Prioritizing Qualities

Yesterday’s Quest prompt, #qualities, knocked me back to my undergraduate days.

1 of 3 Qualities

Visionary: Sally Hogshead of How the World Sees You fame

Of these 3 options, which one is most important in your work right now:

  • Quality of life
  • Quality of work
  • Quality of compensation

The first thing I thought of when I saw this question was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

And how, in my life right now, that pyramid is pretty much upside-down in terms of the energy I give it. And how that inversion is a big part of what twisted this past year so out of whack.

Focusing on actualization while denying my body’s physical needs (whether intentional or not) is like asking someone who spends most of their time on a couch or at their desk to stand on their toes on one leg while juggling with one hand and spinning plates with the other. It won’t be long before the whole act comes crashing down.

It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that if I don’t “feed” my body, I’m also starving my work. And if my work suffers, my compensation suffers. It’s simple math. Simple geometry.

Which is really a long way of saying that my answer is a no brainer:

I choose life.

Because until I right my pyramid, until I stabilize its base, it doesn’t matter how much I want to focus on the other two, how much work I do. Nothing I create will be solid enough to have any lasting impact on anyone else. And if it doesn’t, really, what’s the point?

This Quest group is truly inspiring. Check out some of these posts from fellow questers:


Define Payoff

So here we are more than halfway into the quest and I’ve finally caught the week’s theme before the week is over:  “Prioritize Your Value”. Starting with this prompt:


Visionary: John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing fame

Your Quest2016 Prompt today:

What can you stop doing in 2016 such that it would allow you to focus on higher payoff activities?

The stop part of this list is easy:

  • Stop wasting so much time on TV and Internet
  • Stop wasting money (even pennies), food, and other resources
  • Stop avoiding or procrastinating chores and healthy habits, like going to bed at a decent hour
  • Stop clinging to the past
  • Stop clinging to stuff
  • Stop overcommitting to things that don’t inspire or improve me/my life/the lives of others (actually, stop over committing, period)

Now, I’ve written probably a hundred or more versions of the stop list before, and the same things keep showing up. Probably because I haven’t given myself a compelling enough reason to actually stop.

That’s where things start getting a little harder–identifying what those higher payoff activities might be, especially since there doesn’t seem to be a high correlation between value and money in my life right now. If payoff is measured in dollars I should just pack up my toys and return to corporate tech work, but I think most of us know how well that particular career path worked out for me. And since this week is all about prioritizing our value (values?), I’m going to leave money out of it for the moment. Luckily, I think that last stop item gives a pretty clear picture of what I value–inspiring and/or improving myself, my life, and the lives of others:

  • Making ART
  • WRITING ( actual projects, not just in the journal)
  • CONNECTING with others
  • Finding/creating SANCTUARY (in my home, community, and body)

And here is where the money will hopefully start coming in:

  • Crafting my RIGHT LIVELIHOOD from the building blocks listed above

And that exploration is time much better spent than on any of the items in that first list.


What Are We Questing For?

December snuck up on me this year, leaving me spinning. What happened to November, to October, to June? I have lost time. Eight months at least. But here it is Quest-ing time again–a chance to begin again (in a golden land of opportunity and adventure).

But unlike that promise of a better life on some off-world colony, in this journey we won’t be given a handy potion to help us sleep through the trip. We’re going to have to get our hands dirty–to dig, to climb, to build and row our own lifeboats, to sleep where there is no shelter despite the falling snow.

Last year’s Quest was full of optimism and plans, and big, bold ideas for 2015, but the year hasn’t quite worked out that way. Life got in the way. Health got in the way. Money (or more precisely, lack thereof) got in the way. My own head got in the way. Then along came Quest 2016 and it seemed the perfect way to get back on track. Back to the big ideas I’d abandoned this year. And I have to say, being re-immersed in the embrace of this amazing group is invigorating. And I knew the answer to Prompt 1 as soon as I read it (at least the general idea of it).

Tell Yourself

Visionary: Susan Piver

Your Quest2016 Prompt today:

What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…

What do I most need to tell myself in 2016? That I don’t have to put all this pressure on myself to know what exactly I am trying to build or where exactly I am trying to get to. That it’s okay to gather supplies, hone skills, let ideas percolate before I fly into action. Because I have been paralyzing myself trying to force the unformed to match my will, instead of allowing it to grow organically and reveal its true shape. And I know from experience that my best work has arisen at its own insistence and not at mine, and that somewhere at the center of the Venn diagram that maps the things that matter most to me there is alchemy afoot. Alchemy that has its own agenda. My job will be to give it what it needs. To feed this glorious, becoming beast instead of trying to cage it. ‪#‎TellYourself‬

And then came Prompt 2…

What’s Knocking

Visionary: Jonathan Fields

Your Quest2016 Prompt today:

You wake up to discover a knock at your door. A wealthy uncle you barely knew has passed and left you a fortune. It’s more than enough to live out your days in glorious splendor, but there is a condition. To be eligible to collect, you must commit your full-time working energies to the pursuit of an answer to a single question of your choosing for the next 12 months.

