Many years ago I attended Joe Ranft’s memorial service with my sweetie, who, at that time, worked at Pixar with Joe on such films as Monsters Inc. and Cars (soon to be released). Joe was always generous and kind to my sweetie and to me — and it turned out that he was that way with everyone. Joe was the heart and soul of all the Pixar films. He also worked on The Nightmare before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach and many other films on which he left an indelible mark. He was a storyteller in his work and in his life.
Joe Ranft Pixar Animation Studios: Creativity Rules
When one longtime friend of Joe’s asked all the guests who considered Joe their best friend to raise their hands, half the people put their hands up. After a big heart and hilarious sense of humor, what people mentioned most was that Joe Ranft was a storyteller, and that everyone loved hearing his stories.
Joe had 2 sayings on his office door that he lived by:
The journey is the reward.
Trust the process.
I think it’s easy to forget these things as so many of us are overachievers or hyper demanding of ourselves (myself included), working in a world that glorifies speed. It’s ironic that it takes many slow moments to help us go fast.
Make 10,000 bad drawings.
At the reception after the service we were talking to Eric Frierson, the sole survivor in the car crash, about Joe and what he meant to the community of men he was working with in Michael Meade’s organization, Mosaic and Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar joined us. When Eric found out who Ed was (“Oh, YOU’RE Joe’s boss!”) he said, “I’m glad to meet you because I’m a graphic artist and I want to talk to you soon.” Ed said, “Take Joe’s advice. Do 10,000 bad drawings first. Get them out of your system. After you’ve done that, come talk to me.”
Michael Meade Extraordinary Storyteller
Become a master of mistakes.
This is another thing that we forget: to become great mistake makers. To be unafraid to do crappy work. To make a big mess of things so we can discover something in the muck of it all — or not. To follow the harebrained idea even if it leads to a dead end. To get the 10,000 bad drawings out of our system. To play in the waters of failure without a life jacket. To “Trust the process.”
Joe was a master of mistakes. You have to be to consistently come up with the kind of creative ideas and great stories he fostered and hatched. Once you free yourself up from fearing mistakes you’ll have a lot of energy for other things, other thoughts, other people. Busy as he was Joe made time for people. Lots of them.
Speaking from the podium one longtime friend of Joe’s talked about one of the last times they were together. They were sitting on the couch talking about the direction of Joe’s life. The friend asked, “How’s it going?”
He said he was at a place where he now had a hand in, and was overseeing, all the films at Pixar, was comfortable financially, and could devote more of his time to doing community service. He was working closely with mythologist, drummer, and teacher Michael Meade who devotes himself to working with gangs, inner city kids, prisoners, men from difficult circumstances trying to live better lives, and people interested in living deeply.
Michael Meade tells great stories, Storyteller, Mythologist, Drummer
Hearing this renewed my interest in doing more community service with youth. Meade, in his workshops, often talks about needing more elders in our midst and about developing ourselves into those elders, worthy of the respect of youth. I want to grow into being one of the worthy ones.
Do good works in the world.
Toward the end of the service, Joe’s wife Su said, “If you want to honor Joe, I have only one request: Do good works in the world. Find something you can be passionate about. Throw yourself into it. Don’t just think about it. Do it.”
I’m taking her advice, and Joe’s example to heart.
NOTE: COVID has given us all ample opportunity to do good work. If your company can donate time, money, food, masks, or other necessary items to organizations that can help, now is the time.
Pixar’s Joe Ranft’s 2 Rules for Living
Joe Ranft knew how to live. Considered the heart of Pixar’s films his sense of humor and gift for storytelling were legendary throughout the industry and throughout the world. How can you apply his life lessons to promoting yourself, your product, business, service or cause? Storytelling is key along with two others. Learn to tell great stories.
1. The journey is the reward.
I want it now. I can’t wait. Hurry, hurry. Show me the money. What do I get? Life will be better tomorrow.
What about now? What about doing without knowing what will result, just for the fun of it?
Pixar Animation Studios: Onward
Do what feels good without worrying about the goal.
