Sunday, January 30, 2011

Altering our View

I am musing today on Applied Texture over at Mortal Muses, come by and say hello. This image was captured on our day trip to Sirmione last weekend, and I just loved the piece of the castle jutting out into the lake. Beautiful light and reflections, a reminder of an era gone by. Perfect for a little texture to age it.

I love digital photography, for the way it can alter our view. Here's the original image, before the texture. A different feel, don't you agree? Which do you like best?

Friday, January 28, 2011

London Bound

We head out today for a weekend trip to London, to visit my wonderful muse friend Kirstin and hopefully meet some of you at our photowalk on Sunday.

It's so amazing to me, to find I now have friends all over the world because of my blog. I hope that I get to meet some of you on my future travels!  Drop me a note via email if you are in any of these places we'll be visiting in the next few months, I would love to meet up:
Sicily, Italy
Santorini and Athens, Greece
Oslo, Norway
If you are anywhere around northern Italy, let me know too. A day trip is always fantastic!

Have a great weekend, and don't forget to capture some fog with your camera if it shows up near you.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Exploring with a Camera: Fog

Winter brings fog, one of the most wonderful weather patterns for photography. I know I've said it before here on the blog, but I love fog!  Because you can only see what is right in front of you, there is a delicious sense of mystery, of things slowly revealed.

Fog forms when there is high humidity along with a temperature that is very close to the dew point, it is essentially a low lying clound. You can read more about the science of fog here. It will form readily near bodies of water, like lakes and rivers, and in cooler temperatures. That's why you often find fog early in the morning, dissipating as the weather warms up.

I've had the good luck to live two places now where fog is common: Oregon and northern Italy. It forms frequently here at my house in Italy, since we are right near the large Parco di Monza through which the Lambro River runs. A large, natural open space is a great source of fog - temperatures are always cooler in the park and the moisture is abundant from the landscape.

How can you use fog as an element in your photography? Here are a few ideas...

Fog provides a great backdrop, to capture a single element. A distracting background can be completely hidden in the fog. I use this feature to capture silhouettes, like the lead-in image of the post and this image below. The detail is highlighted by the blank backdrop. I also converted both of these to black and white, to heighten the contrast. One thing to be careful of with fog is underexposure, because the light white background will dominate your camera's meter readings. Play around with overexposing your images just a little bit to compensate.

As you move closer to a object, fog slowly reveals. Vary your distance to a subject to create a different effect and feel in your images. The two images below are of the same tree on the same day, but taken at different distances. The first one,  farther away from the camera, creates that sense of mystery I was talking about earlier.

For both of these images, I again converted to black and white to heighten the contrast. Fog desaturates colors and your images can look almost black and white straight out of the camera, but converting to black and white can keep the focus on the shapes and tones rather than what little color remains.

You can use fog to get a sense of depth in your photo. While photographers often manipulate the depth of field through aperture, you can also create depth using the atmosphere. Fog creates depth by successively lightening the objects in the background as you move away from the foreground. You can see this effect in the image of the trees below.

Light fog can give a subtle effect, as in the next example. Along with placement, focus and color, the sense of the largest tree as the focal point is enhanced by the fading trees behind.

Heavy fog can make depth obvious, even at short distances. This image of a tree shows the effect of a heavy fog, the back of the tree already fading significantly compared to the front.

All of these examples so far are from farther away, what happens when you get up close? You can see condensation on the surfaces. Get in close to see what I call "beads of fog" on the smaller objects around you.

I've talked about what is revealed as you move through the fog, but also consider what is revealed as the fog is lifting. This image, taken looking up through the fog, shows the blue sky peeking through as the fog is burned away by the sun.

In this image, you can see how interesting it can be to capture the sun through the fog. This was an unusual day, because the fog seemed to be disappearing from the bottom up rather than the top down.

Finally, don't forget about capturing the world in fog at night. You know I love night! Fog seems to amplify the artificial lights of night, creating a warm glow that is unlike any other night effect. I did no color or exposure correction on these, I liked them as they came out of the camera.

I know many of us are anxiously awaiting summer for the warmth and light of the sun. Instead of focusing on what you don't have right now, take a moment to celebrate fog, one of the delightful gifts of winter.

Today I am going to try something different! As a welcome to the participants in the Scavenger Hunt from Ashley Sisk's Ramblings and Photos, I'm going to open the linky today and keep it open for two weeks. (If you are in a blog reader, come over to the blog to see the link tool.) I'll still post the linky next Thursday for Share Your View as usual, if you want some time to capture the fog or look through your archive.

In addition, I'm going to give away a set of my Black and White postcards by random drawing to one person who links in a fog photo. I haven't given away a set of these yet on my blog, and since this set includes the foggy tree image it is the perfect time to give these away.

Thanks for sticking with me! Good luck with your fog photos, I look forward to seeing what you capture. You can find the code to copy and paste the Exploring with a Camera button on your blog here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Momentous Work

I truly believe that ignorance is bliss. I believe there are times starting things without a clue as to the work involved is a good thing.

Being full of uneducated optimism, we start down a path. We don't ask people who know, who have followed this path before, because they might say, "Wow, you have no idea what you taking on." And they might tell us, and burst our bubble. Or if they do tell us, we don't listen, being so full of our wonderful idea.

Bringing an idea into the world, whether it be a novel or a business or a painting, is hard enough work without knowing the full extent of the effort. Having the courage to take things on and start, one little bit at a time, can sometimes seem momentous on its own. Once you are caught up in the wave of creative expression, you find you believe in your idea and want to make it work, at any cost. You are willing to surmount any obstacle to get it done and out in the world.

I've learned a small piece of this truth lately, with my Find Your Eye class. I'm celebrating a little bit this week because I finished the final edits on the course two days ago. Yes, the class has already started, we are in week three. No, my schedule did not go as planned. "Finishing" ended up being much more work than I expected. Than my family expected. Most of my free time in the last month was spent in editing, rewriting and finalizing the material. Considering I work full time, have a family and we travel quite a bit, that was limited time.

Would I do it again? Absolutely, in a heartbeat. I am so proud of how the material has come together into a cohesive whole. I am loving the class, seeing these ideas and tools in the hands of new people who are finding value in them. I know that this was the right thing for me to do.

Would I have started, had I known the real work involved? It's hard to know, but I suspect not. If I had known I would give up so much of my precious free time in Italy for this at the outset, I might have thought, "Oh, I'll just start that when I move back to Oregon." The problem is, I needed to do it now, while the ideas where real and fresh to me. So, like any starry-eyed person with an idea, I started without knowing the effort involved.

I believe that this is one of life's little tricks, to allow us begin on a path without knowing the full extent of work we will have to do. It may be the only way to get us invested at the outset, so that we bring new, good, amazing ideas into the world to share. If we truly knew the cost, we might stay on the couch and read a book. Instead, we create.

