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
It’s that time of year again – when we join the gym, clean closets, start a new diet, set big goals, and make all kinds of promises to do better in the coming year.
According to U. S. News, 80% of our resolutions will fail before February. Then we get to feel bad, like we have failed.
Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? More importantly, is true change even possible?
Yes. Change is possible. IF you can get over your inertia. This is a bigger deal than we often realize, because inertia feels like “normal”. It doesn’t seem like anything to worry about.
When we try something new, we quickly get in a groove and pretty soon we are on a plateau or fall back to our old ways. Inertia takes something that’s new and novel and turns it into a usual routine full of comfort.
Going through the motions won’t get you there – wherever your “there” is. It takes energy to overcome inertia. Otherwise, we get stuck and it’s hard to move us without something strong to jerk us to reality.
Flying home this Christmas, we boarded our flight early and happily settled into our pretty good aisle seats. The captain came on and said maintenance was fixing a little problem with a valve and we would be out of there in 10 minutes. No big deal. Then the airline system called to say the new departure time was 10:35 (for a 10:20 flight) Again, no big deal. Next call said 11:15. Next call said 11:50. Then 12:30. At this point, the flight attendants said we could wait in the boarding area if we took all of our stuff. Many people packed up and moved. Not me. My brain had already decided it was “no big deal.”
Inertia was fully settled into my entire being.
I had my headset on, my computer in my lap and the thought of packing up and gathering my bags was just too much. Waiting an hour (by that point) didn’t seem so bad. So we sat. (Not sure if my family appreciated this.)
Until the next call. 4:30. What?!?!?! It was like a cattle prod hit my seat.
We got ourselves off that plane fast – and to the counter where we were lucky enough to be able to rebook on a 3:30. Something we might have never considered before the 4:30 change. Oh, and the original flight was cancelled at about 3:00. We would have been there for another day if we hadn’t rebooked.
Inertia is the normal state of things. Even as the world around us is changing ever faster, we are inclined to stay the same.
In his TED talk, Adul Gawande talks about how he eventually developed inertia (my word) in his medical practice. After asking another physician to observe him with the express intention of helping him be better, he started improving again-after going through some discomfort.
It takes energy to move something. It takes big energy to move big things. Summoning that energy is not usually comfortable. That’s why changing by yourself is incredibly difficult.
It helps to have that wake up call – otherwise, you could be stuck here for a long time.
So how do you get beyond New Year’s resolutions? Is change really possible? Yes. And it takes energy, work, commitment, and often some help.
One of the most useful exercises I have found for myself is based on the book Immunity to Change by Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey. I’ve created a journaling exercise based on the core exercise in the book.
I’m going to warn you though – this exercise requires you to look at stuff about yourself that you probably have conveniently put on the back burner. In fact, it will make you downright uncomfortable if you work through it honestly – and that’s why it works so well.
You can download it here.
This exercise has helped me break through inertia many times in my life. It’s not easy and it requires you to look at your own beliefs in ways that are going to make you uncomfortable. That’s when you know you are breaking through.
Done with intention, it’s like a secret sauce for true change.
If you like it, please share this blog with your colleagues and friends. And let me know how it goes! Just click the share button on top left of this blog!
Plus, if you get stuck, I’ve got one super important trick to help you stay on track. Stay tuned or if you can’t wait, hit me up in the comments and I will share it with you.
Feel free to share it with your colleagues and friends. And let me know how it goes!
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According to this “life weeks” chart, I have a little over ¼ of my allotment of weeks left in this lifetime. If you do the reverse math, you will work out that I will be 60 next year. As much as I would like to deny it, I’ve got limited time left on this Earth.
So do you.
One of my teachers once said to me “Don’t waste my time,” in response to my stubbornness to do one of my assignments. Seen through my eyes, I thought, “What the hell. I’m paying you good money!” Seen through the teacher’s eyes, it was simple. He would not work with anyone who was not willing to show up. Yes, he was getting paid. But his work was helping me reclaim my life, and if I wasn’t willing to show up, why should he?
This awareness was refined even more when I heard a venture capitalist say “Losing money doesn’t bother me. Losing money is part of my job. What bothers me is for someone to waste my time.” Now that’s a different way to think about money. It’s so easy to think of everything of value as tied to money.
