How Your Focus Can Change Your Life

 

People don’t read.

If you are lucky, they will scroll slowly.

People don’t listen.

If you are lucky, they will eavesdrop.

Is this a consequence of being surrounded by relentless noise in our daily universe?

Is this a sign of a deteriorating intelligence?

Is it simply bad manners gone viral?

What is lost is an unimaginable amount of meaningful connections, synergies, serendipities, and masterpieces.  By not investing fully in the moment you are in, whether you are talking to someone, tying your shoelace, writing your novel or talking a walk, your energy is dissipated leaving you with a fleeting shell of an experience.

What if you didn’t carry around a hundred thoughts in your head or multitask your way through your day?  What if you just did one thing and told yourself that was OK?

I did an experiment years ago to see if I could devote 30 days, one month, one entire January, to memorize one Beethoven piano sonata.

Piano Sonata in D major, Op. 28 “Pastorale”

Composed: 1800-1801, dedicated to Count Joseph von Sonnenfels

To make that happen, I had to rearrange a few things in my life.  I found myself practicing 2 hours a day.  I didn’t realize when it happened but soon I found myself at the piano 4 – 6 hours, comparing recordings of Vladimir Ashkenazy (the Bruce Springsteen of the classical piano world in my opinion), and Maurizio Pollini, and humming the melodies from each movement in the shower.  To get the music into my fingers and my muscle memory, I played the music over and over by rote, starting from the last section and working my way backwards to the beginning.  I felt the shape of the music in my hands, the sound of it in my ears, every note became a familiar vibration.

An odd thing happened during this month.  As the music deepened, it filled every part of my life, everything else became a background.  I had a big purpose, a wonderful goal and something inside of me squared its shoulders and said, “You can do this.  You must do this for every sonata, every thing you want to make your own.”  I loved what I was doing.

That was the true gift of those 30 days.  Knowing what it takes and actually living it, doing it, breathing it and making space in my life to make it happen was a life changing experience for me.

People are capable of doing anything they want to but are often so unwilling to do the one thing it takes to make it happen.

What is that?

Focus.

This way of being will take you deep into the one thing you choose to do.  You will be tempted by distractions, friends, a million excuses to abandon your solitary pursuit.  You will be thinking about lunch, bingewatching something on Netflix, knocking off a little bit earlier to go to the gym.

“Focusing is about saying No.” Steve Jobs

But like most things in life that are worth doing, turning your focus inward, tuning out the temptations and taking yourself deeper in your work will bring you to that place known as “the zone” or “flow” where you will love being and doing what you are passionate about.

 

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” Bruce Lee

Here’s 3 things you can do to get started:

Choose one thing.

What is one thing you would love to do?  Give yourself the gift of making that happen.  Choose something you feel you can accomplish in a set amount of time.  I love all of the Beethoven piano sonatas but there are a lot of them so I chose one to memorize,

 

Give yourself a number.

For me 30 days was a good amount of time and January was a good time of the year – post holiday, pre spring. It is easier to convince your mind to do something for a limited amount of time.

Tell someone what you are doing.

Once your project is outside of you, it becomes a stronger reality.  The person you share this with will keep you accountable, cheer you on and pick you up when you fall.

“The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” Alexander Graham Bell

Focus is your superpower.  You can do anything when you use it.

 

Grantwriting, Fundraising & Driver’s Ed

You ask me about how to write a grant.

You ask about fundraising.

My question to you is: Can you drive a car with no gas?

You have something that you are passionate about, something you believe deeply in.  It may be something you feel you were meant to do and share with the world.  

It can be a series of paintings, a book, a play, a desire to make the world a better, a more beautiful place.  Something you are uniquely positioned to do.

Maybe you are building your practice, you may be in a MFA program or both.

The most important question you have is: How will you create a life around making art or your passion project that can sustain you?

Which brings me to grantwriting and fundraising.