Ignorance is bliss. I'm a firm believer. How about you?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Capture the Sky

I have been fascinated with skies lately. Whenever I am out and about, I find myself capturing a few images of mostly sky. Maybe just a little bit of something else, to ground the image, like this tree in silhouette.

There is so much possibility in the sky. It's wide open, too big to capture it all with the camera. I can only capture little glimpses, enough to give an impression. The glimpses are so fleeting, as the sky is ever changing. The clouds and the light do not hold for any photographer, I have to catch what I can.

I am once again reminded of the Spiral of Creativity by this image of the sky. We do the best we can to capture the fleeting inspiration that comes to us, and pull it into our spiral. We figure out how to make this transitory and insubstantial thing, this idea, into something real. For all of the giant, expansive nature of ideas, we have to break them down. Frame them into something manageable in order to proceed.

Turn an idea into a manageable plan. Capture a piece of the sky. It's all the same thing, and about as easy to do either. Yet, I am challenged to continue trying. Maybe, just once in a while, something great comes out of the effort. Something I can share with you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Castle Views

A craggy castle on the tip of a peninsula, guarding against intruders to a land of days gone by. This castle is in Sirmione on Lake Garda, an hour and a half drive from our home here in Northern Italy. Yesterday afternoon we took a little day trip out to this town, exploring a new part of this beautiful country. Besides this wonderful castle, there is a nice pedestrian town with wonderful lake views, natural hot springs, roman ruins and the most frigid wind coming off of the lake. A perfect afternoon for some of the best gelato I've had in a while!

I love these old castles. They are so solid, so real, even today. You can tell that life was not easy in the days these castles were needed. Bare stone rooms, small spaces, dangerous stairways. The majority of the inhabitants worked long hours in difficult conditions, lived in cramped spaces without much reward other than food, shelter and protection from invading forces.

This vision is so different than our idealized version of castles with turrets and princesses with flowing dresses. I find I like the reality of these solid places better than the gilded rooms of kings and queens later in history. There is something honest and true that resonates in the bare stone, coming through the centuries to speak to me in this age. Do you feel it too?

Dramatic Cropping

Today we are going back to the Rhine River Valley in Germany, to the town of Bacharach. This image has been in my file waiting to be shared for ages, and today it won't leave my head. Isn't it a beautiful scene? So "German," with the timber-frame house. So "Rhine River Valley," with the grape vines growing on the hillside behind. So summery, with the sun, the green vines, and the flowers. This house is the Altes Haus, one of the oldest timber-frame houses in existence, built in 1368.

Take a moment to look below at the original image. It's just ho-hum. A little overexposed in the sky and the composition doesn't do anything for me. It's amazing what cropping can do. Reducing the extraneous information improved the image. I don't normally crop my images this dramatically, going from vertical to horizontal, but look at the difference!

This morning I've been considering what "cropping" I need to do in my life, so it should be no surprise to me that this image comes to mind. Where am I filling my time with extraneous things? Am I spending my energy in places that aren't moving me in my chosen direction? It is easy to get into a cycle of do-do-do. To join activities because they sound fun without ever considering everything else that you have going on. Ignoring the time and energy loss that being overwhelmed can create. Even if you don't follow through on the activities, the mere guilt or remorse of having joined and not taken action can drain us.

Today I ask you to consider, is there something that you need to crop from your life? What would make your personal "composition" better, just by trimming a little extra away? Like a photo, where you have no guilt whatsoever about removing extraneous information, just decide and let it go. Focus on the part that makes the image, your life, a healthy and complete whole.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Just the Outline

I am musing on silhouettes over at Mortal Muses today. Come by and say hi!  This photo and its companion on Mortal Muses are from the Lisbon Aquarium. I love how it tells a story, in just blue and black.

If you missed it yesterday, the linky to Share Your View on Linear Perspective is open. It will remain open all week, so continue to play with this fun concept and come back to link in.

Happy Friday, have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Share Your View: Linear Perspective

So, after last week's Exploring with a Camera: Linear Perspective post, have you been seeing diminishing lines everywhere?  I have! As I was going through photos of our recent trip, this one from the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid caught my attention. Art museums are so wonderful for their lines and wide open spaces. Many museums do not allow photography, but I love it when they do. I have to laugh at the memory of taking this picture. As I was shooting it, a guy walked by and gave me the weirdest look. I could practically read his thoughts, "You are surrounded by all of this famous art and you are taking pictures of a hallway?" What he must not have realized, is that I'm creating my own art.

As I was editing this image, I found it interesting from a compositional perspective because it was not symmetric even though it initially appeared that way to me. There is a top to bottom symmetry in where the vanishing point is placed, but that is it. The walls in the foreground, the windows on the right wall, and even the track lighting on the ceiling create a little more visual interest than if it were perfect symmetry.

But enough about that, it's time to Share Your View! Did you take any new shots using linear perspective this week? Did you find any in your archive you could share? There are so many different ways to use linear perspective, I'm looking forward to seeing what you've captured.

Link in below!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meet Me in London

I'm coming to London at the end of the month, want to meet up with me? My fellow Mortal Muse Kirstin and I have planned a photowalk and we would love for you to come and join us! Meet us at 10:30am on Sunday 30-January at the Greenwich train station. We'll be the ones holding the cameras and laughing.

If you need details on the meeting place, you can contact Kirstin: kirstin [at] For other general questions, drop me a note: kat [at]

I can't wait! I would love to meet some of you who've I've gotten to know online, and meet some new people too. There is something really wonderful about meeting our online friends in person. It's a fabulous to make a face-to-face connection along with the digital. Even if you're not a photographer, come and hang out with us. I hope to see you there!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Visual Music

I am so happy to get reacquainted with this stairway today. This lovely spot is in Cascais, Portugal, a little coast town that is a 30 minute train ride from Lisbon. This stairway takes you from the sea up to the town. I loved the texture of the peeling paint and the exposure to the sea air. Looking at this photo today, I am reminded of music. A treble clef to start the line, and notes ascending. A beautiful melody of line and color and texture to see and hear. In my mind, the percussion of the sea is in the background, to support and tie it all together.

I have been thinking of the creative process this morning, as I am reading The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women by Gail McMeekin. My creative process is a combination of regular practice, along with some little rituals. When I work at the computer, either writing or with photos, I love to have my cup of tea. That signals my brain, "It's time to create." When I'm writing or have something I need to really focus on, I also turn on classical music. I love classical music, but I save it for my personal creative time. The cup of tea and the music help me move quickly into a state of flow. It's amazing what happens from there.

Do you have any rituals that help you get into the creative zone? What is your creative process?

