When working for free works in your favor

Put your ass where your heart wants to be. – Steven Pressfield

Since launching Suzu Creative last year I’ve had to crank up my networking game. However, it was a social weekend that made me realize my ideal clients may not be found at business mixers. Artists and creatives are “my people” and spending a day at one of Arizona’s many art festivals reminded me that’s who I love to help and work with.

Which takes me to the day not long after when I received an email offering free lunch and a T-shirt to attend the Scottsdale Arts Festival. Cool! I love free stuff plus acres of art punctuated by live music and a lobster truck!

Oh wait – I had to volunteer to get the free stuff? Before I could make the sad trombone noise and hit delete, I reconsidered. I’d get to meet other art lovers, enjoy a day in the not-too-hot-yet Arizona sun, and maybe get in some networking and research with other creators. I accepted.

I would have volunteered at the bar tent but was either too late or my reputation preceded me. So I decided to work in the community art studio where vendors host hands-on, interactive booths featuring various art projects. It’s no secret this is where parents bring the kids to make something fun and messy when they’re getting bored of stall after stall of “Don’t touch that!” but I was feeling brave.

The volunteer coordinator directed me to the Marble Mountain installation to help a lavender-haired girl named Kayla Newnam who was busy directing her dad on dividing up RIT dye containers. Combined with the cans of shaving cream, I could see right away that this would be the messy portion of the program.

Kayla Newnam in her element.

As I took in the marbled patchwork tent housing numerous stuffed creatures for story time and photo ops, I thought “How cute!” When I saw the basket of little booklets with an endearing plot about the monsters of Marble Mountain that Kayla wrote and illustrated, I thought “How clever!” As she explained the different art projects and objectives of each day, I thought “WOW. This young woman is talented and imaginative!”

Curious about her journey to being tapped to create such an enchanting installation at a major arts festival, I learned Kayla is a Phoenix native with a BFA from the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in NY. An accomplished painter, she was volunteering at Canal Convergence – one of my absolute favorite annual events – when she discovered there were actual paying jobs for what she was doing for fun. She was soon hired as Public Event Coordinator and that position increased her visibility in the arts community, leading to the Scottsdale Arts Festival invitation.

Kayla’s monsters and Magic Mountain were a hit with children of all ages, so it’s not surprising that her art portfolio and mural projects are all vivid and bright celebrations of whimsy. She is fearless in her use of shapes and color, sometimes including elements of surrealism and psychedelic desert themes.

Kayla recently began an exciting new position as Public Art Curator and Artist in Residence with True North Studio but hopes to still be involved with Canal Convergence this fall. She inspires me as she steadfastly continues to put her ass where her heart is – something I wish I’d learned much earlier in my own career(s).

Personally, I know I’ll be pursuing other opportunities to volunteer and participate in activities that feed my soul – not just my business. Because it all ties together if you’re paying attention.

Where does your heart want to be, and is your tush in the right vicinity?

A Spiritual Workout

For years I read a myriad of self-help books and sought enlightenment on everything from relationships to business, and parenting to procrastination. As a heartsick teen I found empathy and support from the book How to Survive the Loss of a Love. In my 20s I spent a few weekends immersed in the est training (don’t laugh). The Secret movie and related books taught me the law of attraction and the power of gratitude.

I’ve read books, attended workshops and watched webinars, presented by people who seemed to have their shit figured out. However, until recently I didn’t often discuss my interests unless it was with the person who had specifically pointed me in that direction.

Self-empowerment and the dogged pursuit of happiness was my little secret.

Who hasn’t been a little self-conscious when buying a radical diet book or listening to a podcast on love languages or seeking group consciousness in a drum circle? Self-help or self-improvement implies there’s something wrong or broken and we’re naturally reluctant to broadcast that.

This perspective shifted for me earlier this year when I fell in love with the latest book rec from a well-read friend. In You Are a Badass at Making Money, author and life coach Jen Sincero encourages the practice of self-realization, referring to it as the spiritual gym.

Rather than working out your glutes and abs, the idea is to stretch your potential; make the blood rise in your aspirations and intentions; do the work to get where you know you’re meant to be. This may look like a stack of Wayne Dyer books, or a workshop on financial freedom. It could be a deep dive with a therapist, or some conscious play time for your creative spirit. Your gym might even look suspiciously like a church or a temple.

The point is not to feel like you’re lacking as you self-help your way into being a happier person. The point is that we’re evolving, brilliant, interesting human beings with endless resources of tools and inspiration to aid us in being more of who we want to be. So give your soul a daily workout and don’t worry what anyone thinks.

A few of my favorite workouts include: • Meditation • Vision Boards • Mel Robbins’ Instagram • Coloring Books • Success Coaching • Listening to Rise Up by Andra Day • and Swing Sets

Tell me in the comments, what does your spiritual gym look like?

Resurrecting the Creative Genius

How and when exactly does our artist’s soul wither and die? It often happens so quietly it goes unnoticed. More importantly, can it be revived?

The phenomenon of creative mortality was illustrated very vividly years ago when I attended a luncheon, where the keynote speaker was motivational humorist, Craig Zablocki. (Wise and hilarious – go see him if the opportunity arises!) At one point he asked the room of 200 or so business owners to raise our hands if we could paint a picture if so requested. I have been drawing and painting since I was a kid and had just recently opened an art gallery – my hand went up, as did a few dozen others.

He then inquired how many of us could sing a song and I quickly dropped my hand lest he make eye contact and ask me to demonstrate. About the same number of hands went up for the song. Craig’s next question made us all take pause.

“So, how many would raise their hands if this was a room full of first graders?”

Um, yeah… all of them.

My earliest joy actually was singing. However, at some point – definitely after first grade – I decided to confine my musical career to the shower and focus on the visual arts. I don’t necessarily think most of us have a defining moment or a soul-crushing incident that leads us to believe we are incapable of drawing, singing, dancing or creating. Part of it is the decline of focus on the arts in education, but I believe as we get older, we uncover weaknesses, fears and doubts that send our childish zeal and confidence into hibernation.

Which means it can be awoken.

Like a bear coming out of the den, yawn and stretch those muscles! Sing with abandon in the car like I do. Dance like a weed-whacker in your living room or take tango classes. Go to one of the many paint-it-yourself studios and events. There’s a reason those businesses are growing in number, not to mention the popularity of adult coloring books and karaoke nights. And experts agree that being artful and creative touches other aspects of our lives; a little bravery from the right side of our brain can do wonders for the professional arena as well.

Like Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.”

Tell me what piece of you went to sleep as you got older, and what you could do to rediscover it.