Love + creativity = breakthrough

Over the weekend I read “34 Things I’ve Learned About Life And Adventure,” by Chris Guillebeau, in which he said:

“When in doubt about the next step, help someone and make something.”

The whole post is full of inspiring, useable advice, but that particular thing…  that one lit me up inside. Deciding to “help someone,” consciously, generously and without expectation, plants you squarely in a place of love. “Making something” exercises your creative muscles, engages your heart and your imagination, makes you  feel whole and purposeful and plugged into your best, most energized self.

Chris goes on to say: “Do these two actions every day, 365 days a year. When you get stuck at any point in any process, come back to the basics: helping and creating.  (These things also help when you’re depressed.)”

What I love most about the advice is that it’s, at least for me, counter-intuitive. When I’m stuck – personally and professionally – I have a tendency to keep banging my head against the same wall. I stare at the blank screen or write page after ranting page in my notebook, and I hope for a breakthrough. Sometimes it works, but usually it doesn’t. I’m amazed how often the breakthrough occurs not when I’m banging my head, but when I walk away from the stuck place entirely. Do something different, rest my poor little overactive worry-filled brain.

And what can I say? I love the idea of resting my worry-filled brain by helping and creating.

In my planner, on every single day this week, the first two things on my to-do list are “Help someone” and “Make something.” I anticipate a kickass week of love and creativity ahead. I’ll let you know how it goes.



  1. Milli Thornton on April 16, 2012 at 10:09 am

    This j-post fairly bursts with sunbeams! I loved reading it. Loved picturing your planner with such wonderful To-Dos on the top two lines.

    I’m lucky that my work involves making something and helping someone nearly every day, so I get those benefits on a regular basis. (That’s when they *let me* help. People don’t always make themselves helpable.)

    I think the motto by Chris Guillebeau should also have something about “. . . and let others support you when you need it. Learn to ask for help.” That can balance things too. I’ve gotten much better at asking Brian for help during the times when before I would have isolated in my cave and nursed the hurt (or the overwhelm). It was hard at first but now I can do it pretty easily. I can’t even remember the last time I curled up in the fetal position in my cave. Must be progress.

    • j on April 16, 2012 at 11:05 am

      The sunbeams comment made me laugh. (And thank you!)

      I’m surprised “learn to ask for help” isn’t among Chris G’s 34 things. Maybe next year, on his 35th birthday. I agree with you; that’s been a big life lesson for me too. Tapping into the community. I think most of us don’t realize how many people are in our corner until we reach out.

      And yes, it’s definitely progress!

    • Robin on April 18, 2012 at 4:44 am

      That’s an excellent point, Milli! I find asking for help much harder than offering it to others. Your comments and observations are always a breath of fresh air. Thanks for sharing so generously!

  2. Rita on April 16, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I almost started to cry reading this. I too loved Chris’ post and found each time I do something for someone else, without expectation and purely out of love, i get unstuck in whatever it is. I can’t wait to see your week unfold. x o

    • j on April 16, 2012 at 11:07 am

      I probably have had it happen too – helped someone else and found myself miraculously unstuck – but didn’t make the connection. I will this week though. 🙂

  3. Nuttin' on April 16, 2012 at 10:40 am

    I guess, its safe to say, sometimes I am completely confused.

    I think, for me, self-love and self “less” are definitely two entirely different things… and here’s why my thoughts went in this direction —
    If you do something to help someone each day, without regard to what you get in return, it’s definitely self “less” (if there is such a thing and I only use that term for lack of something better because I think (in my life) what I thought were self “less” acts ended up being the complete opposite of self-love). But… doing something for someone can be the ultimate form of self-love, too. (I’m being completely incoherent and I’ll attempt to tie it all together). BUT…. if you’re stuck in your work, in your life and can’t move forward and you do something for someone in hopes of unsticking yourself… then you are getting something out of it. Ultimately, you’re helping someone out to help yourself out.
    That’s not to say that’s a bad thing… I think helping someone who needs your help or giving guidance to someone who needs you or reaching out your hand to the person you know is reaching for you can all be acts of self-love.
    By helping others, you are propelling yourself in a forward direction.