Bringing that awareness to the forefront has all kinds of consequences. My first thought is “Surely that timeline is wrong. I feel young and vital and healthy. Maybe if I eat better, exercise more and be really, really careful, I can cheat death.” The truth is that 4000 weeks is not guaranteed – not even close. There are a lot of ways to exit this life.
So, yes, I can bury myself in a big ole Texas-sized pile of denial. But is that useful?
It seems more useful to appreciate what I have and count every moment as precious. This awareness sharpens my focus.
Seen through the eyes of reality, time becomes much more valuable than money.
Do I really want to let myself get sucked into giant time wasters? What about saying yes to things I really don’t want to do? How much power do I want to give other people over my calendar? What happens to my everyday priorities when I am aware of the sand running through the hourglass?
Practically speaking, it’s made me change several things. First, I’ve quit giving so much attention to the news. Instead of turning on the TV first thing in the morning, I start with setting my mindset for the day. Absolutely no inputs from email, text, social media or the news until my framing for the day has been established. Every day, that involves going into deep meditation. Many days, it involves a creative burst to capture insights and problem solving pouring out of my rested brain.
Second, I’ve become much more likely to say no to things I either don’t want to do or can’t add real value to. Sorry if you are one of those people who has heard that message. Now you know why.
Third, it’s sharpened my focus on my power to choose my response to circumstances out of my control (which I’m learning more and more is almost everything.)
My response is the only place where I have real power.
Gratitude becomes necessary, as fundamental as breath. Love becomes the sweet nectar of life. Presence is the true gift.
Where in your life are you “wasting time?” In what ways do you make money the most valuable thing you have? Where do you give your power to outside circumstances, reacting from your habitual patterns instead of from your true core? What gifts are you here to share? How many weeks do you still have left to offer those gifts? What are you going to do about it?
I’m still working on it. Will be for the rest of my 2050 weeks. Or days.
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Note: This blog post was originally published as a bonus chapter in my book “The Power of Positive Intent: An Inspired Way to Deal with Change in Any Business.”
￼I ended my TEDx talk with this sentence: “You can become the co-writer of an entirely new story for your life.” If you are looking for a new source of power in your life, look no further than the truth of this sentence. Now for the difficult part: implementing it in your daily life.
Master your stories and you virtually remove the ability of others to get to you.
Notice, I said “your stories”, not “the story.” Mastering your stories is super challenging, because most of the time, our story is invisible to us, hidden in the background informing what we see, hear and feel.
We don’t realize that we are telling ourselves a story about a situation. We just assume we see the whole truth and nothing but the truth, when in reality, we have just a few teeny data points.
Our stories determine how we act in any given situation. Because our stories are so automatic, we rarely notice that they are stories instead of facts. Our story is certainly not “the story”.
Those stories create a cascading effect. When you choose negative stories, filled with inferences about how someone is mistreating you or disrespecting you, or how your employees don’t know what they are doing or the board member is out to get you, you set certain things in motion.
These kinds of scenarios play out every day in business:
Epictetus, the philosopher from Rome said: “He was sent to prison. But the observation ‘he has suffered evil,’ is an addition coming from you.”
The “addition coming from you” refers to the stories we tell about why things happen.
Our stories are fertile ground for learning about ourselves and they are the pivot point for assuming positive intent.
Any intent that we assume on another person’s actions is based on a story that we are making up. We simply cannot know all the facts. And as you saw in Chapter 7, even a “Fighting Francis” can be disarmed by sticking with the facts and not adding fuel to the fire. (Note: You can download the whole here.)
Have you ever had someone not answer an email and you start telling yourself stories about why that is?
Why is all of this so important?
Your stories are a window into YOUR internal operating rules and beliefs.
They reflect a compilation of your victories and defeats, your happy moments and your despair. They also create the roadmap for how you write the story for your life, and when you couple the tendency of the survival brain to see the worst in everything, your hidden stories create negative outcomes.
I’ve hurt myself more times than I can count by telling the wrong story.
I had a simple, funny and embarrassing incident recently with my husband and the bottle of soy sauce. He brought home some chicken fried rice from his favorite Chinese restaurant. The day he brought it home, he made a point of asking if we had soy sauce as he opened the refrigerator looking for it. Before I could answer, he held up a full bottle and said, “Never mind – we have a brand-new bottle.” Strike that one from the grocery list. I thought, “If I decide to make the dish needing a soy sauce marinade later in the week, we are covered.”
