Stop Complaining, Start Living

nocomplaintsIn 2006, Will Bowen had a famous idea: stop complaining, gossiping, or criticizing, and encourage others to follow suit. His goal was to make it 21 full days—the scientifically-recommended time needed to create a new behavior—complaint-free. Any uttered complaint, gossip or criticism would reset the count to day one; negative thoughts would carry no such penalty.

Borrowing from the LIVESTRONG campaign, Bowen ordered purple bracelets for people to use to track their behavior. When the wearer complained, he or she would move the bracelet to the other wrist, a physical activity designed to increase one’s consciousness of the negative behavior.

It took Bowen about two weeks to make it more than six hours without a complaint, and nearly four months to make it a full 21 days. Consider this: Bowen is the lead minister of the One Community Spiritual Center in Kansas City, Missouri. He says that it takes the average person four to ten months to hit the 21-day mark.

What happens when we stop complaining? We find that the things we don’t want in our lives begin to fall away, and more of the things we do want show up and stick around.

It’s like that with people.

The more consistently you practice excellence, the more excellent people will show up in your life. You will foster the positive, symbiotic relationships where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You will grow; you will get things done, because meaningful activity will replace the time you used to spend in complaint one-upmanship with others.

Before you complain that complaining is a necessary evil, make sure you don’t confuse griping or whining with speaking up against an injustice to effect change. Complaining is expressing discontent with the way something is with no intention of changing it, as illustrated by this quote from Maya Angelou in the introduction to Will Bowen’s book A Complaint Free World:

If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
Don’t complain.

Remember, you are choosing to wake up famous every day, but in fact, each moment is an opportunity to change course.

Whether or not you read the book or buy a bracelet, I challenge you to see how long you can go without complaining, gossiping, or criticizing and to share your experiences in the comments section. Yes, you may think snarky thoughts, but even those will begin to fall away as you focus on the positive.

Good luck! You’re going to need it. (Moving bracelet now.)

At the time of this writing, AComplaintFreeWorld.org reported having shipped 5,986,564 of the bracelets worldwide, and that was before I ordered five. For myself. Because I will probably break more than one on my way to the 21-day mark.

 Photo/illustration by Nicole Seiffert.

How Singer/Songwriter Jen Foster Wakes Up Famous

jenfosterJen Foster, who would have “given [her] left arm for a major record deal” at 21, became an independent artist/songwriter/publisher because she was “too stubborn to quit.” She chooses to wake up famous every day by doing whatever it takes to stay true to herself. As she says in her Musings:

“I just learned as I went along, making mistakes, getting out on the road, and just trying whatever I could think of to get my music heard.  All I had at times was that inner voice telling me that I had a purpose in life and it was to make music.”

Foster’s willingness to stay the course has earned her a number of songwriting awards, the #3 position on LOGO’s Top Videos of 2008, and the opportunity to write and perform with other industry professionals she admires.

When she performed at the Dolores Park Cafe, in San Francisco, on July 3, Foster demonstrated at least five ways she chooses to wake up famous.

Say what is yours to say.
When Foster introduced her song Closer to Nowhere by proudly stating, “I am celebrating six years of sobriety,” she acknowledged the positive change in her own life without casting judgment on others. Similarly, when she introduced I Didn’t Just Kiss Her, her response to Katy Perry‘s I Kissed a Girl, she spoke no ill words about Perry, who has been criticized by others for portraying lesbianism as a trendy party trick.

Make a difference.
In Talk to God, the song Foster wrote about coming out to her parents, she sings, “I am different but my heart works just the same.” She said she hopes her words will help others through the process, something she will soon discuss with the HRC (Human Rights Campaign), whose Coming Out Project encourages lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other individuals to live openly.

Share the spotlight.
Foster appeared at the Delores Park Cafe as a guest of Valerie Orth and Her Trio. Clearly, Orth is one who also chooses to wake up famous: she didn’t have Foster open for her group, the women alternated sets.

Be present, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
When sound problems arose one chorus into Foster’s first song, she asked the crowd if she could start over, unplugged, joking that she’d stand on the center table. Although she gave her dynamic performance from floor level, she moved through the crowd, playfully working the room, while the other musicians tended to the electronics. When she finished the song, she helped them complete another sound check, and then plugged in for the rest of her performance.

Say thank you, often.
Foster thanked the crowd “for coming out to support independent music,” acknowledging that she is a part of something bigger. She thanked Valerie Orth for the invitation, and publicly recognized and thanked her partner, Leslie, for being a part of her life.

Jen Foster is living proof that real fame comes from within.

Photo by Sporter Photography.

