Ask for Help – the 3rd Key to Maintaining Focus

In the 1st Key, we looked at the big list, and in the 2nd Key, took everything off the plate that we could using the first 3 of the 4 D’s from Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out:

  1. Delete
  2. Delay
  3. Diminish
  4. Delegate

The 3rd Key is all about delegating.  It’s about taking the things that you’ve got left on the plate and asking the question – for which of these things is it critical that I do them personally and what can I give away?

In this society, we’re taught that it’s wrong to ask for help.  You should be able to do it yourself, right?  Just pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work.  But the truth is that the really successful people understand that no one gets there by themselves.  You have to be willing to ask for help.

“But Debra,” you say:

  • If I ask for help, don’t I look weak?
  • If I ask for help, aren’t I vulnerable to being taken advantage of (could also sound like, what if they steal my material?)
  • I can’t ask for help, everyone else is just as stressed and overwhelmed as I am!
  • What if they say “No?”

Regarding the first point – ask yourself this, if you don’t ask for help, and aren’t able to come through on your promises as a result – how will you look then?

Regarding the second point – I’m recommending delegation, NOT abdication.  Be smart in how you work with people -and set up accountability procedures.

Regarding the third and fourth point – whenever you ask, you must be OK with them saying, “No.”  If you don’t allow the “No”, then you’re not asking, you’re manipulating.

But let me ask you this – when someone you love and care about asks you for help, how do you feel?  I’m not talking about the person who always asks and never offers, always takes and never gives. I’m talking about the person who mostly does for themselves – when they ask for help, how do you feel?  If it’s someone you really care about – I bet you feel honored and grateful to be able to give to the people you love.  By not ever asking for help – you are holding out on the people you care about.  You’re cheating them of the opportunity to contribute to you and to express their love and caring for you.  So asking for help is being generous – isn’t it?

And if it’s OK for them to say “No.” because they just can’t this time, then they will also have the space to say, “Yes.” if and when they can.  And you need to trust people to take good care of themselves.  Support them in being honest with you – let them know that it’s OK if they say no.  And then accept their generosity graciously and with gratitude.  You could also look for ways to give back and help them out when they need it.

When it comes to asking for help from your fans and followers, as an artist, you are offering them an opportunity to play with you at a deeper level.  When fans volunteer for an artist they love, they become more committed and invested in your success.  And as a result, they are more likely to share you with others, buy from you, and commit to being your fan for the long term.

And isn’t that really what you want?  Committed, passionate lifetime fans?  The best way to create that relationship with your fans is to ASK FOR THEIR HELP!

So who are you going to ask for help?  Let me know how it goes!

Clear the Plate – the 2nd Key to Maintaining Focus

In the first installment of this series we created a big brainstorm list of all the stuff that makes up the chaos.  Just to remind you of the overview:

5 Keys to Manage Chaos

  1. Acknowledge the reality of your current circumstances
  2. Take everything off the plate that you can
  3. Ask for help
  4. Manage your emotions and thoughts through the experience
  5. Get the learning

And now for the second key:

Take it off the Plate!

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Maintaining Focus in the Face of Chaos – 1st Key

The Holiday Season can be so joyfully chaotic, can’t it?  Parties and travel and family (with all the baggage that goes with that!).  For many performers there are also holiday gigs and holiday gift promotions to promote on top of that.  It can all be so overwhelming.  So many things to do, so many demands on your time.

Time management and project management systems are critical to your success at all times and I cover them elsewhere in the blog.  Very often, when faced with unusually busy times, all of our time management skills fly out the window. So, this series of 5 blog posts will answer the question – How do I maintain my focus and my sanity in the face of chaos?

5 Keys to Manage Chaos

  1. Read more

Embrace Your Unique Voice as an Artist

This is primarily directed to artists, but really, it applies to all of us.  Being a unique voice in a world that values sameness can be a rough row to hoe.  As children, we’re taught, encouraged, sometimes even bludgeoned and beaten into sameness.  Don’t be too loud.  Don’t show how smart you are.  Don’t blow your own horn.  Don’t stick out (either for good or ill).

