Paint Your Masterpiece (10 Ideas That Will Help Set You Free)

Last month, I was invited to give a talk at TEDx in the Netherlands. After some initial resistance (it’s a lot of work and far away), I decided to take the plunge, and I’m happy to report that it went very well. You can watch it here. The theme of this particular TED conference was reaching your “Full Creative Potential.” I’m lucky to work with a lot of creative people, most of whom are bouncing off the walls with ideas. The trouble is, an idea is not a plan. It’s a car without an engine. Execution is ultimately what determines our success in any given venture. And that’s what I chose to speak about, in a talk I called “Paint Your Masterpiece.” Here, in condensed form, I offer you these ten “principles,” in hopes that some of them may also be useful to you.

1. You will never be ready. So you don’t feel ready, or prepared or smart enough? That’s okay, nobody else does either. You don’t need to have a PhD, or a book published, or an agent, or the perfect business proposal to launch your business or do whatever it is you want to do. You don’t need anyone’s “permission.” You don’t have to know exactly what you’re doing – you simply have to begin it.

2. Don’t discount the obvious. I got into coaching quite by accident. I was working in recruitment and the thing I enjoyed most about it was meeting people and trying to offer helpful advice. But that couldn’t be a real job, could it? We tend to discount our most natural gifts. It’s too easy. Too obvious. So there can be no value in it, right? Well, maybe our true gift is the one we’re already giving away for free. Maybe the very important thing you have to offer is right in front of you.

3. Execution trumps idea. Ideas by themselves are worthless. Unless you follow through with them. Thomas Edison once said: “A lot of people miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.” And if it’s worth doing at all, it usually is hard work. Mark Zuckerberg may not have been the first person to come up with the idea for Facebook, but he was the first person to execute on that idea. It’s not about the idea, it’s about execution.

4. Know your why. Why are you doing the work that you do? What does it mean to you personally? Kahlil Gibran said: “Work at its very best, is love made visible in the world.” Good art and good work – the kind that gets us out of bed in the morning – is usually about the desire to share with others something that we love. Not surprisingly, it’s also what makes some companies great. Share your love of something, and you will never lack for motivation.

5. Be who you are. Try to figure out what it is that makes your offering different. The term used in advertising is “Unique Selling Proposition.” USP. A big part of success is just learning to sing uniquely in your own voice. If you don’t know what makes yours different, you’ll just be a pale imitation of someone else. And why would anybody want that? Oscar Wilde said it best: “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”

6. Give it away to get it back. Whatever you want to attract more of in your life, give it away. Want more love and affection in your life? You have to give more love. Want more respect from your peers, then you have to give more respect to those around you. Want to feel inspired? You have to inspire those around you. Whatever it is that you feel you are lacking, give it away. Freely and often. You’ll get it back in spades.

7. Get stretch marks. In the metaphorical sense. Try to expand your own awareness of what you think you’re capable of. Anytime you’re overcome with fears or doubts or inhibitions, that is your signal to walk towards it. Act directly against your crippling inhibition. If it is the right and reasonable thing to do – then just do it! Give yourself stretch marks. You’ll be a bigger and freer person because of it.

8. Sometimes you’ll stumble. Ever watch a baby learning to walk? Stand up. Wobble. Fall down. Repeat. This is how we learn any new skill – painfully and awkwardly. So why do we assume as adults that it should be any different? Do not fear making mistakes or looking foolish. Fear not learning anything new.

9. Find your tribe. Yes, you can go it alone, but you don’t have to. Try to find other like-minded people who share your passions, energy and enthusiasms. In whatever way you can, seek out and identify your tribe. They’re out there. As my favorite poet, David Whyte says: “Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone. Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation.”

10. Know your value. Never underestimate your own intrinsic value or worth. Unfortunately, this is the one thing you cannot buy, and nobody else can give to you. It’s a gift you give to yourself. And the way to do it is by owning the totality of all of your experiences – both good and bad. Every success, every failure, every heartbreak, every crappy job you’ve ever had – all of it has shaped you into the person you are today. And that person is a masterpiece.

* Photo by Jan Willem Groen