Count Your Blessings Out Loud

weddingAdmit it. At some point, you’ve imagined what you’d say if you won an Academy Award. Or a Grammy, a Tony, an Obie or a Clio. Chances are, the speech begins with these four words: I’d like to thank.

Sometimes, award winners gush so many thank yous that they are musically cued off the stage. While an overly long list of public kudos is not necessarily bad, it can be a symptom of overdue gratitude.

It’s easy to feel grateful when you’re clutching a naked gold man. Oddly enough. But genuine gratitude is not something to save for a special occasion; it is a wise investment that benefits both giver and receiver.

Margaret Cousins said, “Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.”

Be excellent. Care about others. Be willing to do whatever you can to help others succeed. Maybe that kid you helped when he was the eighth-grade class you taught will invite you to his wedding. Maybe one of his former classmates will show up and say you made a difference in his life, too.

And if they don’t? Be thankful that you had the opportunity in the first place.

To paraphrase Frank A. Clark, be thankful for what you have or you won’t like what you’re going to get.

For the rest of today, remember to say “thank you” to your family, your friends, your coworkers, and anyone else who lightens your load or lifts your spirits, and mean it. Share your appreciation so freely that if–award in hand–you said, “I want to thank everyone who made this possible; you know who you are,” it would be true.

Tomorrow, wake up famous and do it again.

7 Tips for Waking Up Famous Every Day

1. Be Kind. Period.
Be nice to the people you think might help you become successful. Be equally nice to those you think have nothing to contribute to you. If you aren’t inclined to behave this way for its own sake, then remember this: there is NO way to tell the difference between the two. The old adage about being nice to people on the way up because they are the same people you will see on the way down is unequivocally true. As Jewel sang: In the end, only kindness matters.

2. Be Who You Are Today. Be Somebody Else Tomorrow If It Suits You Better.
It might not sound like it, but this is the ultimate call to “Be Authentic.” Authenticity is not static; it is about being who you are, moment to moment, without apology. Interests change. Opinions change. It’s okay if yours happen to be all over the map, provided you know the difference between self-discovery and trying to please everyone.

3. Be an I-Don’t-Know-It-All.
When you are knowledgeable about something, by all means, share it. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know,” if you don’t particularly care about an issue, or “I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” if you do.

4. Commit to Lifelong Learning.
In addition to following up on “I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” make it a priority to learn for the sake of learning. Read. Take classes. Listen to others. Practice listening to yourself without distraction. If the word “meditation” makes you uncomfortable, then call it something else, but do it.

5. Promote Others.
When you admire someone’s work, tell other people about it, even especially if you have nothing to gain. Becoming a one-person PR firm is the ultimate way to practice the Golden Rule.

6. Lighten Up.
Don’t go anywhere–including online–without your sense of humor. If you don’t have one, cultivate it. When someone advises you to lighten up, follow the same rule of etiquette as if someone had offered you a mint: take it!

7. Practice Forgiveness.
Malachy McCourt said, “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Forgiveness is something you do for you; it frees up your energy for better use. Forgive others, forgive yourself, and move on. If you struggle with this, understand that forgiving a transgression is not the same as condoning it, and you don’t even have to contact the other person to do it.

Buying a Fan Club Does Not Make You Famous

fanclubAs a freelance writer, I spend a fair amount of time perusing Writing Gigs on craigslist.org and various other web sites, where there are always a lot of people trying to get something for nothing. Depending on my mood–and current workload–my response to these would-be slave drivers ranges from highly amused to moderately annoyed. The more ridiculous the request for free labor, the more likely another freelancer will write a post that: (a) blasts the original poster and (b) appeals to freelance virgins not to “give it away.”

If you own a pickup truck, at some point, somebody is going to ask you to help him move in exchange for beer, and, chances are, he plans to drink the beer while he watches you move his stuff.

People will try to get you to part with your creative talents for far less, because they know that you might say yes. And you might; only you can judge whether you are prostituting yourself or filling up your goodwill account.

Worse than those seeking something for nothing are those who pay people to write term papers, either for themselves or for resale. Frankly, it amazes me that students even consider such plagiarism in the age of Google-savvy teachers. I just hope that poetic justice will reign in the end.

Tonight I came across something that struck me like the give-it-away posts strike those who rally against them. shorttask.com sounded like a neat way to find quick gigs. I was dubious that a “beta” site would really have 66,566 tasks available, but I signed up to check it out. Clicking on the task “Provide Comments on a WordPress Blog” brought me to this:

shorttask1In a word: Ick.

It was the parenthetical suggestion that the Name and/or email address “could be made up” that prompted me to write this post. Click here  to see how following these folks on Twitter can land you three cents.