You are welcome to continue that pursuit after the year ends, for years or decades if it warrants, but you must remain fully focused on seeking the answer until the last minute of the 365th day. A minute shorter, the entire inheritance goes to your annoying and equally long lost cousin, Philly.

What is your question?

Because this prompt was posted sometime in the wee hours Eastern Daylight Time and I am a bit of an insomniac, I read it last night before I went to bed, so when I woke up, I was ready to dive in. Especially since I had already written a question on a similar topic (but without the money trope) for another group I belong to. That question asked:

What might happen if I approached art as a practice and let my true work arise instead of trying to force or control it?

Because my best work has always been a direct response to events in the lives of the people I care about, I figured responding to events in the world shouldn’t be any harder.

So I wrote some more, made lists of what matters to me and what types of expression appeal to me, and churned it all around until I came up with several versions of a related question that mentioned things like “finding the art within me,” and “inspiring a more beautiful and connected life and world,” and “unique, meaningful, and impactful art,” and then I had to go to work so I left it with the intention to come home, polish it up, and post it and that would be that so bring on Prompt 3!

Except that’s not what happened. Because it wasn’t right. It was missing the most important ingredient: the people I care about.

That’s the funny thing about dropping out of your life for a year–when you finally decide to crawl out of the hole you’ve been hibernating in, it might not still be there. Or it might, but seeing it with fresh eyes, you may find that it wasn’t really what you thought.

So I can sit here typing, telling you about my grand dreams and how this is the year I will finally get my act together and write that book, or publish that poetry collection, or make those quilts, but it wouldn’t be honest. Because the truth is, at this point, there are very few things I know are true, but one of them is:

If I had only one year left to live I wouldn’t spend it sitting alone in my room writing or sewing or worrying about how to change the world. I would spend every moment I could being with the people I love (ideally somewhere exotic and breathtakingly beautiful)..

So, where does that leave my question?

How can I reshape my life to better connect with the people who are most important to me?


Because without them, at least for me, the “work” doesn’t mean much.


Time is a River

#DareToExcel Challenge – 7:

Commit to viewing time differently from this day forward. Here are two invitations:

#1 – Draw a new relationship to time: The first one is an exercise that engages your faculties beyond the analytical-rational mind to help you rise above the “good enough” plateau and to dare to excel:

Draw a symbol or describe symbolically your existing relationship to time. What does Time look like? Move like? Feel like in terms of weight or texture? How do you two relate? Then do the same for your desired relationship to time that would let you excel? What does that Time look like? Move like? Feel like?

Share a pic of what you create with us and online.

#2 – Get outside of yourself: What one thing could you do to shift your relationship to time? How could you get outside of your office, outside of your habitual work flow, and do something so seemingly unproductive as to take a walk in the park, bicycle down the road, or watch the sunset for 10 minutes? Okay – don’t just write about it. Do it! Dare you!

  1. Time is a river, and I have never been much of a swimmer. Still, I always seem to draft into the fast, deep water where I flail and flounder and gasp for breath as I try, often unsuccessfully, to stay afloat as I swim against the current toward my desired destination. It moves too fast, runs too deep, pulls me under, weighted as I am with too many and too much… And yet, near the shore it is slower, shallower, shaded by broad-leafed trees. On the bank, near the gently swirling pool, there is a fallen log where I could rest, and a patch of dry sand where I could put down what I carry, sort through the unwieldy mass of projects, goals, desires I have collected and cull what I no longer need. And there, down the river a bit, is a collection of driftwood, and beyond, a few steps into the trees are vines I could use to lash them together, to create a raft, a rudder, two oars. Perhaps this bag I’ve been using to hold all the once-treasures, once-obsessions, once-necessary evils, can be used instead for shade now that the things I carry can fit easily in the two cargo pockets of my long, plaid shorts.
  2. The #365 photo project I started in January requires that every day I get up off my chair and walk out into the world. To notice the play of light and shadow on my casita’s clay walls. To let my eyes stray to the shapes of clouds, the drop of petals from a sun-baked flower. To search in ever-widening circles for beauty in all its forms. Some days I search for an hour or more. Some days I simply look out my door. But I do it. Every day. I pause for a moment and smell the flowers or petrichor.


Saying No

Yesterday when the new dare arrived in my inbox I took one look at it then closed it again. Part of it was the overwhelm at trying to figure out how to add one more thing to my already over-full plate. The other part was overwhelm at how could I possibly choose just one skill from an infinite number of possibly necessary skills that might make a critical difference for my project and my life. Luckily, with a little distance I discovered the answer to the challenge hidden in that second overwhelm–though upon reflection, it wasn’t hidden at all. In fact, it was pretty much grabbing me by the shirt collar and trying to shake me awake.

