Sunday, February 21, 2010

It wasn't supposed to happen like this!

Lately I've been restless. I'm not sleeping well and neither is my wife. As the parents of a 20 year old daughter, we're at a point in our lives where we're forced to say, "It wasn't supposed to happen like this!" If you think for 1 second that I'm going to tell you exactly what it is that we're restless about, you're wrong. If it were about me, I'd probably put it out there. But it's not, it's about my daughter, and that makes things totally different.

So what's the point of me even writing this post? Well, I always envisioned my girls making great choices and for the most part they have. And when there's a bad choice made, it's a great opportunity to learn something and grow which is cool. But what happens when a bad choice is made and then there is no learning, no growth? Not even so much as a recognition that this was a bad choice? Furthering this path of bad choices are subsequent bad choices. The same bad choices over and over. Then what?

I think we've all been there. Where we make a wrong choice and then (even though we know better) continue making that wrong choice. We try and justify it for a while to relieve the guilt and that usually helps. If we stay in it long enough then it begins to seem normal . . . OK even. The guilt lingers but not as long. What does it take for us to wake up and change direction? A tragedy? Pressure? Guilt? Regret? Pain? Some kind of intervention . . . the Divine sort possibly?

My burning question to you is, "What brings positive change in your life?" I really want to know.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Why Artists Must Be Vulnerable

It is so hard to be vulnerable - yet it is vulnerability that often distinguishes a great artist from a very good one.

We met with all of our clients in a group this week to go over a great creative evaluation tool called PHLOX, and as we were discussing the results - vulnerability became a huge theme.

I have struggled greatly with issues of vulnerability - but I am happy to say that I have struggled.

Which means I haven't ignored it, and I work very intentionally to improve on this area of my life.

I have always carried a great facade, and honestly my facade is that I have everything together.

I have always had the right jobs or positions, the right friends, the right talents, the right creativity, the right mentors, the right amount of female companionship, the right stories, the right places, the right education, the right style, the right connections, the right resume - basically the right everything.

Now most of that is the result of focus and hard work, a great amount of luck, and God's general blessings on my life.

And having so many "rights" helps fuel my confidence which is in turn attractive to other people, which opens up many opportunities for me, which because of the focus and hard work - I tend to take advantage of.

However, the truth is that I have failed many times - completely and spectacularly - and I am just as broken, hurt, and scared as anyone else - and in some ways a great deal more than most people.

For many years I hated this part of myself - the part that wasn't congruent with my outside image.

Thus, I developed great defense mechanisms - probably the best (and most harmful) one is what I am going to dub "The Angler Fish Defense Mechanism".

1. Basically, I would pretend to be very open and vulnerable (picking things that I knew would seem courageous to talk about it, but really didn't mean anything to me) and draw them in.
2. Then I would encourage them to be vulnerable and open - except unlike me they wouldn't be pretending.
3. Since I had just exchanged something that had little emotional resonance with me for something that had a great deal of emotional resonance for them - it created a power imbalance in the relationship.
4. Thus, I was able to engulf them - which generally led to some sort of tragic ending (usually involving tears).

Not a pretty picture. Stunningly effective.

I became a master of knowing everything about a person, and having them know nothing about me - I knew the right questions to ask, the right tone, the right way to listen, the right way to emote - and even though these are great qualities to have, I used them for a terrible purpose - to shield myself from ever having to truly open up and be honest.

The arts have been a savior for me.

In writing - I find myself able to become most vulnerable - and maybe it is because writing is solitary.

It was through a poem - "Who I Was Starting Davidson" - that I was able to finally admit that I had tried to kill myself.

Before that it was another poem - "This Is Not Light" - which was probably my first real cry for help for being manic depressive (it was still okay to call it that).

It was through a blog post - "Living with Bi-Polar Disorder: Three Lessons" that I first publicly discussed the challenges I experience from being Bi-Polar.

However, although the arts can be a medium in which to deal with issues of vulnerability - you still need to be vulnerable with real people.

I would have never been able to share the aforementioned blog post, right after I graduated from college, if I hadn't spent my entire senior year dealing with the issue of vulnerability.

A girl had asked me early in the year if I was strong?

And the journey to figure out the answer to her question caused me to redefine my entire definition of strength.

However, finally, towards the end of the school year, I was able to answer her yes - I am very strong, precisely because I am deeply vulnerable, and because I love.

And it is a process - exploring your vulnerabilities. I have been trying to be vulnerable since I was 16, and really kicked it into high gear at 19, probably started learning just what it means at 21, and now at 23 have an entire lifetime of growth to look forward to.

And every bit of the process has been hard for me. It has all been a struggle.

Even right now, I am intentionally trying to be open and vulnerable with this girl I like, even though I am pretty sure if I am, she is just going to hurt me.

