Controlling Overwhelming Inspiration

Following the same interview questions given to Kent Williams, I interviewed Kathy Lingo, a professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, on this same subject for a comparative view between a teacher and an actor.

 

How long have you been working in your respective fields?

Yes, in film, television, stage, and communications.since 1973.

Could you recap briefly the work you’ve done?

I was an acting and directing student prior to working in television and film, and I’ve been teaching theatre since ‘77.

Out of that work, what would you say “got you in” to this field(s)?

Honestly, the idea to make some one else’s life better through my craft. I believe the quote, “there is no good or evil in the world, only thinking.” I may not  produce award winning students, but I don’t want to be famous, I want to help my students in how ever I can even if it’s just helping them unwind through performing; to heal their stress for a moment.

What has been the most difficult obstacle you’ve had to overcome to be successful creatively?

Sometimes the greatest obstacle is myself because it’s part of the human condition that if we take in all of the narcissistic demands that others try to put on us, we sometime loose focus on what’s the right thing to do; what is ethically and morally right, and not sell out to others but to be true to yourself. The power of ego can become more intoxicating than alcohol.

What is your primary inspiration for doing the things you do? 

The human condition itself is my inspiration for what I do.

What is your process for developing your inspirations/ideas into a workable project? 

One of the greatest things to me is just talking to people. Really sitting down with humans I trust or find interesting and spend time just asking them questions. It’s amazing the idea that other people will give you.

Do you have any advice for those trying to getting into a creative field but don’t know where to start or how to handle having too many inspirations? 

The first thing to do, and the hardest thing to do, is to look at yourself objectively. People don’t like rejection, so instead of focusing on how your work may not be good enough or that you may not be able to handle it, work on yourself and objectively and truthfully find out what you can do and what you have to do to achieve that.

You need to learn how to honestly know what you can do and what you can’t do. Sometimes learning how to get over your pride and realizing that there are some ideas you can’t do is harder than hitting a brick wall. Know thy self.

Have you ever received any advice in the past that has helped you become successful? 

I’m still getting advice today. I need it to keep going. We get this advice from those who keep us centered. Who we around our self with is more important than advice because negativity is more contagious and dangerous than any disease. It’s not the situation that gives you heart ache it’s the way you perceive it.

And is there anything thing else you’d like our readers to know about how to deal with all of their inspirations?

Sometimes when we get overwhelmed with all this information, try to think about what you can do in the next 15 minutes and do it. Then think of what you need to do in the next 15 minutes and do that. Then feel accomplished with what you’ve done, then use that prespective to move on with the rest of your time and focus on what needs to be done. Realize what you want to do and what you need to do. You can’t do what you want until you deal with what you want until you do what you need.

Sometimes you need to get reflective appraisal from people you can rely on, and sometimes you need to examine who you are getting your reflected appraisal from.  It’s how you see yourself from others eyes.  Humans want the people who we love to love us, but get the appraisal of yourself from someone who is objective and you truly trust.  Some people will make you feel bad because they they feel bad themselves.  Yet, people who really love us will tell us the truth even when it hurts at times.  Now it’s how you tell it that has it’s effects.  Be careful of this, others have their own agenda.  You must follow yours.  It’s easier to critique than to create.

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I was recently given the amazing opportunity to talk with Kent Williams, an actor and performer in Dallas, about my thoughts on inspiration overload and got to interview him on any advice he might have for students wanting to get into a creative field who are struggling with their inspirations. This is what he said:

 

Kent, thank you for allowing me to interview you. You’ve been working in more than one creative field for a while now, is that safe to say?

Yes; 25 years.

Could you recap briefly the work you’ve done in the creative community for anyone not familiar with your work?

