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Are you an expert or an explorer?

Are you an expert or an explorer?

One of the distinctions I make in my course on How-To Writing, I talk about the difference between being an expert and an explorer. An expert is someone who is writing from the perspective of what they know, and an explorer is someone who is — well literally — exploring a topic.

I make the distinction because I see my students and clients put off doing something because they think they “don’t kow enough”. And, in writing, it’s often those journeys of discovery that make the most compelling books. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, The Julie/Julia Project that became a hit movie. Those authors weren’t ‘experts’ before they started; they simply documented their journey.

But can I be both?

The distinction is pretty easy to understand I think — you already know a lot and you’re writing about it, or you don’t know and you’re exploring.

But a student asked me how can she do both? How can she take both the expert AND the explorer perspective and bring them into her writing? What I proposed she think about is whether she could also be teaching as she is learning. As she’s exploring her topic, can she write a second piece integrating that into a piece of teaching around her topic — perhaps bringing a new context, or some specific new actions to her writing.

Because, in reality, this is how we become an ‘expert’. There’s no magic formula: we simply apply what we learn and continue to add layers of depth and understanding to that knowledge and experience.

Of course, this isn’t something that applies only to writing. I find that in order to teach something, I have to understand it better than I think I do — and the teaching, or explaining, often exposes holes in my knowledge or understanding of the idea. And so I go back to the learning.

Now, let me ask you: is there somewhere that you can apply this concept to your work life? And not necessarily in the context of writing; it could easily apply to anything you do. It’s a lot of fun to be an explorer, but I know it can be even more valuable if we choose to pass on our learning to others. I’d love you to comment and let me know!

Cathy

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Doing great work is all very well, but…

Doing great work is all very well, but…

I sent out an email to my list about doing what inspires you — your ‘great work’, and one of my subscribers wrote back with this comment: “Hey Cathy, that’s all very well, but what about when you’re an entrepreneur, don’t you have to do work that someone wants to buy? Otherwise you’re just a starving artist. I know I’ve made that mistake many times over — creating programmes I love but not selling as many as I want to.

Oh that’s such a great question! I like to sum it up in any conversation as the “Yes, but…” moment. What those words are telling me are that she doesn’t see things the way that I do. She has a specific question about making money (I’ll come back to that) but, in essence, her point of view is different to mine.

I find this happens when I’m working with someone. We’re in conversation and I can hear (or, more often, feel) that my client wants to align with an idea we’re talking about, or wants to commit to an action we’re discussing, but there is some doubt in her mind.

I’ve learned over the years to pause here; to ask more questions and to go deeper. If we don’t, then the conversation is often wasted. The client might nod in agreement, she might even commit to the action, but, chances are, nothing will change.

In an email, or in a post like this on Facebook, for example, I’m not looking to change your mind about something. This isn’t a conversation between two people; it’s simply me expressing a point of view, with the hope, at most, that I can open your mind to think about my words.

In a coaching relationship, or in my workshops, however, the commitment is much deeper; both my commitment to help you learn something new, and your commitment to do something about it. And this, ultimately, is what will make your life and work better in some way.

When we’re working together, the ‘yes, but...’ moment is a place where the conversation can get interesting. (and also, in my experience, where many coaches get it wrong.) It’s an indication that there is deeper work to be done, and it’s that deeper work will create the results you want.

Of course, that catalyst doesn’t have to be a coaching conversation; it can be something we read, or something we notice when we’re out for a walk — I have those insights as well! — I just happen to think being challenged by someone who is able to ask good questions and help me think in a different way is a shortcut to my personal and professional development.

Great, but what about that money question? OK, well that question isn’t really about money (in my opinion); it’s whether those programmes are what my subscriber considers her ‘great work’. If they are, then she’ll learn something each time she creates, and part of that is whether (and how) she can money from them.

We all need to live, and we all have lifestyle aspirations, but creating an income can be different to creating ‘great work’. The artists of yesteryear had benefactors in the same way that entrepreneurs of today might find sponsors for their podcast, take advertising on their blog so that they can write freely, or hold down a part-time or full-time job while they pursue their dream.

Not being paid for something is a pretty good way to find out whether we really love it. If we don’t then there are other ways to create great work and, coincidentally, those might be the things people will pay for.

It isn’t an all or nothing choice in my opinion. I’ve chosen to create revenue streams that give me ongoing income which means I have some flexibility to play, and I choose to take on work (or unpaid projects) that excite me. I’m not going to starve, and I’m not driven to make money just for the sake of making more money.