Learning how to write a grant that gets funded or creating ways for people to donate money to you is like learning how to drive a car to get someplace.  It is understanding how to navigate the world of foundations, philanthropy and donors.  Conceptually, it is not too different from mastering the rules of the road behind the wheel of a car.

Picture yourself in the driver’s seat after you have just learned how to drive.  You will need a few things before you get going:

  • A destination – do you know where you are going?
  • Directions – what is the best way to get there?
  • Gas – have you got what you need to power your car?

The same is true in grantwriting.  Knowing how to put together a competitive proposal is only part of the process.  To turn that proposal into a successful grant award you will need to do a few other things:

  • Give the funder what they want

Think of it this way: You want something, they want something.  A grant, like most human interactions, is a fair exchange between people. Give funders what they want first before you start asking.  Do your homework. Answer the questions clearly.  Respect word limits. Address the criteria. Granting an award to someone is like saying yes to the right partnership. Understanding what is important to a funder and positioning yourself as the one who can deliver that is what you give in exchange for a grant award. Make it about them.

Tip: Always give first.

  • Give the funder a place to jump in

Why just ask for money?  If you create an experience where you can invite the funder to see themselves as a part of beyond funding it, you will open up the door for so many other ways you can work together.  

Tip: Give something bigger.

  • Give the funder confidence

What do you need before you invest your money or your time into something?  You will probably do some research and talk to people you trust.  

A grant review panel is no different.  They will be looking closely at your background, your letters of reference.  They will scrutinize your budget to see if your numbers reflect fair market values. You need to give them everything they need to give them the confidence to invest grant dollars in you.  

Tip: Create trust

Approach your grantwriting and fundraising efforts with these mindsets and you will get much more than success and confidence in achieving your grantwriting goals.  Get to your destination and enjoy the ride.

I am an Artist and… an Interview with Guy Ventoliere

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This article originally appeared in Huffington Post
Does an artist have to starve in order to make a life in art?
In this series of interviews, I am asking people who have, by their own definition, a successful creative career.  They have built a life around conscious choices and values that looks very different from the standard idea of what an artist is.
What their lives look like may surprise you:  they are artists in studios, part of city agencies, owners of manufacturing and real estate companies, artists-in-residences in all kinds of places.  
What is common to all of them is this: they are happy.
I believe there is great wisdom behind the in flight safety message that instructs you to put your oxygen mask on yourself first.  In this situation, you clearly will not be able to help anybody else if you cannot take care of yourself first.
The same is true in life.
You cannot build a successful creative life if you do not take care of yourself first.
Guy Ventoliere is an artist with a unique and successful career path that has earned him the name of “the theatre whisperer”.
He has harnessed his skills as an actor and in many other areas of theatre and business to grow a successful artistic career and now helps others do the same.
How do you self-identify?
“You are at a cocktail party and someone asks you who you are. What do you say?”
It depends on who I am talking to. I usually say I am the Director of Sales for a large audio visual company.
“How do you answer that question for yourself?”
I am a Renaissance man. I want to know how to do everything. A lot of artists will say things like, I can’t do numbers and taxes… I’m an artist.

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As Lopakhin in “The Cherry Orchard”