A Store for Joy

New Year's Day has got to be one of the most quiet days in any European city. Here is a shopping district in Madrid, midday on the first of January. Wow. Great for my street photography, since I like these empty places, but a bit surreal. The only people we saw wandering around the city on this day were other tourists.

This sign caught my eye - notice it says "Joyeria." In Italy, many store descriptions end in "-eria." Gelateria, pizzeria, cartoleria to name a few. I know that "joyeria" in this case means jewelry store (gioielleria in Italian), but I loved the idea of a store for joy. If you're a little short on joy, having a bad day, you can stop in and get a boost. Maybe find the perfect gift for a friend going through a rough patch. Kind of a fun idea, don't you think? What would your Joyeria have for sale?

Today I also want to give a quick shout out for the Creative Every Day 2011 Challenge. This is a low pressure, open ended challenge for any type of art and creativity. There are monthly themes, but they are totally optional. I love the idea behind it - it's not about having some BIG CREATIVE GOAL, it's about just being creative every day in some way. For me, that could be taking a photo, or writing a blog post, or reviewing old photos. There is a link up every Monday and you will find artists of all kinds participating - writers, photographers, painters, paper crafters, poets, musicians. I have found many interesting blogs and people through participating last year, and am continuing this year. I thought you all might find it interesting too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Room with a View

Our hotel in Madrid was in a wonderful location, right on Gran Via and a block from the Callao subway stop. Not only was the location great, but we had a wonderful view. We were right on the corner of the building with a wraparound balcony. How cool is that? I loved being able to capture this bustling street at night, from above. Car lights, holiday lights, store lights. Night is when this town comes alive. The streets are crowded, the stores are open late, and the restaurants are hopping. Restaurants don't even open until 8:30pm for dinner. And we thought things started late in Italy!

Staying up late is not my normal mode of operation, although I've stretched from turning into a pumpkin at 10pm to around midnight since we've moved to Italy. My work schedule, and the culture, required a shift. It's been good for me, seeing more of the world at night. I would have completely missed out on the energy and light at night without this experience. I'm so grateful!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Scene from the City

A scene from Madrid, shot from the top of a City Sightseeing bus. We like riding these sightseeing busses, we get a little bit of history with the audio commentary and see parts of the city we wouldn't otherwise see on foot. We aren't stuck on them all day, since we can get off and on anytime we want. They are the best when the weather is nice and you can sit on the open top for a really good view. We first rode one at Brandon's request but now we all agree on riding them when time is available and the weather cooperates.

Even though these busses are fun, but they make taking photographs challenging. With the movement and angle and obstructions of people and bars and whatever is on the street, I rarely get a good photo. But today, I found a good one. There are so many things I like about today's photograph - the clear focus on the sign and the woman coming out of the metro compared to the out of focus crowd. The odd angle and blurring show spontaneity and motion. There are also many elements of place in this photo - the clearly readable metro sign, the streetlight, taxi sign, and crowd at the crosswalk. Add in the graffiti, buildings and sidewalk in the background. They all scream "city." And not just any city, but big city, European city and probably even Spanish city if you recognize the language.

Do you get all of that from the photograph too? Or am I just adding the context I have in my head? I'd be interested to know what this photograph says to you.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Exploring with a Camera: Linear Perspective

I am so excited to share a new Exploring with a Camera today! The topic of Linear Perspective has been rolling around in my head since December for a new exploration, and I'm happy to let it free this morning.

Perspective is such a cool compositional concept! It takes advantage of how we see, the optical effects of lines over a distance. I remember learning the concept of perspective way back in my early art classes: Lines, when viewed across a distance, will converge to a vanishing point. Below is an example, from the Barcelona subway. If you were to continue all of the light lines in this photo, they would all meet somewhere at the edge of the tunnel. The perspective of the converging lines brings your eye right through the photo toward the vanishing point in this case.

When drawing, you need to make sure that your lines converge correctly or the drawing will look odd to the eye. In photography, we don't have to worry about "making" the lines converge - they do that already - we can just take advantage of the effect. I'll give you a few examples and variations on how to use linear perspective in your photographs.


To use perspective bring a sense of depth, include a long distance in the photograph so that the lines can converge more dramatically. This often means using a wide angle (smaller focal length, i.e. 24mm) instead of a zoom (longer focal length, i.e. 100mm), so that you capture the length of the diminishing lines. In the photo below from the Italian Alps, the diminishing lines of the fence give a sense of dramatic depth even though my depth of field (how much is in focus) is actually quite shallow. If I were zoomed in on the fence without the long lines moving into the distance, the photo would have a completely different feel.


The orientation of your photograph, horizontal (landscape) versus vertical (portrait), will change how perspective effects the image. In the two examples below from Parco di Monza, note how the horizontal image emphasize the lines of the path while the vertical image emphasizes the height of the trees. Both use the diminishing perspective of the path and the trees, but in different ways. Placing a figure just about in the vanishing point makes for an interesting place for your eye to rest as it moves through the photo.


You can use linear perspective in so many different ways to get good composition - this is the really fun part! You can move the vanishing point in a photo to get dramatically different effects. Look closely at the examples above and below to see how the diminishing lines are used compositionally.

The photo below is from the Royal Palace in Madrid. The composition is very symmetric, with the lines converging in the center between the left and right. It is not symmetric from top to bottom, however. The focal point of the end of the hall is around the bottom third of the photo.

Here is another photo, this time from Amsterdam, with a left to right symmetry of the linear perspective.

This image from Parco di Monza is interesting - the perspective is symmetric left to right, but the leaf (the real subject) is not centered. The perspective here is not the focal point of the photo, it's the backdrop for the leaf, but it certainly makes the photograph more interesting.

While a symmetric perspective can certainly bring a sense of peace and order to a photograph, linear perspective certainly doesn't have to be used symmetrically. This image from the Berrardo museum in Lisbon, Portugal is more asymmetric in it's lines.

Putting the vanishing point at the edge or corner of an image can make it very dynamic. I love the way all of the lines converge in the corner of this photo from Paris. The contrast of the repeating pattern of the fence provides an interesting counterpoint to the linear perspective. I've noticed in many of my photographs using perspective I also use repeating patterns, a topic I covered in an earlier Exploring with a Camera post.

You can also vary the point of view and effectively use converging lines. The lead in photograph of windows in Madrid or the skyscraper from Barcelona below are two examples of linear perspective looking up. The skyscraper below has an asymmetric composition while the Madrid window image at the top of the post is symmetric left to right. (I seem to like that composition!)

Isn't this fun? Take a look at the world and your photos this next week with an eye toward linear perspective. You can come back next Thursday to link in and Share Your View. I can't wait to see what you find!

If you would like a button to put on your blog to show your participation, you can find the code to copy and paste here. If you are participating in a 365 or 52 project, I hope you will also share Exploring with a Camera in these groups. A little creative inspiration can really help in a long haul project over the course of the year.