The next morning, he had finished his breakfast before I came into the kitchen. The first thing I noticed on the counter was an empty bottle of soy sauce. Now, let me tell you – I don’t think of soy sauce as a condiment for anything involving breakfast. So, I had to ask, “What happened to all the soy sauce?” My incredulousness touched his impish button, so with a twinkle in his eye, he said “I used it all.”
Now my crazy self-talk started. I was thinking “How could he have used a whole bottle? What is he cooking that might need a WHOLE BOTTLE of soy sauce? What about me – what if I need soy sauce? How am I going to make my dish? He is making more work for me. Is he trying to be wasteful on purpose?” This thoughts came one after the other, at a speed that would get me arrested for going double the speed limit.
The stories I started making up were epic. One involved my husband suddenly deciding to cook and something delicious was marinating in the fridge as we spoke. Another involved him emptying the bottle into another container just so he could mess with me. The most ridiculous involved him actually eating the whole bottle on a single serving of rice. The more stories I made up, the more my mind closed in on finding an explanation for how a full bottle of soy sauce was now empty.
I wish I could tell you how funny this all was – but I can’t.
I actually got quite annoyed when he refused to explain the empty bottle to me. My wise husband stopped the nonsense by opening the door and pulling out the still full bottle of soy sauce. “I found another one that was almost empty and decided to use that one first. You leapt.”
What a simple explanation! It never occurred to me that this might be a different bottle. Now I felt relieved and embarrassed. Relieved that there was a good explanation and embarrassed because I let my mind run away with making up stories. Again. I leapt.
The stories we make up are a significant barrier to assuming positive intent. Our minds love to find a reason for things. In the absence of a full explanation, we will fill in the blanks and not even realize we are doing it.
Artists use this tendency to leave something to the imagination in their work, knowing that the brain will fill in details, often in a way that is pleasing to the viewer. Writers do the same – often the passages that set up a gripping scene and stop short of giving every detail are the ones that we enjoy the most.
We have the same power to generate more empowering stories in our day to day lives. However, our survival brain, personal history and context tend to send our stories in the “OMG, I’m about to get screwed!” direction. Because it happens so fast and is so reflexive, we take those stories for true. We often don’t consider that something else might be going on.
Understanding the stories we make up is incredibly fertile ground for developing deep self-awareness – transformative awareness of our own personal patterns, habits and operating rules.
These patterns, habits and rules operate in the background, taking over our decisions without us even being aware of it. Your mind is lovingly offering you an “easy button” to create shortcuts that make your thinking automatic. Ever feel like you just keep doing the same thing over and over again? That’s your background operating system at work, making life “easy” for you. The stories you make up are not based on the facts of the situation. They are based on your personal filters much more than on what is really happening.
I will say this. I find it really hard work – hard personal work – to make up a better story. With the help of my coaches over the years, I’ve learned more about myself by learning to assume positive intent than almost any other practice that I have implemented. (Meditation is another regular practice I have found extremely useful.)
In some ways, it’s more fun to act on those negative stories, filled with ill-informed assumptions about how others feel and think. More often than I can count, I have set off a cascade of unwanted consequences, which predictably enough, actually magnifies the negative stories.
When you watch my TEDx talk, you will hear the stories of the ways those other stories negatively impacted me in my career, sidelined my goals, isolated me from others and left me feeling pretty angry at myself and the world around me.
My negative stories caused me to co-write a story for my life that did not work very well at all.
Alternatively, when you assume a position of positive intent, you set a completely different set of cascading possibilities into motion. When you become aware of the stories you tell yourself, and decide to change those stories, you inspire a new direction for your life and create true strength in yourself.
The first step in learning to change the story is to start with a question or two. Rather than leaping to a conclusion, take a step back and gather more data.
Here are some questions that you can ask someone who is acting in inexplicable ways:
At a minimum, it’s useful when you are making up stories about why something is happening to ask yourself this question: “What would explain this behavior that also fits the facts of the situation?”
Make a note of that question, highlight it, write it down. Because that question will help you make up a better story on which to act and can set things off in a much more productive direction.
The second step is the beginning move of a deep journey of self-discovery. You do not have to tell the stories that you have been telling – you can change the stories.
Assuming positive intent is that simple, pivotal action that empowers you to become aware of your own motivations, hurts, patterns and operating rules. When you can’t assume positive intent by telling a better story, it’s because of something operating in you that is NOT YOU. It’s an old story that you adopted. It can be changed.