    I think, for me, I might argue the “it helps with depression” thing. I think sometimes when you help someone you (subconsciously), expect something… even just an intrinsic motivation. You know… the good deeds begets good deeds thing. But, if the good deed doesn’t come or isn’t in the form you thought it would be in… it can really make the depression worse. Depression is tricky, different in all who experience it.

    I don’t think I did a very good job of tying this all together.
    Here’s the thing… helping someone each day is pretty kickass. Making something each day is pretty kickass. Therefore… you (obviously) are very kickass. (There, I tied it all together.)

    • j on April 16, 2012 at 11:17 am

      Actually, I think you have it down perfectly. You only sound confused because you’re correctly stating the truth that sometimes helping others is an act of selflessness and sometimes it’s an act of self-love. (And to make it even more confusing, I think it can be both at the same time.)

      And you’re zeroing in on where I think we sometimes go wrong helping others. I absolutely think it’s okay to help other people believing that it benefits you too. A lot of charitable work is motivated by the belief that we are all connected and so when I help you, I help me. I think that’s fine. Great, even.

      The problem is when we help someone expecting a very specific response. It’s hard not to. We all do it. Maybe we don’t even know we have the expectation until the response we were hoping for doesn’t come. Then we’re sad, and if we were sad (or depressed) to begin with, everything seems worse.

      I think the key is understanding our own motivation. Asking ourselves why we want to act and being honest in our answers… which, I admit, is not always easy. (Or fun.)

      You’re tying of it all together? Totally kickass.

      • Nuttin' on April 16, 2012 at 1:24 pm

        “I think the key is understanding our own motivation. Asking ourselves why we want to act and being honest in our answers… which, I admit, is not always easy. (Or fun.)”

        This answer, this entire response, was just like a (much needed) slap in the face. Evolving is never ending.

        Yes… Being honest with myself in my own motivation is often very difficult, seeing what I don’t want to see or believe.


    • j on April 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      Oops, I definitely mean to slap you in the face. Sorry! If it helps, being honest with myself about my motivation isn’t always easy either. Evolution is, just as you say, never ending.

      • Nuttin' on April 17, 2012 at 7:29 am

        So… how do you get past that? Past the part where you do something wholeheartedly and with goodness in your heart but after, you have that let-down feeling because (really without conscious thought) it didn’t work out like you thought. Like it bogs you down for days… self-talk isn’t always helpful. In my case, my self-talk could use a muzzle.

        Stop reaching out because it triggers your own shit?
        Continue on a positive path and hope your screwy brain catches up with the good part of you?
        Retreat to your cave?

        (and by you I of course mean me)

  4. Pam on April 16, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Here’s to a kickass week of love & creativity!

    • j on April 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      Thank you!

  5. joanne firth on April 16, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Of course I love this. “Help Somebody” is kind of my motto and I do it as often as I can. “Make Something”, I will have to work on that one. I try to help someone every day, with something or another. Help is a precious and valuable gift and should be given freely without any expectations of it being returned. (Let’s chat about this sometime, I struggle with the fact that I need help, yet am afraid to ask for it. I tend to sit back and think, “Gee, I helped my husband and kids, now why aren’t they rushing here to help me?)

    I’m so happy that you are energized and ready for a kick ass week. I know you will have one too. Because this post is burning up my screen with excitement.

    You go now, help and create. I adore you to pieces.

    • j on April 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      I think everyone struggles with that, and often justifiably. If you’re generous and helpful, the recipients of your generosity ought to reciprocate (especially the ones who live with you). I don’t think that’s a bad or wrong thing to expect.

      On the other hand, I learned a few years ago to just say what I want. I say, “Hey, help me out,” a lot. The guys I live with always do help. Always. And they don’t complain. It’s way better than suffering in silence, getting pissed off that they’re not noticing I’m the only one working. 🙂

  6. jb on April 16, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Just what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it, and who I needed to hear it from. Thanks, j!