See you all soon!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Traveling in January means you might have bad weather, and it was a bit grey on our trip. On one of the days threatening rain in Lisbon we visited the Oceanário de Lisboa (Lisbon Aquarium). It was a very nice aquarium, said to be the largest in Europe and the first to have exhibits of all the world oceans. It is always so interesting to get to see these unusual creatures up close and personal. I especially love the tiny frogs of various colors, like these hidden in the plant. I almost missed them in the exhibit until I looked closer.

We like to visit aquariums as we travel. Brandon has never been a "zoo" kid but he's always liked aquariums. We were spoiled in Oregon, with the Oregon Coast Aquarium being less than an hour away. When Brandon was little, we had a membership and would just pop over for an hour or two to wander the exhibits. We would watch whatever he was interested in at the moment, even if it was just the wave pool.

There is something peaceful about watching these animals of the sea. It takes you away from the lights and noises and hustle and bustle of our world, to a calm blue-green place. I could photograph them for hours, trying to get the perfect shot. Unfortunately, Brandon doesn't have that kind of patience. :) Traveling with a child, you learn to shoot fast and keep moving, relishing the moments you have.

Visit me at Mortal Muses for another aquarium shot today, of the cutest sea otters ever!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reading the World Book

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. 
– St. Augustine

We arrived home late last night (early this morning, actually) from our week long trip to Madrid, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. I must say this every time I get back from a trip to a new place, but my head is swirling! It is filled with new foods and experiences and sights and ideas. In the first moments home, the first blog post after I return, it is almost overwhelming to figure out where to start with images and writing. 2111 images captured. 3 major art museums, 4 additional art exhibits, so many historic and cultural sights, countless hours wandering. I sometimes feel like I've been cramming for a final with all of this travel. Reading as many pages in St. Augustine's world book as I can before we move home in July.

Today I'm starting with the beginning of the trip, because it's the best place to start while all of my images download to the computer. A little taste of tapas, a glimpse of the wonderful bar food from Madrid. Doesn't it look yummy? Well, maybe not for breakfast (if you are reading this in the morning) but I can assure you that it was very yummy! Add a glass of Sangria, and you just might have a little piece of heaven right here on earth.

So, with that I'm back. A few more places visited, a few more flavors sampled, a few more pages of the world book read. It will be fun to sort out my swirling experiences in the next couple of weeks, and see what I find.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tomorrow, Tomorrow

I love ya, tomorrow. You're only a day away...

Do I have you singing the song from "Annie" yet? I hope so! Tomorrow is the start of Find Your Eye, and it's only a day away! I'm so excited. I chose this picture from Bologna today on purpose. I loved the row of scooters, just repeating off into the distance, but this first one had it's own unique touch - a yellow daisy in the windscreen. Just like all of us, who are unique and have our own little touches to share with the world in our photography. It's not too late to join the class if you are interested.

If the class is not for you, lots of great stuff will be going on here in the The Kat Eye View of the World! I'll be back with regular posts next Tuesday, giving you a first look at our trip to Spain and Portugal. Exploring with a Camera returns this month on a regular schedule after a holiday hiatus, and I'm bursting with ideas. In the last week I've also posted on monochromatic color at Mortal Muses and on my 2010 Word of the Year at Christine Kane's blog, stop by and see me there too!

Sing with me now...

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow. You're only a daaaaay aaaaa-waaaaay!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lessons from Abroad: Join the Blogsphere

Lessons from Abroad: Join the Blogosphere

[This is the last part of a five part series. See the previous parts here: one, two, three, four.]

Wow! We’re down to the last of my five lessons from abroad, to help you find your passion and purpose. The final lesson I want to share is: Join the Blogosphere.

My blog and participation in the blogosphere has been a key part of my personal journey to discover my passion and purpose, in ways that I could have never imagined when I began it in 2008. I want to talk about the two parts of joining the blogosphere that have really helped me, and show you how they can help you also find your direction.

The first part of joining the blogosphere is writing your own personal blog. This can seem daunting for a number of reasons. You are putting yourself out there in a public way - other people can read and comment on your ideas – that can be scary. You may be worried no one will want to read it. You may be overwhelmed with the idea of having something to say or share on a regular basis. You may be confused by all of the technology options, what you think you need to know technically in order to have a blog.

There are a lot of reasons to be fearful of starting a blog – but one very good reason to do it: There is no better way to get aligned with your true passion. The only way to sustain a blog long term is to write about something that you are passionate about, this is an important truth of blogging. If you are not passionate about what you write, it will not feed your soul. You may maintain it for a while but you will eventually then lose interest, drop out.

It may take a while to find your voice and topic for your blog, you might start and stop several times in writing your blog, even start and stop several different blogs. That is entirely normal, if you read the stories of long term bloggers. Finding your voice takes experimentation. You may try on different topics randomly, and have no single direction. But in the experimentation and the seemingly random blog posts, a theme may begin to emerge. You start line of conversation that you sustain for a long period of time. When this happens, it becomes easy, quite pleasurable even, to write regularly. Guess what – you are tapped into your true self, and your passion is starting to emerge. Go with it, wherever it leads.

I started my blog when I applied for this job that brought me to Italy. I thought it would be a good way to keep family and friends back home updated on what was going on, if I got the job. After moving, I found that I wasn’t able to sustain that kind of “update” blogging – I just wasn’t that interested in writing about our daily lives. After a friend pestered me to update my blog, I decided to start posting something I was interested in – a photo every day from our European travels. I would pick a favorite and then write a few words of description along with it. With that, I struck gold. As I selected the photos and wrote about them, I started to learn more about my art form and my creative process. I started to notice and write about what creativity and photography brought me at a deeper level. I started to recognize my passion, through the writing I was doing on my blog. The passion that I now realize was already there, just waiting to be noticed.

There are as many different ideas of what blogs are or are not about as there are bloggers. You will find a whole range of types of blogs on the internet. Here’s my definition, now that I’m established and looking back, and this might be a place to start if you want to begin a blog as a tool to help you find your passion.

My blog is…
A place to explore topics that interest me
A place to share my art and what it means to me
A place to share my experiences and what the personal insights I gain from them
A public place, where anyone (even my son or my boss) might read it
A place to positively connect with other people on the internet
Written from a place of honesty and heart

My blog is not…
A personal journal of all of my unfiltered emotions
A record of events
A place to vent or talk negatively
Written for show or to meet other’s expectations

If you don’t have a blog yet, there are many free options available to try it out. You can be unlisted or anonymous or use a pseudonym if you’re worried about the “public” aspects of it. The important thing is to write honestly, consistently, and about what interests you. Keep following the trail of what you seem to want to write about - your passion lies at the end of that trail.