These are the messages that we get from our parents, our siblings, our teachers and our peers.  And from a herd mentality, it makes a lot of sense, on an evolutionary scale.  The straggler gets eaten, right?  And if you don’t blend into your environment, you’re not only a danger to yourself, but you can attract danger to your tribe, right?  But we don’t live in those times anymore, and yet, we still live by those rules as a society.  Or at least some of us do.

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
e.e. cummings, 1955

The most successful people, not just in the arts, but in all areas of life, are the ones who willingly stand out.  The ones who risk being chastised or not loved. The ones who are willing to fall face down into the mud in abject failure in order to be true to themselves.  They STAND OUT.

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
Dr. Seuss

As an artist in a highly competitive environment, expressing your unique voice is critical to your success both artistically and entrepreneurially.

But what does that mean, really?  In my opinion, it doesn’t mean figuring out what will sell, what record companies want, who you need to twist yourself into “make it.”

What it really means is to unveil your true voice, that voice which is innately, uniquely, brilliantly yours.   Choose what it is you want to express and filter that content through your unique instrument, your mind, your heart, your spirit.

It’s been said that there are no new ideas.  And on one level that may be true.  What makes your expression of an idea unique is that your idea is filtered through that which is uniquely you.  And there’s no one else quite like you in the world.

At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.
Friedrich Nietzsche

The fact that we are all part of the human experience makes us able to find common ground and connect with each other. What we do with our human experience, how we experience it, is unique to ourselves and allows us to be unique in how we express creatively. The leap of faith is to trust that the right people, the right audience, the right opportunities will show up and really see you and appreciate and connect with your unique creative expression.

So, how do you embrace your unique voice and use it as an Artist Entrepreneur?

  1. Learn, practice and master the skills necessary to express your unique self
  2. Polish your courage, your temerity and take the leap into full expression
  3. Use all of the skills and tools available to you to package your expression in a way that your target audience really wants it
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 over and over with consistency, constantly learning, growing and expanding your skills and getting the help and support you need to fully embody each step to the best of your unique combination of talent, ability and skill.

How are you embracing and expressing your unique voice and what are your biggest challenges with it?

Don’t be a Needy Artist

Fair warning – this is a rant.

Over the past few years, since I started doing the Ask Coach Debra Calls and being more active on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve had many encounters that go something like this:

Needy Artist – How do I get an Agent/Manager/ Gallery Rep (for visual artists), etc.?

Me – Why do you want one?

Needy Artist – Well, I need someone to help me with my career!

Me – Can you make a living from 10-20% of what you are currently earning?

Needy Artist – What? NO! Why?

Me – Well, why would an Agent/Manager/Rep take you on?  If they can’t make a living representing you?

Needy Artist – But I expect them to build my career for me, so they can then make a living!

In other words – this person wants someone else to save them.  They want the easy way out, the short-cut.  They want someone else to build their career for them.  This makes me crazy!!!!

Why would anyone do that?  Why would anyone take on an artist who is too lazy, too self-involved, to entitled to take responsibility for their own career?  Short answer?  They wouldn’t.  But these folks want me to go to my contacts and hook them up.  Why would I do that?

Does this sound familiar?  Have you wanted someone, some white knight on a great steed, to come into your life and take over the hard, hard work of building your career, so you don’t have to?  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

But be careful what you wish for – I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of artists losing their life’s savings because they abdicated responsibility for the career, their money, their success to someone else.  Someone who promised to do all the hard, boring, confronting, uncomfortable work of managing their career.  And they did that, only to abscond with the money they created for the artist, when that artist had relaxed into the relationship and stopped paying attention.

Of course that doesn’t happen to everyone and it’s not to say that every manager or rep is unsavory or dishonest.  But when faced with both temptation and a lack of oversight even the most honorable may give in.

