December 3, 2013  • Events & Media

Mindful companion

This post was originally published on Portfolio Creative‘s blog in advance of a Crash Course I’m leading on December 10.

Last night while walking my dog I let my mind wander as it often does in the dark evening hours as we meander around our neighborhood. Maybe it is the fresh, crisp night air that causes my brain to relax; maybe it is the consistent, predictable route we follow; or maybe it is just the physical exertion (even “exertion” that includes as many pauses as it does steps).

But I accidentally let my mind wandered so far that a neighbor’s friendly greeting startled me to the point of being taken physically aback.  I jumped. My heart raced. I dropped the leash.

She apologized profusely, my dog looked at me like I was crazy, and the irony made me chuckle: As I wandered, my mind mentally composing this article on mindfulness, I was anything but.

Mindfulness is everywhere lately, and you don’t even have to be mindful to notice it. The New York Times ran a front-page article in its Sunday Styles section a few weeks ago titled, “Mindfulness at Every Turn” and made the point that mindfulness is “at the height of trendiness, on the tongues of TV stars, executives, and even techies.” The Huffington Post agrees, devoting an entire section of its site (“GPS for the Soul”) to mindful musings, tips, tricks, and success stories shared by amateurs and professionals alike on the empowerment and presence they glean from being mindful.

But what is mindful (other than a the latest trend in adjectives)? Opinions differ, but for me, mindfulness means being deliberate, present, aware, and engaged. I associate it with well-reasoned, even enlightened decisions, and I imagine myself being both conscious and conscientious of my actions when I am my most mindful.

But as I wandered the neighborhood on autopilot with my dog last night, none of these adjectives applied.

It is so easy – so incredibly easy – to fall into a routine. We take the same route to work, we hold the same conversations with loved ones, and we plan the same weekend activities. And there is value in the predictability and consistency of our circumstances. Mindfulness implies a level of presence we strive for – and sometimes even pretend to have – even as we multitask our work, our personal commitments, and our lives.

But when that predictability, that lack of engagement, seeps into our career or financial choices, it might be time to take a mindful pause.

And luckily, since mindful is so ubiquitous, it’s relatively easy to be, well, mindful of it.

In my work and in my teachings, I often talk about a portfolio career: a career that is made up of a number of different tasks that when put together make up an entire, fulfilling, professional existence. The tasks may range from the ideal (the starring role) to the awful (production assistance work), but by deliberately choosing to engage in these tasks, and pursue a mix of them to best support our financial and professional goals, we empower ourselves to direct our own careers.

There is plenty outside of our control when it comes to managing a creative career. We may not book that freelance gig, the funding for an amazing project may be discontinued, or our client’s vision of a project may differ from our own. But by making mindful professional choices – engaging in deliberate reflection, making reasonable arguments to ourselves, and choosing the path that best fits our goals – we regain control of what we can. And nothing is more empowering than that.

Consider the application of mindfulness to our budgets as well. How often are we susceptible to impulse purchases or seeming bargains that wreck havoc on our budgets if we haven’t planned for them? (I’m looking at you, daily Pumpkin Spice Latte.)

How often do we aspire (when budgeting) to be the most frugal version of ourselves, without really considering – or at least not considering mindfully – the fact that we will probably indulge in the occasional (or not so occasional) holiday treat (you again, Pumpkin Spice Latte).

But being mindful as we create our budgets, acknowledging the reality of our lives and our choices (“I know I’ll want a treat this holiday season, but I’ll limit myself to two per week.”) creates a sustainable (and rewarding) level of financial awareness. And being mindful as we execute our budgets (“I treated myself yesterday afternoon to a pumpkin spice latte, so I’ll skip one today.”) keeps us on track.

There is probably room for both mindful and mindless meanderings in our lives. I love letting my mind wander where it may, and often it results in insights or connections that weren’t immediately obvious. The creativity is empowering.

And there is room for the occasional unplanned treat. I love indulging in something out of the ordinary, something that breaks the routine. The unexpectedness is empowering.

But equally empowering is taking control of our careers and our finances through the application of mindfulness: deliberate decision-making in building portfolio careers and sustainable budgets.

I hope you’ll join me for even more mindful reflections on the challenges facing creative entrepreneurs on December 10. I’ll be hosting Arts & Numbers for the Creative Class, a crash course in managing the financial challenges of a creative career as part of Portfolio Creative’s Illumination Bureau. See you there!

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Written in short story form with fictional anecdotes supporting the financial advice, Arts & Numbers promises to be an easy and useful read for creative entrepreneurs at any stage.

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