The second way the blogosphere helps to find your passion and purpose is through participation. The blogosphere is not a one way conversation, where you put yourself out there in a vacuum. It may start out that way, but to truly expand the experience, it should be a two way conversation. Once you are consistently writing on your blog, beginning to find your voice and style and topic, it’s good to reach out to others who may have similar interests.

There are so many blogs and websites out there, it seems overwhelming at first. When you start to narrow down your focus and interest though, you start to see that there are smaller communities within the giant internet community. You might start with a keyword search, and see what you find on your area of interest. From there, you start reading the blogs you find. These might lead you to other blogs or articles, resources you didn’t ever realize existed. Once you get brave and leave a comment on someone else’s blog, you might find that you get a comment or reply back. You start to build a community, through your interactions. You find new resources, you expand your network.

Why would you want to do that? It might seem silly, to look to expand your network or build a community if you are just trying to find your personal passion. But each interaction you have, makes you think. You further define and refine your thoughts as you read ideas and have a conversation with others in the blogosphere. The others you run into have thoughts or experiences or insights that are valuable to you as you progress on your journey. What someone else writes may completely resonate or make clear an idea you are struggling with, or vice versa.

My experience with participation in the blogosphere has been extremely positive and crucial to my discovery of passion and purpose. There have been multiple times that a comment on something I wrote on my blog came along at exactly the right time to help me understand myself in a different way. I’ve had others tell me the same of comments I’ve left them, or blog posts I’ve written. In my exploration of the virtual world, I’ve found other like-minded individuals and true friendships that cross all of the borders and boundaries that exist in the real world. As I’ve started to participate, I’ve followed trails to new people and sites and resources that have, over time, let me toward my passion and purpose.

Would I have started the blog if I didn’t move to Italy? Probably not. I didn’t “get” blogging before, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on the computer because that felt like “work.”That was before I recognized the real connections – both to my true self and to others – that joining the blogosphere can bring.

My Passion and Purpose

With all of these lessons on how to find your passion and purpose, are you still wondering what mine are?

My passion is photography as an art form and an expression of my self. I have a personal mantra that I created some time ago, through writing on my blog:
I am an artist, my medium is photography, and I have a unique vision to show the world.
This statement is continually being refined as I change and grow, but that’s my passion at the core.

My purpose right now is to help others to see that they too have a unique vision to show the world, through whatever their art or passion is. We all have creativity inside of us, but we spend too much of our time comparing and limiting ourselves, or focusing on just living in the established routine.

I’ve started down this journey of fulfilling my purpose by creating my first ever e-course: Find Your Eye: A photo course with heart and soul. It starts January 9 (that's in two days!) and runs 6 weeks (registration is open now at The course is designed to help photographers at any level start to develop, recognize and appreciate their personal style; the unique point of view that only they can share with the world in their photography.

All this clarity came through the personal practice of the Lessons from Abroad I’ve shared with you. Pretty cool, huh?

(Photo is from Venice, Italy)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lessons from Abroad: Put Ideas on the Table

Lessons from Abroad: Put Ideas on the Table

[This post is part four in a five part series. See the previous posts here: one, two, three.]

We’ve covered the first lessons from my experience abroad on finding your passion and purpose: Change up your schedule, Find a regular practice, and Get out of your comfort zone. This time I’m going to share a fun and easy lesson: Put Ideas on the Table.

As you begin to see the world of possibility opening up when you get out of your comfort zone, and you begin to receive all sorts of inspiration during your regular practice, you will find that you have a lot of new ideas. You need to put them someplace safe, where they won’t get trampled on. A place where they can be examined but not immediately decided or discarded. That place is “on the table.”

Let me explain what this means by telling you a story....

Early in our time in Italy, the move had definitely inspired my family to look at the world in a different way. As with any change, we were really examining our lives, both individually and as a family, and looking at what might come next. We had this opportunity, this little break from “reality” as I put it, which allowed us to dream up all kinds of crazy scenarios. The problem was, when my husband or I would bring up an idea, it was very easy for the other one of us to feel threatened and quickly point out all of the flaws - how it wouldn’t work for all sorts of reasons.

So during one of these conversations, where I had thrown out an idea and my husband was confused because it conflicted with an idea we had discussed several days earlier, I said, “I’m just putting these ideas on the table. Every so often, I want to pick one up, look at it from different angles, and then put it back on the table. We don’t have to decide right now.”

This concept, of putting ideas on the table, became a huge key for us to be able to really discuss ideas without the emotional attachments or reactions that can crush them too early or drive poor decisions. Let’s examine why…

It takes the idea from being a living piece of you, “your idea”, and makes it a thing, “the idea.” You can imagine it there as physical thing, sitting on a table, like a coffee cup in a store. You can imagine a discussion about it is the same as picking the cup up, looking at it from different angles. Then, you can just set the idea down and leave it there. No decisions or agreements have to be made from the discussion, just like nothing has to be done after you’ve looked at the cup. You’re just browsing. If the conversation starts to get emotional or personal, you can say, “Hey, ideas on the table here!” just to get the perspective back.

Not only does it reduce the emotional attachments we feel to our ideas, it also allows for several radically different and conflicting ideas to be held at the same time. Most of us probably like alignment in our lives. We have plans and like to know where we are going. When an idea that is diametrically opposed to our current direction comes up, it is easy to dismiss it without a second thought because of the disruption it would cause. But if the idea is placed on the table, it can coexist with numerous other ideas that have no relation to each other. You don’t have to think about them all at the same time or choose between them, you look at the ideas one at a time, and then put them back.

Over time, as you periodically examine the ideas, picking them up off of the table every so often, you will find that the ideas sort of magically whittle themselves down. Some of the ideas get dusty, sitting there. Some fall off the table and you never even notice, you just subconsciously discarded them. You might pick them up later, look at them, and think, “Yeah, done with that idea.” Eventually you end up with a few ideas that start to have actions formed around them. The discussion naturally transitions from evaluating the idea to acting on the idea. You may still not be fully committed to it, but you feel these ideas are worthy of more in depth investigation. Just because you choose to pursue one idea doesn’t mean the table has to be cleared off and all of the other ideas thrown away, they can stay there for the future.

