Tag Archives: taking risks

Writer and Artist Warriors

sunset-190922_640My younger sister Sharon died of bone cancer at the age of thirty-seven in a hospital in Honolulu, where she lived. She was a small, delicate woman who had the will of a warrior. When a doctor came to see her as she lay in her bed, he jumped back as though he had been pushed. He said to her, “I feel your power coming out to me.” But she was dying. There was no hope. Once she had been beautiful. I prayed, “Dear God, give me her pain so she will be free of it.”

I told her that I’d had writing a book in mind for a long time, but that I was very busy running the business I had started and really had no time, and that even if I did write it, it would take years to research and more years to write, and I wasn’t sure it would ever be published—the odds were against that as they are against any book being published–and I had a wife and four children to support and couldn’t afford to take a chance. And I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed, that I didn’t have what it took. But I didn’t tell her that.

She was in such pain that even the slightest, even the lightest, touch of another person on her was agony. So when I left to fly back home, knowing I would never see her again, I couldn’t kiss her. The pressure of my lips would bring her pain. I leaned over her and rested my head next to hers on the pillow. She whispered in my ear, “Dave, you write that book. I have faith in you. Write it for me.”

I returned home and organized my work space and set to work, thinking of her “Write it for me.” I told my wife, “I’ll close the business and I’ll finish the book in one year, and during that year we will have no income.” My wife said, “I understand. Go ahead. It’s important.” Nothing could stop me. What before had been a vague dream now became a purpose to devote myself to, to write a book, a good book for my little sister. It became my wife’s purpose and my children’s too. Whenever I was discouraged that purpose made me return to the book and to work till dawn, to sleep a few hours and get back to work for a year until the book was done. While I was working on it I thought, “I’m making a book Sharon would be proud of.”

I dedicated it to her with the inscription: “In memory of my sister Sharon. Just one word—courage,” and that word meant a lot to me because in this life everyday courage is so important.

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My book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life came out and has been called “an underground bestseller” because with almost no advertising it swept the country and my life was changed in so many ways. The book became known in my family as FTW. It went through multiple printings, and appeared on bestseller lists; the cover price rose and rose. FTW discussion groups took shape in big cities and remote towns in America and Europe. Articles about this strange book with the Japanese symbol “spirit” on its cover appeared in scholarly journals and popular magazines alike. The book was read by generals, governors, and dancers, writers, artists, and riveters, heart surgeons, business executives, retirees, and sales clerks. It began being included on university required reading lists. It was not about Anthropology, Physics, or Botany, but about how to live. This little book is about musha-shugyo, “training in warriorship.” It teaches the skills and passes on the insights of samurai warriors adapted to everyday life.

It is an optimistic and encouraging book. That’s how I intended it. It is full of promise, full of hope. It teaches strength and makes you strong. It says we have but one life, but this one life can be changed in an instant. It can become two lives. The life before the changes and the richer, more fulfilled and stunning life after them. We can renew ourselves and start fresh at will on a new creative course, a more fruitful course, a better course any moment we wish, putting aside disappointments, discouragements, false starts, and failures and emerging as full-blown, skilled, exceptional artists or writers. Every living thing, every artist, every writer, has an urge to grow, to realize its full potential. My life tells me that. I believe it more every day.

Warrior symbol

“Warrior” by tiseb

The book teaches us to persevere, to be brave and not hide from difficulties, but to race forward to meet them so we may overcome them all the more quickly, maintaining high spirits and complete faith in ourselves. It teaches that we must never be stationary, but must be always moving at a good clip toward a better life, never slowing down because we’re too lazy, or afraid, or self-doubting, or discouraged, or have been set back by circumstances. “When you meet calamities and rough situations, it isn’t enough simply to say you’re not flustered. Whenever you meet difficult situations dash forward bravely and joyfully.”

Readers started contacting me, and I was happy to get to know them and listen to the stories they told me. In the revised E-book edition I mention a few of their stories.

A Hollywood movie director called me and said he felt that people in that aggressive film industry had been “eating him alive.” A successful opera singer wrote me and told me she had been overwhelmed by a sudden and inexplicable fear of performing. She felt helpless. She didn’t know what to do and stopped singing. They read FTW. He became more assertive, self-confident, and successful; she overcame her fear and went back on stage and resumed her career.

A newspaper was having serious financial problems. Its existence was in jeopardy. And so the publisher was going to launch a five-day intense telephone subscription sales campaign using 100 sales people. The publisher, who was also a playwright, was confident that exposure to FTW ideas would inspire them, and had me speak to them for an hour. Following the campaign, he called me and said that the campaign had been a huge success–the staff was fired up and the result was thousands of new subscriptions. He said, “You and FTW saved the paper.”

The book teaches us the samurai concept of mo chih ch’u, “going ahead without hesitation.” It’s not looking back once you have decided on your course of action. Once you can say to yourself “This is what I want to do”—“Write the novel I’ve been talking about so long;” “Rent a studio;” “Move”– then be on your way immediately, mo chih ch ’u. Why delay when life is so brief and the most important time of your entire life is this present moment?

I shouldn’t have to ask where you intend to go in your career. I should be able to tell by watching you and hearing and reading about you. Your undeviating aim should be to reach the fulfillment of the creator’s life you can envision, letting no impediments keep you from it. You know that in this life you’ve chosen rather than the other 5,000 easier lives you could have chosen, courage is a necessity, that there really is nothing to be afraid of and no reason to hold anything back in reserve, and that the whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Getting closer each day to a more fulfilled creator’s life, becoming extraordinary, your energy and strength will be boundless. Others will let go of their dreams, but you never will. You’ll draw from deeper inside and be willing to exhaust yourself for the sake of your happiness.

You must never lose the expectation that no matter what, you will succeed. Your art will work out. Your book will be published. Your skills will get better and better, equipping you for your craft in ways you haven’t dreamed of yet. Knocked down, maintain your confidence that all will go well as long as you get up. Knocked down seven times, get up eight. For that is how a better creator’s life is reached. Like a warrior, you must only “take care that your spirit is never broken.” Never let disappointment and discouragement “penetrate to the depths.” “Wear your existence light as a feather.”

The samurai warrior spoke of internal “dragons” and “striking through the dragon’s mask.” The samurai was taught what we should take to heart: “When all psychological blocks are removed the swordsman will move without conscious effort.” When your blocks are removed you will write, paint, sculpt, or perform without conscious effort. “Success will always come if your heart is without disturbance.”The meaning of all things is within, in your mind, not something that exists ‘out there.’” After reading the book people ask themselves, or ask their friends, “What is holding me back? What are my dragons? How can I overcome them?”

dragon-149393_150Ask any small child what a dragon is and you’ll get an earful of terror and horror. You and I both believed in fire-breathing dragons until we discovered that the only place they existed was in our minds, that they were merely products of our imagination. They only “lived” and had the power to frighten us because we granted them license to. They died and no longer troubled us when we revoked their license. All obstacles inside us—in our minds–are dragons. They are no longer of the fire-breathing variety. They are now a different species entirely. But the effect of scaring us and making us draw back in horror is precisely the same. The goal of the warrior writer and artist is to strike through dragon’s masks and free himself/herself of obstacles so the mind is “free to function according to its own true nature.”

The five most powerful dragons samurai—there were women samurai too–were trained to strike through, and artists, writers and performers must train themselves to strike through, are any kind of fear, the fear of taking risks, thinking too much of what might go wrong, doubting yourself, and hesitating, particularly when that golden but fleeting opportunity appears. If the samurai was afraid, didn’t take risks, thought too much, doubted himself, or hesitated, he would lose—possibly his life–because of fear most of all. A creative person must be bold; fear cripples her: “Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy. Overcome fear and nothing can stop you.”

The one constant factor in warfare as well as a writer’s and artist’s life is uncertainty. Half the things you try to accomplish are obscured by it. Risk and danger and fear and self-doubt are always partners. You do not go into the arts if you want a secure, uneventful life of ease. In samurai swordsmanship there is a move that requires you to take two leaping steps forward and to come within a hairsbreadth of your opponent’s sword. It is not a difficult move and can bring quick and total victory, but it is rarely used. Why? Because taking the risk of coming so close to the foes blade terrifies most swordsmen. In a creator’s life, as with that sword move, it is only by edging yourself in close to danger and living more dangerously that you approach great success. Who are those artists and writers who are least satisfied with their lives? Precisely those gloomy writers and artists—and actors and dancers– who regret, now when it’s too late, being timid and playing it safe all their lives.

bird-226700_640As an artist or writer, you must have an immovable mind—a mind totally committed to facing with calmness and composure any fate, circumstance, or challenge a creator’s life throws at you. An artist’s or writer’s life is often filled with troubles. But you must never let them disable you: “Forget about death, forget about the enemy, forget about yourself, keep your thoughts motionless.” Then you will “flow with whatever may happen.” Then your craft will blossom and you will reach your destiny.