Having studied theater at SMU in the mid 80’s, I began working immediately upon graduation with Dallas Children’s Theater.  They didn’t get reviewed, but they paid very well.  From there I began teaching as well as acting and eventually became an administrator.  After 6 years with DCT I had built up experience as a stage performer in their large season with long runs, developed my skills as a theater instructor putting to use much of what I’d picked up at SMU, and was theater company’s first Tour Director with a number one ranking by the Texas Commission on the Arts.  It was also at DCT that I discovered Japanese kabuki theater, a theater discipline I continue to share nationally with students of all ages.
I then jumped ship and headed north to Addison Centre Theatre, now WaterTower, to become their first Education Director.  I had one year to prove myself:  create revenue to cover my salary, my assistant’s salary and the entire marketing and supply budget.  I exceeded that goal. My success came from marketing my own set of afterschool, weekend and holiday classes and camps based upon my experience at DCT.  I also surrendered to ACT all of the work I had begun doing with Young Audiences of Greater Dallas (now Big Thought), Junior Players, the TCA (Texas Commission on the Arts) and the Texas Workforce Commission (training child care givers around the state in creative dramatics…theater games).
But in my early 30’s, a divorced father of one, I gave up on a salaried administrative position and went freelance.  15 years later, I continue to work as an independent contractor with 4 agents, a touring marionette theater, and a shit ton of classroom hours logged.

Out of that work, what would you say “got you in” to this field(s)?

I love of theater and visual arts that I discovered growing up in rural north Texas that was powerful enough to redirect me from my plan of pursuing medical school.

What has been the most difficult obstacle you’ve had to overcome to be successful creatively?

Financial security…or perhaps the fear of financial insecurity.  I got married a year out of college and became a father four years later.  I HAD to make money.  And I still don’t work for free.
I also had to shrug off all the self doubt and applied doubt from family and society at large.  It ain’t easy making a living doing what you love.  I know many, many people who chose to give up on their artistic pursuits to find secure positions with benefit packages.  I long ago came to terms with the fact that I had to pay my own taxes (extra for the self-employed), have no health insurance and never knowing where my money is going to come from next.  But I’m a homeowner who makes his sole living in the arts!

What was your primary inspiration for doing the things you do?

I watched a lot of Gene Kelly movies as a kid.  I loooonged to do work like him and Van Johnson and Danny Kaye and Cyd Charisse…

What is your process for developing your inspirations/ideas into a workable project?

I figure out a formula that allows for minimal overhead and maximum profit.  That is true for my puppet shows and my classes.  (If a gig pays too little, then I honestly give less.)

Do you have any advice for those trying to getting into a creative field but don’t know where to start or how to handle having too many inspirations?

Edit.  Know your skill set.  Don’t ever just wing it.  There’s a huge difference between a professional and a hobbyist.

Have you ever received any advice in the past that has helped you become successful?

Someone once told me that I could smell money.  I’ve been trying to root it out ever since.  I continually look for ways to make money doing what I know how to do in the arts.

And is there anything thing else you’d like our readers to know about working in a creative field?

Get help.  Ask for it.  Pay for it.  Equipment, representation, training…whatever.  Like Tim Gunn says in Project Runway, “Make it work!”

I interviewed a student recently who has claimed to have trouble dealing with his inspirations to get his thoughts on the subject and this is what he said.

What do you do currently, John?

I’m a senior Computer Science major at UT Dallas.

Do you, or have you ever suffered from having too many ideas or inspirations?

Yes, I will get very inspired on certain subjects but begin to think too much into the extra components required to begin working on them and I will become too overwhelmed to do anything with them.

What subjects frequently give you the most inspiration?

Music and software innovations.

How have you overcome this problem in the past?

I frequently don’t, but when I do it’s because I have some one to help push me.

Do you feel that this problem is an overlooked issue or one that should be more addressed in academia?

Yeah, I don’t feel that it’s overlooked so much as approached in the wrong way; maybe if it was taken from a more neurological view.

Talking with John gave me the impression that he was familiar with regularly being overwhelmed with his ideas, but he talked about them in a way that made it seem like this was something he had little control over in the long run. This feeling of helplessness is something I feel commonly surrounds people affected by inspiration overload and is something I will continue to dig deeper on in future posts. I’d like to thank John for allowing me to post his answers up here.

To listen to this podcast, please visit http://tamingdaimon.podbean.com/

The internet is an amazing and altogether useful tool. I can get lost on Wikipedia for hours reading about things that I didn’t care about in the least until half a second before I visited the page. There once was a time, back in the days of public libraries, when the search for knowledge took considerable effort and discipline. Now, anyone with an internet connection can achieve at least a passing familiarity with almost any subject they so desire.