This is what Kathan Brown, a former client of mine who is legendary in the print making/etching world, and who has worked with such artists as John Cage, Richard Diebenkorn, and Richard Tuttle, writes in the opening of her book, Ink, Paper, Metal, Wood:
“Thirty-three years ago (now 47) when I founded Crown Point Press I didn’t have a clear plan, but I liked the feel of ink on my hands and the look of it after I’d printed it onto paper using an etching press. I liked working with polished copper, aromatic liquid tar, rosin from pine trees, and wax, heated and rolled out thin — poetic materials from another age.”
She goes on to say that she started the press for her friends who were painters and sculptors and how they taught her ways to make sense of life in this day and age.
At that time our troops and the Iraqi people continued to die, hundreds have died or were in desperate straits in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when depression, obesity and anxiety have become as commonplace as the housefly, and now COVID —how does what you do help us make sense of the world?
And while the journey is the reward, Kathan says, “You can’t just sit around and enjoy. You also have to look for the next step.”
2. Trust the process.
Process is often mysterious, frustrating and slow. Process is also miraculous, easy and instant. They are part of the same continuum.
Margaret Welty artist, drawing free expert
Margaret Welty is a great example of trusting the process. She’s an artist and gifted teacher who had her own cable TV show and gives workshops to set your inner (or outer) artist free. I love the phrase on her website: “No Talent? No Problem! Drawing Free allows anyone—even YOU to start drawing NOW.”
Even me? With Margaret holding my hand I will trust the process and give it a go. No doubt Joe Ranft would cheer me on.
I haven’t seen much to applaud in the current administration or the recent presidential debates. So I thought I’d harken back to the Obama White House PR campaign strategy for some ideas you can apply to your own publicity campaign.
1. Define your image as a thought leader.
While I don’t particularly like the word “image” what I mean by it here is that in creating a consistent character that embodies your deepest principles, people perceive you as “whole” and trustworthy. We align with leaders who are aligned with themselves.
We know instinctively if thought leaders are who they appear to be and if their facial, body and verbal language match.
According to Joel Benenson, the primary pollster for the Obama campaign, Obama’s image was more clearly defined than McCain’s. Benenson said that Obama had an anti-Washington reputation that was characterized by his insistence that he was “going to tell you what you need to hear not what you want to hear.”
Barack Obama’s publicity strategy
People perceived Obama as a truth teller, which is something we hunger for. To solidify trust as a thought leader, authority, expert, influencer, or burgeoning personality, define yourself clearly, tell the truth, then follow that up with actions that demonstrate you’re committed to those truths at any cost.
2. Create a strong, positive and consistent message.
Barack Obama had one simple, elegant philosophical approach that was easy to understand and to assimilate. “Voters are looking for the remedy not the replica”.
His strategy was to position his opponent, John McCain, as the replica and himself the remedy. This became the core of his campaign.
Distill your message into one clear sentence that has deep resonance. Then build the rest of your your publicity campaign on that core message.
President Obama publicity strategy
3. Communicate casually via video.
David Plouffe, a campaign manager for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, did amateurish-looking videos discussing strategies to keep supporters and organizers excited, engaged and involved. These were not slick productions but were kept consciously rough-hewn to connect casually.
These videos are similar to the ones friends might send to each other to keep in touch on Facebook, Youtube or Instagram.
By keeping it casual they became more like chat sessions than formal lectures. Plouffe speaks directly to the camera with maps pinned to the wall and amidst piles of papers.
Barack Obama publicity campaign secrets you can use
Casual videos on your website where you face the camera and look directly into the eyes of viewers, make you approachable and human and add that “I feel like I already know you” sensibility.
Seeing someone in their personal environment also creates an atmosphere of trust and a sense of intimacy. Over time, this proper intimacy encourages loyalty and builds trust so your supporters come to believe in you in a profound way.
I’m in a tizzy right now. I have an unknown, itchy red rash under my arm. My stomach is upset and bloated. And my office has a giant pile of clothes on a chair I’ve been meaning to take to the consignment store, but haven’t. When I want to shift something, I clean out. But sometimes, the shift doesn’t come soon enough. And stuff piles up.
While I continue to consult with some amazing and talented clients, at the same time I’m also moving into a new direction with my True Shield: Verbal Self-Defense For Girls. So I have a foot in both worlds — which can sometimes be crazy making. Like worried nights pacing and writing at 3:00 am, searching for that roll of sweet tarts I have in the laundry room cupboard for such emergencies.
