risk taking

Life lessons from hosting a writer’s retreat

I know that not everyone has the desire to host a writer’s retreat, but if you have any desire to take a big risk, the skills and lessons are the same. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I’m making an effort to go into more details about what I’m doing and still keep it relatable.

In mid-January, I hosted my second writer’s retreat in the Catskills. This is one of my favorite parts of the year. I love being around other writers 24/7, sharing ideas, supporting each other, and getting motivated by the clicking of their keyboards. As enjoyable as these retreats are, the preparation for them can be a stressful practice in patience and faith.

If you are planning to take on a new challenge, here are some lessons I’ve learned from organizing this retreat:

  1. Commit Commit Commit
    This is the most important rule for any risk you take. If you try to do something new and out of your comfort zone, there are going to be challenges. There will come a time when quitting seems like the most obvious and sane choice. The only way to succeed is to decide that there is no quitting: you will do whatever it takes. Surprisingly, everything gets easier once you take the option of quitting off the table.
    Once I found the venue I liked for my retreat, I had to pay the dreaded deposit. This is super scary to do when you have no one signed up, but you can’t get people to sign up if there’s no venue. Once I sent out the deposit, I decided that I wouldn’t back down no matter what.
  2. Strike while the iron is hot
    For some reason, I thought it made sense to book my writer’s retreat one month after my writer’s conference. The conference takes about 200 hours to plan and market. It’s thoroughly exhausting. A week before the conference, I realized that I had no one signed up for the retreat, and the final payment was due in two weeks. I was in jeopardy of losing my deposit.
    My husband suggested I give a promotional discount for the retreat during the conference and let everyone know that it would expire by the end of the day. This seemed beyond ridiculous to me. My guests were already shelling out their hard-earned money for my conference. It felt greedy to ask for more money.
    That’s when I was forced to confront a harmful belief I had. I was thinking my guests were doing me a huge favor, rather than recognizing that I was giving them an incredible gift: my conferences and retreats are inspiring, informative and an incredible value. Once I accepted that fact, it was easy to announce the promotional offer and capitalize on the excitement and motivation I had already worked so hard to create at the conference.
    And guess what? Five people signed up that day!
    This is all to say, figure out when you can maximize your efforts and don’t let any doubts get in your way.
  3. Relax and enjoy the ride
    At a certain point you have to believe that all your planning will pay off and that it’s okay to enjoy yourself. I believe one of the reasons why my events are so powerful is because I am a writer and I give other writers exactly what I would want. If I can’t enjoy my own events, why the heck am I doing it? Passion projects are going to wipe you out. They will use up every last reserve of energy and will. If you can’t stop and enjoy the moment, I promise you won’t be able to sustain the passion.

Is there anything else you would add to the list? Was this helpful? Leave a comment ’cause I’d love to hear from you. Also, if you’re interested in joining the next retreat, send an email to Tracy [at] writerswork [dot] org, or apply here. I am starting to plan a week-long retreat for this summer in Long Island, and it would be a huge boost to know that people are interested in it.

*** Pictures provided by Josh Conrad. Josh has a blog where he’s tackling 25 interesting dares this year. You should definitely check out his blog and see what he had to say about the retreat! ***

I Have Gone Insane: Brutal First Impressions

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

On the subway ride to Central Park, I clutched my sign and bit my lip. “I can’t believe I’m really doing this,” I said to my husband. My heartbeat was pounding in my ears.

I made my way through Central Park, searching for the perfect spot: one with lots of foot traffic but still quiet, and I set up my sign and hat. I took a deep breath and prayed that no one would beat me up. Immediately people stopped and stared. Then the cameras came out. I started panicking that I would soon be ridiculed on the internet like the typewriting hipster.

A few months ago, I had the idea of starting a business called Brutal First Impressions. Most of us surround ourselves with people who wouldn’t want to hurt our feelings. While this can be good for our egos, it can also hinder our growth, and we can become comfortable with habits that might be off-putting for others. I figured that for a small price, I could be the one to tell it like it is: put on some deodorant, that shirt is terrible, you talk too much when you’re nervous…that kind of thing. But first I wanted to gain some experience. Why not try it out in Central Park!

The first guys to try it out.

The first guys to try it out.

I set the price at $5. At first, the people walking by would take pictures and laugh, saying, “that’s the best idea ever!” but they weren’t paying me for it. As soon as I lowered it to $1, people started lining up.