Unless you have mastered your mind and body, you cannot beat your enemies on the battlefield.” Take up one idea. Make that idea your life, recalling,  “No matter what it is, there is no hardship you can’t overcome.” Like a warrior “When crossing marshes, your only concern should be to get over them quickly.”

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Blocks to Action, Boldness, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Eastern Philosophy, Goals and Purposes, Motivation, Personal Stories, Samurai Techniques, Success, Warriors, Work Production, Writers

Leadership: The Effective Leader’s Mind

David J. Rogers writes for artists, writers, performers, and creative people of all kinds and has also provided consulting in strategy and leadership to some of the world’s largest corporations. He has lectured on these subjects extensively in North America and Europe. His best-selling book Waging Business Warfare: Lessons from the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority–now a new, revised, and updated E-book–has been called a business masterpiece.

“The responsibility for a host of a million lies in one leader who is the trigger of its spirit.”(Ho Yen-His)

alexander-the-great-35767_640The greatest competitive leaders in business, whatever the industry, are exceptional. They may be anywhere in the organization—as is also true of leaders in warfare. They are out of the ordinary because they combine a complement of qualities that equip them perfectly for a leader’s life but that are only rarely found together in one individual. They are knowledgeable, talented, creative, intelligent, energetic, flexible, and driven. They are obsessed with the need to take direct action and mix it up with the competition, and they are savvy strategic thinkers.

Hannibal, the Carthaginian (247-183 B.C), was a true master of strategy. In fact, he is called the father of strategy. Napoleon considered him superb in every aspect of warring, and the Duke of Wellington thought him to be the single greatest soldier in all of history. To this day Hannibal’s victory against the Romans, commanded by Varro at Cannae in 216 B.C., is considered the most perfect tactical battle ever fought. Hannibal’s army of 50,000 annihilated the Roman army of 86,000.

Before the battle began, Hannibal, knowing the importance of a leader keeping his people informed, called his army together and addressed them. He told them that at a certain point during the fighting it would appear that they were about to lose, but to have courage and have no fear because what would be happening then was part of his plan, and soon the tide would turn. It has been said that the mind of the leader is passed on to ten thousand subordinates.  A great leader is an inspiring leader.

How could a much smaller army beat a larger one, and so deci­sively? The historian Polybius provides an important answer: it wasn’t Hannibal’s soldiers or order of battle that made the Carthagin­ian army superior to the Romans. It was Hanni­bal’s superior personal skills. Then Polybius makes a matter-of-fact comment that carries immense implications for businesses vying for com­petitive excellence: “As soon as the Romans found a general who equaled Hannibal in ability, they immediately defeated him.”

And how could a little pipsqueak of a company like the WD-40 Company with its minute work force consistently outcompete giants Du Pont, 3M, and Pennzoil the way Hannibal beat the Romans?

In short, a contest within the contest between the Carthaginian and Roman armies was the contest between leaders. The better leader won; the less capable leader lost. More than 135,000 men took part in the battle of Cannae, each pitting his abilities against his counterpart on the other side. Yet it was the qualities of just two human beings—Varro and Hannibal— which stood out and dominated the day.

startup-594126_640 (1)The situation is precisely the same in business competitions. Many companies have had all the material resources necessary to gain the advantage over competitors but weren’t able to do so until the right leader with the right vision, right strategy, right plan, and right insights into how to manage people took charge. We should guard against becoming so accustomed to discussing competitions between businesses that we forget that businesses don’t run themselves: people run them. We shouldn’t forget for a moment that behind the corporate names GE, Procter & Gamble, IBM, McDonald’s, Toyota, GM, Microsoft—and behind their every strategic and tactical move are the leaders who are pitting their quality as leaders against the quality of competitors’ leaders.

CEOs know how integrally leadership ability bears on the well-being of their corporations. When 300 of them around the world were asked what they would look for in their successors, “personal leadership style” was the most sought-after attribute. “Aggressive competi­tive outlook” was second. Who a leader is and what he or she is made of and how clear a thinker may be more important than all the other company resources, including size and wealth.

Every strategic and tactical move reflects the minds, the spirits, and the personalities of those leaders. However much information the business man or woman or entrepreneur has in hand–studies, reports, analyses, anecdotal stories, scenarios–strategic decisions require problem-solving under shifting, loosely-defined, ill-structured circumstances. They are made in a kind of fog and because of the fog always require of leaders qualities of decisiveness, courage, and clear thinking.

Man thinking-23838_640Effective leader-strategists are thinkers with a two-pronged ability. First, they are sensitive to the complexities of the problems they are facing and able to process multiple perspectives. They try patiently to understand the situation objectively and to penetrate the problem to its core.  They also consider a range of goals that are sometimes inconsistent before considering a number of solutions and arriving at a satisfactory answer. Then, second, they are equally adept at integrating the perspectives into a coherent viewpoint, in this instance, a strategy. They are not conservative in their thinking, but are independent, open-minded, and flexible.

People with little strategic ability, being less complex thinkers, think simply. They work with only a single, simplistic perspective, and are generally unwilling or unable to consider alternative solutions. They are impatient and evaluate quickly and then turn to other matters. Their thinking tends to be rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible, a world removed from the more active, quick, alert, and subtle mind of the superb leader-strategist.

French colonel Ardant du Picq (1821-70) made highly detailed and scrupulous studies of the factors leading to success in battle. His most fundamental conclusion was that “It is the mind that wins battles; that will always win them, that always has won them throughout the world’s history.”

In his Art of War, Sun Tzu (400-320 B.C.) put the issue quite simply: any commander will be able to forecast which side will win by answering the question, “Which of the two commanders has the most ability: me or him, (or her)?”

It is minds that win business competitions—often one woman, one man sitting in an office alone, thinking.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Luck: How Artists, Writers, and Other Creative People Can Get It

In the arts here in America and everywhere else, the causes of success are ability, confidence, persistence, resilience—and good luck. A guarantee: with high ability, high confidence, high persistence, high resilience, and enough good luck, you will achieve your artistic goals, whatever they may be. Let’s have a look at luck, the most difficult cause to account for.

painting-284546_640An artist’s and writer’s career may take shape over a long period of time—ten years, fifty years–and incidence of good or bad luck occurs many, many times. In 1921, in New York, a good friend introduced William Faulkner, 24, to Elizabeth Prall, manager of the Doubleday book store, and she hired Faulkner as a clerk—a stroke of good luck for Faulkner because Prall married Sherwood Anderson, one of the most popular authors in the country. Elizabeth invited Faulkner to dinner (good luck) and he and Anderson liked each other (good luck) from the start and spent many hours together, talking and drinking, and Anderson became Faulkner’s mentor (good luck). Mrs. Anderson asked her husband if he would recommend Faulkner’s book to his publisher, and Anderson said he would (good luck) as long as he didn’t have to read it. He did, and his publisher did put out the book (good luck), and Faulkner’s career was on its way, a Nobel Prize in store for him twenty-eight years later.

Chance shapes your life throughout your life, affecting the career you settle into, who your friends are, who your life partner is, where you live, the school you attend and education your receive, your genes and personality–the very fabric and quality of your existence. Some episodes in your career were extremely lucky, but other episodes couldn’t have been unluckier. The Academy award winning actor, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, went into theatre in high school because the girls happened to be so good looking. What if they hadn’t been? Would he have become an accountant?

alexander-the-great-35767_640Gamblers speak of people who are lucky and those who aren’t, and consider luck to be in the person: “She’s lucky but he isn’t.” And so do military people. Even the most scholarly and erudite studies of warfare usually discuss luck. The Macedonian Alexander the Great referred to his good luck as a “star” that guided him to great victories. I suppose it did. He conquered most of the known world before the age of thirty.

The book Creativity by psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi describes how much good luck figured in the career of a successful (and fortunate) artist “whose work sells well and hangs in the best museums and who can afford a large estate with horses and a swimming pool.” The artist “once admitted ruefully that there could be at least a thousand artists as good as he—yet they are unknown and their work is unappreciated. The one difference between him and the rest, he said, was that years back he met at a party a man with whom he had a few drinks. They hit it off and became friends. The man eventually became a successful art dealer who did his best to push his friend’s work. One thing led to another. A rich collector began to buy the artist’s work, critics started paying attention, a large museum added one of his works to its permanent collection.” His career was made.