For one thing, I didn’t really realize that I was a start-up. But that’s what I am. I have a business with no track record for a new idea.
Verbal self-defense for girls
I have all the measurements in place, but have yet to have anyone complete the program. Everyone in the schools and organizations who have purchased it is starting in August or September and while it will take me just 3 months or so to get initial statistics and evidence-based results it will take me about 9 months to get a full picture of all the survey results.
That’s almost a year! Panic. Seems like forever and a day.
Starting something new can be a maddening and discouraging process. I want to chat a bit about the three things about the process, which is often hard to love. Failure, faith, and perseverance. We are often told to embrace the journey. While that is a noble thought, the muck during the journey can weigh you down something fierce.
I just heard an interview with Jessi Klein on Terry Gross’ show Fresh Air talking about getting an Emmy while having a three month-old baby and having to pump breast milk during the ceremony which nicely sums up why embracing the journey is necessary to happiness. “…Having a baby is really hard on a marriage. So things with my husband were just – I’ll just say they were very hard ’cause we were just so tired, and it’s so crazy. And I just suddenly felt very much like, oh, I won this Emmy, and tomorrow I’m getting on a plane and I’m going right back into my own little struggles.
And nothing is really different. Like, this was great but now it is over. And I just have to be back in my sort of currently overweight, milk-laden body and waking up at 2 in the morning and 4 in the morning. And it’s hard. And the Emmy is amazing, but all of this will continue. I think it just brought into very stark relief in the moment what would have been the truth no matter what I was doing. But it was very immediate, which is that this doesn’t really mean anything for your actual happiness or your life.”
the journey is the reward even if it doesn’t feel like it
We think when we get to the big award, reward, end game, whether it’s finishing a book, landing a big deal, selling a bunch of stuff, finding love, that suddenly the world will become rosier and all that ails us will fall away. Yet, happiness often comes on the heels of failure — though rarely soon enough, it seems.
You’ve heard the expression “Fail fast.” It’s about trying a bunch of new things and letting go of the ones that don’t work. So first I had to find people to call schools and organizations. I used Upwork and went through about four people before I found the two that consistently got results- i.e. they called the decision makers to set five-minute appointments for me to discuss the program. I failed fast with the callers by starting them all at once on different excel spread sheets for my target markets.
Failure number two. Schools are a hard sell. Most principals, counselors or PE teachers loved the program. Then it had to go to committee. Then through the budgeting process. Guess what? 99% of the schools couldn’t afford my program due to budget cuts or lack of funding. Many said that would have to get independent funding in order to implement the program. So, we moved on to organizations. Organizations totally got the concept and wanted the program. Problem? Funding. They were used to getting most of their programs free as they were mostly funded by other organizations or grants.
So, I started researching how to get grants. Getting a grant is a laborious, time-consuming and confusing process. In short you have to make sure your mission is in absolute synch with the grantor, then you typically have to earmark those who will get the funding. Which meant that I had to start getting commitments in writing about which organizations were really keen on using my program so I could list them in the grant.
Another problem with getting grants to fund the people who wanted the program is there are no guarantees that I’ll even get the grant!
So all that work could be for nothing.
I hired an expert for that to make sure that I was on the right track. But, after talking to many of the grantors, they told me that had hesitations about giving money to an unproven program — even though they loved the idea and said would go to bat for me.
My faith began to flag. Am I really going in the right direction? How many obstacles do I need to go through before I give up? So I turned to my friends. They told me to keep going. They said it was a much needed idea. They said to find a way in. They said hold fast. Today, a man in charge of programing for the Boys & Girls Clubs said he had faith in me and my program and that all girls need it. “Stay in touch. This is a great program.”
One of the things that I recommend to my clients and course participants when they aren’t getting any traction with the media is to tweak. If you send in a pitch or press release and no one is biting, try a twist. Approach your topic from another angle. Switch up the perspective. Go in the back door— a non-obvious angle that isn’t a direct pitch for your business, book, product, service or cause. Think small and get specific.
What seemed to spark real interest in the contacts I was speaking with is this idea of teens and college girls teaching each other. This is my big dream for my program to become self-sustaining in this way. So my business mentor said, “Let’s approach your course from this angle.” So I did.
