You can reach out and touch your emotions on a level that isn't possible when you feel happy go lucky and devouring banana split sundaes. Great stories have pain. They lure you with the arc and development of characters. Without pain, there's no triumph over evil aka creative Resistance. Ever watch a sitcom stacked with beautiful people? It's destined for failure because it doesn't mirror reality. It's hard to watch other people succeed when you see yourself slipping into quicksand. You're afraid each movement will suck you further into oblivion.

People will tell you don't feel discouraged, it'll get better, have you tried this? There's a lot of well-intentioned advice out there. But it's only useful if you understand what the emotional signal is alerting you to. And, what the message behind the signal means for you. Does that big red light mean Soviet Russia is invading? Or does it mean you're feeling inadequate because you can't do something you think you should be able to do?

Here's another way of looking at it. In his book The Last Lecture, Professor Randy Pausch had a chapter called Treat The Disease, Not The Symptom, where he spoke about an ex-girlfriend who was a few thousand dollars in debt. She walked around like a big ball of stress. Every month, more interest would be tacked on, in addition to her rising feeling of hopelessness. She decided to join a meditation and yoga class to help her reduce the stress and bring a sense of calmness to her life. It was her one free night a week to focus on something other than money. It went on like this, week after week.

One day Randy sat down and asked to go over her finances with her. He did some calculations and saw that if she spent four or five months working a part-time job on Tuesdays, she could pay off all the money she owed. He didn't have anything against yoga or meditation, but he saw the value in treating the disease first. Her symptoms were stress and anxiety. Her disease was the money she owed.

She took a waitress job and soon enough paid off her debts. After that, she could go back to yoga and really breathe easier.

So here's my question to you, are you treating the disease or the symptom?

We live in a society that defaults to treating symptoms rather than curing diseases (both figuratively and literally). Look at the opioid epidemic as an example. It takes a conscious mind shift to explore what's behind the disease because it means facing the situation head-on – rather than reacting to the symptom of how we feel and making the assumption that we're stuck. Symptoms are good for big pharma. Not so much if you're the one addicted to opioids.

What is the feeling really trying to tell you? It has a message if you're willing to listen. There's no need to collect the backs of cereal boxes so you can mail in for your secret decoder ring. I use a cheat sheet from Tony Robbins that deciphers these Raiders Of The Lost Ark riddles.

feelings chart.png

Don't pretend like you just didn't let out a sigh of relief. It's a hell of a lot easier to face the present moment or think of the future when you have a plan. It's the difference between hope and expectations. I don't hope shit will get better or hope I feel better in the morning. I expect it to be better because I listened to the signal (feeling). I've identified what the message is and I've taken a step forward, so the signal won't get louder and more obnoxious. It's like an unruly two-year-old who wants your attention. He will not back down until he's seen and heard. Sometimes all we're looking for is a little acknowledgement.

Being your own boss will swing you around like a tether ball of emotion hanging on for dear life. You'll experience a depth of emotion you didn't realize was buried deep inside you. Running your own business is easily 90% mindset and 10% strategy. If you don't develop a healthy mindset to interact and play with the emotions you're faced with, there is not a chance in hell that you'll last. Not a day goes by that I don't experience at least six of those emotions outlined above.

You should expect these emotions to slap you in the face from time to time. Just today, I woke up feeling uncomfortable and a tad fearful. I'm going out of town for a couple of days and I still have a bunch of shit to finish before I leave. Will I get it all done?

This will sound counterproductive, but I took a walk instead of working. That signal was telling me I had to change my state. Emotion comes from motion. Immediately my state changed. It sparked the idea for this blog post. By the time I was home from my 45-minute walk, I had outlined what I wanted to say. It's 2 pm as I'm wrapping up this post so there's still plenty of time for the tide to sweep me off my feet with a new set of emotions and challenges. But the waves will only knock you over if you plant your feet. Thankfully, I've learned how to surf.

Patton Oswalt witnessed failure personified in his early years of standup, and since has worked to nurture the positive voices in his head rather than feeding the negative.