You might have noticed that I haven’t posted much on this blog in the last few days.
Part of that was due to logistical issues. But truth be told, I was actually working on a slightly longer piece during that time.
The problem was that it turned out to be a stinker.
And that’s OK. Just as the book I reference in the title of this post suggests, everyone poops. In other words, we all lay a stinker every now and then.
I think I first heard the expression “to lay a stinker” in reference to sports— it refers to when a good player or team just plays a really bad game (often with no good explanation).
But we can lay stinkers as artists too— go ask the cast of Ishtar, for example. We can lay stinkers as bloggers (guilty, as charged!).
And we can also lay stinkers in our career and in our relationships.
We all know people who are in an unfulfilling job or relationship and justify it by saying something like, “I can’t just walk away now. I’ve invested too much in this.” It’s hard to watch as they can’t bring themselves to cut their losses (thereby admitting some sort of failure) on their dysfunctional job, business, or relationship.
Many of us have put the wrong foot forward when meeting a new person, or gone to a job and performed miserably.
So, what do you do when you lay a stinker?
One way you could deal with it would be to retreat back into your shell and give up.
But what if you were to look at your stinker in a different way?
What if we need to lay a hot, steaming stinker or two in order to get to the good stuff that we are capable of doing?
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron insisted that her creative participants write three long-hand “Morning Pages” right after they got up in order to get their “brain drain” out onto the page. That way, they could then get their real creative flow going afterwards, for the rest of the day.
In other words, what if we need a trial run to get it right— preferably one with lots of bugs and failures— so we know what we need to do, so we can make adjustments and improvements, and so we can be ready to perform at our best and create something amazing when the next opportunity comes along?
And what if we could make something out of our stinker?
In his fun and vibrant children’s book Beautiful Oops Barney Saltzberg used mistakes as a point of departure for artistic exploration as well as new artistic creations. It reminds me of something Miles Davis said about jazz: “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note— it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.” Miles’ point was that even if you play a note you don’t intend to play, it’s not a wrong note if it fits with what you string it together with afterwards.
How can you use a stinker of yours to lay the groundwork for your future success?
Maybe it’s the skills you build in one job, or insight as to what professional skills you still need to build. Or maybe it’s what you want in your next (healthy) relationship. Or it’s a way of treating materials for your next sculpture. Or the ability to build a new division in a startup using your know-how as an independent business owner. Or a theme that you can pull off more successfully in another story.
So, what are some stinkers of yours?
Try this exercise: take a sheet of paper and draw 2 vertical lines down the page, thus dividing it into 3 columns. In the first column, write down your stinkers. For each one, write down in the second column how it has affected your life (and if it still does). And in the third column, write down your answer to the following question: how can you re-think your stinker— or transform it into an experience that will help you lead a more creative and successful life?
Everybody lays a stinker every now and then— and I mean everybody (which, again, is why I chose my poop analogy). What separates the people who make their stinkers a ‘one-off’ from people who lay repeated stinkers is their ability to recognize and learn from them.