For me, the opposite is true. I can do anything because I am an artist. I direct, act, and I know most of the technical elements of theatre like lighting. I have built sets and props for many plays for places like Lincoln Center. I know fundraising and development and how to direct children’s theatre. The paintings on my walls I have painted and the furniture throughout my house I have built.  And I have had a very successful career in large enterprise account management and sales.
I started out as a stage carpenter with very little experience. I was teaching kids, doing my carpentry, acting and directing. Then made a drastic turn and became the director of development for a nonprofit in the arts. I didn’t know anything when I started but eventually managed to double the budget. How did I do that? I communicate well with people and I’m not afraid to fail. That is so important.
Acting and art is about honesty. About being truthful on stage and in life.
I hate the term “starving artists”. Many people have more than one job to make it. Artists can also supplement their needed income to survive. Sometimes we have to embrace a life of multi-careers so there is food on the table. You don’t have to starve. Look, I’m an actor and a sales guy. I do different things because being an artist allows me to think creatively and critically, embrace the diversity around us and to do the variety of jobs one may need to do in order to survive. And being an artist allows us to do these things well.
When I was in telecommunications, I was the top sales guy with a higher client retention rate than all my other coworkers who had more education and experience than I. My boss threw a surprise party for my 40th birthday where she wrote a note about me that read, “Thank you for reminding me to always hire sales people with an arts background.”
Many artists close themselves off, they don’t have a lot of world experience and they stay isolated with their art distrusting things like corporate America, stock brokers, men in suits, and CEOs.
My experience in corporate America has been different. My last CEO was an opera buff. He was so happy to see that he had an actor and a director in his employ that he allowed me and my girlfriend to expense tickets to DC to see a production of “Romeo & Juliet” with him and his wife. This CEO loved and appreciated the arts. I have never come across people in business that looked down on me  because I was an artist.
I have always been able to direct and act on the side while holding down a full time job. I never wanted to be a waiter so I could go on auditions and wait for my big break. I wanted to work 9 to 5, have health insurance and stability and have my nights free to rehearse theatre. Feeling secure allowed me to have the finances and freedom of mind to explore and explode artistically.
There was a time I was given an ultimatum by one of my bosses to attend a conference in the summer during the Hip to Hip Theatre season that I was involved in. I was saddened by this but did not hesitate to choose theatre. Management grew to understand doing this theatre work was important to me and only enhanced my capabilities at the job. I am always one of the top sales people at my job, the top out of about 200 during my heaviest season of theatre actually.
Now, I use the various aspects of business that I have learned and what I do to help other artists and arts organizations. This past month I facilitated an interview with the Public Theatre for our dramaturg at Hip to Hip and provided the needed equipment to the American Bard Theatre’s production of “Visionary Voices”. I also got them an intern to help with costuming. I helped transform a cafeteria into a theatre for Riverdale Children’s Theatre Company while also playing the cat in “Suessical” along with all the pre-season work that needs to get done for Hip to Hip including meeting with several possible interns for our upcoming season.
What are the benefits and challenges of being an artist and…
One of the benefits of what I do is the extreme diversity of communication I have with all kinds of people, from CEOs to inner city kids. People come to me as an “idea guy” because of my varied experiences in the corporate environment, knowledge of art and theatre. They know I can step in and help. Someone at The Nicu’s Spoon Theatre Company once called me the theatre whisperer”. The term stuck.

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As Richard II in a Nicu’s Spoon production

Another benefit is happiness. I am always performing, I am always involved in a play, I always have an outlet. In the past 2 years, I have done 8 plays. Money is never a challenge for me. I am always able to help others and to donate back my stipends when working with a struggling theatre company.
One challenge I have always faced is that work sometimes interferes. For that reason, I have always sought out jobs that allowed me to work around my theatre and my art. Not waiter jobs. Good old 9-5 jobs.
What are you working on now?
I recently became the Chair for the Nicu’s Spoon Theatre Company and I serve on the board of the Unity Stage Company. In addition to all that, I am the Managing Director for Hip to Hip Theatre and I am proud to say that we have been successful in reaching our goal of performing in every borough. In our first year, we had an audience of 600 people. We now serve 8000 people per season in 14 parks citywide. Our next goal is to increase that to 10,000 people.
I just closed “Cows of War”, an adaptation of “Peace” by Aristophanes as part of the Hunter College MFA Playwrights. This past summer I did “Hamlet” at the Brick Theatre and “The Tempest” for the Shakespeare Forum and Identity Theatre in Manhattan. I am currently working with the Riverdale Children’s Theatre Company’s (RTC) production of “Suessiscal”. RTC is ranked one of the top 8 children’s theatre companies in the country.  I have also started preparing for the role of Cassius in “Julius Caesar” in May and have had several meetings and read-throughs for an original play called “Sweet Sixteen” that will be appearing off-Broadway the last quarter of 2017. I am also slated to perform in a series of plays this summer for a very well-known and prominent theatre company but I am not allowed to speak about it until it is announced.