I asked each participant for their name, a handshake and a smile. Then I would ask them to take a few steps back and walk towards me, and then turn around slowly. At that point I would critique everything that I saw.

Here is some general advice I had to give almost everyone:

  • Make eye contact when you shake hands
  • Show your teeth when you smile
  • Keep your chin up when you walk

I couldn’t believe how many people needed that advice, and as soon as I said it and they tried it out, they seemed like new people.

2012-10-31 22.28.02It wasn’t easy being mean. A crowd would typically form around whomever I was critiquing and I could tell that they wanted to see tears. At one point I told a guy he had dandruff, and his friends practically cheered. I told another guy that he needed to pluck his uni-brow. When the crowd ohhed and ahhed at this, I asked to see a show of hands for who thought he should pluck his eyebrows. Almost everyone raised their hands. When I wasn’t mean, people would start heckling me saying, “Come on, this is supposed to be brutal.”

2012-10-31 22.23.04The whole time I was doing this I kept expecting someone to ask me my qualifications. I had my response all figured out: I’m classically trained in art and literature so I have a discerning eye and a critical mind. I learned how to evaluate presentation styles from my years as a teacher and teacher trainer. But the only person who asked for my qualifications immediately answered for me: “You’re a woman. Women know how to criticize.”

I was surprised that people were really interested in my story. At one point I had four guys sitting on the bench next to me asking my life story (ladies, this is a great way to pick up men if you’re interested). Everyone wanted to know how I got the idea and how much money I was making. So here’s the grand total…for 3 hours of sitting in the park, meeting interesting people, I made $43. I definitely want to try this again. I think I could make a lot more if I get better at working the crowd.

Originally, I wanted to do this because I thought it could help people present themselves better. At the end of the day I realized that I helped in a different way. I got people to laugh and not take themselves so seriously. I got people taking pictures and saying “only in New York.” I figured someone’s going to go back home and talk about the crazy lady they saw in Central Park. As an aspiring writer, I feel great that I gave someone a good story.

Which kid are you?

Photo credit: BCI Burke Comp.

A little girl decides to take a risk and climb on top of the monkey bars. The other kids in the playground look up at her in awe as she balances on the metal rods high above them. She puts her hands in the air, basking in her glory. When she makes it across everyone cheers.

What would that little girl learn about taking risks?

What would she learn about getting attention?

What assumptions would she start to make about herself?

Photo credit: Chicago Phoenix

Her friend sees this and decides to try climbing the bars too. She’s so nervous her feet are shaking and she falls to the ground. Everyone sees this and laughs.

What would that little girl learn about taking risks?

What would she learn about getting attention?

What assumptions would she start to make about herself?

If those two girls were in the same class the next year, and their teacher asked for a volunteer who do you think would raise their hand? The second girl has already decided that it’s not safe to take risks. If she messes up, she’ll just confirm all the negative thoughts she had about herself. Even if she does well and everyone compliments her, but there are two girls laughing in the back of the room, she will focus on the laughter and not on the praise (even if that laughter wasn’t directed at her).

Do you ever focus on the one complaint rather than hundreds of compliments?

If those two girls were at a job interview, who do you think would get the job? If those two girls were on a date with a jerk, who do you think will realize they deserve better, and who will accept poor treatment?

We’ve all had moments in our lives that shape who we are and how we see the world. Some of those moments were big and impossible to forget. Oftentimes they were just small moments that are easy to forget as an adult, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a long-lasting effect.

The problem is these decisions we made about ourselves were decided by children who didn’t know better. We were doing the best we could to make sense of a world that is confusing and some times painful. As adults we need to take a step back and determine if these assumptions are true and if they are serving us. Are they keeping us from living a full and happy life? Are they keeping us in unhealthy relationships? Are we stuck in a rut because of them?

This is a huge lesson I learned from The Living Course. If you’ve ever talked to me, you’ve probably heard me talk about this course because it changed my life forever. I was the kid who fell off the monkey bars and decided risks were dangerous and attention could only be negative. I lived with this mentality for 24 years, and then in ONE weekend the light switched and I saw my life through completely new eyes. Rather than fear I embraced excitement. Rather than judgement I felt love. Rather than saying “I have to,” I said, “I want to.”