This concept works with for you alone as well as with family and friends – any time a new idea comes to you. Here are some thoughts on how to use this to find your passion and purpose:

  • First, be clear that you are putting the idea “on the table.” This might mean discussing the concept of “on the table” with your partner or just writing it down in your journal that you are approaching the evaluation of the idea this way. This frees up the emotional attachment, the fear of putting the idea out there only to be crushed. If you are going to use this with other people, I recommend starting it with ideas that are not the about your core – your passion and purpose – to make sure the other person really gets it and will play along. You might need to nurture those core ideas on your personal table for a while so they don’t get crushed too early by others who aren’t playing along.
  • Once the idea is “on the table,” feel free to examine it or not as often as you like. It will be there any time you want to come back to it. If you feel yourself obsessing about it, leave it for a while. If you find you are dismissing ideas before you get a chance to get them on the table, consciously acknowledge the idea and then just leave it there.
  • Use a physical tool, like sticky notes or a journal to represent the ideas if you want to “keep” them somewhere in the real world along with on the virtual table. I have an idea notebook, where I scribble ideas as they come to me, just to put them somewhere and move them out of my mind. Sometimes, I come back to these ideas naturally, examine them and start to do something with them. Other times, I will only examine them when I flip through the notebook. But they aren’t lost, immediately dismissed to be never thought again.
  • If you find yourself starting down the path of action with an idea, either dismissing it or putting it into use, just do a quick check if that is really aligned with your true intention or if you are caught up in the “action trap” where you feel you have to decide in that moment. If your gut check says, yes, it’s time to move on this idea – then move.

The entire concept of “putting ideas on the table” has been a huge benefit for me, my family and anyone I’ve shared it with. Without this, an idea that needs time to grow and mature to be accepted can be killed too early. Or we can commit ourselves too early to ideas that don’t seem so good upon later reflection. The “table” is a safe place to keep them, examine them, and eventually sort them out – moving toward your passion and purpose all the while.

(Photo is from Dubrovnik, Croatia)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Lessons from Abroad: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Lessons from Abroad: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

[This post is part three of a five part series. You can see the first two parts on Monday and Tuesday.]

We’ve talked about how to Change up Your Schedule and Find a Regular Practice as keys to finding your passion and purpose. The next lesson from abroad is this: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone.

Certainly, moving to a new place is a big change for anyone. Moving internationally, to a different culture is even bigger, because it goes to the fundamental assumptions of everything in your daily life. How you interact with other people, how you pay the bills, even how (and where) to find the essentials you need for daily living. Add in a different language, the added complication of not even being able to communicate basic questions and ideas, and you are set back even further. I literally felt like a child, and for a while my independence was completely gone and my confidence shattered.

For some people, an international move may be a piece of cake. For me, and probably for many, it was significantly outside of my comfort zone. It seemed a big choice, a big risk in the initial decision. And it was a big stress, with the move and subsequent adjustments. Not only dealing with my own insecurities and stresses, I had my family along in this adventure – I had to worry about them too. We went through all of the phases with any big adjustment – the “what the hell did I do” phase, the honeymoon period of excitement, the frustration period of learning to do things differently, and finally acceptance. I am in a good place now, in our second year of the assignment. I have learned to love much about this beautiful country, and accept the things that I don’t.

When you have the opportunity to really shift out of your comfort zone like I have, you start to see things in a different light. In addition to really looking at the fundamental assumptions I was making in life, I have noticed where I was placing unnecessary restrictions on myself. I can now recognize the rules that I had placed on myself and my life, as well as the rules that our culture places on us. I’ve started to question those “rules” as they come up. I examine each one and ask myself, “Do I need this rule? What does it get me? What does it provide others? Do I want to keep it or throw it away?” And I recognize that for each one I throw away, others in my life might not understand or be happy about it. I have to be willing to deal with the results, but it’s important to first be able to see the rules, or you can’t ever decide to change them.

Getting out of my comfort zone with this move has also shown me that I was expecting perfection of myself, or something close to it, since I was comfortable where I was. When you get to a place you are good at something, it’s hard to go back to being a novice again, in any area of our life. It’s hard to accept the fact that you make mistakes, because you get so used to not making them. You have to learn to laugh at yourself again, enjoy the new-ness of something, delight in those first experiences. Let yourself be the beginner for a while. The only way that you can learn something new is to open yourself up to risks and move beyond the current state. You can’t expect perfection right out of the gate.

In reflecting on this experience, I can see that this move was not unlike other times in my life that I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone. Whether big or little changes, they have had similar effects. Getting out of your comfort zone does this amazing, wonderful thing – it doesn’t just shift the realm you are comfortable operating in, it grows it. That’s why difficult situations are often called “stretching” or “growing.” When you get out of your comfort zone, there is that initial discomfort, but over time, with practice, you gain new skills and confidence. You’ve added to what you can manage in your life, the landscape you can negotiate.

When you can add to your life in this way, there is this important side effect that can directly lead you to your passion and purpose: You can begin to see new possibilities. Thoughts or ideas that would never have seemed plausible before can become real. As I was walking in the park this week (part of my regular practice), I was enjoying the first fog of the season and came up with a wonderful analogy. Often, when you get out of the comfort zone of your life, it can feel like you’re in the fog. You can’t see to far ahead, only the next few steps in front of you. More and more is revealed as you move further. It can feel scary and uncertain. But once in a while in the fog, if you stop and look around, look up, you can see a glimpse of what the day is going to be like – the blue sky and sun. That’s the new possibility that you can only see as you start to look at the world in different ways, because the fog obscures your normal view. You won’t notice this little glimpse of your future, without the fog, or the shift in your comfort zone.

How can you get out of your comfort zone, and gain the benefits of this new perspective? How can this help you connect with your passion and purpose?

  • Actively seek an opportunity to move out of your comfort zone. Maybe it’s a job change, taking on a different assignment. Maybe it’s a new activity. Have you had an urge to take an art class, even though you have no previous experience? How about drama – putting yourself out there in front of others? Maybe it’s learning about an aspect of technology. Maybe it’s a change in relationships – adding, removing, changing your interactions with people. Maybe it’s travelling to a new place. Anything that you might have the thought, “Yeah, that looks interesting but I could never do it for reasons x, y, z.” Why not try? I started painting while in Italy, just because I got the urge. That activity led to me really exploring my creativity and the beauty of the world around me in a whole new way.
  • Recognize that uncomfortable feeling you get when you step out of your comfort zone. Acknowledge it, accept it, but don’t run away. A natural way to react when you feel uncomfortable is to turn around and go right back to where you were. The first step to recognize, acknowledge and accept. Then take a deep breath and move forward. The uncomfortable feeling will still be there, but know you are doing this for a reason – it’s called growth.
  • Be willing to let yourself be a novice. People who are new to things make mistakes. Their work isn’t the best. It’s really hard to go from being on the top of your game to being the newbie when you step out of your comfort zone. Instead of avoiding mistakes, give yourself permission to be bad at whatever you are doing, but keep going. Learn from the mistakes, the “failures.” Laugh at yourself as much as possible, and seek others who will help you keep this light-hearted perspective. You might find that the failures aren’t so bad after all. One of the best things that I have learned in this experience is to laugh at myself. To marvel at just how little I actually know!
  • Keep track of those little rules that pop into your head. The ones that say, “I never…” or “I should…” Write them down, really take a hard look at them. Are they real? What can you do to remove them? What would life look like if you no longer lived by this rule? Make a decision, whether or not you want to keep this rule. Maybe observe when you use it, and if it’s serving to keep you safely rooted in your comfort zone or if it will help you move in the direction you want to go.