All of this easy-access information comes at a price, however. A brief visit to a search engine shows that the internet lacks quality control. Five pages dedicated to the exact same subject can have five contradictory things to say on the matter, and personal bias becomes the rule rather than the exception. Because of the sheer volume of misinformation on the internet, sifting through all of the noise to conduct productive research becomes difficult unless you know how to filter out the waste.

Take news, for example. Most people these days have foregone newspaper subscriptions in favor of internet news sites, and with that shift inevitably came an influx of fake news as well. The most insidious might be the sites that automatically generate bulletins about the death of any actor you like in a snowboarding accident, but rumors of breakups, infidelity, and scandal among celebrities show up as well. If you rely on the internet to get your news, make sure you’re visiting a reputable news outlet before you start freaking out that Adam Sandler died or Russia just declared war on the United States.

Bogus news aside, everyone has probably experienced the singular pleasure of completing a research project on a deadline when every resource you find seems to be a seventh grader’s class project or someone’s unconvincing attempt to prove that the thing you’re researching is actually false or some sort of government conspiracy to control your mind. It doesn’t take long for your eyes to glaze over in the sea of links and unhelpful information, at which point you might as well stop trying to finish your project until you regroup. As with the news, you fare much better when you know where to go for reputable sources.

Surprisingly, Wikipedia itself can be a powerful ally in the search for relevant information. While, as an open-source document, it isn’t acceptable as a source in its own right, Wikipedia’s articles on scientific topics include many references to sites that are. If you use Wikipedia’s reference list as an anchor in your quest for usable information, the biggest challenge left to you will be resisting the distractive influence of the site itself.

Have you ever noticed how distractions come flying at us in every direction all day long except when we wish we had something to do? I have. In fact, I’ve had this new post open for going on 45 minutes now and I’m only just getting back to it. As a result though, I’ve began researching ways to deal with distractions, and unlike articles of time management, there are as many suggestions on how to deal with distractions as there are people having a problem with it. So I’ve assembled all the ones that I think would work best and devised a sort of help “top 5.”

Recognize Your Distractions!

Any recovering addict will tell you that admittance is the first step. Hiding from reality only makes things worse, so look your problem in the face and tell it to stop bothering you. Paul Dickinson, a writer for LifeHack.org, wrote an article earlier in the year addressing this issue. Apart from working in a closed-off environment, (ie. disconnected from the net, writing in a full screen text editor, etc) Dickinson says to remove his distractions, he thinks about them before he starts working, claiming, “… if we sit down and just think about the distractions, it is usually simple enough to remove them. If we’re fully aware of what distracts us, and we consciously remove them, we can then start to concentrate on our work.”

This is what some people would call “nipping it in the butt.” If you address you distractions before you start working, you’ll be more aware of them if and when they start to creep back up on you. If you don’t address them however, it’s really easy to mindlessly lapse into your distractions like watching that episode of NCIS playing in the background, or reading a really interesting article on something off-topic rather than doing your research on distractions.

Stop Checking Your Email Every Five Minutes!

When e-mail was still an infant, people thought that it would be more efficient than calling someone while they’re working because the contact could check their email on later when they have time to stop what they’re doing. A study conducted by Dr. Thomas Jackson of Loughborough University in 2007, however, showed that people tend to respond to email the moment they get it. I know that personally, I check to see if I have email even when I know for a fact I don’t because the tab in my browser says “(0)”. It’s like when you’re hungry and you look in the fridge five times in a row just in case you missed something.

The problem with this though is that in the same study, Dr. Jackson found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after interruption by email. That means that people who check their email every five minutes spend 8 1/2 hours a week recovering from the distraction. That’s half of a day every month just trying to figure out what you were supposed to be doing! If you think you have an email that needs answering, just keep working instead. Chances are it’s spam anyway.

“Embrace the Chaos”

Dawn Foster from Giga OM brings up a strategy that I do all the time and works really well for me. She calls it “Embacing the chaos,” and though I’m not too sure if that’s a term I’d use for it, the idea is to not necessarily to fight the distractions more than it is to stop worrying about them and just work on something that requires less thought; something menial and tedious. This strategy isn’t one that works with every situation, but for those times when it seems you just simply can’t escape the distractions it works great. In fact I do this in reverse anytime I have to something repetitive and boring. I’ll listen to an audio book or jam to some good music to take my mind off the repetitiveness of the task at hand.

