Your part in the creative process is simple (but not easy)

“A person's feet on gray and yellow stairs” by Jake Hills on Unsplash

Let’s talk about creative projects for a moment. Maybe it’s your book, your blog post, your workshop, your sermon, your event…

Wouldn’t it be so great for the entire thing to flash in our minds from start to finish before we took the first step? To be able to see exactly how it’s going to unfold and to be guaranteed of its success before spending an iota of our time or risk on the thing?

Not usually how it works.

Here’s how it does work… We only see the part of it that we can grab on to.

That inkling, that idea, that initial pull. That’s the only area of our work for the moment. Taking the one step into that.

That tiny piece that you can see, you must start there and let destiny handle the rest.

If you want to bring a creative project into the world, your only job is to take the one step that’s lighted in front of you.

To give you a visual, think about entering a dark cave with a headlamp on. And not a very good one. Like, one of those Coleman ones from Target that only lights up about six feet in front of you (hey, better than nothing). Well, if you were really into spelunking (you spelunker, you), you’d have to take a step before the next six feet were revealed to you. And then the next.

That one first step of getting that thing down on paper — just the bit of it you can see right now — that’s your only work. That’s your part.

This post, right here, started as a text to myself that said, “It’s important to know our role in the creative process and not overcomplicate it.” That’s all I had. As I sit here, I started with that and more is unfolding (along with that awesome spelunking metaphor — damn, I’m having way too much fun writing that word — spelunking, spelunking, spelunking…).

This takes faith. Faith means being okay with not knowing exactly how this thing is going to unfold. It’s exercised by knowing your role — your only role — in the creative process: following your curiosity and taking the one single step in front of you.

Get your epic weekend event out of your head and on paper. Outline it. See it unfold out there, not in your brain.

You might surprise yourself with how it turns out.

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Please, influence us

“Close-up of a black leather saddle on a horse in a barn” by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Seriously. This is a direct order.

If you’re a good person with a good heart and a clear vision forward, jump on that high horse of yours and lead us somewhere awesome.

Do it unabashedly. Shamelessly. Influence us like you’ve never influenced anyone before.

Whatever doubt may be coming up — banish it from your conscious space. Get that Satan behind you and carry us forward.

So many people are lost and drifting and looking for someone/something to plug into. Unfortunately, the ones with darkness on their minds have no qualms about influence.

Better the lost plug into you than them.

Yes, there are those who think you should play small. Many of them are your friends and loved ones. It’s an unconscious thing, really. They just won’t know how to relate to you when you charge ahead.

That’s their problem. Not yours. 
They’ll figure it out. Or they won’t.

We need more people like you taking us somewhere that behooves us. But when you start charging ahead and seeing us riding along behind you, don’t let that shit get to your head in the wrong way. Don’t take a detour down a dark alley and shake us down for all we’re worth.

Remember, we outnumber you. You might get us once, but once enough of us unplug from you, you’re as good as done.

Keep that elevated vision in your soul and that high road in your sights.

We’re right behind ya.

(BTW, this one is for the ladies. Happy National Women’s Day ✊.)

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If you’re considering opening a new bar…

Photo by Cater Yang on Unsplash

I live right around the corner from a bar that has one of the finest selections of German beer -probably in the entire state of Chicago (yes, to me, Chicago is a state).

It’s called Resi’s Bierstube. This place is classic Chicago, opened in 1973. People go out of their way to have a couple beers and a shot of Bärenjäger there.

Anyhow, my wife has a friend in town from Germany, so of course, we had to take her to the Bierstube to test its authenticity. So we’re there eating some potato pancakes and schnitzel and having drinks when suddenly, I notice… Holy hell… Everyone is looking at the television.

Human connection. 
Murdered.

I know I bitch and moan about the distractions of tech a lot. Mostly, I’m bitching and moaning at myself. I’m openly a hypocrite here.

I found myself, in that cozy little awesome bar with great beer and fantastic company, twisted around in my seat staring at a horribly-dressed news anchor as he yapped about the ‘apocalyptic snow storm’ that just hit Chicago (and no, it was not apocalyptic at all — it was quite peaceful, actually, from my living room staring out feeling grateful I didn’t have to drive in it).

Even after I recognized what was happening, it was hard to ignore that damn screen.

This is what I can’t stand about bars in the US… 98% of them are plastered with TV’s. (I love what I hear about pubs in Ireland — no TV’s.)

Trust me… I still love the Bierstube. I will continue to be a patron. Their classic hole-in-the-wall Chicago vibe, good food, and great selection of beer make up for their TV use (and it’s not nearly as bad as our sports bars). I’m just saying…

So, a couple things here.