However, it is healthier for me to learn how to be vulnerable with a person than for me to become scared of rejection and hurt her instead.

I repeat - having a normal relationship where I am vulnerable and open is extremely hard for me - it is much easier (and less painful) for me to get you to be vulnerable and open and then just engulf you.

Yet, I am struggling to do so - why?

Because wrestling with vulnerability always leaves you in a better place.

Being vulnerable frees you.

And even though vulnerability does hurt - sometimes intensely - the pain is just the price of freedom.

And freedom is always worth the price.

And for artists who want to achieve their full potential - vulnerability is essential.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Up for the Challenge..

Boredom crept in, at the beginning of January of 2009. So last year, I gave myself a huge challenge, the challenge was to read at least two books on any subject per week. The funny thing is I have always been very studious as a person, I must admit I love to learn.

When I was a child my mom would transport me and my big brother to the library about twice a month throughout the school year. And, when school was out, we would always participate in the Public Library’s rigorous “summer reading programs.” I was always excited to get a prize from the librarian usually a free pass like going to Showbiz Pizza or Six Flags. However, the reward inside was greater because I was expanding my knowledge.

In reading, I found out, that knowledge is power. The more you know the further you will go is true. And, by putting into practice what I have learned; I have found out that I am fully capable of anything. From mere books, I learned how to make baby food from scratch for my daughter, I have taught myself and mastered Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. I have even learned to organize systems of information and training materials to help others at my job. Whoa!

With starting at Green Bandana, I’ve created a new game for myself for the next three years. My game is to research every book, article, blog, and/or website possible to wrap my head around the business of “art commerce” and to “be in action” about whatever it takes to develop our clients into their fullest potential. Of course, it will take something; it will take a strategy of discipline, focus, and heart to place myself in the position to win. But what can I say; I’m up to the challenge!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whatever it Takes

One of my daughters, Audrey, who is a freshman at Texas A&M this year, came home last night. She also brought 8 friends with her. It was loud in the house until about 4AM when they finally fell asleep. This morning, the smell of pancakes and sausage woke me and drew me downstairs. I ate about 5 pancakes and 4 sausages and my wife and I sat together and observed the 9 college students and their interactions. It was during that time that I realized something significant . . .

As my daughters get older, I become less influential in their lives. I'm sure this is no revelation for most people and it's something I've been experiencing for years but today, I feel like their is finality is certain areas. I will never again watch my daughter cheer at a football game. I will never again sign her progress report. I will never again drive her to school. She is more independent now. She is becoming her own person. She doesn't need me as much.

In our (Green Bandana's) work with artists, I see some parellels. We have a fresh crop of young artists who are just beginning to realize that their gifts demand cultivating. These gifts they posses must be nurtured. The responsibilities that come with these gifts are real and cannot be denied. Not if these artists want to live the lives they're meant to live.

There is great passion within me to challenge and push these artists to be everything they were created to be. I will be as influential as I can in the beginning but there is a process by which I have less influence and each of them begins to challenge and push themselves. You don't become great by waiting for life to happen. You become great by doing whatever is necessary to see you dream fulfilled.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Most Important Question

I ask many questions of myself and my company - but one of the most important questions I can ask is this:

How much are we improving our clients lives?

This question, unlike for example what is our committed monthly recurring revenue, gets at the heart of what we are trying to do.

Although, I constantly harp on the importance of making money to my partners and clients, Green Bandana does so much more than make money.

We recently added three additional clients, Tacovia Braggs, Tommy Simpson, and Dre White - all very young at 21, and brimming with potential.

Of course our number one goal is to generate enough income so they can live off of their creativity - that is my life mission - and that will never change.

However, we also have a profound opportunity to help shape them into the people they want to become.

Most of us have dreams, have desires for ourselves, usually in the form of "I want to be more ______" or "I want to be less ______". Most of us, if we are honest, never get there.

The truth is that it is incredibly difficult to find the motivation to change ourselves - to find the discipline to become a better person.

If we are really honest, many of us don't even like ourselves. We battle with feelings of worthlessness, futility, and general despair. We don't truly value our own capabilities and our own lives. We go from one period of depression to the next, all the while never truly learning how to love ourselves.

Yet, we are often able to love and care for other people - if not for ourselves. Thus there are many things that we would never do for ourselves - if left alone to our own devices - that we will do for other people.

Green Bandana encourages our clients to do the things that they probably wouldn't ever do alone. Whether that is going to counseling, taking time to be with a loved one, sharing their emotions, or simply exploring the world around them. We try to do everything in power to make our clients better people (conversely we also only choose clients who are open to becoming a better a person).

For example, every week I give my clients assigned reading. This week I gave them two articles, 1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly and What Start-Ups Are Really Like by Paul Graham, and the e-book What Matters Now compiled by Seth Goodin.