When I wrote Fighting to Win about how people today could achieve fulfillment by applying the wisdom of ancient Japanese warriors, my timing could not have been luckier. At the precise time it came out Americans were infatuated with and trying hard to learn more about the Japanese culture, and the book took off.

In college I read Englisman Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur,” and was impressed with its beautiful language. For some reason years later (before Amazon.com and before the internet) I suddenly had the urge to read a book studying Hopkins’ imagery so that it might affect my imagery. Wherever I traveled across the world—and I did extensively–I visited new and used bookstores, and in every bookstore I browsed for such a book, but never found it. Once I was to give a speech in Rock Island, Illinois. It’s a small city in the western part of the state that I had never visited before. I discovered that the hotel I was to stay in had just been built and had opened its doors only a few days before. It had hosted a conference for fire fighters–its first guests. They had left just the day before. I arrived very late at night and was given the only available room. I entered the room, laid my bags on the bed, and then noticed something in the trash basket. Apparently it had been left by one of the firefighters and the maid had overlooked it when she cleaned the room. There it was: fifteen years after I’d read him: a full-length book on the imagery of Gerard Manley Hopkins—a lucky break, a book that helped me.

books-683901_640Another time, I’d been writing and researching fifteen or sixteen hours a day on fifteen or twenty cups of black coffee for many months to meet a book deadline, neglecting my wife, neglecting my children, concerned only with putting enough words on a page every day to satisfy me—words, words, words, words–an abstract existence. That night I’d had it; I couldn’t work another minute; couldn’t drag from my agonized brain another word. I quietly left my home at about 3:00 a.m. and walked the streets trying to decide if I wanted to continue leading a grueling, neglectful life like that or follow a more conventional life, committing myself to “a regular nine-to-five job.”

It was a cool pleasant night—very dark—with a filmy mist in the air. Should I continue a writer’s life, or shouldn’t I? Should I just finish this book and then give it all up? Then I noticed ahead of me something lying on the sidewalk precisely in the middle of a pool of bright white light cast by a street lamp as though that object lying there had been placed there very carefully for me and me alone to see. I went to it and bent down and picked it up. It was a book—of all things a book. You see: I could not get away from the written word. I took this as a sign that, like it or not, a writer’s life—imperfect, isolated, much too demanding–was my destiny and that it was futile for me to think it would ever not be at the center of my existence. That I could ever get away from it. That was another lucky break because writing and reading has brought me so much fulfillment.

lantern-451233_640I have what I call my “Research Angel” which I rely on. I am writing and researching for hours every day and have been for many years, but my research is totally unsystematic. I begin with no notion whatever of where I am going but go ahead anyway as though quite content to wander on and on in a deep forest without worrying about how—or if ever– I’ll get back home. I’m trusting my Research Angel—based completely on a confidence in good luck—to steer me to the information I’ll need. The Research Angel has never failed me, and has taken me to unexpected discoveries and new directions in my life, just as it led me to the Hopkin’s book and the book lying in that pool of white light at four that early misty morning.

In Chases, Chance and Creativity medical researcher James Austin identifies four kinds of chance that affect creative activity:

  • Blind luck that doesn’t depend on any personal characteristics of the creator
  • The good luck that follows “persistence, willingness to experiment and explore”
  • Chance that allows the creator because of his training to grasp the significance of something overlooked by everyone else.
  • Serendipity

Lucky people—lucky artists and writers, lucky actors and dancers—-follow certain principles. They:

  • Are good at creating and noticing chance opportunities. They are relaxed, not anxious, people who are aware of their surroundings. Anxiety makes you blind to opportunities. Lucky people’s perceptions are sharper than unlucky people’s. They see opportunities the unlucky person doesn’t notice.
  • Are intuitive and respect hunches. Artists are on intimate terms with intuition. Half the decisions artists and writers make are intuitive—to use that color rather than this; that word rather than another.
  • Are open-minded and flexible in their thinking. Another characteristic of creative people.
  • Have optimistic expectations. They don’t just hope to be lucky; they expect to be. They are confident they’ll be lucky again. Positive expectations create lucky events. Good things happen to people with optimistic expectations. People with optimistic expectations are happier and healthier.
  • Are extremely resilient and able to quickly recover from bad luck. They see the positive side of bad fortune: “I fell down the stairs and broke my foot. It could have been my neck.” “I failed that time and it was very painful for me, but I learned so much that helped me succeed the next time.”

Be ready to take advantage of good luck, and when your luck is bad don’t let it get the better of you, but be aware that bad luck can change to good luck, and may in the blink of an eye. Be alert, strong, and opportunistic whatever may happen. Think strategically. Be ready. Be able to say, “This now that is happening to me is good luck and it may change my life.”

fish-582695_640Create the conditions for good luck to occur—set the stage. Be like a swimming fish waving its tail and stirring up the sand at the bottom of the tank. Get out, be spontaneous, meet new people, make contacts and seek people out. Form friendships. Do things you’ve never done before. Break away from your routines. Take chances you wouldn’t usually take. Don’t resist, don’t be afraid. Be bold, not timid. Experiment, explore. Be intuitive and pro-active and look for opportunities. Let good luck happen to you. Then chase the opportunities where they lead.

On a scale of 1 to 100, how lucky a writer or artist would you say you are?

Not Lucky                                                 Pretty Lucky                                       Very Lucky

1                                                               50                                                      100

Ask yourself, “In what areas of my creative life would I like to be luckier?”

What will you do now to make yourself lucky?

I will:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Napoleon was looking for a subordinate to add to his staff. One after another his high-ranking officers described a particular candidate whom they talked glowingly about at length. Impatiently, Napoleon said, “Yes, yes, I know he is brilliant, but is he lucky?”

Yes, yes, I know you’re brilliant too, and prodigiously talented, but are you lucky? Do you behave like a lucky person? Do you foster good luck? Do you have the mind and expectations of a lucky person?

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Boldness and Success for Artists, Writers, and Everyone Else

“Human drama does not show itself on the surface of life. It is not played out in the visible world, but in the hearts of men.”                                                                 —French Novelist Antoine St. Exupery

Be willing to incur danger.

When opportunity appears, strike like a bolt of lightning.

We should be like tigers– cautious when we need to be, but always ready to leap.

 The Value of Living Dangerously

What have you been working for these years and developing your talents for if not to set your artistic potential free, and you will not do that without being bold.

For most people the problem is not being too audacious and bold, but not being bold enough. After serving as Supreme Commander of Allied forces in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower returned to civilian life speaking of the value of “living dangerously,” and that resonates with artists and serious writers; that resonates with everyone.

Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life, your work, your art is going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look particularly grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward confidently, even if you don’t feel up to it.

I know a painter. The best teacher she ever had gave her the best advice she ever received. He looked at her as she painted and said, “You’re being too careful. Make bolder strokes.” He went away. She followed his advice. He came back and studied her work. He raised his voice and said, “Bolder.” Later he came back again and said, even louder, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?” It’s worthwhile to say to ourselves from time to time in our personal life or our artistic life, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?”

People want to know more about boldness. I was asked to write an article on the subject for Success magazine and the article received one of the magazine’s highest readership scores ever.

 Boldness and Success

The argument easily can be made that boldness in and of itself is what brings success in life, and that it is a quality of greatness in every field of human endeavor, possibly especially in the arts where courage is not a luxury, but a necessity. The great names in the arts could not have attained great success had they not taken great risks. Boldness is part and parcel of writers’ and artists’ lives. Even becoming one carries risks. What if Ernest Hemingway had decided he was more likely to be successful if he played it safe and wrote the way everyone else of his era wrote and did not risk failure with a writing style no one had ever seen before? You must be bold to tell the truth in your work and reveal your authentic self to an audience.

It could be that right now you are hanging back from making a decision and taking decisive action because you’re afraid of taking the chance. But success often resides in one place: on the other side of those risks. You were never happy in your career, but you could have remained in it and led a secure and good enough life. But the career wasn’t you at your best. You wanted more than good enough, so you took a chance on a different career. Now you’re happier.

In kendo–Japanese swordsmanship–there is a move that requires the swordsman to pass very close under the arms of his opponent. It’s not a difficult move, but taking the chance of coming so close to the opponent scares the swordsman. It’s only the fear of taking the risk that prevents victory. But accepting the fear and edging in close anyway can bring easy victory. The great swordsman knows that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foes’ blade. Your future success in writing and the world of the arts may lie close to the blade.

Psychologist Gordon Allport said, “To be able to make your life a wager is man’s crowning achievement.”