I got immediate interest from a Boys & Girls Club that serves an at-risk community and already has volunteers that are groomed in community service through their Keystone program. Perfect.
The head of programming for a department of education said that she thinks she could wrangle 20 girls to train that could then be dispatched back to their schools. Fantastic.
Today, I talked to a man who works in five schools where Opioid addiction is rampant. When I told him about my vision he said, “I can’t believe you just said that. We have those girls at the ready and we’ve been wanting to do something like this the up their self-esteem.” Yes.
Keep your focus on the vision.
By focusing on my original vision, the big dream and bigger mission and slightly shifting the approach, I’m now getting a more enthusiastic response — because it directly taps into the organization’s bigger mission as well.
Am I still discouraged, downtrodden, despairing and weepy? Yes. I cried my eyes out last week, and sobbed on my sweetie’s shoulder, and starting thinking about tossing in the towel. Seriously. On other days, after making calls for hours and not reaching anyone who can make a decision or having people tell me that they get a similar program for free, I feel exhausted and hopeless and have the urge to gorge on cookies.
Then I think about all the time, energy, money and inspiration I put into this. And keep going.
I talked to Susan Kennedy yesterday (SARK) about my plight as she’s an expert in keeping a person’s creative spirits high. The advice she gave me was, “When I’m tempted to deflate in this absence, instead I’m going to fill myself with presence. I’m going to remind myself of my vision and certainty.”
Which all requires discipline and managing what I tell myself. After I bemoaned my plight I told Susan that I did believe that I could already feel that my program was instituted far and wide, helping girls all over the world — and that it had already happened and that I just needed to catch up with it. We talked about the fact that we have no idea how this program has touched people and where it will reach — now and in the future.
Does this mean I won’t have days when I feel it’s all hopeless. No. Like Jessi Klein I’ll still be mired in my own daily struggles, but thank God I don’t have to pump breast milk. When I imagine her life I think I may have gotten off easy. Though it doesn’t feel that way. I just have to get through this next patch, I tell myself. I will remember the discipline of keeping to my vision and certainty. And I invoke the question I’ve told you to ask yourself: “What is my next step?” That is my question. I keep following the answers, wherever they lead.
Live the life you dream of now
By Sherry Richert Belul
I was taking a walk with my good friend, Tricia about six months ago and we were talking about our dreams. (Not nighttime dreams, but the “this-is-what-I-would-love-my- life-to-look-like dreams.)
At one point in the conversation, we realized that whenever we talked about our dreams, they were always “over there” or “far away.” They were places in our lives we hadn’t gotten to yet. They were accomplishments or goals we hadn’t yet reached.
Our dreams were outside of our lives.
I remember us literally stopping, looking at one another, and saying, “This is not right. What if right now, right here, we began to look at everything about who we are and what we are doing as part of our dream lives?”
What if we are living the dream now, but perhaps it is the tiniest seed of the dream? Still, it is the dream and we can recognize it as such. Like if we were growing lettuce and we just planted a small lettuce pod. It wouldn’t look like lettuce and we couldn’t yet eat it for dinner, but we’d know for certain it was lettuce.
We would love our little lettuce pod by tending to it. We’d learn about the best ways to nurture it— how much sunshine, nutrients, and water it needs— and then we’d do whatever it takes to help our lettuce thrive. We wouldn’t whine or cry about not having lettuce for dinner. We’d know that it’s growing in our own backyard. Right here. Right now. Our dreams are just like that.
That one conversation changed my life.
Practice who you want to be daily
Living my dream life is a practice, not a goal
When I got home that day, I started a practice I call, “Livin’ the Dream,” which is an intentional daily practice of noticing and noting the myriad ways in which everything I want in my life already exists.
Here’s an example: My work in the world is about helping people celebrate themselves and the people they love. I created something called a Love List, which is a no-cost, all-love gift that someone can give which details all the reasons they love and appreciate someone.
Before I die, I want 1,000,000 people to give Love Lists as gifts because of my writings/teachings. Every day that someone writes to tell me that created a Love List for someone, I take a screen shot of that letter and I pin it on a secret Pinterest board called “Livin’ the Dream.” I write a little note about how happy I am that one more person created a Love List and one more person received a gift of love they will certainly cherish forever.