Take Regular Breaks…

Especially if your work is on the computer or in a medium that strains you eyes.  When you get too tired looking at blocks of texts or comparing color pallets, your inclined to stop indefinitely, but if you take regular breaks, (before you’re necessarily that tired) you won’t get as strained later and you can work longer. Though this doesn’t mean to give into distractions under the guise of taking a break. Breaks are for rest not entertainment. Get up, go out side, go take a long stretch on your bed, etc. Anything other than what (or where) you’re working on.

Tell People You Are Trying to Work!

Put up a do not disturb sign or just ask others not to distract you. I can’t count on both of my hand hows many times I’ve been around some one who’s gotten angry that the people around them are distracting them but never let any of those people know that he or she was trying to work. For some reason people think it makes you rude when you ask some one not to bother you while you’re working, like you’re implying that they are annoying, so they don’t say anything until it gets to be too much to bear and they snap and act rude. All those distractions and negative side effects can be cancelled out just by simply asking others politely to not distract you while you’re trying to work.

The most important thing to remember when dealing with your distractions is though is that by giving into them and putting off your work, you’re only hurting yourself.

And as always let me know if any of the ideas presented here help you out at all! I’d love to discuss some of these things further.

Works Cited and Reference:

1. Dickinson, P. (n.d.). Dealing with Distractions. Lifehack. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/dealing-with-distractions.html

2. Babauta, L. (2007, June 1). 10 Ways to Eliminate Distractions. FreelanceSwitch. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from http://freelanceswitch.com/productivity/10-ways-to-eliminate-distractions/

3. Banks, R. (2008, September 16). Recovering from distractions. rb.trends. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from http://www.richardbanks.com/trends/?p=9687

4. Foster, D. (2009, March 20). Dealing With Distractions. GigaOM . Retrieved December 1, 2011, from http://gigaom.com/collaboration/dealing-with-distractions/n/dealing-with-distractions/

5. Sarlin, A. (2010, July 22). How to Deal with Distractions in a Web Worker’s World. Lifehacker. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from http://lifehacker.com/5593523/deal-with-distractions-in-a-web-workers-world

“It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure…” – Clay Shirky

I’ve heard it said now from several “in-the-know” people recently, that the answer to the onslaught of information presented by the Internet is through filtering. But it wasn’t until I read an article at Cloudave.com that this message really sank in for me. The article, written by Hutch Carpenter, talked about developing an effective filter for ideas in the work place, specifically large businesses that have trouble hearing from their larger employee base, but this isn’t what struck me. What I gravitated to the most was a quote he gave at the beginning of the article. “It’s not idea overload. It’s filter failure.”

This is obviously an adapted version of Clay Shirky’s quote (seen above) given at the Web 2.0 Expo, but even with all of my talk about the correlation between information overload and inspiration overload, it wasn’t until I read that adapted quote that I made the extra connection to filtering. So if I may use adapt this quote one step further…

It’s not Inspiration Overload. It’s Filter Failure.

The problem overly creative people have, and I’ve only said this a thousand time in this blog, is controlling their ideas and not letting the idea control them. This idea of inspiration overload is when the ideas are too many and too exciting that it stops the person having them from being productive at all, and is, of course, just an adaptation of the term ‘information overload’. The cool thing to me is that this adapted quote works just as well with this adapted term as the originals do. Just as you need to filter what information you take in to control information overload, so to do you need to filter your inspirations and ideas to control inspiration overload.

This goes back to my Hierarchy of Priorities I talked about a while back. To control your overwhelming sense of inspirations, you need to first prioritize the now before you can do anything else. Adding in this idea of filtering brings you even one step closer to controlling that whirlwind of inspiration. First find your inspirational priority (be it school, work, family, or depending on your current level of success, artistic direction) then further flesh out what is important by creating filters for yourself to stop the creation of new ideas and distractions. Maybe you need to stop reading certain blogs for a while that add too much fuel to your fire, so-to-speak, or maybe it’s just a matter of not listening to especially inspiring music or television while you are doing work that might get your mind side-tracked on an enticing thought path. What is important is finishing your priorities first, the faster you finish them the faster you can revisit those other inspirations. (Not that you should rush your work either mind you.)

As always, if you already use filters for yourself or something similar, let me know. The only way to fully form an idea is to share it with others.

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