So if this blog post hits home and you see yourself in that “Needy Artist”, what should you do?  You need to learn how to create your own career and take 100% responsibility for your results.  Because even when you get to the point that it is time to work with an agent or manager, you need to know enough about what they do, so you can hold them accountable and give them guidance about what kind of career you want.

One of my favorite blog posts recently is this one from Dean Ogden on ScoreCastOnline – where he talks about how to know if you are ready for success in the music industry.  I’d use it as an assessment tool.  Some of the items are business and craft skills and some are internal skills and emotional intelligence.

And come to me to learn those skills and implement them to create a successful business.  But don’t expect me to do it for you.  That’s not my job.  It’s not the Agent or Manager’s job either.

Facebook Promotion Etiquette

In the last week, 2 people have gone onto my Facebook Pages – Debra Russell and Artists Marketing & Business Academy – and posted that I should check out their Facebook Page or ReverbNation Page.  And my first reaction was – wow, that’s rude.  But then I thought to myself – what if it’s not?  What if, in the world of Social Media, that would be OK?  So, I went on my profile and asked the question, and the unanimous response was – yes, that’s just rude.

Think about it this way – if you were a store owner looking for a way to promote your store, would you go into someone else’s store (even if they weren’t in direct competition with you) and hand out flyers inviting people to your store?  Without at the very least asking permission?  I mean, wouldn’t that just be rude?

So, why do people think it’s OK to do that on my Facebook Page – which is the online equivalent of a storefront?

There are two marketing principles that apply:

  1. If you wouldn’t do it in the real world, don’t do it online.
  2. People buy from the people they know, like and trust.

So use social media to initiate, create and deepen your relationships with your prospects, customers, clients and colleagues.  It’s called relationship marketing.  Sure,  get to know me, even invite me to like your page.  I’m easy to contact on Facebook – I allow n0n-friends to message me.  But don’t do it by advertising on my page.  That’s just rude.



Suppose that what you fear
could be trapped
and held in Paris.
Then you would have
the courage to go
everywhere in the world.
All the directions of the compass
open to you,
except the degrees east or west
of true north
that lead to Paris.
Still, you wouldn’t dare
put your toes
smack dab on the city limit line.
You’re not really willing
to stand on a mountainside,
miles away,
and watch the Paris lights
come up at night.
Just to be on the safe side,
you decide to stay completely
out of France.
But then danger
seems too close
even to those boundaries,
and you feel
the timid part of you
covering the whole globe again.
You need the kind of friend
who learns your secret and says,
“See Paris first.”

Marsha Truman Cooper
originally published by River City
published in the re-issued chapbook, “Substantial Holdings,” Pudding House, 2002

Some Fun Alternative Definitions of FEAR

  • False Evidence Appearing Real – the canonical one
  • False Emotions Appearing Real
  • Future Events Appear Real
  • False Expectations about Reality
  • Finding Excuses and Reasons
  • For Everything A Reason
  • F*%# Everything and Run
  • Failure Expected and Received
  • Fighting Ego against Reality
  • Frantic Effort to Appear Real
  • Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002
  • A positive take on it: Feelings Expressed Allows Relief
  • Face Everything and Recover
  • And my new favorite, Forgetting Everything’s All Right

An Open Letter to LunarPages

or Why I Recommend Against Using LunarPages to Host Your Website

The last 2 months have been a virtual hell for me (pun completely intended).  Sometime in the middle of May, I started noticing real problems with my website.  I was in the midst of doing a lot of content creation and tweeking to the big overhaul I’d done in February.  But everything was taking so long.  It was hard.  It was frustrating.  But then it got worse.

I started getting complaints from clients, customers and paying Members that they couldn’t access my website.  That it was timing out, locking up, going down.  And so, I filed a ticket with Lunarpages customer service.