    • j on April 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Awww. Thanks, ss.

  7. Julia on April 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Oh, yep! This is so good. When we help someone or create something, we step out of our confused little brains and step into love. When we step into a place of love, our heart activates, we open up space for clarity (beyond the confines of our little minds) to come through.

    “A lot of charitable work is motivated by the belief that we are all connected and so when I help you, I help me. I think that’s fine. Great, even.”

    I think what you said above totally nails it, J.

    Thank you for this, my beautiful, brave friend.

    • j on April 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm

      Thank you back, my friend. You’re exactly right. For me, I can get so trapped in my spiraling thoughts. Focusing outward absolutely does create space. Well said. <3

  8. helen lawless lee on April 16, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Laughing my socks off at the photo….can’t wait to receive your email :~)))

    I used to bend over backwards to help people….grew up in a small community where it was the norm. Have been a lot more reclusive in the last few years, but still like to help out if it seems appropriate, or I am asked. Creating is a daily practice….and it helps on all kinds of levels.

    Have a great kickass, (love that expression so much), week. xxx

    • helen lawless lee on April 16, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      Hmm…just read that again….should say…. For me, creating is a daily practice….and it helps on all kinds of levels.

      • j on April 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm

        I read it with the “for me.” (Great minds!)

        I know that most of us do help people. And I definitely don’t mean to say that we should sacrifice ourselves in the name of being helpful, only that, as Julia so beautifully stated, focusing outward sometimes creates the space we need to move.

        Or at least, I have a hunch it will.

  9. Tammy on April 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    I think one of the interesting things about these kinds of lists is that 1) some things are unique to the individual (lessons they need to learn) and 2) our individual lists change over time as we change over time (which is a good thing).

    I think one of the most important lessons for me is to allow myself the freedom to choose what resonates with me and let the rest be an interesting thing about the other person.

    Two examples: When reading what resonated for you…the first part, do something for someone else is great advice but I am actually working on the opposite. My career as well as the way I approach life is to focus on giving freely and generously to others. This is good, mind you, but my real lesson right now is to learn to also give to myself (AND allow others to give to me). Also, when reading his list “say yes more often”, I thought of you and how you are working on saying no more often and being okay with that. In addition to the saying yes to things that we don’t want to do or that take away from what we do want to do, saying yes freely to trying new things is fun and expansive but also can leave us unfocused and flighty. (not that you are those things!)

    (Note to self: Be creative is going on my to-do list.)

    Anyway…the point here is that you got me thinking and that is always a good thing.

    Also, I LOVE your note. Can’t wait to hear what that is all about.

    • Tammy on April 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      Of course, not to say that Love + creativity each day is not a kickass thing to add to all of our to do lists. #thatisall

      • j on April 16, 2012 at 5:02 pm

        Yes, that’s true. I have definitely felt depleted sometimes, like I need to say “no” more and administer some self-love, stat.

        I think what resonated so strongly for me was the idea of not only taking yourself out of yourself (and your feeling of inertia), but redirecting your negative energy toward love and creativity. Consciously. Specifically. More than what we do as part of our work or because we love our friends and our family. (And by “you” I of course mean “me.”)

        I think the power of this lies in the consciousness. One time, in an exercise class doing crunches, the instructor told us to consciously focus our attention on pulling our navels toward our spine. Up until then, I hadn’t even worked up a sweat, afterward I could barely finish that part of the workout.

        I think it’s like that. Being helpful and creative consciously, as a means of getting unstuck might feel different than what we do every day.

        It worked for me today, I think. A 1-day streak. 🙂

        And yes. You’ll love the story behind the note. Promise. xo

  10. LunaJune on April 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    “When in doubt about the next step, help someone and make something.”

    love it…

    being in a line of work that all I do is help people all day
    this work and the animals have kept me sane all these years.. I don’t get the time to sit and dwell on things for long..another animal well stand on my head demanding something.. a client will call.. work will call ,for me it is really creating quiet time that is just for me… this is what I need when I get stuck… I go have a nap….go for a walk…soak in the tub… or have to say ‘no’ to someone.

    and can’t wait to hear about that note LOL

    • j on April 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      You’re definitely not alone. A lot of people are saying the same thing – that what they need is to say “no” more often, be kind to themselves, take a break from all the helpful.