Again, ick.

Further inquiries suggested that any buzz about job-search sites employmentcrossing.com, sellingcrossing.com, marketingcrossing.com (and probably ANYTHINGcrossing.com) is as worthless as those “10,000 new followers” promised by Twitter-spammers.

Waking up famous–being excellent–brings its own reward. The people who follow you because you have added value to their lives are worth something; you have a reciprocal relationship. Nobody respects the kid who says, “I’ll give you a dollar if you’ll be my friend.” Nobody respects the kid who takes the dollar, either.

I’d love to hear your comments. Of course, if you’re short on time and have an extra dime, you might find somebody on shorttask.com to write them for you.

No Shame in Shameless Self-Promotion

marqueeYou have decided to wake up famous every day. You have a product or service that is valuable to others in some capacity, and you are committed to excellence. It is time to come to terms with the phrase “shameless self-promotion” and what it means to you because: (a) you should be doing it, and (b) you will be accused of doing it.

If shame is “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety,”  then to be shameless is to lack consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. You are not conscious of impropriety because, being committed to excellence, you are not guilty of being improper. Therefore, anytime you tell others about what you do, you are engaging in shameless self-promotion.

In her blog post Proud to be “shameless” author Brenda Coulter says:

If we sold cars, wouldn’t we put up signs at our places of business, advertise in the newspaper, and even think about doing radio or TV spots? Sure we would. So why do we call it “shameless self-promotion” when it’s not ourselves we’re promoting, but our books [or programming skills, or art, or…]?

There is nothing wrong with asking others to promote you. Artist Rachel Cotton  is asking others to comment on her web site or reference it on their blog in exchange for raffle tickets, of sorts, with the prize being one of her own metallic prints. What is particularly famous about this approach is that she promotes both word-of-mouth about her art, and she sends a piece of it into the world to promote itself from someone’s office or living room. Because it is unlikely that people will go out of their way to enter the contest if they don’t actually like Rachel’s art, her promotion creates a much more authentic “buzz” than if she were to give away something like an iPod.

You have something to offer the world. Offer it.

If someone criticizes you for shameless self-promotion and it makes you cringe, check yourself: Are you still being first-rate in all that you do? Are you still offering something of value to others? Is your promotional message, “Look what benefit I can provide to you” as opposed to “Look how cute I am”? And, perhaps most importantly, Are you experiencing some measure of success for doing what you do?

If you can answer “yes” to all four questions, then smile, say, “Thank you for sharing,” and dismiss the cutting remark for what it probably is: jealousy.

So, you’re famous, and there’s a billboard down there marked Leave a Comment. Go ahead! Be shameless!

Games You Play Against You

 

lonelygameWhile you are busy being the best possible version of yourself, remember that you, too, are human. Unless you’re a Virgo (or perhaps especially if you are a Virgo), your ups will be counterbalanced by some downs. Dr. Seuss warned about them in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!:

Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t.
Because, sometimes, they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.

A few lonely games are:

Procrastination
Perfectionism
Self-doubt
I’m Not Worthy
Mindless TV Marathon
I Drink Alone

The degree to which you demonstrate excellence depends largely on the size of your collection and where you keep it. If you store Self-doubt and Procrastination at the back of a closet in a spare room, they won’t rob you of too many opportunities to be famous. A few rounds of Perfectionism might culminate in something useful, and a few hours of Mindless TV Marathon can be an opportunity to let your subconscious work fiercely in the background while you give the rest of your brain some R&R. However, if your lonely games are prominently displayed and easily accessible, they will only serve to defeat you.

Lonely games are all forms of resistance, the enemy of progress. If you don’t already own it, you should buy a copy of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and keep it within reach. Despite the word “Art” in the title, the book applies to any endeavor that requires breathing.

Remember, falling down is inevitable; getting up every time is excellent.

Do you recognize your own lonely games? How do you win them?

Be Who You Are, Not Who You Think Others Want You to Be

To wake up famous is to be the best possible version of yourself without worrying what others think of you. You will not please everyone, all the time. In fact, this is a good gauge of your authenticity: if everybody else is thrilled with you, you are acting outside your highest integrity. Chances are, YOU are unhappy. What is the point of being famous if you are miserable?

In the book Purple Cow, Seth Godin says:

If you’re remarkable, it’s likely that some people won’t like you. That’s part of the definition of remarkable. Nobody gets unanimous praise–ever. The best the timid can hope for is to be unnoticed. Criticism comes to those who stand out.

Einstein, who was decidedly remarkable, observed:

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.

I don’t mean to suggest that you deliberately make people unhappy; just understand that their happiness is not your responsibility.