However, they will also get individual books to read over the next two weeks - ala Phil Jackson.

Tommy will get Edith Hamilton's "Mythology", Dre will get Dave Hickey's "Air Guitar", and Tacovia will get "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho.

How much are we improving our clients lives?

Hopefully a little bit every week, with everything we have - because our value proposition is much deeper than "we can make you money" it is truly "we can make you money and make you a better person by helping you achieve your dreams and realize who you want to be."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why It Isn't Enough To Be Digitally Cool

I started using facebook in September 2004, the day my college was added to the network. Our print directory was actually called "Facebook", however by the time I graduated college in 2008 - the hard copy facebook was all but obsolete.

When I talk about social media, I find myself often talking about facebook because it is what I know and what I remember. It is social media that I literally "grew up" using. I can't count the number of events that I have helped organize that used facebook as the primary source of information and advertisement.

As I write this I have 1,220 friends, 460 fans of myself (most of them not my friends), and 808 fans of the blog I founded - Art Star.

If I ask my facebook network a question via a status update - I almost always get an answer, heck at this point the majority of my status updates are liked or commented upon.

In many ways, I could be considered "cool" on facebook.

Yet, I am routinely bothered about how social media is sometimes portrayed as "be all, end all" of advertising, business, connections, etc.

I think just as social media can be a great tool - it can also be a trap, tricking the uninitiated to engage in a pursuit of quantity over a pursuit of quality.

A couple years ago I overheard my little brother talking to one of his friends about someone on Myspace who was friends with lots of attractive girls. "Yeah, he (the guy) is Myspace cool, but he ain't pullin in real life."

And that is the trap - to try to become digitally cool at the expense of becoming cool in real life.

My network was just as great at 250 friends, as it was at 600 friends, as it was at 250 friends again (I got upset at social media and purged), as it is now at over 1200 friends. The key reason is that I actually know about 1100 of my 1200 friends.

Very few of my friends, less than 50, are people I haven't met and interacted with in real life.

The reason social networking works for me is because I try to be "cool" in the real world, and constantly meet new people, have meaningful conversations, and do meaningful things.

This relates to my motto, "You Can't Fake Real", in the sense that how effective your social media network is will always be limited by how cool you are in real life.

If you are lame in real life, you will be lame in the social media world. If you are a follower in real life, you will be follower in digital life. We recreate the real world in this digital world. In my other blog Art Star, I've written about the artist Cao Fei's documentary of Second Life - and one of the most interesting things about the video is seeing how people created things in this digital world that echoed the real world including pollution and even graveyards.

I think that by embracing the idea that our "real world self" acts as a limit on the potential of our "digital self" we are given the framework to constantly improve both.

When we find that our fans are stagnating or our blog hits are going down - perhaps the answer isn't to write a top 50 list that is search word optimized.

Perhaps what we really need to do is go out and meet some real people, have some interesting conversations, experience some music or art, have a few drinks with our friends, and generate some new ideas.

If we focus on doing these things, it will be amazing how much "cooler" our digital self will become as we network and continue to engage with the relationships and ideas that were started in real life.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Green Bandana Group

Green Bandana Group is a creative management company that I started with Kevin Spurgin in September 2009.

When we started, there was this basic idea that most creative people are not called to be business people - they are called to be creative people.

Yet many of the most successful creative people we knew, found more and more of their life being taken over by business activities, leaving less and less time to create.

So, what Kevin and I wanted to do was to help creative people on the business side and free up more of their time to create.

What has been interesting for me is balancing this need that we saw in the broader creative community with what Kevin and I are both naturally good at.

For myself - it is about connecting people.

I am a creative person - who has been able to create at a professional level in two different art forms (painting and poetry).

I also am a business person - who has always nurtured relationships, made new ones, solved problems quickly, and listened attentively. I am a financial planner, manage millions of dollars of other people's money, and it is serious business.

The ability to navigate between these sometimes very different worlds is always my continual challenge. However, the edge I often have is being able to understand and speak the language of both worlds.

Far too often I see creative and business people desperately trying to reach each other - and ultimately not being able to connect because of an inability to communicate, empathize, and perhaps even respect each others values.

When we started Green Bandana Group we were focused on individual client development and running other people's companies for them.

However, I am also seeing great opportunities in connecting existing creative companies in innovative ways and generating additional sales for them by being affiliated with the Green Bandana Group.

I think that this will help our company travel the other side of the street, in helping business people connect with the right types of creative people.

So, overall I think you develop this great system of relationships, between creative people and business people, that is facilitated by Green Bandana Group - that has Kevin and I not just translating but also contributing ideas on both the creative and the business side.

And I think that creating this system, along with our start of helping run and manage individual arts companies, holds the most promising future for Green Bandana Group.

Would love to hear your thoughts :)