Imagine being the master of your stories. You don’t have to “buy” this idea – instead, rent it for a while and experiment for yourself.
The third step is to practice, practice and practice some more. When you get stuck, ask for help.
Learning to tell a new story has changed the trajectory of my life. It can change yours too.
With practice-and sometimes the support of a friend or coach- you can truly become the co-writer of a new story for your life.
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What is the thing we want more than anything else in the world – and yet we don’t want it at all? In my experience, that would be change. It’s as if our brains somehow think that the order of the universe is stability and equilibrium. Nothing could be further from the truth. The order of the universe is change. From the minute we are born (actually, from the second we are conceived), we are changing. The earth of today is not the earth of yesterday. The same is true of our businesses. From the time we start them, they are in a cycle of life and that cycle includes death. The Fortune 500 list has lost 88% of the companies from 1955 to 2014. It brings to mind one of my very favorite quotes: “You are either green and growing or ripe and rotting.”
The order of the universe is dynamic, not static.
This lesson was brought home for me recently in an early season water ski lesson. The coach encouraged me to do something that scares the you-know-what out of me – create more energy and acceleration out of the turn to get to the next buoy more quickly. He said, “Do it stronger and shorter.” Once I found that body position, I was elated! Leaning that way is actually more stable and effective. So what did I do? I tried to STAY that way. In other words, I got the stronger part, not the “shorter” part. As a result, I got out of balance and almost fell. At the end of the lake, the coach said this: “Water skiing is a dynamic sport. Nothing is static. Your job is to always be moving in relation to the boat.” So what he was telling me was this: Just because you changed something in a good way doesn’t mean you get to keep that good thing forever. Dang it!
And there in lies the problem with change. No sooner do we get adapted to the “new way” than it becomes the “old way.”
It’s hard to let go of what we like in order to change to the unknown! In my banking days, we had a project that we nicknamed BOHICA. This was actually the term we used much more than the official title of the project. Before I tell you what it stood for, you can probably guess. Ok, I’ll tell you: Bend Over, Here It Comes Again. It’s pretty difficult to create positive change in an organization when everyone feels like they are getting screwed. And frankly, work sucks when we feel like we are out of control of what happens to us.
The irony of the “BOHICA” project was this: I learned so much in that project, and it launched me to a new level in my banking career. If I had actually embraced that experience as a learning moment rather than something to be endured, chances are I could have leveraged it even more. Instead, I defaulted to a bitter, cynical point of view designed by me to keep me safe and comfortable.
The problem in BOHICA – and in so many other changes – was my attitude relative to change. I developed my “strength” based on what was happening yesterday, and something new came along today to knock me off balance.
What I recognized on the ski course that day was that per my usual, I was seeking a comfort zone. I do it all the time. That little “comfort zone box” carries an illusion of safety that might as well be a gallon of Elmer’s glue. It also keeps me stuck.
Chasing comfort keeps me from growing.
Of course! Discomfort is the path to growth. Or the path to paralysis. And therein lies perhaps the biggest challenge in change. There is a range of discomfort that is productive. Too much discomfort leads to paralysis. Too little discomfort leads to stagnation.
When we manage it well, we can take big change from “here we go again” to “here we grow again.”
So what’s the alternative to chasing comfort? The first thing we have to do is recognize the reality of change. Things are going to change. Period. Hunkering down and hoping it blows over just makes it worse. So if that’s the reality, what should I be doing to manage it better?
It starts with you. Recognizing change as an ongoing reality helps a lot. Learning to develop practices for keeping your level of discomfort in the productive zone also helps. For example, I give myself a break. I really watch the inner chatterbox – any time I start beating myself up, judging other harshly, or trying to prove myself, I intentionally shift the thought to something more productive. When I hit the constructive level of discomfort, I stay in the learning and growing zone. Now, I will confess – I don’t do this all the time! Simply having the intention to do to it helps.
What strategies have you developed to learn and grow in times of big change? In what ways does your “inner chatterbox” help you? And where does it hinder you? What is the most important shift you could make in your mindset to help you consistently perform at high levels?
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Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers.
