New Input is the Key to Creativity and Joy

New Input is the Key to Creativity and Joy

Antsy. Down. Stuck in a rut. Whenever I find myself in these places I seem to also lose the knowledge of how to get myself out of them, a sort of blindness to the tools available all around me.  In this state, new input can’t make its way in. Eventually, something snaps me out of it and through the crack in the barrier between me and joy I remember that doing, seeing, and learning new things will bring me to a better state of being.

As I’ve moved through life and gone through this cycle a few times I’ve attempted to leave prompts for myself to find when I end up back in these down cycles again.  Like a squirrel hiding nuts, I put these prompts all over the place, knowing some will go uncovered but hoping others will be stumbled upon when needed.  Post-it notes on the fridge. Scribblings in my calendar. Notes on my phone, a folder of bookmarks to inspirational videos, essays, classes I want to take, and books I want to read.

There are loads of great TED Talks to inspire but my favorite for being reminded of the need to go out and absorb new experiences is probably Stefan Sagmeister’s talk about the 1-year sabbatical he takes every seven years.

Likely, you’re not in a position to take off for a year right now. But here are things they can do, and they work:

  • Take morning walks along a new route.
  • Spend one day on your weekend flipping through new books and magazines at a library.
  • Go to a local film festival and watch films other people recommend that you wouldn’t normally choose yourself.
  • Watch youtube tutorials on how to do something new with tools/equipment/software you already have.
  • Go to a place where people are doing things you wish you could do and talk to them.

If you can go bigger:

  • Plan a weekend excursion, solo or otherwise. If you’re solo and that’s an experience you’re getting used to, just bring books or a notebook to write in. When feeling awkward eating alone at a restaurant or sitting at a park this is a good retreat until you get more comfortable.
  • Use your vacation time.
  • Take a class.
  • Take a tour, even if it’s in your own city or a museum you’ve been to before. You will likely be surprised with new information.

Plan a real sabbatical:

  • If you’ve worked someplace a long time, talk to them about taking extended time off, a leave of absence, or something similar. Offer a creative solution for how you can work remotely or train your sub. I have worked at many places where I was told that an extended vacation wasn’t possible and then successfully negotiated the time off.
  • Give yourself time between jobs. Save some cash, create a plan. When teaching English I was able to give myself 1-3 months off between jobs, applying for the next gig from the road.

I find my hidden prompts around my house and in my devices and they set me on the path to the activities above. It doesn’t take me long to find my footing once I’m on track and the new input enriches and informs me as I go.

I hope one of these ideas sets you on the right track as well if you’ve been in one of those low places lately.

Photo by Chetan Menaria on Unsplash

It’s OK to Take a Trip Without Your Significant Other

So, you’re taking a trip without your significant other.

People will say things.

“What does your husband think about you going there all by yourself?”

“Isn’t your boyfriend worried about you?”

“Isn’t it a little weird that you aren’t taking this trip together?”

A few months after my husband and I were married we took separate vacations on our week-long holiday from work. It wasn’t really planned that way, I had a free trip through my company that we could pay for him to join, but he also had a chance to catch up with old friends back in Korea, where we used to live. I was all about a free trip to Malaysia with some of my favorite coworkers and I certainly didn’t begrudge his desire to spend his extra cash on time with friends instead.

There were comments. Suspicious looks. Maybe our new marriage was showing its first signs of impending doom!

But really it was no biggie. We both had a great time and it set a precedence for us; we are independent people and we don’t have to do everything together to have a happy relationship.

Since then (we just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary) there have been plenty of adventures together but neither of us is afraid to plan a trip that meets our particular interests and goals and invite the other along for the ride, with the option for them to choose to save their vacation days and cash for the next adventure.

When I take the occasional archaeology voluntourism trip, he always opts out, having little desire for staying planted in one place for a week, roughing it, and getting deeply nerdy about the history of an area. On those trips, I am free to connect with others who share my interest and don’t have to spend any time trying to entertain someone who’s not into the theme of the trip, or even worse, missing out on any part of what brought me there in the first place.

It’s ok to plan travel that feeds your soul and then invite the other in- or not. And if they don’t want to go?  Then you are free to connect to the place without filtering it through another through constant attention to how they are feeling and what they are experiencing. You will meet more people and observe more. And, if you spend the whole trip thinking that your significant other would love it and wishing they were there? There’s always the next adventure to plan together.

Photo by Vinh Pham


Feeling Ready to Change Your Life

Feeling Ready to Change Your Life

How do you feel ready to change your life, whether a big change or small? How do we stop pushing that point further and further along, keeping it in the vague future?