I have recently been pondering the quote, “If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always gotten.” I can’t really argue the truth of this statement. How do you get something different, something better, if you do the same things all of the time? You can’t. Life doesn’t work that way. The only way to get something more – whether it’s time or money or relationships or personal growth – is to do something different, take a risk, move through the fear that holds us at the status quo. Move out of your comfort zone.

(Photo is from Parco di Monza, Italy)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Lessons from Abroad: Find a Regular Practice

Lessons from Abroad: Find a Regular Practice

[Today's post is the second part of a five part series. The first article was published here.]

In the last post I talked about how changing up your schedule can help free up your creative energy to find your purpose and passion. Today I’m going to explore the next key element I’ve learned during my time in Italy: Find a Regular Practice.

In many personal development books I’ve read, the idea of a “daily practice” is somehow incorporated. One of the first ones I encountered was in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, where the “morning pages” are a crucial part of her process. Over time I’ve noticed almost every personal growth or spiritual philosophy incorporates and encourages some form of contemplative activity on a regular basis.

I have started and stopped different daily practices depending on the books I’m reading or the programs I’m following. Over time though, with trial and error, I have settled in to three main things that work for me as part of a regular practice: Inspirational reading, journaling and walking. These three items are complementary and work together for me to keep me balanced and centered, as well as open and ready to receive ideas. They help keep me in touch with my intuition and those messages from my authentic self.

I don’t have a regimented schedule with my practice. In fact, that’s why I say “regular practice” and not “daily practice” in the title. Here’s what my practice looks like:
Most mornings of the week I will get up and get my cup of tea (I guess we can add “tea” in as part of the practice), and then sit down to read something that I’m interested in. This is not fiction reading – it could be essays, part of a book on creativity, something on personal development. I have a number of books in progress sitting next to me, and I’ll pick up whichever one strikes me. I read a few pages and then I journal for a little while. Sometimes the journaling is on what I’ve read, sometimes it is on a problem that is on my mind, sometimes it’s just random ideas I want to capture. Once I start to write, I write until I feel done. That could be one paragraph or several pages, depending on what’s coming. Later in the morning (that morning creative time I talked about before!) I will often go for a walk or jog, with no music to distract me, in the park near my home.
I don’t do all of these every day – in fact most mornings I do 1 or 2 of the 3 – but over time I engage regularly in all of these activities.

This group of practices combine in an amazing way for me. It’s as if I get creative fuel, raw ideas, from the reading. The journaling helps me clear out the blockages in my brain and my emotions from daily life, which creates the space in myself for new ideas to be generated. With that open space and creative fuel available, the walk becomes where I receive the resulting messages and ideas. Sometimes the reading sparks an idea that I subsequently write about in my journal, which leads to making a connection or discovery about myself. Sometimes something I’ve written about in my journal or something I’ve read will sit in my mind and I’ll mull it over, and it comes out as some new idea during a walk – possibly days later. It is amazing how many creative ideas, how many realizations that have led me to my passion and purpose, have come to me during these walks. I now keep a small notebook with me at all times, just to capture the ideas.

I also find, in the process of all of this amazing idea generation and self discovery, I gain perspective on my life in general. I’m able to let go of the damaging focus on stressful situations. I am able to disconnect from the things that previously would wrap me up – preventing sleep, contributing to bad moods, generally coloring my life negatively. I can see problems with a new view.

There is nothing new in the ideas of a regular practice, or the activities that comprise my practice. As mentioned above, many personal or spiritual development programs have incorporated these elements, time and time again. They all have a plan - if you do it this way, on this frequency, you will reap these rewards. While that is probably true for the creator or author of the program, I think part of this key is that each of us has to find what works for us. If we follow a regimented plan that doesn’t really connect with us, even if we see some initial benefit we won’t sustain it long term.

One of the most important elements of defining a practice is occasionally losing the practice – falling off the wagon, stopping it, letting it dribble away. It may seem counter-intuitive, but these are actually very important occasions for really integrating and owning your own practice. It’s through the losing of it, and seeing the results of losing it in our selves – how we feel, how we interact, how it affects our lives – that we become truly committed. For me, it’s taken time – starting and stopping and restarting again – to finally come to the point that I learn to choose the practice over the other things that compete for my time.

That’s not to say that I don’t skip it sometimes for an extended period. Vacations, business trips, certain busy times come along for a week or two. But during these times I know they are coming, consciously prepare myself and make the choice to skip it, and then make the choice to come back to it when that brief time is over. I’ve found that for me, a week or so of skipping isn’t damaging. I can remain centered and grounded and can come back to it. Beyond two weeks, however, and I start to lose some essential pieces of myself, my connection to my core. I now recognize this change and am not willing to lose my practice anymore. It’s a wonderful feeling – to make the choice based on what’s best for me.

Here are my ideas about how you can apply this key concept of “Find a Regular Practice” to your life too:

  • Start experimenting with some different practices. These could be similar to mine, or they could be other practices like running, yoga, meditating, creating art, etc. You might already have something that you’ve started and stopped over time.
  • When you find one that makes you feel good – when you are done you feel refreshed, revived, centered, clear – stick with that one for a while. Note how you feel when you do it, and when you don’t do it. Experiment with different times of the day, tap into the peak of your energy cycle as discussed in Change up Your Schedule for maximum impact.
  • Start with one practice at a time, don’t go overboard trying to start two or three new things. You will probably give them all up if you do that! My practice has evolved over time to these three, but I didn’t start out with all three. I started with the journaling, eventually added the reading and latest the walking. I’ve done them all off and on but have recognized over time how they work together.
  • Don’t follow someone else’s regimented schedule. Maybe start out with suggestions, but experiment, shift, tailor your practice to yourself. We all have different needs, consider any defined practices a starting place. It’s like a buffet, you get to pick and choose what you want to incorporate into your life. There will be people who swear by their schedule, their program – because it works for them. Remember you have to find what works for you.
  • When you have let the practice go, and realize that you have let extraordinary circumstances or even everyday life run you over, be kind to yourself. Notice how you feel without it, contrast that with how you felt when you were regularly practicing. Decide if the practice is something you want in your life or not, if it’s worth it to you to make the changes to incorporate the practice as a regular part of your schedule. It’s a choice, it’s up to you. Don’t judge yourself or place unnecessary rules on yourself, be honest and true to the answers you find within.
When you do these things, when you find a regular practice that truly works for you, I can guarantee you won’t want to let it go. The connection that you gain to your true self, your center, becomes vital. The clarity that you will find, the ability to be open and listen to what your authentic self has to say, will help you to discover your passion and purpose better than any other prescribed method around.