First, if you’re considering opening a new bar, please don’t install televisions.

Ignore the urge of your inner American and the very real complaints of some of your patrons. Be bold. Do something different. Design your bar around human connection. It would be a remarkable thing for those of us who want it.

Secondly, this ties directly into content creation and creative work in general.

Yes, everyone focuses on the flashy, headliney, shiny, tabloidey thing. Yes, clickbait will trigger our lizard brains and get our attention.

But afterwards, will we be feeling better about you and ourselves because of it? Will you truly be remarkable?

Try something different. Shoot for content based around passion, enthusiasm, care, and connection.

Try creating work designed to make an imprint on our hearts rather than inciting our nerves and triggering our egos.

You may not find the masses rushing in, but the ones who do will know that they’ve found something that’s meant to be treasured and shared with those who ‘get it’.

I don’t know about you, but these are the only ones I want hanging out at my bar.

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Why digital peasantry is the life for me

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This concept has recently saved my life. Well, it’s at least saved my inner peace. Which is pretty much the same thing.

I heard about it a few weeks ago on one of my favorite podcasts, the Fizzle Show. Chase, the host, was interviewing a great man — excellent man, in fact — named Steve Maxwell. Steve is a DIY builder and homesteader (yes, a ‘homesteader’) and is the creator of the blog, Bailey Line Road.

Steve has been writing about his craft since the 80’s when he snail-mailed articles to various carpentry and homesteading magazines. Now, he has an incredible community where he offers ebooks, videos, and various content to people who like to build things and get as much off the grid as they can.

(I just want to say, I’m HORRIBLE at making things with my hands, but after listening to Steve’s interview and watching his videos on YouTube, I want to find myself a plot of land in the middle of nowheresville, Canada and just go to TOWN. Anyhow…)

Steve is a self-described ‘Digital Peasant’. Unabashedly so. And I love this.

Now, please know that he’s using the word ‘peasant’ in a tongue-in-cheek manner so as to, in a way, thumb his nose at the ‘internet millionaire lifestyle entrepreneur’ culture that has dominated this conversation since the beginning.

Steve isn’t poor. He does just fine. But he’s not interested in #crushing it. He could give a shit about ‘making 7-figures while he sleeps’. He’s not interested in being the next YouTube sensation (I don’t think his video on root cellars will go viral any day soon).

Steve has been living a creative life doing work that feeds his soul and that offers great value to people who are as weird as he is since the 80’s. And he’s been doing it digitally since the late 90's.

“My income, as a digital peasant, has supported our family exclusively since 1998.”
 — Steve Maxwell

He’s been able to work from home and watch his kids grow up. He’s been able to afford his wife leaving her job as a healthcare provider, which she couldn’t stand. He’s built a body of work that matters and a community who keeps him going. (And he’s built an incredible house… By hand.)

This is so inspiring to me. Hearing his story has allowed me to relax my death grip on this thing and realize… I, too… Am a digital peasant. And that’s absolutely amazing.

It helps me realize that, although I’m not making millions in passive income (or whatever other lifestyle the internet gurus are peddling)…

  • I get to work from wherever I want.
  • I get to enjoy my work.
  • I get to have a fair share of leisure time.
  • I get to email my readers things that I find interesting (and they sometimes even read them).
  • I get to exchange what I make for money and feel great about it.
  • I get to see my kid grow up and go on dates in the middle of the day with my wife (who works digitally as well).

Yes, it’s been a struggle. Yes, money has been tight at times. Yes, I’ve had my doubts. Still do. But if I’d have known about the digital peasantry sooner, I might have enjoyed this ride a bit more than I have.

I might have not stressed so much. 
I might have gotten more sleep. 
I might have felt less like a disappointment. 
I might have reached less and enjoyed more.

So…

If you’re shooting for ‘Internet Millionaire’, try shifting focus and shooting for the digital peasantry instead. It’s a lot better for your heart, both literally and figuratively.

When I see visions of becoming an ‘Internet Millionaire’, I overextend and feel like I’ll never reach that bar. This can make me do ridiculous things that compromise what I’m here to do.

But when I see myself as a Digital Peasant, I can relax. I can focus on small wins. I can make something from the heart for my audience that might not go gangbusters, but that will provide value while keeping me thriving. I can focus on the work, not the fame.

As a Digital Peasant, I can breathe. And if those internet millions come my way, well, it’ll be a nice surprise.


Jonas Ellison is a professional writer and interfaith minister-in-training who provides practical and spiritual support to his fellow creative craftspeople. You can find more of his work at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily missives and musings at JonasEllison.com

The virtue of retreat

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On your journey, there will be times that you aren’t your most awesome, expansive, creative self (in case you haven’t noticed).