I wish everyone could take this course. I wish everyone could feel like the little girl on the monkey bars with her hands stretched out, soaking up everyone’s praise and feeling magnificent. You deserve to feel that way. The next course is May 31-Jun 2, 2013 in White Plains, NY. The courses are few and far between, so it’s worth canceling your plans. I assist at every course, because it’s incredible to watch people transform into the better version of themselves in just 30 (intense) hours. Go to their website right now and contact them for more information. I do not get paid to do this. The only reward I receive is feeling like I played a part in making someone’s life better.

Don’t waste another year playing it small. Whatever small voice in your head is saying “no” is the same voice that will keep you from having the life you want. When are you going to stop listening to it?

Flying Pigeon

I´m taking a break from sharing about my time in Spain to tell you about my friend´s HeSo inspired enterprise. I recently bought an awesome bike from Nathan Einschlag. We used to teach at the same school until he left to live in China for two years. He fell in love with the bike culture there, and more specifically the legendary bike called Flying Pigeon. He recently bought 140 of these bikes to sell in the States. First read the interview then visit his website so you can ride your very own flying Pigeon!

Where does the name Flying Pigeon come from?

It comes directly from the Chinese factory in Tianjin. The name represents the liberation of the Chinese people after the Japanese invaded China in the late 1940’s. The  image of the Flying Pigeon is actually a representation of a dove symbolizing freedom. The Flying Pigeon bicycle has a rich history in China and has been named a “national treasure” by the People’s Republic.

That´s a lot more history than a Huffy. What made you want to sell them?

I didn’t wake up one morning and think, oh, wow, I want to become a bike salesman. It was much more than that. I wanted to bring something tangible from China to the United States almost as a cultural exchange. There are a lot of people in the States that have never ridden or heard of Flying Pigeon bicycles, and a lot of people who have negative stereotypes about China and their craftsmanship. Bringing the Flying Pigeon bike to the States was a way for me to help immerse Americans in Chinese culture as well as continue my love of riding bikes here in the States and also show that China has great products that can stand up to American standards.

It took a lot of guts to buy 140 bikes. Can you describe some of the anxieties you felt before making such a risky commitment, and how you got past them?

A friend of mine once asked me what I would do if fear didn’t exist.  There comes a time in your life when you want to experience more, do more, and learn more. I made a choice, and stuck to it. Fear and anxiety were just motivating factors, not inhibitors like so many people let them be. Life is about risk and reward. Without the first you can never have the second.

I completely agree. Part of my motivation for the HeSo project is to make fear a motivation rather than an inhibitor. A lot of people use money as an excuse for not taking risks. How did you finance your enterprise?

 I was lucky enough to find an investor who believed in my idea and in me. I’m not an advocate of spending money foolishly, but I say if you are driven and have a plan, then do what you have to do to get there. Scared money doesn’t make money, as the old saying goes.

I´ve never heard that expression, but I like it. How do you plan to sell all of those bikes?

I’m starting from the ground up. Literally- flyers on light-posts and hitting the streets to meet people face to face. I’m taking out craigslists ads and putting bikes on EBAY. I’m going to be hitting the bike store circuit pretty hard this upcoming week to stir up some interest on the distribution front. Word of mouth has proven to be the best so far, but getting the company name on blogs (thanks) is also the direction I’m trying to move in. I really want to get to know the customers buying a Flying Pigeon bicycle. When you buy a bike you’re not only saying you like the bicycle, but that you trust the company name and believe in what I’m trying to do.

Why should someone buy a bike from you?

I think people want to relate to other people in life. People want to be heard and comforted. People want to get their ideas out and ultimately want to trust and be trusted. I want to create a brand where these feelings and emotions are felt with each purchase. When I started NYC Flying Pigeon I wanted to make sure that each of my customers would be fully satisfied with a purchase, and that they would be walking (in this case riding) away with something unique and rich in history, much like each of us is. Each bike is limited in quantity to 40 pieces. These aren’t bikes that you can just go down to the store to buy. They are durable, and have been
spotted all over the world, from Paris to Argentina to Montreal. If you are looking for a bike that will last you a lifetime and has more flavor than your neighbor’s bike, Flying Pigeon is definitely the bike for you.

Describe your perfect day on a Flying Pigeon.

Cruising down a Shanghai street on my way to grab some dumplings with a beautiful lady on the back of my bike.

These bikes are selling quickly so get one soon and enjoy the fall on your new Flying Pigeon!