Debbie Millman on sensitivity and rejection

“I have noticed a pattern in my life of being very easily hurt by an initial rejection, so much so that it thwarts any other attempt at making something like that happen for a very long time. I am extremely sensitive and any rejection takes me off of that path for a very long time. It takes me a long time to recover.”

“I am somebody that has a very hard time taking ‘No’ for an answer. It takes me a long time to recalibrate and get my courage back to continue to keep trying.”

Damn. Is she talking about me or herself? I never considered myself the sensitive type – but this pattern Debbie is talking about, that’s me. And maybe, just maybe, it might be about you too. If so, this other part where she talks about what to do about this pattern might help us:

“Don’t ever accept that first rejection ever. Give yourself options. The timeliness of those options or the timeliness of those retries – do at your own pace. You are not in competition with anybody but yourself.”

From Tim Ferriss’s podcast interview with Debbie Millman – #214 – How to Design a Life – Debbie Millman

The Creative Bubble

“When I look back on my best work, it was inevitably created in what I call “The Bubble”. I eliminated every distraction, sacrificed almost everything that gave me pleasure, placed myself in a single-minded isolation chamber, and structured my life so that everything was not only feeding the work but subordinated to it. It is not a particularly sociable way to operate. It’s actively anti-social. On the other hand, it is pro-creative.”

Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

What is your version of “The Bubble”? What is your deep work philosophy?

The Philosophies of Deep Work

In his book “Deep Work“, Cal Newport formulates a few different ways we can engage in deep work.

Book cover of Deep Work by Cal Newport

But first, what is “Deep Work”?

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Our creative work also falls under this “Deep Work”

So how do you develop a deep work habit?

The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration

Among other things, they’ll ask you to commit to a particular pattern for scheduling this work and develop rituals to sharpen your concentration before starting each session

You must be careful to choose a philosophy that fits your specific circumstances, as a mismatch here can derail your deep work habit before it has a chance to solidify

What are these philosophies of deep work then?

  1. Monastic Philosophy

    This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations. Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have a well-defined and highly valued professional goal that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well. It’s this clarity that helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up those whose value proposition in the working world is more varied.

  2. Bimodal PhilosophyIn this philosophy, you have some clearly defined stretches of time dedicated to deep work. The rest is open to everything else.

    During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically—seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized.

    During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically—seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized.

    So the minimum unti of time for deep work for the bimodal philosophy is one work day.

    Those who deploy the bimodal philosophy of deep work admire the productivity of the monastics but also respect the value they receive from the shallow behaviors in their working lives.

  3. Rhythmic Philosophy

    This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work

    … that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep.

    Another common way to implement the rhythmic philosophy is to replace the visual aid of the chain method with a set starting time that you use every day for deep work.

  4. Journalist Philosopy

    …you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule

    Isaacson was methodic: Any time he could find some free time, he would switch into a deep work mode and hammer away at his book.

    – about Walter Isaacson.

    This approach is not for the deep work novice.

So, what is your preferred approach?

I would love to be monastic – but at this stage in life, that is not an option available to me. I have tried the rhythmic approach – but I work best, naturally, in the bimodal approach – once I start working on something, I tend to work on that the whole day.

Opinion and suffering

“Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer. A man is as wretched as he has convinced himself that he is.”
Seneca in Letter 78, Letters from a Stoic (On the Healing Power of the Mind)

How easy!

Once we decide to be unperturbed, we take most things in our stride.

Once we decide you are “busy”, every little task added to our workload becomes an insurmountable addition.

Once we decide we like rainy days – the week of pouring rain, which was dismal, irritating, annoying last week, becomes a chance to enjoy hot chocolate, hot pho and petrichor – the heady sensuous fresh smell of rain in the air and the wet earth.

The acquaintance, once we decide is “my kind of person”, becomes a good buddy.

How easy and how profoundly difficult – to actually change our opinion.

Myths and Legends

I have always been fascinated by fairy tales and folktales. As a kid, these tales transported me away to different fantastical lands – so like our own but really not now.

Growing up in India, the Hindu mythology was the dominant source of stories. The stories of the pantheon of Hindu Gods, their supporting characters and enemies were fascinating. One of my uncles, a secular Indian-flavored communist, had a collection of Russian and Ukrainian folk tales, which I loved to read. Add to this, the stories from Greek, Roman and Norse mythology I got to read as a part of my lessons in school, made a heady mix. Between Krishna and Hanuman and Tenali Rama and Birbal and all the Ivans and Baba Yaga and Hercules and Perseus and Medusa and Athena – what you get is a fan of the fantastical, of adventure, of travel, of the bizarre and of the strengths hidden in common folk, of the hero’s journey.