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In the role of Doctor Caius that won Best Supporting Actor for Queens Kudos

I am working on my graduate degree in drama which is both theory and criticism. Next semester I have a reading list of about 1000 pages in of very dense critical theory, 31 plays from Greek to contemporary genres. I am required to submit five 750 page responses, a 10 page paper with a presentation, and a 20 page paper. And that’s for 1 class.
Where can people see more of your work?
Managing Director/Actor – Hip to Hip Theatre Company – http://www.hiptohip.org/
Board Member – Unity Stage – http://unitystage.org/
Chairmen of the Board – Nicu’s Spoon Theatre Company – http://www.spoontheater.org/
Advisor/ Teaching Artist – Riverdale Children’s Theatre Company – http://riverdaletheatre.org/
Acting Member – Identity Theatre – http://identitytheater.com/
And my future website currently in development – Simplyguy.com
What advice can you give to emerging artists and people with an inner artist?
Don’t be scared about your next meal. Go for it. I was so concerned about working to make money it inhibited me from really going the distance.
On the flip side, it has allowed me to do what I want to do, and that is good too.
Pitch in! Help where you can.  There is no room for STARS. Help out and paint something, sew costumes. This is all about collaboration and teamwork. Pitch in other areas.
I can’t stand actors who don’t contribute in other areas when they are working with a group that is already understaffed or underfunded. For younger artists, knowing all the aspects of your profession can only help you.

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Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

If You’ve Lost Your Creative Mojo, Ask Yourself: What Would Stravinsky Do?

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Confession #1:  I love wearing yoga pants

Confession #2:  I love/hate doing yoga

Because of yoga, I can stand on my head.

Upside down, I feel closer to Igor Stravinsky (he was never able to compose unless he was sure no one could hear him and, when blocked, stood on his head to “clear the brain”).  This is a man who heard a new musical language and composed the groundbreaking ballet and orchestral work, Le Sacre du Printemps. Its premiere, at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées on May 29, 1913, conducted by Pierre Monteux, had such a shattering impact on every musical tradition that, to many people, it was the sacrilegious work of a madman.

Stravinsky composed the work in a rented house in Clarens, Switzerland, in a tiny room with just enough space for an upright piano, a table and two chairs.  He had many of the same obstacles that you have: limited time, money, creative blockage, self doubt.

It is comforting to see that great artists wrestle with the same challenges we all have to do the work they are passionate about.  Everyone does it differently: some artists need a challenge before they start creating, some artists need to create something as a challenge.

“Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”  Franz Kafka, in a letter to Felice Bauer in 1912.
  

Kafka is one of many novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who have somehow discovered ways to overcome the many (self-inflicted) obstacles with (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do.  Some do it by waking early or staying up late; some meditate; some self medicate with doughnuts and drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks.

Time is one of my challenges.

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”  Leonard Bernstein

In theory, that should work: I have a plan and never quite enough time.  I know adding commitment and self discipline will bring about the best results.

What has worked for me are the following:

Get up early

Write or draw for 90 minutes before work

End with an unfinished sentence or sketch

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck … That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”  Ernest Hemingway

Make a short list for tomorrow

Stand on my head if coffee is not close by

Thank myself

 

This becomes a habit after a while.  I find myself waking up without an alarm and getting sleepy earlier every night. The world is a magical place at 5:00 am between the moon fading and the sun rising.  You may be the only one awake in your home but can take comfort knowing you are in good company with other creative minds doing what they love to do.