The lesson of power of context keeps coming back to me. One of my first experiences in seeing how context can change everything came when living in Charlotte, right after I got my first car with a key fob that unlocked my car. (Ok, this was a long time ago!) I asked my husband “Is it possible for someone else’s key fob to open my car?” His answer was that is was possible but not likely. Still, I wondered. Then a few days later, I was shopping near an Old Navy, and popped open my presumably empty trunk to load my purchases. What I saw hit me in the gut: A stack of clothing with a receipt on top. The kicker? It was an Old Navy receipt. What the heck? I turned around and saw the Old Navy store, and immediately KNEW that someone had just left them in my car. Trying to be a good citizen while being thoroughly freaked out, I took the clothes back in the store, explaining that someone had accidentally locked them in my car, and would be back looking for them. Weird, we all thought, but they must have a similar key fob.
A few days later, one of my neighbors called to say thank you for taking her to get her daughter after a fender bender. Then she said: “By the way, I left some clothes we were planning to return to Old Navy in your trunk. Can I come by to get them?” Imagine how difficult it was to explain to her that those clothes HAD been returned – but just not in a convenient way for her. Well, dang. Seems context and fear got all crossed up and what looked like a good citizen move was my fear brain making up stories.
Never again, I said. From now on, I will Check. It. Out.
Immediately I applied this learning to a corporate situation. At the time, I had a national role with a large bank in training new college graduates to be bankers. Recognizing that one of their most important skills would be evaluating the health of a business from the financial statements, we were always on the search for good ways to help them be better in accounting. We found a one-day program that simplified things by having them run a lemonade stand like a kid. It was a fun and engaging program that taught big lessons in an appealing way. Or so we thought. The first time we ran it, we simply informed the 120 students what time and where to be for their Friday session.
When they came back on Monday for their next level accounting intensive, our team was expecting a big thank you for giving them such a fun and informative day of non-boring accounting lessons. What we got instead were offended, angry and insulted future bankers. Huh? When our team debriefed after hearing from the students, we realized that we had given NO context for WHY they going to a program that treated them like kids. We had used the “just the facts” approach and it bombed.
A few weeks later, the second group of trainees came through and we applied what we had learned. In addition to the what, where and when for the accounting program, we said this: “One of your most important roles as a banker will be in learning to be insightful in your analysis of your client’s financial statements. We know you have all had accounting, so this is nothing new. However, we are going to be moving very quickly and deeply into some complicated aspects of reading financial statements. So, as a fun way to dust off your accounting skills, we are giving you a fun way to refresh your memory with a game.”
This time was different. On Monday, they came back full of excitement and gratitude for a useful day. The only difference was in the how we described the program. We set the context differently, and they responded in ways that helped them for the rest of their twelve-week program. Aha, I thought, I have mastered context. And for many years, I carried that belief.
Then came the turtle incident. Or maybe you would call it a ski incident. For most of that summer, we had seen a large painted turtle sitting on a log near where we drop to rest and shorten the rope. We had even named him. One day, my husband was driving, and I dropped in the water, noticing that the turtle wasn’t there. (And wondered exactly where was he? If not on the log, was he somewhere under me?) As I pushed my back foot into the toe piece, I heard a click. “Well there you are, Mr. Lucky!” thinking that he must have surfaced and his shell hit my ski. So I said “hit it” pretty quickly because, even though I like turtles, I didn’t really want to sit near a big one in the water.
As I crossed the first wake, I took one of my biggest crashes ever. While I was not injured, it certainly shook me up enough to not ski again that day. The next day, we visited another lake to ski. As I got in the water and pushed my back foot into the toe piece, I heard the same click as the day before. My first thought was “What? They have turtles too?” Thanks to the context, I immediately realized what a stupid thought. My front foot had unclipped from the release.
All of the sudden, the events of the day before made sense. This was not a turtle incident. This was a ski incident. My crash was directly attributable to having my ski unclipped from the boot. It was preventable, but I missed critical data because I over relied on the context of the situation without thinking things through. Instead of being curious about what else could have made a click, once again my fear and context got all crossed up. My brain took a shortcut, and without me being mindful to override the lazy conclusion, I took an unnecessary fall. Replacing a worn out release solved the problem. Wish I had been more curious before the bad fall!
Where do we let context create conclusions that are not useful? In what ways does our "lazy brain" take shortcuts that ultimately hurt us? How can we learn to be mindful in how we set context in our communications? In what ways can we recognize and learn to see those little fear incidents that are not even real? What stories are we making up and do we even check them out?
The stories we make up influence our outcomes. Context shapes our stories – and we can shape context. All it takes is a moment and the willingness to see it.
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Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers. She loves to hear about how your experiments with these ideas turn out. To contact her or share your experiences email firstname.lastname@example.org
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