Strategies: Take the Necessary Chances

  • Realize that every important choice involves risk. You make a choice. Your hopes are high, but the choice could always be a bad one. Nevertheless, you take your chances, overcoming self-doubt, and coming close to the blade and risking defeat, you succeed. In your life you’ve had your share of close calls. By the slimmest margin things worked out for you. They could have been disastrous, but they weren’t. And now, even in hindsight, you know that you would make the same choice again, your eyes wide open. We must make honest choices without illusion, with the full awareness of the consequences–either way.
  • Take a chance of failing. What better way is there to learn to succeed than by failing? If you never fail you’re aiming too low. You take the chance and try, but you fail. You take another chance and try again, but you fail. But you’re learning all along. Then you make corrections, take a chance again, and try again. This time you succeed. But you wouldn’t have succeeded if you hadn’t failed and taken a second or third chance. Or maybe it was your hundredth chance. You were wise: you found out what would succeed by finding out what wouldn’t. Fainter hearts would have given up, but you didn’t. You didn’t make the mistake of being afraid to make one. You were like a bulldog. You sank your teeth in and wouldn’t let go.
  • Be willing to incur danger. If your life consisted merely in avoiding risks, it would be extremely mediocre. Being courageous even in the midst of uncertainty brings a new intensity and sets you apart.
  • Be strong in the face of criticism. If you believe you’re right, stand your ground.
  • Plan ahead–as well as you can. Plans are representations of possible reality, but are not in themselves reality. We look ahead and what do we see? We see that half of the factors on which our decisions are made and our actions are taken are obscured by a kind of fog. Some things will always be ambiguous. We will never see the lay of the land exactly as it really is. Nevertheless, those decisions have to be made and those actions have to be taken. You can’t stand around hoping to be totally sure, or go around asking people, “What should I do next?” Whatever important action you are contemplating now, you have no choice but to live in uncertainty as to whether it will be the right one.
  • When the situation is unclear, but the outcome is important, have courage. There is no greater courage than the courage to risk being wrong.
  • From time to time in our life, a moment of great opportunity opens up before us and invites us to take hold. Often we’re too cautious, or too preoccupied, or just too lazy or stupid to pluck it. The maxim goes, “Opportunity knocks but once.” Why is that such a popular saying when there’s no truth to it? Opportunity knocks constantly if we listen closely enough. It’s knocking all the time. Sometimes it’s knocking so hard it’s deafening.
  • When opportunity appears, strike like a bolt of lightning. An opportunity will present itself to you–today, tomorrow, another day. All life long you have to be on your toes, being alert to great opportunities, and recognizing that here it is—your special moment. Then you must grasp it despite knowing that nothing is guaranteed.
  • Have high expectations, but be prepared for anything. A study was done of “failure prone” people. They had two noticeable traits. One was the illusion that they were immune to bad luck. The other was the illusion that they could control life’s events. When events that they had no control over struck they were thrown off balance and they failed. The more consistently successful people took the unexpected into account. They prepared themselves for it. When it struck, they were ready. Knowing that at times the unexpected will appear and challenge your goals, you should prepare yourself. You must make the unexpected expected. You must have options in mind and be bold with them. What major goals are you pursuing? When the unexpected arrives, what are your options? What will you do?
  • Never be rash. Boldness stops at the outer edge of the impossible. There is one great disease we should be forever vigilant of–egotism. We should guard ourselves against self-infatuation and the notion that we’re invincible. We aren’t fit for everything. We should be like tigers– cautious when we need to be, but always ready to leap. We should be willing to incur danger, but must never underestimate it. We should never undertake actions without sufficient means to support them, and should always obey our sober judgment.
  • Move forward if it’s to your advantage. If it isn’t, stay put. You’ll win a struggle when you know when to struggle and when not to struggle. Some courses of action should not be followed, some opportunities should not be pursued, and some decisions should not be made.
  • If you have to worry, do it beforehand, never after. In his book Psycho-cybernetics Maxwell Maltz told the story of a woman who while playing roulette observed players who were totally at ease before they placed their bets. The odds seemed not to matter to them. But when the wheel began to spin they became agitated and worried. She thought how ridiculous that was. If they were going to worry, they should worry before they placed the bet. After the wheel was turning, they might just as well forget their worries, relax, and enjoy the game. It came to her that she did the same thing in her life. She made many personal decisions without considering the risks, and after making them she second-guessed herself and worried endlessly if she had done the right thing. From the roulette experience she learned to work hard to make intelligent decisions and to do whatever worrying she was going to do beforehand. Her decisions improved; her life improved. Making better decisions, she started worrying less.
  • Maintain a strong mind. However risky, even dangerous your choice, and however excited you are, maintain a serenity under that excitement so that your judgment remains untouched and free. Show courage, decisiveness, strength of determination, and coolness under pressure even when you’re deepest in trouble or the most discouraged.
  • Lead a lifestyle of painstaking preparation combined with bold, sweeping action. Calculate what you can. But once your calculations are done, take action. Like a swordsman, develop your talents to the highest possible level and meticulously prepare yourself for the great event; then edge in close to the opportunity before you.
  • Be great at the critical moment. Most of the time life places no great demands on you. But at certain times the consequences are great, and the pressure on you is extreme. It is then that you must rise up and be equally great or all will be lost. It’s when you come through then that you’re at your finest. It is precisely when you are in dire straits and your prospects seem dimmest that you should be at your best. Then you must rejuvenate yourself with a limitless courage. You will never be as great as you are at that critical moment.

What will be your critical moments in your artistic career?

Will you be great?

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

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The Artist as Warrior

“The tramp of warriors sounded like a thousand convulsions of the earth. The shouts of warriors, the whistling of arrows, the thunder of the feet of foot soldiers and the hooves of chargers did not cease.”

“Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy.”

“When all psychological blocks are removed the swordsman will move without conscious effort.”

“The meaning of all things is within, in your mind, not something that exists ‘out there.’”
(From the Samurai Way)

martial-arts-291051_640Each time I visited a successful painter friend of mine I saw the same unfinished painting on the easel. Nothing about it changed month after month. Not a single new brush stroke touched the canvas. Then she moved away and I didn’t see her for a number of years. When we got together again I asked, “Whatever happened to that green pastel that was on your easel so long?”

She said, “I never finished it.”

I said, “You were afraid.”

She said, “I was terrified of it.”

I know a talented young writer who contacted 100 agents in hopes of getting his first book published. He had worked extremely hard on the book and it was very good. He thought of making it a trilogy, and had mapped out the next five years of writing. One agent showed interest and the writer was hopeful, but then the agent lost interest. Discouraged, doubting himself, having lost confidence, not wishing to be so disappointed again the writer stopped writing creatively and devoted himself to his teaching career.

I know an opera singer who has had a successful career, but suddenly and inexplicably after five years developed a fear of performing and for two years retired from the stage. She’s performing again but doesn’t know if that debilitating fear will ever return.

Each early morning I go into my work room upstairs and settle down to write. Now I’m in my element–confident, contented, primed and ready to work. I’ve been writing so long and have produced so many words. Generating text is second nature to me—easy, effortless, without strain. Yet, there is another emotion that is there with me some days. I pause, fold my hands in my lap, and ask myself, “What are you feeling now? Why are you hesitating?” And I answer, “I am feeling fear.”

paintings-316440_640“What are you afraid of?”

“I don’t know. Possibly that I won’t have my skills today; that I won’t be successful; that I’ll let myself down. I really don’t know.”

“Is that so important? Writing is such a small part of life.”

“Right now it is the most important thing possible.”

Bear in mind that I’ve had success writing. Also, I am no coward. I rescued a woman from a would-be rapist–chased him, caught him, fought with him, wrestled him to the ground, and held him till the police came. Yet when I sit at the computer to do the thing I do better than anything else sometimes I’m scared.

We speak of writer’s block, but that’s too narrow. There are sculptors’ blocks and actors’ blocks and ballet dancers’ blocks—the drawing back (intimidated, helpless) from the art we love and have performed many times before–being stopped by some powerful obstacle or set of obstacles that are not out there in the world, not visible to the eye, but are inside us.

The Samurai

The samurai–the finest warriors ever to walk this earth– were ordinary men and women who were trained to perform extraordinary feats of courage. Just as writers, artists, dancers, or actors face internal obstacles that interfere with their work, so did the samurai. The bulk of his or her training (there were women samurai) was devoted to overcoming those inner obstacles that are no different than the obstacles artists of all descriptions face—anxiety, procrastination, self-doubt, hesitation, fear of taking risks, discouragement, over-analysis, depression, apprehension, impatience, and more.

target-211225_640The release of the arrow is the most difficult problem archers face; they think too much, as often do artists, explaining the sudden loss of spontaneity, the sudden loss of skill. Fear is a dragon that often keeps us from success. The samurai was taught: “Strike through the dragon’s mask.”