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Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

Battle Your Demons in 3 Simple Steps & Take Back Your Power

 

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An artist told me that one of the best things his chiropractor ever did for him was to tell him to ask one question whenever he felt stressed.

“Ask for something.”

What you ask for can be something you probably don’t think you have the right to ask for.  In his case, it was time.  He was at the beginning of his career and said yes to almost every project that came his way, even if it wasn’t the right thing for him.

His fear of missing out on an opportunity or not knowing how he was going to pay his bills was a relentless anxiety that drove him to the point of becoming so stressed with pains in his body  that he went to see this chiropractor on a steady basis.

Many people are paralyzed by options.  Rather than be completely present in the choices they have made, their eye is constantly on the horizon wondering if they made the wrong choice or worse, they say yes to everything because they don’t know how to say no.

This will inevitably result in overwhelm and a good measure of self doubt that can often trigger physical pain and discomfort.  

When we’re anxious and stressed, it’s easy to look at all of the tasks that lie ahead of us and become overwhelmed. At times, we’re stopped in our tracks and completely shut down. We have reached our breaking point. At this point, anxiety is very high, and our ability to cope seems very low. The good news is that we have the power to prevent ourselves from breaking.  Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Big stress

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When overload hits, it feels like the walls are caving in on you.  Despair and helplessness usually follow and if you are like me, the knot in your stomach can make you crumble.  Left alone to our already overworked imaginations, we picture a scenario that grows bigger and darker with no way out.

At this point, your fear can really do real harm to your mental and physical well being and the one person who is allowing it and who has the power to stop it is – you.

Which is why the question the chiropractor recommended is so important.

Ask
“It’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s the way you carry it.” -Lena Horne

This artist asked for more time.  He was drowning in deadlines.  He could not possibly deliver high quality work at the promised times and he needed more time.

When he did ask, it made a tremendous difference.  In fact, it changed his world.

He realized it is OK to ask for help.  It is not a sign of weakness or amateurism or anything bad he had imagined in his head to ask for what you need.  In his case, people were willing to give him the time to complete the project because they believed in him and they were invested in the success of it as much as he was.

Something else changes in your relationship with your fear when you raise your hand to ask for help.

You are no longer a powerless victim.  You have taken one step to overcoming your gremlin.  You have claimed your agency to changing the power dynamic.

Once you have done that, you can take another step.  And another, until you have taken back your castle and banished the gremlins.

Make a list

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You will need a lighthouse to guide you out of the storm.  This is something you can do by sitting quietly, taking a few good deep breaths and writing yourself a list of just 3 things you can do to make things better.  Not 5 or 10 things, just 3.  It is more important to give yourself momentum with a few small successes in the beginning.  Cross each thing off your list as you do them and really celebrate each one.  You can add more things once you have completed your first 3 if you need to.

Why this works

The combination of putting out a request for help to the world and building your lighthouse changes the energy of your situation.  

You are attracting people to rally around you, not as a helpless victim, but as someone who is pushing ahead with a goal.  People are good about being helpful and actually want to be part of a bigger goal if you ask.

Having your list of things is a powerful weapon in your hand you can wield against the gremlins beating you up and your path to success.

Do this

I recommend you follow these steps as soon as you start feeling stressed:

  • Acknowledge the gremlin

“Ah, there you are,”  you say to the demon pushing the walls down around you.  “I see you and I know what you are doing.”

Size up the gremlin in practical terms without allowing your fear and imagination to make it bigger than it is. Once you do that, you will know exactly what you are up against and what you need to do to overcome your challenge.

  • Ask for help

 

Remember, people are helpful by nature.  Let everyone around you know what you need and how they can help.

  • Make a list

Write yourself a short list of 3 things you can do right way to solve your problem.  Completing these things will get your momentum going and restore your confidence in your own power to change your world.

Life is full of gremlins.

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But they are no match for you, your people and your list.