#DareToExcel Challenge – 5:

To live your question, what new #skillset do you need and want to develop this month and beyond to execute your one project exceptionally well? What existing skill set do you need and want to hone and sharpen? How can you do so more intentionally? Define it, claim it, share it.

Don’t over-do it here. One skill or skill set suffices for now for you to define.

Use the bottom half of your My Project Brief Sheet to help you define a habit skill set, one field-related skill, or one craft-related skill you want to claim and dare to excel in.

~ SAY NO ~

The need for this particular skill isn’t just project-related–it’s systemic to my whole life. I have always had trouble focusing on one thing, being able to figure out what is most important, and saying “no”–or at least, “not now”–to everything else. The proof is in my original project brief. Not because of the desire to hold space for the book to grow as I do other things which is a wonderful, valuable goal, but because that good goal disguises the truth–that I want those unfinished quilts finished and out of my life so badly that I made them more important than the book. And in doing so, I’ve created a situation where the drudgery of the sewing I don’t want to do bleeds over into the work I most want to do. Instead of feeding the book, it has drained my energy. And because two of the quilt projects are for other people, they have the added stress of deadlines and an ever expanding feeling of trying to create within a very small box which has been stifling my creativity across the board. The fact that, although two of my quilting projects are already overdue, I started with a donation quilt that no one is waiting for and has been sitting in a bin for more than three years, only underscores my deep need for increasing my discernment skills ASAP.

So, what does that mean? Starting this moment I need to:

  1. Deal with the two overdue sewing projects this weekend before I do anything else–that means spending Sunday at the computer creating the design comps to send to the clients, because it is too late to hand them off to someone else. Ideally at the office so I won’t be distracted by everything that needs doing here at home.
  2. Adjust my perception of the remaining quilts from chores I need to plow through, to mindfulness practice.
  3. Get back to relaxed nightly book research, letting the stories absorb slowly into my psyche.
  4. Remember what’s most important, which for some reason sounds like the voices of Haymitch and Finnick in my head, and say “no” to everything else:Katniss
  5. Revisit my project brief.

And once I’ve done that, I can begin methodically building my discernment skills so I can make better prioritization decisions earlier in the process and not find myself trying to extract myself from a bind as deadlines loom. This great resource from wonder tracker and our intrepid guide in this challenge Jeffrey Davis, is a good place to start.



After nearly four months of Questing with Jeffrey Davis and our amazing group, it’s hard to believe that it’s winding down. But it’s important to remember, that even if the weekly prompts end, our individual Quests continue. Which makes this week’s topic, retreat, particularly timely. Especially since it has been much on my mind as this phase of the Quest winds to a close.

We as a people are working ourselves to death, but where are we going? A real retreat is not a time to pamper yourself at a spa. That’s something else called self-care. A real retreat is an artful, intentional action of stepping out of your daily life’s river and into a space to contemplate, create, and envision.

#LiveTheQuest question 11:
How will you retreat regularly this year to advance your project? #retreat
Consider your commitment to retreat and to put the “artistry” in your business artistry this year. How regularly will you retreat? For how long each time? Can you commit to a monthly rhythm and a quarterly rhythm? What kinds of simple arrangements can you prepare to assure it happens? What’s your secret fear of actually doing this, and how can you shift that fear into more curiosity?

I’ve done this sort of retreat before so am well aware of the great value to be found in focused, uninterrupted time. And as I alluded to above, I’ve already been working on a retreat plan for this year, partly to keep my Quest on track after this phase ends, and partly in response to an upcoming change in my work schedule which promises to improve my financial freedom, but unfortunately limit my freedom with regards to time. I know that to make sure my personal projects don’t slip by the wayside, I will need to schedule and protect that time fiercely. To that end, this is what I’ve come up with.

  • Weekly: One two-hour micro-retreat
  • Monthly: One half-day mini-retreat
  • Quarterly: One full-day retreat
  • Annually: One two-day retreat

For now I’m planning to keep the actual content of each retreat fluid, but the weekly retreats are likely to focus on reviewing project status and scheduling for the following week, the monthly on bigger-picture brainstorming and prioritization, the quarterly on experimental play and road-mapping for the next quarter, and the annual to really take a step back, review the year, and dream the year to come.

Currently the only threats I have to my retreat schedule are internal, but for me, there is something sacred about retreat time that makes it easier to protect than, say, the daily hour I always hope to spend writing or sewing. That single daily hour is too amorphous–in focus, schedule, and goal. Then again, with the addition of the weekly retreat, even that may change for the better. That’s the thing about having limited free time, if you don’t make intentional plans to use that time wisely and stick to them, you are likely to fritter it away–and your dreams with it.