170x170bb Some childhood loves don’t go away. Spice, salt, climbing stuff, making stuff and reading fairy tales – are apparently my loves which are here to stay. And so imagine my delight when I came across The Myths and Legends Podcast by Jason Weiser. He described his podcast as:

“Did you know that fairy tales weren’t originally for children and are way more bizarre, ridiculous, and interesting than you ever thought possible?

Maybe you’ve heard of characters like Thor, Odin, and Hercules from modern movies- stories stretching back centuries. Well, the originals that inspired the adaptations are even better.”

He retells this stories in a funny, modern way, cutting to the heart of the matter. Did I mention how funny he is? For example, here is his introduction of Enkidu of the story of Gilgamesh:

“If you think your job is rough, hopefully you don’t have a hairy naked man leaping majestically through your office with his gazelle friends.”

At the end of each podcast, he highlights the creature of the week: like the Splinter Cat, the Saalah, the Habetrot…

This is a show I enjoy so much that it is one of those I subscribe (as in pay real-world money to support Jason’s great stuff). If this at all looks interesting, you should listen to the free version.

Creativity and Parenting

Today, everyone wants to be creative. Not just use, we want our children to be creative too. But how? This is one way.

Many subjects indicated that as children they had enjoyed a marked degree of autonomy from their parents. They were entrusted with independent judgment and allowed to develop curiosity at their own pace without overt supervision or interference. MacKinnon noted of these parents, “They did not hesitate to grant him rather unusual freedom in exploring his universe and in making decisions for himself — and this early as well as late. The expectation of the parent that the child would act independently but reasonably and responsibly appears to have contributed immensely to the latter’s sense of personal autonomy which was to develop to such a marked degree.”

– Pierluigi Serraino in The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Midcentury Personality Study quoted in Brainpickings in The Creative Architect: Inside Psychology’s Most Ambitious and Influential Study of What Makes a Creative Person

But are we ok to deal with what this increased creativity means? As parents, can our ego, our emotions handle this:

The offspring often reported a sense of remoteness, a distance from their elders, which ultimately helped them avoid, the scientists argued, the overdependence — or momentous rejection — that often characterizes parent-child relationships, both of which were believed to interfere with the unencumbered unfolding of the self through the creative process.

– Pierluigi Serraino in The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Midcentury Personality Study quoted in Brainpickings in The Creative Architect: Inside Psychology’s Most Ambitious and Influential Study of What Makes a Creative Person

Impermanence of the creative life

The nub of living a creative life, as I see it, is to recognise that the only thing that is constant in our lives is impermanence. The way we see the world now, and the way the world is, is always changing and just because we said or felt or believed something one day, does not imply that it is still true another day. We are entitled to change and in fact we are always changing.

By accepting that things come and they go, gives me great comfort to understand that what I do, is just a transient expression of who I was at a moment in time.

– Bruce Percy in A Crisis of Abundance

I used to be a landscape photographer. Then I couldn’t get out to the landscapes and wildernesses. But I still considered myself a landscape photographer. I tried becoming a people photographer, a street photographer. But how could I? How could a landscape photographer be good at street photography?

It’s been about 5 years since I shot landscapes. Nowadays, I see lights, shadows, lines, splotches of color and I itch to make photos of these bizarre, fantastical, nonsensical things. So I am no longer a landscape photographer right? What am I then?

I mourned the loss of my identity – and then I realized: I made up that identity of “landscape photographer”. I can make up a new identity for this new me of today. So I shall become an itchy photographer – one whose photos scratch her itch-of-the-day.

The Great Thief

There once was a man who went to a computer trade show. Each day as he entered, the man told the guard at the door:

“I am a great thief, renowned for my feats of shoplifting. Be forewarned, for this trade show shall not escape unplundered.”

This speech disturbed the guard greatly, because there were millions of dollars of computer equipment inside, so he watched the man carefully. But the man merely wandered from booth to booth, humming quietly to himself.

When the man left, the guard took him aside and searched his clothes, but nothing was to be found.

On the next day of the trade show, the man returned and chided the guard saying: “I escaped with a vast booty yesterday, but today will be even better.” So the guard watched him ever more closely, but to no avail.

On the final day of the trade show, the guard could restrain his curiosity no longer. “Sir Thief,” he said, “I am so perplexed, I cannot live in peace. Please enlighten me. What is it that you are stealing?”

The man smiled. “I am stealing ideas,” he said.

– From the “Tao of Programming“, 3.2