There will be times — especially during stress — when you’ll retreat back into a past version of yourself that seems comfortable.

A certain part of yourself might find solace there. But if you’re anything like me, once you’re there for a little while, you’ll realize that you no longer feel as comfortable there as you once did.

A larger part of you will always be calling you forward into the next greatest version of yourself.

As exhilarating as this sounds, it’s really uncomfortable at times. This constant expanding and withdrawing, expanding and withdrawing, expanding and withdrawing will make you feel like there’s something wrong with you.

There isn’t. You’re being harder on yourself than you need to be. It’s all part of a greater cycle.

It’s okay to retreat sometimes. Because a creative life is scary as hell. It takes a lot out of us. And sometimes, the familiar is a great place to recharge. It’s actually good news when it helps us affirm that we no longer belong there.

And forward we’ll march. 
For a little while longer. 
Until it’s time to retreat again.

This is the cycle. And it’s perfect.

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Purpose over Passion

Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

First of all, I’m not knocking passion. I think, as a culture, we’re letting extreme rationality overtake passion (but that’s for another post).

I’m talking about you today, though (and me). We’ve been imbued with a more creative nature. Passion isn’t lost on us. This is great, but it can also keep us spinning in circles chasing the proverbial tail of our passion.

It’s really easy to make our driving question…

“What am I passionate about?”

Because today, you really can take something you’re passionate about and turn it into a business or start a movement behind it (at least a small one).

The problem with being fully motivated by passion is that it’s fickle. Our passions shift, often without warning.

One moment, we’re totally into something.
The next, we’re over it.

This is where purpose comes in. Here’s how I see the equation…

Passion + Service = Purpose

Your passions are you-centered. Which is fun.

But purpose exists in relationship. It’s not just you anymore.

Something powerful happens when you bring ‘the other’ into it. When you’re serving a tribe of others (passionately), the stakes are higher. You’re called to a bigger game. You can’t just bail out so easily. You have to stick it out through the dip(s). And when you do move on, you do so with intention and grace.

Purpose keeps our hearts and minds in the game. It sharpens our focus and deepens our resolve.

When it comes to building a body of work that matters, purpose beats passion every day.

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More of you, please

Photo by Paula May on Unsplash

Just a quick reminder…

The world wants more you. (It wants more of everyone, but the only thing you have a hand in… is you.)

So when you’re faced with a creative fear that tells you to mute yourself, round the edges, and take your voice out of the thing, do me a favor.

Do the opposite.

More of you, in service of us — your audience.

We want to hear a real voice. We want to sense a background of fun and play in your work. We want to hear your opinions, as contradictory as they may be. We want to see your journey.

More of what those other people are doing isn’t interesting.

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You’re the perfect one

Photo by Arthur Yeti on Unsplash

“You are the perfect one for your life.”

I’ll let that sink in for a minute. Come back to this post when you’re done ruminating. I’ll wait…

Back?

I heard that at a workshop the other day and it hit me in the gut. In a good way, of course.

Because it’s so true.

You are the perfect one for your life.

Let that nugget of truth ripple out into the particulars of your life…

You are the perfect one to have the problems you have.

You are the perfect one to have the kids/partner/family that you have.

You are the perfect one to be doing the kind of work you do now…

And you are the perfect one to do the kind of work you pivot to in the future.

Every moment of your life, you’ve always been — and always will be — the perfect one.

Be well, friends. And realize this truth. Because it’s as real as it gets. Through the highs and the lows…

You’ve always been the perfect one.

Realizing this might shift a thing or two in your life.

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The merchant

Image: Emma Frances Logan Barker

As up-in-my-head and spiritually-leaning as I am on this blog, I’ve always been drawn toward the merchant.

To me, a merchant is one who takes on great risk to live a life on their terms and birth something new and useful to the world. This can be anyone from a freelancer to a founder to a boutique clothing store owner.

I’m not talking about the one who comes up with a heartless business that only exists for the ‘exit’. As impressive as this person is, I don’t see them as a merchant. Maybe an entrepreneur, but not a merchant.

The merchant sees no separation between who they are at their core and the business they create. They’re in this for the long-haul. They see humans, not users. They seek no venture capital because they know they’re fit to turn a fair profit through the value they create, not from the charades they perform.

I digress…

When I talk to a merchant who’s passionate about what she’s doing, I feel I’m in the presence of Spirit, more so, I’d say, than when I talk to a religious devotee who sits, prays, and reads all day (I’m stereotyping, but you know what I mean).