The samurai’s mind was trained to be fudoshin—to be “immovable,” to never budge from the main goal (for the artist, to get the work done.) They were taught that when your thoughts get “caught” (toroware), or “stopped” (tomaru) on internal obstacles, you will have trouble executing any action—when your mind gets “hooked” or “snagged,” the way the opera singer’s mind was snagged for two years. Better to acquire tomaranu kokoro, “a mind that knows no stopping,” that flows smoothly from idea to idea without being stopped.

What I did in my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life was to pluck the wisdom of the samurai off the battlefield and apply it to everyday modern life producing a book of musha-shugyo, “training in warriorship” so that people might overcome the internal obstacles that are troubling them.

Zen and the Samurai

The warrior class was the first segment of Japanese society to embrace Zen. From the twelfth-century on Zen became known as the religion of the samurai. What explains the fit between these two apparently different approaches to life?

Zen is many things—a religion, a philosophy, a life-style. It is also a psychology, a psychology of action, grounded on decisiveness, spontaneity, strength of will, adaptability, courage, and bravery. It was this psychological aspect of Zen which appealed most to the samurai, for to rush forward to face the enemy even if only death awaited him, he needed what Zen taught—to act without hanging back, without reservations, and with total commitment.

Warrior Artists

samurai-67662_640The elite samurai were members of the cultured, aristocratic upper classes—the daimyos, the lords. Bunbu ryodo “The united Ways of the pen and the sword” refers to the tradition of the warrior artist, master swordsmen who were also poets, calligraphers, and painters. The famed Miyamoto Musashi is considered the greatest samurai swordsman who ever lived. He was also one of Japan’s foremost artists whose work today has a place in Japan’s national art museum.

Samurai Maxims

“A warrior must only take care that his spirit is never broken.”

“Success will always come if your heart is without disturbance.”

“Let your mind be free to function according to its own nature.”

“Stick to the larger view of things. If your vision is narrow your spirit will be narrow.”

“Adversity in life is essential to training.”

“The end of our Way of the sword is to be fearless when confronting our inner enemies and our outer enemies.”

“If you walk, just walk. If you sit, just sit. But whatever you do, don’t wobble.”

You needn’t look too far or too hard to see that these maxims and the inner training of the samurai Way apply to the artist’s life. Like the warrior, if the artist is to grow, it will be from within. The artist’s work, like a warrior releasing an arrow, should be like a drop of dew falling from a leaf or a fruit falling when it’s ripe.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

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Decisive Choices

“We have to learn to pay close attention to our lives right now, not just tomorrow or next week or next year–or even in an hour.”

Moments of Decisive Choice

cliffsDuring the Nazi occupation of Europe there were rescuers and bystanders. The majority were bystanders. They stood by. Rescuers helped people who were being hunted. They hid them; they fed them; they helped them get away.

Bystanders claimed they had no choice because the penalty for harboring fugitives was death. Rescuers said they had no choice but to risk death because they were doing the right thing. But each did have a choice. The rescuers could have said, “I won’t help,” and the bystanders could have said, “I will.” They each made a decisive choice.

We make decisive choices all our lives. At one time or another we’ve chosen to be brave or cowardly, to be happy or not, to fall in love or not, to shirk our responsibilities or live up to them. You make a decisive choice to take a risk to start a new career, to face up to a serious problem, to end something or start something, or to get yourself out of a miserable predicament.

We fell in love with freedom as children and have been trying all of our adult lives to have more of it. During moments of decisive choice you’re as free as you’ll ever be. You come to an impasse, then say, “I’ve had enough of this routine, of this style of life, of these habits, of thinking the same old shop-worn thoughts, of this place, of these people. It’s time to change.” You’re bold. You declare yourself: “This is what I believe and this is what I’ll do.” The happiest people in the world are the ones that have made up their mind. Then you set sail; you catch the wind.

Moments of No Choice

Just as there are moments when you make a decisive choice, there are moments when you should make a decisive choice, but don’t. Moments of no choice are moments when you would be happiest leading one kind of life or another, but lazily or fearfully you follow the course already set.

You would think that being in a bad situation, people would want to find a way out. Lizzie would start a better life as soon as she leaves Ted, and she knows that. No one has to tell her Ted is no good for her; that her life is being ruined. But months pass and she makes no choice. Lizzie never leaves him and her life stays the same. People look at her and say, “What a shame. What a wasted life.”

Burt makes no choice, permitting his loneliness to continue, coming home from work, switching on the light, and as he does every other night sits down on the edge of the bed to wonder wearily what the rest of the world is doing. Many people moan about their troubles, but do nothing to get rid of them.

Have you noticed how many people who make no choice are leading lives that are beneath them? How many can’t seem to imagine a better life? How many doubt themselves and lack confidence?

 Choice-Point Living

sunrise-165094_640We have the freedom at any point to freeze the action of our lives, take a step back, and decide to continue as we are or to start out in a more promising direction. At any moment you’re at liberty to:

1. Stop the action, reflect, and make an honest appraisal of your life as it stands. Is it progressing the way you want?

  1. Will you continue it as it is, or will you change its direction? You don’t have to wait until next week or next month, or until you feel completely up to it. Right now as you read this you can stop the action, look up from the screen, and ask, “Do I really want to continue my life as is, or should I change it?”
  1. Plan the changes you’ll make. Set goals because if you have goals clearly in mind you will be motivated to achieve them, be more persistent in pursuing them, more self-confident, better able to overcome obstacles, and more successful.
  1. Take decisive action and do what you’ve decided to do.

That’s intentional Choice Point Living–purposely stopping, appraising, deciding, and acting. It may start when you find yourself thinking, “Everything is fine—I’m leading a good life and have so much to be content with. But yet, yet, I can actually feel in my gut, feel physically, that something isn’t right, something is seriously wrong somewhere, and something should be done.”

 Points of No Return/No Retreat Societies

In your life there have been and will be again points of no return, periods of total commitment. Now you’re fully mobilized for action. There is no longer any other choice to be made, no “should I do this or should I do that?” or “Should I wait?” There’s no stopping you from the direction you’ve consciously chosen. Now there is no time for second thoughts. Everything is clear to you. Everything is perfect. You can remember some of your points of no return and how glorious you felt making up your mind and committing yourself.

Among Native American warriors there were “no retreat societies.” These warriors declared themselves. They were in the fight to the finish, and there was no going back, no retreating. Your points of no return have been like that. They’ve been some of the happiest times of your life. Once you were decided you were in it straight to the end.

What points of no return do you remember best?

Is it time for another?

The Single Purpose of This Present Moment

japanese-cherry-trees-324175_640We’re accustomed to thinking of broad vistas–of where we will stand in life and how well we will be doing in six months or five years or ten or twenty. We neglect to notice how uncertain life is and how time is racing, how our lives once gone are gone forever. We’re no different than cherry blossoms that don’t last long in the wind that blows them from the tree. All we remember is how beautiful they were. Our lives are five minutes long.

We have to learn to pay close attention to our lives right now, not just tomorrow or next week or next year–or even in an hour. Why concern yourself with how you’ll feel a day from now, or in a minute, or what may happen, when far more important is what needs to be done right now, this present moment.

Gather your strength, or courage, or defiance into a decisive choice. Come to life.

 

Moments of Decisive Choice—Strength, Freedom

Moments of No Choice—Lack of Confidence, No Change

Choice Point Living—Conscious Change, New Goals, Setting Sail

Points of No Return—Total Commitment, Strength

No Retreat Societies—No Going Back, Happiness

The Single Purpose of This Present Moment—Awareness, Confidence, Focus

 

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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To Think, To Decide, To Act: Trust Only Movement

Living at White Heat

highway-393492_640“A motto for man: to do and through doing to ‘do’ himself
and be nothing but what he has made of himself.” Jean Paul Sartre

 

Katherine is such a good woman, a kind-hearted woman, obviously very bright, and likable, friendly, and generous to a fault. There is so much to her, so many gifts, so much to offer, so much promise, but she’s snagged, she’s caught, she’s trapped, and she is not looking for a way to escape. And the days pass.

Someone asked her if she’s happy and she said she is. But the next morning she thought about it and realized she isn’t. It’s no mystery to her why. She knows she’s not nearly as ambitious as she might be, and hasn’t found a heartfelt purpose to get up for in the morning. And she’s in a job she doesn’t like, but makes no attempt to find anything more suitable. Her partner abruptly ended their long relationship, and she’s lonely. But she’s made no effort to find someone else or to look for an activity she would enjoy and would divert her attention from her loneliness. She has friends, but none of them close.

