During a recent visit to the car dealership to get my oil changed, I decided to go for a test drive of a new car rather than sit down and write this blog. Usually, I feel like a creative genius sitting in that waiting room with my headset on, pounding away at the keyboard. Today, I felt that nagging question of “what am I going to write about” hanging in the back of my mind.
With a classic case of writer’s block going, I went for a test drive. It was an avoidance strategy for sure. Perhaps a very expensive one if my avoidance led to getting a new car.
I did what any good test driver of a new car would do: opened it up on the highway to see how fast it accelerated. For a few seconds anyway. As we were making the same circle that salesman has likely made hundreds of times, I asked him how he felt being in the passenger side of a car with a complete stranger flooring it and otherwise putting a car through its paces.
Here is what he said: “I don’t get scared when someone is seeing how fast the car can accelerate or they try the brakes. What scares me is the people who don’t realize just what a bad driver they are.”
His statement reinforced an insight that has been percolating with me for years. It’s something that will be percolating for the rest of my life.
Awareness matters. So does intention. And they are closely linked.
Being unaware (ignorant) can create unfortunate consequences – in domains far beyond test driving a car. Ignorance simply means you are operating based on an unconscious choice and you do not know what you do not know. Like a driver who is oblivious. Like a boss who doesn’t understand the impact s/he has.
What the car salesman basically said was that intention makes his job less scary.
There is a lot of power in intention. This is not a newsflash. There have been books and movies made about the power of intention.
Yet, like anything with depth, there is a WORLD of difference between knowing something in theory and actually putting it into practice.
It’s the “putting it into practice” that has been percolating with me for the last several years.
Being intentional requires awareness and discipline.
Intention to me means that you are operating by a conscious choice. You made a decision and you are acting on that decision.
It means I have to pause to decide on my intention for anything that matters. It’s one of the key leverage points I can use to run my life (instead of letting my life run me.)
So how did I do on that slippery slope of test driving a car? Did I fall prey to the salesman’s charms and drive out with a new car? (By the way, I genuinely am in the market for a new car – and I also love the game of negotiating.)
In this case, when I decided to actually do a test drive, I also decided that my intention was to learn about the car, get a first offer and LEAVE. No matter how good the offer.
The deal they put in front of me was actually pretty good – and I honored my intention. It kept me from making a rushed deal, and when I do buy, it will be on my terms.
Being intentional helps you create the terms for your life. It puts you in the driver’s seat. You can’t control what happens in so many cases.
Intention allows you to respond rather than react.
Where are you exercising the discipline of intention? In what ways are you letting your life run you? What decisions do you find particularly difficult?
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Note: Today I am once again waiting on the kiln to be cool enough to open and discover the magic – and perhaps the disappointments. In the last three years, I’ve made great progress in my skills – simply showing me that there is another level to now aspire to. I’m republishing this blog from February 2015 to remind me to keep learning.
Pots from Spring 2018
Originally Published February 24, 2015 | By Lynn Carnes
Kiln opening day is always filled with anticipation. First, the big question is, “When will it be cool enough to open?” Then the bigger questions are, “What will I find?” “Did the magic occur or was it a disappointment?” and “Will I get the same results as before?”
Today’s opening was filled with a few great successes, some pretty bad glaze runs and yes, some disappointments. I always hate those. The very thing that offers proof that I am learning deflates me. The disappointments make me want to run and hide in doing the safe thing. They make me want to narrow my repertoire and do only what I know how to do instead of being expansive and experimental. They are so…disappointing.
It’s just clay and glaze, and yet it’s so easy to get attached to a beautifully shaped bowl or cup only to have it fail in the final step. With perspective, I remember that this is the artist’s journey. If I made it before, I can make it again. Each step informs the next and you have to get through some bad stuff to get to the good stuff. Still, I wish there had been more successes.
This batch was about ½ reclaimed pots. These were mostly bowls that were previous experiments yielding bland colors or less than even results. I just put a new coat or two of glaze on them figuring there was nothing to lose. And most of them turned out ok. Here’s my favorite with a before and after:
Then there were the mugs. Of the 17 that went in the kiln, only about half finished to my satisfaction. One was ruined by a severe glaze run. (Okay, remember this: When dipping, I can’t leave the mug in too long, or it will get too thick and run.) Several mugs ran either a bit or a lot. The Mystic Waters logo in several doesn’t show up the way I envisioned it. Here’s an example of a good one.
Ok breathe. There is another load just waiting to be glazed.###
Lynn of 2018 back here again.
Looking at the last three and a half years of working with clay, I’ve discovered that my willingness to make mistakes is directly correlated to my growth as a potter.
Where I once measured my success by how many keepers came out of a throwing session, I’ve realized that a better yardstick might be how many failures I’m willing to tolerate.
This winter, I gave myself permission to really go for throwing tall pots (thanks to a story I will tell another day). In attempting to throw ever taller pots, so many collapsed on me that I lost count. It was hard to feel good about my skills when they appeared so lacking over and over again. Why did I keep going? Because I REALLY want to build a tall pitcher. So I continued, sometimes puzzled by why something wasn’t working, occasionally surprised when I had a tiny breakthrough and mostly toughing it out because the end goal was worth the extreme discomfort.
While I’ve made some progress, so far, I’ve not reached the heights I was shooting for. However, something very interesting happened when I went back to make bowls and mugs “inside my comfort zone.” Subtle improvements happened in every aspect of my throwing. Everything was more even, more centered and more uniform.