Many of us divide our work into the things that pay the bills, and then ‘art projects’ that excite us. You can always do a ‘side-project’ — perhaps a book you can write in the evenings, freelance work you can do from home, or volunteering with a non-profit whose mission you support?

You might even find that the ‘side project’ turns into a job, or some paid consultancy, and that becomes your main ‘thing’ — your great work so to speak. If it doesn’t, that’s OK too. Remember that you always have a choice about where to do more, and where to do less. Change can be gradual.

Having said that though, the easiest way to find more fulfilment — to do that ‘great work’ — is to shift the way we look at things. If you think you’re waiting for something to change before you can do that ‘great work’ we talked about last week, maybe you can simply try on the perspective that what you’re doing now is pretty close to perfect. Because, after all, maybe it is?

With love,

Cathy

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Are you doing your great work?

Are you doing your great work?

If you’re *waiting* for the right time to do your great work, or you’re ‘getting ready’, then I have disappointing news for you — you’ll never be ready, the time will never be perfect, and the events may never line up for you exactly the way you think they should.

The older I get, the more I know this to be true. I want to do work that aligns with my vision, that I love to do, and I want to be around people who energise me people with big hearts and high skills.

It’s so easy to make small compromises, to think “I can just do that…” (insert what it is for you… website update, writing an article, etc etc). To say “yes” to those small requests because you want to please someone or because it serves your ego.

But what if you didn’t do that? What if you focused on a small number of activities that created whatever your equivalent is of ‘great work’? What might those be? I’d love you to comment and let me know!

Cathy

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Do Work That Fulfils You

Do Work That Fulfils You

I do a lot of work with people on how to develop consistent habits and how to do more of what they consider their ‘important’ work. It’s so easy to be distracted by the buzz of the internet and the whirl of social media. Or just the ‘everyday’ things we do at home and for family and friends.

What I notice though, is that it’s not enough just to make the time to do work that we think we want to do. There are more pieces than that and one of those pieces is doing work that fulfils us.

Whether we call this being in the flow, whether we call it working to our strengths, or being in our ‘genius zone’, there is a component of creating work that matters that is about the nature of the work itself.

It’s easy to create a little momentum around anything — a New Year habit of going to the gym, a commitment to write every morning. But we are only inspired to stay in that work if we are getting an intrinsic reward from it — if it is something that makes us feel good when we are doing it.

In his book ‘Flow’, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about ‘flow’ like this: “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen.

In simple terms, when we do work that stretches us enough so that we are challenged, but does not stretch us too far so that we become stressed, that is where we find our flow. It’s still not enough though…

In theory, we could find flow in anything we do — from gardening to writing to public speaking — so long as we start at the skill level that is at the upper limit of where we are.

But, for me to find **meaning** in what I do, I need to focus on work that is in my zone of genius, and that serves my values. I will only ever be an ‘ordinary’ gardener, or tennis player, or video technician. Sure I could find flow, and hence enjoyment, in pretty much anything, but I don’t think it is adding value to the world.

I believe if we know our values, and we align the work we do with them day in day out, then we will be happier, more inspired, and we will be doing work that matters to us. And that is how we make a difference in the world. Go make your difference!

Cathy

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Your success isn’t driven by what you know…

Your success isn’t driven by what you know…

I was reminded this week that what we choose to spend time on isn’t always what drives our success. To give you the specifics: I was talking with my friend Tom about what new developments we have planned in our businesses (we strategise together every few weeks to help each with our businesses), and I told him about a training programme I’m considering enrolling in .

Tom said to me, “You know, Cathy, learning is no substitute for failure.” Wow, what a great reminder that was; that success is driven by what we do, rather than what we know. In most cases, we already know enough to experiment with a new idea, to put an offer out there, or to pilot a new group, to make an offer of a new service to a potential client.

The pitch might not work, and we learn something, but, who knows, they may even say yes and we move forward. It’s being *willing to fail* that ultimately makes us more successful.

Of course, that’s not to under-value learning. I love learning! But sometimes we use learning as a substitute for action. Or, we use the ‘need’ for qualifications as cover for a fear of failure.

Why not ask yourself this: is there somewhere in your life or business where one small action could give you more information, or greater potential results than you could get by more learning? Is there something you could just start? A small step you could take towards your ultimate goal? And is there any reason you’re not taking it?

Let me know!

Cathy

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