Her life has settled into a tedious routine. From her building’s elevator over to the garage, the mile to the office, lunch at the Greek restaurant, the mile home, and the elevator. Laundry Wednesday night about seven and shopping on Saturday morning, the newspaper on Sunday, and on Monday at 8:30 her favorite TV show.

She looks in the mirror twice a day and sees she’s gaining weight around the middle, and doesn’t like that, but doesn’t do anything about it. No different from a billion other people, she never stops to ask herself, “Why am I living this life when I could always a live another.” She could be leading a better life, a life with meaning, if she made new decisions and followed through on them, no more apathy and no excuses.

To think, to decide, to act, to do something, to get things done, to attend to what needs attention, to reduce the distance between where you are now and where you want to be in life–that’s a human being’s inherent nature. You were not created to be stationary, to be limp and weak and unmoving, but were brought into this world with movement in mind. Action is your natural inclination, a fulfilling life your true destiny. It’s what you’re body and mind are designed for: to make choices and changes, take risks, accept responsibility, exert energy, and achieve purposes. You only reveal the person you truly are in decisive action. Only then do you reach your enormous possibilities. But you must trust only movement.

If we cast a glance at people in general we find the opposite of a continuous advance toward a better life. Standing still in life and doing nothing is plainly the common condition, resisting change even if one’s life is quietly unbearable. Letting opportunities to explore new ways of being and discover new strengths, new people, and new pleasures slip away, and slip away again.

 Recognize the Clues

No one has to tell you there’s a discrepancy between the life you’re leading and the better one you have the potentials to be leading. You know something is wrong before anyone else, and you know it better than anyone else. And if you are intelligent and aware, that knowledge never leaves you alone. Some people intend to change their life, and may swear to others they will. “Someday,” they say, “I’ll do this and then I’ll do that and things will get better.” But when they cast an honest eye on their life in progress they see certain indications that their life is going wrong, certain clues.

An Inappropriate life

There comes a moment when you realize that you could have just as well have lived a thousand different lives but have lived this one, that you could just as well have taken a thousand different paths but took this one; that perhaps they are the wrong life and the wrong path.

Running Out of Time

From time to time you have to ask yourself if you’ve have made the most of your limited time here on earth. Then in a moment of quiet panic some people realize they haven’t. Entering the Garden of Eden, God called to Adam, “Where art thou.” He was asking Adam to account for himself. We all have to account for ourselves. X days and years of the time allotted to you have passed. How far have you gotten?

Hideouts and Cover Stories

People often go to extreme lengths to fabricate a cover story to explain why they’re not making the most of their lives. They hide out. You know people who are hiding out. You can even recite their cover stories, you’ve heard them so often: “This didn’t work out and that didn’t work out. My luck was bad, and things were so dead set against me. I’m as smart as anyone else, but I didn’t get the breaks.” During moments of clarity they become aware that the best part of themselves has never come out of hiding. They cower behind the cover stories they invented and escape to hideouts. You want to say, “Wake up! Stop hiding. Don’t settle for a crummy life.”

Cancelled Dreams

At some point some people give up and abandon their dreams. They continue the rest of their days recalling how pleasant their dreams once had been. Dreams are frail things that disappear if they aren’t turned to reality.

Inaction

You may be a person of action. If you are, when there’s something to be done, you do it. Hard work is necessary if you are to have the life you deserve, so you work hard. You have purposes to attend to and you attend to them. There are obstacles to conquer, so you conquer them. But this man is paralyzed by inaction. He doubts himself and is afraid. He doesn’t do what’s necessary to improve his life. When he is set back he gives up trying and doesn’t bother anymore. His determination withers away. He can follow routines–up at six, home at six–because routines require no imagination or initiative; no risks, no commitments. But when it comes to stepping out of the familiar stream of daily routine and taking action to make more of his life–changing careers, starting a business, leaving a disappointing life behind, moving to a different place, for example– he’s in over his head, he’s helpless There’s procrastinating over the small things–failing to return a library book on time–and there is procrastinating over the big things–failing to make important life-changing decisions and take action, procrastinating your existence into oblivion.

Disillusionment

There’s supposed to be some vital meaning to our lives. But there comes a time when some people are forced to ask, “Is this all there is?” They realize that their lives have little meaning, and without meaning there isn’t much to life. They long to be breathless with desire for–something, anything.

 Unfulfilled Promise

In high school Kim was somebody. But now she realizes that something somehow happened, and she’s been left behind. She’s nowhere near the bright future that once seemed so clearly, like a beacon, to lie ahead. She can’t shake that off. She lives in the past, in her glory years. She’s snagged; she’s stuck. She makes no progress.

A Mechanical Existence

There’s a saying: “Be sure you’re riding the horse and the horse isn’t riding you.” Some people choose to be ridden by the horse. They’re living all right–their heart is beating and they breathe– but they’re not leading their life at all, but are being led. Their lives are too easy, too predictable, and too uneventful, and are headed nowhere. There’s nothing in store, no excitement, no surprises.

A Phony Life

Many people live one way while their true self urges them to live a truer, more authentic, more suitable way. They often stay busy in a whirlwind of activity that unbeknownst to them is designed to allow no time to stop and ask, “Am I doing the best I can, am I going right, or have I just gotten good at leading a phony existence?”

 Living with White Heat

When you put behind you an inappropriate life, hideouts and cover stories, cancelled dreams, inaction, unfulfilled promise, a mechanical existence, and a phony life and disillusionment and choose to live a decisive style of life, you become committed to your actions with your whole person. You live with white heat. When you decide with your whole being, all that you are and all that you can be and hope to be are right there with you. You throw yourself completely into the decision. You’re in this thing to the end and your commitment knows no bounds. You focus, you bear down. There’s something out of the ordinary about you that people recognize, a seriousness of intent, a rare intensity. You’re not fooling around, you’re deadly serious about your life and its goals, and you’re not run of the mill. You’re a different breed of man, a different breed of woman, and that’s obvious. Your determination is as hard as granite. You’re unbendable. You never deviate from your decisiveness.

We’re born and hurled into the future. What’s unique about you sets you apart and launches you in a direction. Always follow where your gifts, your talents, and your intelligence lead you. You were meant to let yourself be drawn in that direction. Why resist?

A man was curious and attended an art show to ask a famous sculptor if he had advice for his son John, a sculptor who was just beginning. The sculptor said, “Yes I do have advice. It’s very simple. You tell John to pick up his mallet and his chisel and make chips.”

We’d be better off, you and I, if like a sculptor sculpting our own lives, we too made a decision to make chips.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

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Writers and Other Artists and Their Audience: A Very Personal Relationship

IMG_0240_David Pic copyEvery Tuesday or Wednesday I have lunch with a friend, a professor of philosophy, at a deli near my home and everything is fair game for our talks but sports. I am interested in sports, having grown up in Chicago—the slap-happiest sports town in the world. But he grew up somewhere else and thinks a basketball is something you hit with a bat.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that very important to my wife, who teaches writing, is the relationship the author establishes with the reader. I said I agree with her that the personality of the author shines all through the words and that as you read you respond to that personality, and that it accounts for much of the value we find in the work. Just as you make judgments about the work itself, such as to answer the question, “Do I like this and should I continue reading,” you also make judgments about the author such as, “Do I like and respect the person behind the words, and do I want to spend more time with him?” That happens whatever you’re reading—novel, blog, short story, play, poem, email, essay, memo, or letter.

And something similar happens whenever you look at a work of art, or see an actor act, or a dancer dance.

My friend said, “There is no relationship. There is no personality. There are only words.” Then I said, “I was reading a book recently and the information was useful—the author knew what he was talking about– but he was so arrogant and smug and self-satisfied that I couldn’t go on reading. But now James Agee, for example, is to me so likable and gentle and right-minded and has such compassion that I always enjoy his company.”

And then I thought: There are millions of people on earth who consider themselves serious writers, and many millions more who are engaged in other arts, and to whom the relationship between themselves and their audience has to be a major concern (2.5 million people in the U.S. alone consider themselves artists); so it would be worthwhile to give that relationship the attention it deserves.

The True Center

The true center of our experience with any kind of narrative writing in any language on earth is the sense that someone with a mind, a personality, and a background of experience is talking to us. That sense accounts—if it is favorable– for much of the pleasure we derive from reading, and it is that sense that a good writer will develop in the reader, consciously or not. What a writer is intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally radiates in the work and can’t be hidden from the discriminating reader.

Herman Melville said, “No man can read a fine author, and relish him to his very bones, while he reads, without subsequently“ forming “some ideal image of the man and his mind. And if you look…you’ll find the author has furnished you with his own picture.” Literary critic Georges Poulet wrote, “ (As I read) “I am aware of a rational being, of a consciousness, the consciousness of another opens to me, welcomes me, lets me deep inside itself, and even allows me, with unheard of license, to think what it thinks and feel what it feels. I am thinking the thought of another, but I am thinking it as my very own.”