My current day job is in branding and storytelling for businesses. I don’t write about it here much. For one, because it’s my j-o-b (which I love very much, btw). Secondly, because this is Medium and you have plenty of marketing type stuff clogging up your feed. Finally, I’m not a freelancer anymore and have no need to hawk my services. I work with a couple of insanely talented friends who own a digital studio (yes, they’re the people I speak of here). This means I get to meet a ton of incredible merchants and hear/tell their stories.

What I love about reading classical New Thought (the tradition I’m currently steeped in) texts are their case studies. Many people versed in New Thought work as spiritual healers (some of their stuff is a liiiittle out there, I will say, but that’s for another post — hang with me here). When they speak of a ‘demonstration’ (the healing of someone through alignment of mind and Spirit), they often speak of this person going off and starting a widely successful business that not only brings them wealth, but great value to the world around them. New Thought practitioners are like exorcists of commerce, it seems.

Seeing the merchant shown in such a spiritual light is refreshing because, in a lot of ‘spiritual’ texts, the businessperson is ridiculed as greedy and harmful.


When I sit with a merchant who’s authentic, genuine, passionate, and truly in the mindset of service, I see pure Spirit in all its glory.


I see the integration of mind and heart and I notice the alignment of Soul and ego.

Here’s a quote from New Thought author, Ernest Holmes:

The Law of Activity we must use in our business. So many business places that we go into have such an atmosphere of inactivity, produce such a drowsy feeling, that we at once lose all interest in what is going on. We don’t feel like buying. We leave that place without any apparent reason and go into another. Here we feel that all is life, all is motion, all is activity. We feel confident that this is the place we are looking for. We will buy here; we find just what we want; we are satisfied with our purchase and go away cheerful.

How awesome is this? Spirituality and commerce, as one. What a beautiful marriage in the true merchant.

This is who inspires the work I do. Not necessarily the one who wants to leave the world of the physical and go meditate in a cave for the rest of their lives. But the person who sees the world of form and matter as her playground. The one who knows, at even a subconscious level, that Spirit lives among and through us in the hustle and bustle of commerce and daily life. I’m far more impressed by someone who opens up a successful coffee shop (because how the hell do you do that?) than one who just got back from a silent retreat (although that’s pretty awesome too).

If you’re a merchant, kudos to you. And if you’re still reading this, may you know you’re likely more spiritual (in the real sense) than you think you are. Please realize that’s not a bad thing. Please know that your customers are inherently attracted to the merchant who cares. Who has faith in the unknown and works toward the alchemy of realizing her vision. Who is unabashedly fearless in her message and the value she brings to the world.

A part of you knows this all comes from something greater than you and your fears and doubts and stresses and hesitancies because this is what you’re banking on.

May your cash register ring and your mailing list expand. May the trolls find other arenas to slog their hate and jealousy. And may you find solace in the personal relationships and goodwill you garner with your customers. May you call as many as you can by their first names. May you accept their invites to dinner when you’ve been working 60–70 hour weeks with only a frozen burrito in your freezer.

We need you and we stand in awe of what you do.


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Answering to the future

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From kitchens to cars, books, education, website copy, ketchup bottle lids, French washing machines, and beyond — think of how much frustration, clunkiness and inconvenience is attached to so many things for the sole reason that whoever made it did it with her feet cemented in the past?

It’s like, if you were to ask the designer/artist/author/minister why he made it that way, he’d stand there, back of hand on jutted-out hip, and say…

That’s just how it’s always been done.

I have one request. Get me as far away from this type of thinking as possible.

Have I done the future justice? This is my guiding question.

What if I was writing a book, and, instead of looking how people have always written introductions, I could just step into the future reader’s shoes and see the introduction that he wants to read?

What if I was designing a dishwasher, and, instead of looking at past models of dishwashers and seeing where they put the stupid silverware holder, I could just step into the future user’s shoes and feel and see where he’d want the silverware to go, and just do it THAT way?

What if I was writing a blog post, or a Medium story, and, instead of taking an info course on blogging, I could just step into my future reader’s shoes and write the post that I’d want to read?

What if I was selling a house, and, instead of going through the normal, vanilla, slimy, impersonal process that other brokers may have gone through before me, I could just step into the shoes of my future buyer and give them the full experience I’d want from that perspective?

I’m pretty sure I’d give myself the shot at revolutionizing a thing or two. You, as the end user, may not recognize what I come up with, but you can rest assured it’s like nothing you ever used/read/driven/smelled/heard before.

This is what I’m concerned with. The future effect. The end result.

I’ll listen to the past only so much as it will help me create the future.