For more thoughts about the benefits of an in-house retreat, check out Jeffrey’s article in Psycology Today.

Shaping Time

#LiveTheQuest question 7:

How can you change your relationship to time? #shapingtime
What one thing could you do this week to shift your relationship to time? Having too little time is largely a matter of perception. William James observed this over 100 years ago, and psychologists and anthropologists alike are confirming that sometimes depending upon our economic level, our nation of origin, our experience of awe, and more, we might perceive that we are busy or not.

What one thing could you do this week to shift your relationship to time for the better?

One thing? Of course I have a list, including things I have already been working on, but for this week, just one thing, I will focus on this:

I will prioritize my most cherished activities early in the day–write at least one sentence, read at least one page, take at least one photo–before I dig in to email, chores, or anyone else’s work.

I started today that way and already feel the weight of my to do list and deadlines slipping from my shoulders. It’s strange. I wrote a  poem about this years ago for a friend. Sometimes it takes a while for us to embrace what we already know for ourselves.


Put yourself first. At the top of the list. Cross off returning that phone call you didn’t want to make. It’s too early in that time zone to call anyway. And the laundry will still be there an hour from now, still lounging in its casual best, happy enough to delay its swim.

Instead walk out into the gold and coral dawn. Watch the sun paint the sky every imaginable glowing hue as clouds coast by like boys on downhill bicycles.

Take your favorite mug filled with your favorite tea—the one that smells of coconut and the sea—out to the wooden Adirondack chair, now grey with age and the harsh Santa Fe sun, to watch the tinted light stream by as birds sing and centipedes dance at your feet.

Pick up that pen, the one that felt so good in your hand that it practically flew across the page. Flew, yes, like those birds, like those clouds, like those colors slipping away to pale as the sun rises higher and the sky flashes blue.

Or choose your own road—a paintbrush, a trowel, a chapter from that gloriously long book—but choose it and write it down. At the top of that list. Because once you’ve had that gorgeous moment, that day is yours. And nothing else can touch you.


Facing Challenges

It’s taken me longer than usual to respond to Monday’s Quest-ion. That’s because my work hours have been longer hours than usual, and it’s taking longer than usual to recover from last week’s inspiring but physically demanding stint working the Artistic booth at AQS QuiltWeek in Albuquerque, during which I worked six days straight, the last four of them between 11.5 and 13 hours each.

But finally, today, I have a clear schedule, so here it is:

How will you respond to challenges differently this year?  #facechallenge

No risk, no challenge, no quest. It’s that simple. What one to three challenges and messiness could you inevitably face this quarter while executing your one project? Define those challenges. Write about them. Then ask yourself, How can you respond to them differently than you did last year? Write, draw, doodle, paint, flow chart, or compose your way into imagining how you can respond to challenges differently in order to execute your one project.

The challenges part of this question is easy. They are the same challenges I have struggled with for years:

  • Energy: Having the physical, mental, emotional, and psychic stamina to do the work–from finding focus and crafting plans, to the actual making and sharing my creations
  • Time: Carving out minutes, hours, days, for the things that matter most instead of squandering them on time sucks, distractions, or other people’s priorities
  • Space: Clearing the physical, mental. and temporal clutter from my living area, mind, and calendar to make room to bring my dreams to life

And though I spent the bulk of last year dedicated to creating a Year of Clear to address just these issues, by the time October rolled around and I found myself once again overwhelmed with pre-holiday and holiday preparations, I found myself right back where I started: exhausted, strapped for time, and overwhelmed by clutter and commitments.

The lists of what needs to change that I created back then still apply:


  • Get more sleep (computers off by 10pm)
  • Eat better and more regularly (create and use meal plans)
  • Exercise more
  • Create a daily mindfulness practice
  • Cull projects and people that suck my energy


  • Create routines and build habits to streamline chores/errands/activities
  • Prioritize projects and activities (review regularly)
  • Schedule and protect time for these priorities
  • Say no to anything that doesn’t support or feed my quest (or me)
  • Minimize screen time


  • Use up materials that have been gathering dust
  • Purge what I no longer need, want, or love
  • Organize what’s left
  • Keep my space clear and clean
  • Move to a larger place

So. what makes me think that this year will be different? What will be my catalyst/s for change?

For starters, this Quest. The work I have already done and the work I will continue to do thanks to Jeffrey Davis and Tracking Wonder, and the work before that with Maia Duerr and her Liberated Life Project.

But also, these tools:

As well as revisiting these very helpful books:

Preparations to thwart these challenges start today with clearing some space, so that tomorrow I can get to work on prioritization and plans.

What are your challenges and how do you plan to overcome them this year?

Here’s what some of my fellow Quester have to say:

(Funny how so many of us share the same challenges.)