Energy, Sincerity, and Other Qualities

The author’s qualities we connect with are those we respond to in any person we meet face to face. They include humor, energy, vitality, seriousness, playfulness, friendliness, originality, boldness, glibness, sensitivity, sensuality, elegance, flexibility of mind, intelligence, tenderness, objectivity, flippancy, etc. We become aware of the author’s interests, preoccupations, even obsessions, and how involved the author is in the subject, including her attitude toward her characters. Even the most objective and dispassionate writing, as in the short stories of Chekov, the master of understatement, conveys the personality of the author—his control and self-restraint.

We make judgments about the degree of ability the author has, and say, “That man is so skilled that he can do anything he wants with language. He’s so self-confident that he breaks the rules whenever he wants. He has courage; he takes chances.” We look at a great actor performing or Baryshnikov leaping and we say “Their skill is breathtaking; they are very disciplined and have worked hard to develop themselves.” It’s been said that painter and tortured genius Jackson Pollock had no natural talent. He was always aware that he was an artist that could not draw. But the guts he had appears in his every work, and in painting his groundbreaking way he changed the course of western art and the definition of what we mean by art.

A Distinctive Style

The first quality we notice about a master, or a truly excellent writer—or painter, or dancer, or actor, or any other artist– is a distinctive style. All great artists are concerned not only with communicating their vision and expressing their talent, but are preoccupied with the most effective way to do that. And style, which is anything but a minor afterthought, is the artist’s signature and as individual and as much a part of the writer’s, sculptor’s, actor’s, or architect’s, etc., personality and life experience as DNA. There was only one Marlon Brando and only one Frank Lloyd Wright.

Possibly the first requirement of a good style for a writer is the ability to put the reader into what is being written about and the writer’s presence right away, from the very beginning, and all the way through the work. Using a first-person “I” voice as in Hemingway’s autobiographical novel The Sun Also Rises invites the reader to share in the writer’s and narrator’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and can be tremendously effective. With the second person “you” the writer is addressing the reader directly, and that too, can have a strong effect.

How We Want To Be Treated

There is a sharp difference between authors who treat us as essentially their equals and those that (like political candidates) imply we’re their inferiors. That author I couldn’t stand and couldn’t go on reading had no respect for the reader. He had no concept of the fundamental truths that artists must have an understanding of their audience and what will please them, excite them, and hold their attention, and what will “lose” them, including the author’s own personality. Authors we have friendships with are those who share interests with us and respect us, never underestimating us, never talking down to us.

The Author’s Mind; the Artist’s Mind

We respond very much to the author’s mind in action, and whether we’ll go on reading or not and how attentive or respectful we’ll be depends on how interesting and stimulating we find that mind. I was reading a true story about a man who was having trouble getting to sleep, and his mind was so active trying to figure out how to do that that I just sat back and laughed and marveled at his ingenuity. We are involved with the author’s mind from the first word, and the skilled author will let you know immediately that his mind is active and sharp. Even a nice metaphor or a perfect sentence or clear writing give us the reality of entering the author’s mind.

We could just as easily be talking about the painter’s mind, or the ballet dancer’s mind, or the movie director’s mind. Whatever the art, the audience responds to that mind one way if it is interesting and another if it’s not.

Intimacy and Integrity

The particularly effective writer—the particularly effective artist of any kind—will develop a relationship that goes beyond liking and beyond friendship to intimacy, and that comes from above all else the sincerity we find in the work. Sincerity is what I sense in Agee, for example. Anyone who can write so beautifully and so sensitively, honestly, and intensely must be trying to communicate to me something that he cares deeply about. The intimate writer invites us in to his inner life and says “Here I am.” I sense utmost sincerity too in Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”—a poem in which the writer actually speaks to the reader and tells us that as he is writing the poem he is thinking about us. And I find it in all the work of van Gogh, and some blogs I read. The artist is sincerely trying to connect with me and communicate something directly to me as well as he or she is able, and I respond.

Good writing has integrity—our being whole and authentic with no division between who we are and what we write, or paint, or how we perform on stage. We guarantee that we aren’t faking, or deceiving, or compromising. Hemingway referred to integrity as the built-in “bullshit detector” that every real artist possesses.

No Place to Hide

It is futile to think we can hide ourselves from an audience for very long or fool it into believing we’re something we’re not. The voice that comes through is not something that is imposed artificially from the outside, but is the genuine, the authentic, the true, the real person. Even when we write about a character that is nothing like us, the person we are—with our history and our points of view and our opinions comes through clearly. The very images we use and the very vocabulary tell a great deal about us.

Addition by Subtraction

An authentic voice is not achieved by adding something, but by the opposite process—by subtracting what is pretentious or not genuine. Every artist is unique and different from every other. There are no duplicates. But whatever she is like, we are trying to locate her and understand her.

Coming Out of the Shadows

So if we are looking for prescriptions, the first would be: “Whatever your art, come out of the shadows and reveal yourself. Let your true personality permeate all through your work—your sincerity, your honesty, your mind in action, your originality and uniqueness, the ‘I’ who you are–for it is that, above and beyond the other content, that your audience will respond to. Be interesting, be clever, be skilled, be alive, be true, and be authentic.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Doubting Yourself/Losing Confidence

Caution sign-44463_640To be a successful samurai required tremendous self-confidence. He/she was taught, “To defeat the enemy who comes leaping at you, your spirit must be perfectly poised.” Such confidence can be learned.

 A very intelligent, very talented woman told me her story one quiet, warm summer evening as we walked along a beach and watched the gulls. Since childhood she had imagined writing novels that she would then see on shelves in book stores and libraries wherever she went. “But,” she said almost apologetically, “that was long ago and I gave that up.” Then she picked up a stone off the sand and tossed it in the lake with a plunk. “Though now and then,” she said wistfully, touching my hand, “I do wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t given up?”

I asked her, “Why did you give up?”

“Oh, I’d heard it was impossible to get a book published—told that I was dreaming. And I didn’t want to spend two years or three years or five years writing long hours, sacrificing, spending less time with my family and friends, only to be told, ‘Sorry, you’re not good enough.’ That would have hurt me very much and I didn’t want to go through that.”

I think there are masterpieces that are never written because the would-be author doubted himself or herself and so, didn’t even attempt to write the book that would have become a masterpiece. They are extremely talented. They are extremely intelligent. Their idea for the book is fantastic. But they doubt themselves and don’t try or give up at the first sign of failure, and so there is not the slightest chance the masterpiece will ever be written

Some years ago I wrote a little how-to book on job-hunting for a client running a job placement agency—really just knocked it off. One day at lunch I was in a bookstore in Chicago’s Loop and thumbed through a few best-selling books on the same subject only to conclude “Mine is better.”

That filled me with confidence, and that’s when I made a decision to actually become what I had wanted to be since the third grade when my teacher, Miss Gross, read a story I’d written to the whole class. She was at the front of the room and had quieted us all down. She read the story, and the story was mine. When she finished she said, “Isn’t that a wonderful story David has written?” It was about a time in a football game when I had been tackled. Miss Gross said that when I wrote, “Then I fell to the ground like a blob of jelly coming out of a jar” that was a simile–that was poetic. “So,” I thought, “I’ve written a simile.” I decided then, that day, that moment, sitting at that desk that I wanted to be an author and I have never wanted to do anything else. From that day on I expected to be an author.

The Dreaded “Who Am I, Little Old Me, To Attempt That”

All you need do is think of your own experiences to know this: People shrink from any effort in which they don’t foresee success. They will do what they believe they are capable of succeeding at and avoid it if they doubt–like our would-be writers of masterpieces doubt–that they will succeed. That’s true even if what they avoid is of major value to them, and even if, were they not to doubt themselves, they could do, and perhaps do quite well.

Self-doubt is a thinking-too-much, cowardice creating problem. It begins the moment that nagging little stress-filled inner voice starts whispering “Maybe I’m not good enough.” “Maybe I’m not ready.” “I wish to hell I was somewhere else.” “I will not succeed.”

Even the most confident people–the Abraham Lincoln’s, the Winston Churchill’s, world-class athletes, great actors–experience periods of severe self-doubt. But they come out of it. They shake it off. They recover.

If you doubt yourself often, your major goals and purposes are in jeopardy because self-doubters don’t set their goals high. They avoid difficult tasks.

Self-doubters may avoid a career in which, were they confident, they might excel.

