I know this is an overused title, and you’re probably really tired of it, but it has been lingering in my head since taking the plunge to build my dream nearly 2 years ago. If you are conjuring an image of a Zen garden and puzzling over how that relates to the sausage factory that is clothing manufacturing, give me a moment to explain. First off – here I discuss businesses broadly and take an even wider view towards any special work to bring your unique creative perspective into the world. When I gave myself some space to start working on my business, a few big realizations came swiftly to the fore of my daily experience: 1) Starting a business is an exercise in taming the lazy, defensive, insecure, potato chip eating self. Like me, you may have been able to achieve great things in school or working for someone else, felt safe to achieve on someone else’s time, but once you had to work on your own thing – every lamentable part of you started to act out in your daily life. 2) The only thing that really stands in between our passion and the world is us; 3) This “us” takes the form of our mind, which will be our biggest obstacle to success. Seriously.
When I started my business I also started to meditate. This was coincidental. I had been through a bad breakup that had my insides all clumped together in a painful knot and had me eating rice cakes and milk as a meal, I hated my day job, and most things that passed through my field of vision pissed me off or depressed me. Meditation was an attempt to paddle my way out of the stagnant water. If you are familiar with meditation, life gets pretty tough when you realize all the shitty, mean-ass things your mind tells you most moments of your life. And let’s throw in embarking on a total life-consuming adventure that requires courage, fear management, and creativity.
Here’s what it sounded like and often still sounds like in my head: “You are not smart/hard working/talented/creative/
So this Zen businesswoman so far is just aspirational. Nearly 2 years in, I still hear a chorus of these thoughts everyday. The big victory is that I make those tough phone calls, do horrible traumatic things like enter expenses into quickbooks and mostly don’t let these thoughts keep me from getting important shit done. I use a cool meditation program called Headspace to keep me on track to meditate almost everyday as a small step towards having a calmer mind.
The big dream is to live my life without this chorus of thoughts. To someday be so focused on every moment that the noise falls away. The fascinating thing to realize is that there is no one task that in and of itself is so bad. Yeah entering big bills or financial mistakes into Quickbooks is not a gas, but it is not really bad either. What is bad is the thoughts that surround this task: “Here’s where you failed”, “Ah, what were you thinking?!”, “Someone better would not have done that”, “Why are you even paying for a program to track expenses – your dream is not going to come to anything!” Yikes. No wonder it feels so bad. Sometimes I even get into a rhythm with it and it isn’t bad – because the voices fall way.
And take something truly enjoyable. Learning the beauty in every body shape by taking 2 hours on a Sunday to go to a figure drawing class. And the voices are there again: “You suck.” “This is horrible” “You are embarrassing yourself”. “You are never going to get better”. What if it was just me and the pencil on the paper and my feet on the ground and the other pencils and the muffled sound of the world going about its business outside our room? I imagine like when focusing during yoga, I wouldn’t fall over so much – that I would appreciate the beauty of every small struggle, the discomfort of new challenges, every tiny triumph and not hold back so much out of fear.
The world we live in today is not conducive to Zen-like focus. We have to fight for it. Yes email, digital media, social media, podcasts, smartphone all provide insanely valuable tools to the small-fry business owner who wants to reach the world. But, like anything is this world – there is a dark side: The cumulative daily technology seeped environment breeds a psychotic lack of focus. Every time we jump from the business plan or the important email, to our text message, or from our design sketches to our social media feed, we are taking small steps towards an unfocused, cluttered mind where our mind voices rule the playing field. For a creative that can get distracted by just about anything, this is like living in a candy store with a sugar addiction. But all is not lost. Meditation, discipline around work time and technology and coming back to this breath and this body every possible moment moves this Zen living aspiration from a fantasy to goal.
If we fight for this focus everyday, one day we may unleash our insane power on the world. Every one of us.