That one Love List does not make me someone who has yet inspired 1,000,000 lists. But it is a part of that larger goal, isn’t it? And we’re on the way.
I also pin things that underscore my good health, happy relationships, and creativity because each of these things plays a role in having exactly the kind of life I’d always imagined.
We live in a culture that is focused on what’s wrong and what’s missing. Advertising and news encourages us to look for the negative. What if, instead we took charge of our own happiness and started scanning all the time for what is right, what is working, how love is showing up in our lives, and the ways we are living exactly the life we’d always dreamed about?
Sherry Richert Belul says write love lists and shows you how
Don’t tether your happiness to something outside yourself
Right now I’ve got myself on an “advanced course” of learning for the Livin’ the Dream practice. I’m awaiting news on something that is deeply important to me. I spent about six months last year focused on writing a book proposal to submit to a contest for Hay House, a publishing company that I absolutely love.
This is a BIG dream of mine to be an author for Hay House. I truly did my best on the book proposal and spent a lot of time imagining myself as one of their authors. Even as I write this, I feel the adrenaline pulsing through my body. I want it so bad! But what if I don’t get it? I want it. But what if…?
As you can imagine, my monkey mind wants to have a field day with this. It wants me to believe that winning the book publishing contract IS the dream. And if I get it, I’m living the dream. And if I don’t, I’ve lost the dream.
My practice is this: I am livin’ the dream, no matter what.
I refuse to let my happiness be tethered to something I have absolutely no control over.
Here’s what I do instead: I am spending every moment of every waking hour living as if I am already a Hay House author. What would a Hay House author wear to lunch with a girlfriend? What would a Hay House author write in her newsletter? What would a Hay House author have for lunch?
Create a custom celebration book for someone you cherish
Do you see?
I get to have the experience of being a Hay House author by inviting in all of the feelings and experiences NOW. Because it’s not about achieving “the thing.” It’s about having the feeling of getting the thing. And not just for one moment, but sustained, over moments, hours, days that then turn into a lifetime.
Truth be told, why is it a dream to be a Hay House author? Because I want to have a wider reach. I want to be more engaged. I want to have an audience of people who respond to my work. I want to have a community of writers with whom I share ideas and support.
When I keep the “why” in mind, it allows me the room to step into that vision right now. I simply ask, “How can I have a wider reach today? How can I touch more people?” And I listen to the response that life gives. Then I go do what it says. Voila!
Suddenly I am engaged and participating in exactly the way I dreamed. But it isn’t outside of myself. It isn’t over there. It isn’t “I’ll do that when…” It doesn’t rely on someone outside of myself to choose me.
I choose to live my dream now.
Take one small intentional step today
The author, Wallace Wattles, writes about this in his book, “How to Get What You Want.”
He tells the story of a man who wants to own a department store, but right now all he has is a newsstand.
Wallace says, “Do not get the idea that there is some magical method by which you can successfully operate a department store on a newsstand capital.”
This isn’t about thinking that if we want something badly enough, it will come to us.
But the point is, if you are dreaming about a department store and you have a newsstand right now, you can choose to show up completely and wholeheartedly to your newsstand every day. You choose to do everything you can to make this newsstand as successful as possible. If you don’t hang your head low and think, “all I have is a newsstand,” if you go to work whistling, serving everyone with a big smile and great service, chances are your newsstand will grow bigger. And more successful.
Chances are the way you tend to that newsstand (like the lettuce pods!) will yield the growth you desire. Wallace says, “make every act and thought constructive.” He believes that if we stay positive in our acts and thoughts, if we always speak from the place of our dreams and visions, people will be drawn to us. He calls this a “place of increase.”
“Consider that your newsstand is one department of the store you are going to have; fix your mind on the department store, and begin to assimilate the rest of it. You will get it if you make every act and thought constructive.”
One day, it will be a department store.
What if it doesn’t grow and thrive the way you had imagined?
Think about it. You are still living in the seed of your dream. You still have a beautiful newsstand that attracts customers because you show up every day with a smile and kind word. You still have the essence of your dream — which is having work that enables you to serve people and impact their lives on a daily basis. You are happy. You love your days.