“Go to the battlefield firmly confident of victory and you will come home with no wounds whatsoever.” Samurai general Kenshin Uyesugi (1530-1578)

In an experiment, adults were given the same ten puzzles to solve. When they were done working on them, half were told they had done well, seven out of ten right, and the other half were told they had done poorly, seven out of ten wrong. In fact what they were told was completely fictitious. Then all were given another ten puzzles to solve, the same for each person. Then their efforts were actually graded. The half who had been told they had done well in the first round and so expected to do well again actually did better in the second, while the other half, with self-doubting expectations, did worse.

 Expect Success

“How should a samurai behave in battle?”

“Go straight ahead, wielding your sword.”

                                                                     14th century advice to a reluctant warrior

 The key to all successes is to be found in your own mind, in what you think. The Dhammapada of Buddhism says, “All you are is the result of what you have thought.” Most of the time the lives we lead are a reflection of our expectations

More than 100 studies of 15,000 people show that those who expect to succeed are happier, healthier, and more successful.

Positive expectation people overcome obstacles/blocks and aren’t deterred. They expect to be able to handle difficulties and to succeed in spite of them. When setting a goal they consider the probability of success rather than the probability of failure. “The chances are good I’ll succeed. I can accomplish this if I work hard enough.” “This is going to work out really well for me, and I’m going to be happy.”

Failure-motivated, self-doubting people have the opposite expectations: “I’ll never be able to do it. I’ll give it a try, but it probably won’t work out.”

So reject self-doubt and choose new and more fruitful expectations.

Form a pact with someone at home and at work. Whenever they hear you doubting yourself, they are to say, “Have confidence. Be of good cheer. You’re a very capable person and never forget that. Think of how good things will be when you succeed.”

Before the job interview or sales presentation or settling down to start that book or that painting, go off by yourself. For every self-doubt you have, fill your mind with five expectations of success, five affirmations of your confidence in yourself. And do that immediately upon thinking, “Who am I, little old me…” And time and time again until it becomes a wonderful habit.

Persevere and Succeed

Do not—do not–avoid difficulty. To reduce self-doubt and gain self-confidence requires experiences of mastering difficulty through perseverance. Now, if you set your sights low and experience only easy successes, you come to expect quick and easy results, and your sense of confidence may be shattered if you do not succeed. But blocks, dragons, difficulties, and setbacks serve a useful purpose. They teach you that success usually requires sustained effort. An author may revise a short story, novel, or essay she finds difficult 75 times before she’s satisfied. A ballet dancer intent on a beautiful performance may practice turning her ankle in a particular way a thousand times.

Once you become convinced that you have what it takes to succeed, you persevere in the face of adversity and quickly rebound from failure.

And once you succeed in achieving one goal you will tend to set higher goals.

You needn’t be victimized by your thoughts, your expectations. They’re under your control. You can choose your expectations as easily as you pick a rose from a bush, and in doing that, you are choosing your success.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

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Overcoming Obstacles

 

mount-50920_640Fear, as we’ve said, is the dragon of dragons, the block of blocks that stops people again and again from a better life–fear of being wrong, fear of looking foolish, fear of speaking up, fear of public speaking, fear of what tomorrow will bring, etc. But there are other major dragons preventing people from achieving their goals and purposes and reaching their long-held dreams. Among them is:

Being Afraid to Take Risks

One of the more powerful blocks to committed action in personal and work life is the desire for certainty, the sure thing. In short, the desire for the impossible.

My Uncle Fred

My uncle Fred set out to invent a new type of nozzle. He rented space in a factory where my father worked, and my father would watch Fred working long hours in hip boots in vats of water trying to perfect his nozzle. My father would come home from work and say, “Poor Fred, splashing around night and day with his nozzles. I feel sorry for the guy. It’ll never work out.”

Uncle Fred had a wife and three children, but no income. He was staking everything that one day he would invent that revolutionary nozzle and would make millions. He had the idea and the design, but needed a machinist to shape the nozzles he was working with, and so he offered a share of the business to my father, a machinist, if he would work with him at nights and on weekends without pay until the business was making money. Though we never had enough money, my father was never one to take risks and he turned down the offer.

Did Fred succeed? Yes, he did. The nozzle he invented was revolutionary, and he did make many millions from his patent and his manufacturing company, and he bought an estate in the country with stables and horses, and a BIG house with art works from around the world, and another big house for the servants. My father scratched around for nickels all his life.

Night School Students

I taught a graduate college class at night to students who worked during the day. I would guess they ranged in age from twenty-five to fifty-five. Every semester I would conduct a survey by asking the class, “If you could do it over, would you go into the career you are in now?” What do you think they said?

You’re right. The great majority said emphatically “NO” or more often, “NO WAY.” They “should have been” an animator. They “should have been” an engineer, or an attorney, or a novelist.

Then I asked them, “Then why don’t you go into something you would like more?”

Whatever they answered—“I make a lot of money now and might not make as much in another career”—“I would have to get another degree”—“I’m too old to start over”—were various ways of saying, “I’m afraid to take risks.”

Bill the Executive and Herman the Runner

When I first met Bill, he was second in command of an organization with a work force of approximately three thousand people. His boss told me that Bill actually ran things. I felt it would certainly help my consulting with the organization if I learned what decisions Bill was contemplating. But when I asked him he snapped, “Decisions! I’m not making any decisions. I made that mistake last year.” Here was a man three thousand employees looked to for direction and job security, and he didn’t intend to make any decisions!

I had run across another Bill years before. His name was Herman. I had one season of high school track under my belt when Herman tried out for the team and made it as a 400 meter runner. He was a decent runner who worked very hard. The day of his first meet came and since his event was coming up, the coach looked around for Herman, but he was nowhere in sight. Eventually, though, the coach found him hiding in a washroom, his legs shaking, his face pale with fright. I’ll never forget coach putting his arm around Herman’s shoulder and walking him to the track, then saying only one short sentence, very softly, very kindly: “Herman, it’s time to get your feet wet.”

Let’s not be too hard on Bill, Herman, my students, and my father. They’re just examples of what is in fact the most popular approach to living and working: trying to avoid taking risks. Don’t run and you can’t lose the race; don’t make decisions and you can’t make bad ones. Don’t gamble on nozzles; don’t change you career in mid-stream. But on the other hand, don’t help Uncle Fred and you’ll never be rich, and don’t change your career and you’ll never know how happy you might have been in that other career. Don’t run the race and you cannot feel the thrill of victory. Don’t make decisions and you can’t make glorious decisions that will change your life and possibly the lives of those you love.

It could be that right now you too are hanging back from a decision or from taking decisive action in your own work or personal life. You might be shying away from potentially rewarding, exciting, and incredibly gratifying experiences because you want to avoid the disappointment or pain that might occur if things don’t work out. Like Herman, the runner, you want to keep your feet bone-dry.

The Search for Guarantees Will Get You Exactly Nowhere

Searching for guarantees in life and work is looking at them from the wrong end of the telescope, looking at them ass-backwards. The purpose of work and everyday life is not to avoid risk, quiet as that’s kept, but to maximize opportunity. And where do the richest opportunities lie? Exactly where the dangers are greatest. The best chance for total victory are to be found where? Where your chances of losing are also great.

Regret

A survey was done of 300 adults who were asked to reflect on their lives, their happiness and their regrets. Who were the most dissatisfied with their lives? Those who regretted not taking more risks.

The one constant factor in life is uncertainty. Half the things we try to do are affected by it. Wherever there is risk there is danger and there is fear. But risk and danger and fear needn’t stop us. In samurai swordsmanship there is a daring move that requires you to take two leaping steps forward and to come within a hairsbreadth of your opponent’s sword. It is not a difficult move and can bring quick and total victory, but it is rarely used. Why, when you can win so easily? Because taking the risk of coming so close to the foes blade terrifies most swordsmen. In life as with that sword move, it is often only by edging yourself in close to defeat that you also approach great success. Uncle Fred knew that, but Bill didn’t. Herman didn’t, many of my students didn’t, and my father certainly didn’t.

We-jei, the Chinese character, is made up of two symbols. One is “danger;” the other is “opportunity.” Danger—the danger of taking risks– offers us the opportunity to expand, to grow, to show courage, to become stronger, to start fresh on a more fulfilling course,

When you find yourself shying away, tell yourself, “I’ve got to edge in. I’ve got to play it closer to the sword blade.”

Take a coin and flip it. Whatever you do, don’t call “danger” and once again refuse to take a necessary risk—and make no progress. Make another choice. Call “opportunity” and be on your way.

TELL ME WHAT YOU’RE THINKING

What risks have you been afraid to take? How did you succeed in overcoming your fear?

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

HOW TO GET THE BOOK THAT SHOWS YOU HOW TO OVERCOME OBSTACLES

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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