      Okay, so maybe the answer is to say “yes” if you need to feel grounded and self-loved or “no” if you need to feel outward facing and generous, and then go make something.

      I can see why Chris didn’t write that, though. It’s long and would make a terrible t-shirt. 🙂

  11. Annie Neugebauer on April 16, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    One of the things I love about your posts, J, is that when I read them, they seem true to the point of being obvious — but they’re not obvious. They are universal truths stated in new ways, and that brings something attention-getting to the table. Many people know that helping others makes you feel better, too; that’s why we like to get involved in charities, etc. And as artists, we also know that creating something brings with it a sense of completion and wellness. But to put those two simple things on a to-do list every day? That’s new. And I love it. Thanks for sharing this.

    • j on April 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm

      Wow, I couldn’t ask for a better description than “universal truths stated in new ways.” Thank you, Annie!

      I love it too, but I’m beginning to think this advice is best suited to writers (maybe all artists). Tammy and June spend all day helping people, so what they need is a break, some self-attention. I spend most of my day in isolation, so the idea of focusing outward appeals to me.

      Love how you guys all make me think.

  12. Lance on April 17, 2012 at 4:02 am

    I recently started back seeing a therapist. She said something to me that my wife says and I often ignore.

    “Allow positivity to co-exist with negativity.”

    I’m one of the most internally morose people you’ll meet. On the outside I try to be warm and friendly like a John Denver song but on the inside I’m a Bauhaus/Peter Murphy record. It’s one of the reasons I’ve gotten addicted to your writing/websites.

    Being creative and writing everyday has made me understand how positivity and love can happen with me.

    Thanks for you part in that.

    • j on April 17, 2012 at 7:34 am

      Once I was having an online conversation with someone I didn’t know well. I was talking about something serious (though only scratching the surface of it). He said, “You have troubles? You look so happy on Facebook.”

      We all make the mistake of thinking the pinpoint views we get of each other on blogs and social networks are the whole picture. We decide that people are obviously happy or well adjusted, forgetting that we have so little information. (Even John Denver nearly choked his ex-wife to death.)

      Positivity and negativity exist together all the time. Going back through my notebooks for the Love Essays, I was reminded that on the day I finished the almost-final version of BEAUTIFUL LIVES, tsunamis swallowed Japan. I wrote, “It’s life. Terrible shit happens right along side awesome, dazzling birth…”

      And as a writer, you’re lucky. The duality is what makes the story interesting. xo

  13. Robin on April 18, 2012 at 4:39 am

    “I love the idea of resting my worry-filled brain by helping and creating.”

    This is brilliant and exactly what I needed to hear today! While I often turn to creativity as a release- and find solace in that- I tend to focus on myself during difficult times. The idea of helping others, and stepping outside of one’s own situation, is liberating. Thank you.

    • j on April 18, 2012 at 11:48 am

      Yes, that’s exactly why it appealed to me; thank you for putting it much better than I did in this comment thread. When I’m stuck (emotionally, professionally, creatively), I have a tendency to focus inwardly as well. Focusing outwardly (and turning my natural inclination on its head) felt like a very powerful notion. Thank YOU!

  14. Nuttin' on April 18, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Oh my gosh…. total (almost) epiphany. I think I just figured this out, yay me! Thank you for such a great comment thread.

    • j on April 18, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      Yay! And oops! I just realized I never replied to your last comment. (Which is okay because I’m betting your epiphany was better than anything I could have said.) 🙂

      • Nuttin' on April 18, 2012 at 12:20 pm

        Ha! No worries… sometimes, I ask for an answer before I actually attempt to use my little brain.
        Nothing is better than anything you say… well, possibly just a few things. 🙂

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