Whether your newsstand grows into a department store or not, or whether it takes twenty years longer than you had imagined is not the point.
The point is: can you love the process of showing up each day to tend to the dream of who you are and the life you want to live — no matter what?
Can you train yourself to scan for what is, instead of what is missing?
Wish for what you have
My son taught me one of the most beautiful lessons about all of this.
When he was three years old, it was his birthday and we had a chocolate cake for him. I lit the candles and whispered to my son to make a wish before he blew them out.
I watched him close his eyes, and blow out the candles.
His dad and I clapped and then I leaned in and whispered, “What did you wish for?”
My son whispered back: “a birthday cake.”
Talk about instantly stepping into a place of having what we want. We need to see that it is right here, in front of us.
When we are livin’ the dream, we learn to focus on what is on the plate in front of us. We see it, taste it, appreciate it.
Customized tribute books
One small step
Today, can you practice with this? Can you wish for something you already have and watch how good it feels to “get” it?
Can you take one small action step that is in service of a bigger dream and feel in your bones that this small step is a part of the dream? You are not outside of it.
You are livin’ the dream. You’re in it. It’s already yours.
In the midst of everyday life, it is easy to forget how extraordinary — and fleeting— our lives are. Thus, Sherry believes in a simple philosophy: make moments into gifts. She helps people appreciate who they are and the people they love through customized tribute books and other one-of-a-kind gifts that inspire us to celebrate, share, and build beautiful relationships. Don’t wait; say it now. Find Sherry here.
I was hit repeatedly at an Aikido training over the weekend. And it was an honor.
I was at a seminar from a Japanese Sensei who doesn’t come here often. It was considered a special occasion and rare opportunity for training. Some Japanese Senseis have harsher teaching methods than we are used to here. That is an understatement.
My teacher, Hans Goto Sensei, is gentle, but firm. He doesn’t single you out if you’re doing something incorrectly. Rather, when he sees that some of us are having trouble during a class, he stops, asks for a volunteer (typically, a high-ranking black belt or senior student) and takes apart the technique step-by-step so we can do it more easily.
In Japan, the sensei will yell “Dame!” which loosely translated means a combination of, “bad, dumb, wrong.” Or “no good; not serving its purpose; useless; broken.” Many times during training at Bay Marin Aikido, Hans Goto Sensei would say that if a teacher in Japan doesn’t “Dame” or correct you, they don’t care about you. So it’s good to get attention from them — even if it’s in the form of a “Dame.”
My “Dame” came during jo (staff) practice where the Japanese Sensei wanted me to use my body more and to extend the thrust. He came over to me and started yelling in Japanese, demonstrating how I was doing it wrongly and showing me the correct technique. All before the translator came over, who asked that everyone stop training to watch the “lesson.” There were 100 eyes on me as the Sensei was hitting me above my elbow each time he made point. Hitting me hard. I’m not sure he used the word “wimpy” to describe my form, but it was something close to that.
I kept attempting to make the corrections he “suggested” without success so he kept hitting and yelling. I kept my focus on improving instead of thinking of anything else. I had seen the other black belts he’d “Damed” turn bright red and start to tremble. I was determined not to do that, but to maintain my equanimity and dignity. Some people in my dojo had already told me how he’d made one person cry when they visited his dojo in Japan. Unless my arm or leg was snapped in two, this wasn’t going to be me.
When I told a friend about this she said, “At the first hit, I’d be out of there. Off to get a latte and shopping for shoes.” Of course a part of me wanted out of there. The other part welcomed the opportunity to polish my spirit. As Rumi says, “Criticism polishes my mirror.” My work will be done when nothing can scare, annoy, irritate, anger, or ruffle me. That is a long way off.
This is the same kind of training you’ll need for media interviews so you can stay “on message.” When a host or other guests “Dames” you you’ll be able to keep your equanimity and say what you came to say to your audience with ease and grace. It’s what I share in my sound bite course minus the hitting and yelling. Which you can get for the next 7 days for 50% off by using coupon code: BITE.
I’ve just finished creating a live course on verbal self-defense for girls. It is available to license. If this is something that your school, organization, or club is interested in please jet me an email. If you want to make sure that your daughter avoids the Trump Pu—sy grab, this would be the training for her.