There are some practical things you can do. For instance, if you want to move to another country you would of course have to do some research and make a few plans and probably save some money.  But, there’s a point where research becomes a trap, a way to procrastinate and avoid the scary part, which is actually making the leap.

This is where so many get stuck, and it’s not for lack of desire or even commitment. Can you think of a dream you’ve been thinking about and reading about and planning for years on end?   Where is the point that it stalls? Fear.

Our fearful, critical inner minds start throwing every worst case scenario at us at such a rate and with such force that of course we feel overwhelmed.  It doesn’t help that no matter how well we plan we know we can’t predict the future.

From my experience erasing this fear is not a real option. You have to be brave. You have to walk right through and get to the other side of fear.

I tell myself I only have to be brave for long enough to do that one pivotal thing and after that I’m just following along on the new path. Maybe it’s buying that one way ticket, or giving notice at work. After that one thing, your fear will morph into a weird fear/exhilaration as every other decision will just be following along from that first big one, smoothing out the edges and preparing your landing on the other side of that big fear.

I can tell you from my own experiences of moving across the country and across the world several times, as well as changing jobs and careers, that I never approach these changes without fear. I rarely really feel ready. But every time I have managed to be brave long enough to make the pivotal decision.

After making the pivotal decision (or rather action) there is a weird in-between period you have to navigate where you’ll wonder if you’ve just made a terrible decision.  Just focus on the fact that you’re doing this, this is for real, and you’re not taking it back. This is your new life, and you’re living it even when it’s scary.

In no time you will begin to disassociate with your life before the decision. Really, it’s kind of freaky how quickly this will happen.  Every time I’ve quit a job I’ve agonized for weeks over giving notice, even when I was in really terrible work situations. Yet, after making it official I almost instantly begin to disassociate in my mind. The job begins to become a part of my past, even if I’m still working that last week. We’ve all experienced this before, as school ended.  So, if you’re still having trouble making that pivotal action, meditate on that after-feeling, how you will feel when on you’re on your way. Show your subconscious that it’s not all krakens and seas serpents in those uncharted waters.

If you’ve gone through this or have something to add, please share?

What’s your hard choice?

Don’t you love TED Talks?  I just watched Ruth Chang’s TED Talk on making difficult decisions.  She really struck a nerve with me when she started to talk about the difference between floating through life, waiting to see what happens or taking the easiest route, rather than taking agency in your life.  When we make a choice, we also choose reasons to go forward with that choice, and maybe find or create more reasons.

I can certainly identify times in the past where I was afraid to choose and merely went with the flow (I think there’s a difference between choosing to go with the flow, because that’s the best next step for you and doing so out of fear). When I compare these times with other instances where I made a choice and then acted on it, driving myself down that new path, I can see the value of taking agency in my life and in my own choices.

This was a timely reminder for me, as i have been agonizing over some hard choices lately, worried about doing the wrong thing.  The points in her talk gave me some perspective and loosened the knot in my stomach.  I can see now that neither choice is inherently better, but one is better for me and I’ve been waiting around (going with the flow) hoping it would just take care of itself.  Time to get in the driver seat!

Even if things didn’t always go smoothly, it doesn’t necessarily reflect that you have made a bad choice, as there is no such thing as a guaranteed-success life path.

Have you floated along, waiting for the choice to be made for you? Can you compare that feeling with a time you made a more conscious, difficult choice? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

It’s not you, it’s them.

cat looking over fence
Credit: Jenny Ondioline

But, you don’t know anyone there!

How will you get a job/husband/house?

But, you can’t even pronounce French menu items.

What will you do when your mom gets older?

These questions and comments can cut like a knife.  We’re especially vulnerable to them when we’re still working these issues out with ourselves.  Sometimes it’s genuine curiosity, but often it’s a reflection of their own fears and misconceptions.

If any of these sorts of questions make you sweat, here are a few things you can do about it:

Deflect them with some standard answers. You are not obligated to go into detail, after all, these are actually pretty personal.  My favorites include,

I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I’ll do the same thing I would here…just, there.

I don’t know, but I’m excited to see how that pans out.

That’s something we plan to work out between us.

Have a few of these in your pocket, they work!

If something someone said is still niggling at you at the end of the day sit down for a few minutes (and maybe a pen and paper) and ask yourself, is there any way this was about them and not me? Write down a few possibilities. Sure, you’re making them up and you don’t know if they’re true, but that’s the point. We never really know what someone’s thinking. The point is that we can’t be sure they’re judging or criticizing our plans. If it’s still bothering you, ask yourself, am I bothered because I don’t know the answer and think I should, or because I think their comment is true? Explore that. Is there anything you can do about it now? Is there work to be done here?

I hope this helps. You can’t control what people will say to you, but you can control what you do about it!