Emotions and opinions are not static. Neither is fame. Think of excellence as your practice; it is a craft you will continually improve.

And when you make mistakes? Celebrate them for what they are: evidence that you are learning and improving.

At the end of the day, fall asleep knowing that you will wake up famous tomorrow.

She Wasn’t Famous Long Enough

Last night, I read something on Twitter that made me laugh enough to visit the poster’s profile. Once there, I decided to click through to his web site, where I read the following, dated May 11:

“I regret to write that Jamie Leigh Dyer Dordek, known to many of us as yellowsuitcase and @jamield, passed away on Sunday. Her death appears to be related to a blood clot from her fall in Ireland.”

Having recently seen false “reports” of celebrity deaths on Twitter, I looked for @jamield, half-expecting to find her actively posting. Instead, I felt a knot in my stomach when I saw that her last update was just after noon on May 9:

Driving to Dana Point to spend the day on a boat. I know I just got home, but I really need another vacation.

I clicked on the Web link on Jamie’s page, ORD to LAX, which turned out to be a dialogue between Jamie and her friend, Marc. The most recent post directed readers to a memorial page on Facebook, and also to Marc’s flickr album with pictures from her last weekend. The Facebook page was a group with more than 500 members, and the album included pictures taken on the aforementioned boat.

In the course of a few minutes, I went from laughing at a witty post to crying over pictures of a laughing, vibrant woman ten years my junior, whose life ended the next day. I read more of Jamie’s words and found myself grieving over the loss of a friend I had never met and questioning my own mortality.

The more we embrace the “What are you doing?” mentality of sharing our real-time minutiae with the world, the harder it is to differentiate between immediacy and intimacy. We reach across continents and touch others, sometimes before we even finish our own thoughts, and then we become so accustomed to their daily (or hourly) updates that we are significantly impacted when the channel goes blank.

Jamie’s Twitter page lists nearly 700 followers; she was following 542. After seeing her pictures and reading more of her words, I know that several hundred people are experiencing a real sense of loss. Had I been fortunate enough to have known her, I imagine I would have clicked on her profile several times, still refusing to believe she had nothing more to say.

My heart goes out to Jamie’s family and friends, and to everyone who is dealing with grief and loss.

When I was moving from Twitter to Jamie’s blog and back last night, I read a post by Seth Simonds that resonated with what I was feeling:

Let’s say you’re given 10 secs to call out the top five priorities in your life or die. Could you? Do you know what’s most important to you?

I believe that Jamie could have done it without hesitation.

Be Excellent: Know When to Go Off-Script

In Goodnight Opus, the children’s book by Berkeley Breathed, the Bloom County penguin becomes bored with Granny’s nightly recitation of Goodnight Moon. When Granny falls asleep reading to him, Opus departs the text.

Departing the text takes him from the mundane to the magical. We can all learn something about excellence from Opus.

It is impossible to provide first-rate service to everyone if you are unwilling to depart the text. Call center and help desk staffers, read: if you are not brave enough to depart the script from time to time, you will ultimately irritate more people than you help.

A recent call to the DSL support line of a telephone and telegraph company in America went something like this:

CALLER
My modem isn’t working. It had been dropping me offline frequently, and now it won’t connect at all.

TECH SUPPORT
If the power light on your modem is red, it means the modem isn’t working.

CALLER
The power light has been red since I got it, even when it was working.

TECH SUPPORT
If the power light is red, the modem won’t work.

CALLER
The modem worked for a few months, and the power light was always red.

TECH SUPPORT
The modem won’t work if the power light is red.

CALLER
This is the second modem I’ve gotten from you. The power light on the first one was always red, too, even when it worked.

TECH SUPPORT
A red power light means the modem isn’t working.

After a few more rounds about the color of the light, the caller hung up in frustration and tried the “redial” approach to customer service. “Maybe if I get someone else on the phone…”

Similarly, a customer in a department store flagged down an employee to ask if they carried a particular product. After answering all of her questions with a string of I-don’t-knows, the employee pointed to a red phone and said, “You can call customer service.” Her response: “And if I call customer service, are they going to send you?”

Repeating a script that isn’t helping a client is no different than saying, “I don’t know,” ad nauseum. By adding just five simple words, you can open the door for stellar customer service: “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Then, proceed to find out, and keep your client in the loop.

Quality begets quality. When you strive for excellence in all that you do, others will take note, as Granny does at the end of Goodnight Opus. Upon finding her napping with a very satisfied look on her face, Opus believes that she, too, has “departed the text.”

What does going “off-script” mean to you? Are you willing to do it?