(Photo is from Murten, Switzerland)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lessons from Abroad: Change up Your Schedule

I am off to Spain and Portugal this week for vacation so I decided to schedule some posts. I recently wrote a series of articles entitled "Lessons from Abroad" for a friend's coaching newsletter and blog about lessons I've learned from my experience living in Italy which helped me find my passion and purpose. I never posted links to the last two articles here, so I decided to repost all of the articles this week to give them a home on my blog as well as share them with you.  Enjoy!

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Lessons from Abroad: Change up Your Schedule

Imagine… dropping out of your normal life for a couple of years, having the chance to completely immerse yourself in something new, and reevaluating your direction in life. And then, when it’s all over, come back to where you started again.

That’s where I am, what I’m doing - living and working in Italy on a two year assignment. Two years ago, my corporate management job led me to a project that would require placing people on temporary assignment abroad. I was to be the hiring manager for two positions, yet after my first business trip to Italy, I found the growing urge to apply for the job myself. Fast forward a few months of family decisions and applications and interviews, and I had the job. Months of immigration applications and paperwork and waiting and waiting later, and I had moved to Italy.

Now what? The plan: Learn to live in Italy with my family. Work. Travel. Then come home a little wiser about the world and ready to take up my career track again. I was all set. But life has a way of surprising us, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I’ve discovered in my time in Italy is my true passion, where my heart and purpose lies, and it’s not the management chain in a corporate job.

How did this happen? I wasn’t really looking for this, at least not at the beginning. But somewhere along the way, the changes I have made in my life while living abroad have led me to find something new. I’ve learned to follow my heart, listen to my intuition, and it’s been amazing what I have learned about myself. The move to Italy has, first and foremost, made me more aware: Aware of my surroundings, and how they affect me; Aware of the limitations I have been putting on myself; Aware of the choices I truly have, if I let myself be open to possibilities.

You might be thinking, that’s great and all, but how can translate to me? I’m not ever going to live abroad. I don’t have any plans to just pick up my family and move for two years. I can’t risk the stability of my job, my life, my family in order to seek my path in this way. But I believe that there are some key things that moving to Italy has done to increase my awareness and my ability to understand myself, and it’s not all about living in another culture. I have boiled it town to five things that anyone can do, no matter where you live or what you do for a living. In practicing these you can open up the possibilities, become more aware, and find your true path that lies somewhere deep within.

Over the coming days, I’ll go through each of the five, explaining why these have worked for me and some ideas of how you can use them too. The first key I’ll share today, starts with finding your creative time: Change up Your Schedule

My job in Italy requires an altered work schedule. I still directly work for an organization on the west coast of the United States, with a nine hour time difference from where I live. This means that I have to work both on site in Italy and on the phone back to the US on a daily basis. On one of my early business trips, before the move, I realized that it’s easy to work two full work days in this situation – head into the office in the morning, wrap up the day up with teleconferences in the afternoon, and then, in the evening get on the computer for more work at the same time everyone back in the US is working. While that was sustainable for a week long business trip, that just wouldn’t work for me and my family over the next two years.

The schedule I practice to limit the “two work day” situation is this: I work afternoons, from around noon to six, in the office. Then I head home, have dinner, hang out with my family, do my personal things, tuck my son into bed and get back online and on the phone for a couple of hours of work with my coworkers in the US. This may sound awful, and it certainly makes for short evenings, but the side effect is the most amazing thing - it has freed up my mornings.

I am a morning person, I always have been. I like to get up early, have my quiet time before getting into the day and interacting with people. The morning is also my creative time. Ideas come more readily, I have creative energy and everything just flows. For the first time in my life, on a regular basis more than the weekends, I now have this creative time every day. To do what I want. Read what I want. Journal. Explore and play creatively. Go for a walk.

When I spend my mornings this way, on my creative endeavors and activities of choice – I find that I am refreshed, balanced and ready for the rest of the day. I am able to disconnect with all of the stress that my corporate job brings. I also have found that I have all sorts of ideas that come to me in the morning, along with the time to explore them. I can search for more information, try out something new, build a plan.

The irony is, I’ve always known mornings were my creative, productive time. For years I’ve gone to into the office early in order to have this time to get my best work done. Then I would leave in the afternoon to get home early and spend time with my family, but I never felt creative in the afternoon or evening. It was more about recuperating from the day and getting to bed early so I could do it all over again. By managing my schedule this way, I contributed at a high level to my organization, but the sacrifice was that I was giving my most creative energy to the company. I didn’t have that much left over for me.

Where you spend your creative energy is important. Having some creative energy to spend is one of the keys of finding yourself. How can you find your true path if you don’t have the energy to explore ideas? If you don’t have the open time to imagine, build up and evaluate the dreams that come to you along the way? I had never thought about those things before this change in my schedule, but it makes so much sense now. It’s important to understand what your creative energy schedule is, and then look at how and where you are spending that energy. A simple change in schedule can reap huge rewards.

Now that I’m not spending my most creative time at work, you may wonder if my job performance has suffered. The answer is, really, no. Work takes a different part of my brain, and when I’m working I’m there and focused and productive. I work the same number of hours; I have the same amount of time free as before – it’s just when. I honestly don’t think that anyone at work has even noticed there is a change. The difference for me personally is huge though - I can now disconnect from work, use other parts of my brain, and am more centered. I think this ultimately makes me a better employee, and it certainly has made me a more pleasant person to be around for my family, friends and coworkers.

Here are my ideas about how you can apply this key concept of “Change up Your Schedule” to your life too:

  • Figure out your most creative, productive time of day. I think we might all instinctively know it, as I did. If you are not sure, keep some notes, check in with yourself. Try out some different times of day as “free.”
  • Then, work toward carving out some or all of that time for yourself. Can you rearrange your work schedule? Can you schedule a meeting with yourself? Get out of the office and go for a walk? Start with just a day or two a week, and work up. You don’t have to explain it to anyone else, just do it, if you can.
  • When you get that time, don’t waste it. Use it for things that build you up in some way – engage you creatively, working toward some dream or goal that you might have. That might be as simple as reading a book that sparks your interest or searching out websites that help you in some way. But use that time for you, not for anyone else. You will be surprised what blooms in the garden of time and creative energy that you create.

For me, the next challenge will be protecting this time when the assignment is over, I move back and have to adjust my work schedule again. I’m already strategizing on how to do this. It will mean changing things up from what I did before, and I will have to work through and reset expectations of those who have worked with me for years. But now that I know this important key, this secret to harnessing my creative energy, I’m not about to give it up.

(Photo is from Bologna, Italy)