Their initial response was to blame my website.  There must be a bad plugin or script causing the problem, because Our server is just fine.  So, I spent time and money, spoke to multiple web programmers familiar with both WordPress and Wishlist Member (the wordpress plugin that runs my ArtistsMBA Program).  And while we did find one bad plugin and deleted it, instead of things getting better, they actually got worse.

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Confidence, as an issue, comes up for my clients, in one form or another, on an almost daily basis.  Over the years, I’ve worked with them to build their confidence and spent a lot of time reading, thinking and studying the issue.

I’ve observed that those who struggle with confidence can get a boost when something good happens in their life.  They experience some success or get positive feedback from someone they respect.  They go to a Conference or do a workshop and get pumped up and excited.  But often that feeling doesn’t last.  That’s because the emotions are externally motivated and don’t signify a true internal shift.

I think one of the challenges around creating confidence is a foundational misunderstanding of what it actually is.  Without really understanding what is happening and why, it is difficult to create a lasting internal shift from lacking in confidence to feeling fully confident.  And feeling fully confident will lead you to taking the actions you need to take to create success.

What is Confidence?

We tend to use the word in two ways:

  • Confidence is a feeling – I feel confident, or I feel unsure.  It is a description of how you feel and how that feeling causes you to behave – I step confidently up to the podium to speak.
  • Confidence is a belief – I am confident I can achieve this.  And it often implies a deeper set of beliefs about the nature of reality, a trust in the benevolence of the universe.

As I teach in Transform Your Belief – The Key to Success, the relationship between belief and emotion works like this:

And so confident beliefs/ideas/thoughts lead to being in a confident state or feeling confident.

In my experience, trying to change things at the level of feeling is extremely difficult and doesn’t tend to stick.  And “Acting as If” is exhausting.  While a positive result may make you feel better for a little while, because the underlying disempowering beliefs driving those emotions still exist, they will pull you back into the lower emotional state.  The only real lasting change comes from changing your beliefs/ideas/thoughts.

What I’ve found very interesting in doing this work, however, is that changing those thoughts is usually not nearly as hard as people expect.  Because you are a complex being, you have many different beliefs in your belief reservoir.  And those beliefs range from very disempowering to truly empowering. We just have habits about which belief we tend to inhabit.  Which belief we energize or activate moment-to-moment.

So, next time you find yourself feeling uncertain and need a confidence boost, try this:

Step One – Notice and Decide

Notice that you are feeling badly, unsure, self-conscious.  And decide that now is as good a time as any to feel more confident.

Step Two – Identify the Thought

What are you thinking/believing at this moment that has you feeling badly, unsure and self-conscious?  Can you put it into language, specifically?

For example, let’s say you’re going in for an interview, calling for a booking, auditioning for a gig.  And you’re feeling scared, nervous, and unsure.  Perhaps the thought is: “What if they don’t like me?”  Well, what would that mean about you?  Perhaps the underlying belief is, “I’ll never be successful.” Or “I’m a failure.”

Step Three – Choose a Different Thought

So, now that you’ve identified the thought that’s creating the feeling, pick a new thought about these circumstances THAT YOU ALREADY BELIEVE.

See that’s the key.  The mistake most people make with affirmations is that they pick an affirmation they wish they believed, but they don’t.  That’s too hard!  So, pick a belief that you really can get behind.

For example:

  • “The more I practice, the better I get.”
  • “If this opportunity doesn’t work out, there’s another one down the line.”
  • “However this goes, I’ll learn from it and improve.”

See, it doesn’t have to be in direct opposition in order to shift how you feel.  Try just tweaking it by about 10 degrees.

Step Four – Keep Thinking That Thought – On Purpose

Keep thinking it, find evidence for it.  Notice how and where it’s true.  Notice when you’re thinking something else and choose to think this thought instead.  Look for all the ways its true some more.  And think it again.

It’s not that you’ll never have those other thoughts again.   It’s not that you’ll never feel badly again.  It’s that when you do – you’ll know that you can always change your mind.  Just think a different thought.