The discomfort paid off in better all-around skills. Plus I’ve achieved things I never would have without tolerating mistakes.
Could it be that toleration of mistakes is a key to growth? I think so.
Where are you stuck in the same place because you don’t want to make a mistake? What is your tolerance level for failure? In what ways has it held you back? Have you held onto work that others should be doing because you fear them screwing it up and making you look bad?
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By: Lynn Carnes
Can context make you blind? How about unchecked expectations? I’m coming to the conclusion that both can make you blind – or maybe that’s just my justification since my “asparagus incident”.
In February, I starting clearing the weeds along my asparagus bed in my garden. Mind you, my asparagus bed is in the middle of the garden fortress created by my husband a few years ago. It's 3/4 of an acre, surrounded by a huge deer fence and plumbed for irrigation. In past years, Russ would get in there every spring with the tractor and plow the whole thing. Following that, he would leave it to others to plan, plant, fertilize, water, weed and harvest some sort of food. This is all very important context (or like I said, maybe it's just my justification for the point of this story.) For the spring of 2018, other projects kept him from doing any plowing. Plus, we didn’t have anybody ready to come plant. So it was just me and all that land.
Here's the first critical piece of context. I'm a beginner when I comes to working the land. Especially 3/4 of an acre of hard land. We claimed this spot with dirt taken out of our lake, which is theoretically full of yummy nutrients for plants. In reality, it's full of stones and sand. It's hard to imagine anything growing in this barren desert. Except weeds. It is a haven for weeds. No matter how much care this plot gets over the growing season, by fall, it is three feet high in weeds that should only grow 5 inches. The weeds love this place! And I hate pulling weeds with a passion.
So it was hours of work for me to clear the row where I planted the asparagus. Oh fun! Not. I used the tomato stakes from the last year to hone in on the middle of the asparagus row and raked and hoed and cleared, anticipating the best harvest to date. In the end, you could only tell where I had worked by finding the area where the weeds were at ground level. Early on, it was clear to me that I would never get all the weeds out - but at least I could set it up to see when the asparagus started breaking its delicious tops through the soil.
Now for the second bit of context. Or justification. You decide. March was exceptionally cold this year. It was more like February. When I went down to check about once a week starting in mid March, I didn't expect to see anything. I would wade through the tall weeds and grasses and look for those little green bits of deliciousness. Nothing. I was getting exactly what I expected. Cold spring must equal no asparagus, right?
In early April, I started getting the ground ready for planting my tomatoes (about the only thing I can grow worth a damn) and a few other vegetables I would decide to grow but probably not eat. Not only am I not a strong gardener, I'm not much of an eater of garden vegetables. Still no asparagus.
A couple of weeks went by and now I'm starting to wonder if the cold winter had killed my babies. I remembered having had a LOT of asparagus by mid-April in the previous year. This is a four year old crop - it should be booming. As I'm on my hands and knees, planting some seeds and baby broccoli (one of the things I probably won't eat) I sadly concluded that there would be no asparagus this year.
My daughter came in to help me and started wandering around. She was standing on my empty asparagus bed when she said "Check this out!" She was pointing out a 3 and a half foot "weed" and marveling at how pretty it was. You already know, right? If you grow asparagus, you are probably spitting in your tea or banning me from the gardening hall of fame. That "weed" was one of thirty shoots that had clearly been growing for weeks.
All this time, I was looking in the wrong place. Just 10 INCHES away from my cleared area, there sat my asparagus bed. I had missed the mark. The asparagus was healthy and growing and in my face. Because I was so used to dealing with monster weeds right next to me, I never bothered to look at what was virtually under my nose. (I really have learned to ignore the forest that grows in the rest of the garden.)
Suddenly it all made sense. My tomato stakes were the correct marker - but because I had let the weeds over grow it, I lost sight that they were in the MIDDLE of the row, not on the edge. Furthermore, I was looking so often, I was sure I would see the asparagus stalks before they started flowering out. I was so late to the party - and the stalks were coming up in an uncleared area - that the asparagus reached full wispiness before I could see them. Oh, and I might have stayed blind to it if someone else hadn't pointed it out.
All sorts of things blinded me to this outcome. My expectations, conclusions, context, you name it. I simply did not see what was right in front of my face.
Bad decisions get made with this kind of blindness. Because I thought I knew what was going on, I didn't look for other possibilities. I was caught up in the swirl of my own mind with my own limited thinking. It took someone else to break me out of it with the simple comment "Hey, look at this."
The moral of this story? What you are looking for may be right under your nose. You just need help seeing it.
We all need that kind of support. It is so easy to get caught up in thinking that we need to have the answers, that we SHOULD know this, or that we don't want anyone else to know how much we need help. In the case of my garden, it was abject embarrassment for anyone to see the wilderness that I called a "garden." It would never have dawned on me to ask someone to help.
As an executive coach, I've had similar moments with so many of my clients. They tentatively invite me into their world, and my questions are often some version of, "Have you looked at this?" They will see a problem from a completely different angle and the solution appears, almost as if by magic.
Where are you getting exactly what you expect, even though it's not what you want? In what ways have you created situational blindness because you are tired of seeing the mess around you? Where has the context of a situation caused you to draw incorrect conclusions? Who do you turn to for another point of view or to ask those “have you thought of it this way?” questions?
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