Lisa Robbin Young

[Note: This is another excerpt from my forthcoming book "Creative Freedom" - which I'll be sharing in full with participants at Creative Freedom Live. Seats are going fast - we've got about 5 spots left. If you want one, it's time to get moving and get registered!]

In all my years as both a creative entrepreneur and a coach for other creatives, I've watched plenty of people rise and fall. From one-hit wonders to big-shot internet marketers, some have staying power while others go stale faster than an open bag of potato chips in Michigan's muggy Summer weather (trust me, it's bad!).

What is it that causes some creatives to rise to prominence while others remain in obscurity?

It's something that's fascinated me for years. We all know someone that we think doesn't deserve the spotlight they have. You may be more talented than they are, and yet they're the ones with all the attention. Sometimes they're slimy jerks, who've manipulated their way to the top, and other times, they're just "in the right place at the right time" because they've got connections you don't. And then there are the truly amazing superstars that give us hope, inspire us to go after our dreams, and become our role models on our creative journey - the ones who we believe deserve all the kudos and accolades they receive.

Regardless of HOW they rose to prominence in their field, they've worked hard to get there - even if the work was less than ethical.

But there's something I've found that all these people have in common - whether they're good-hearted, wonderful people or slimy, manipulative baddies. In fact, there are 4 must-have skills and traits that every single one of them have in common - regardless of their creative type. Without them, it becomes nearly impossible to achieve the success and longevity you desire as a creative entrepreneur.

4 Strengths Every Creative Entrepreneur Needs To Succeed


This one seems obvious, right? But clarity is very nuanced. What exactly do you need to be clear about?

For one thing, a creative entrepreneur need to be clear on who they are. My friend, Tajci Cameron was an international pop music superstar and she bagged it all because they were trying to cram her spirit into a mold that didn't fit the powerful, thoughtful, change-making woman she was becoming. She came to the states with just a few dollars, knowing no one. Decades later, Tajci's created her own path - one that's given her more joy and fulfillment than she ever had in her "glory days" when they made a doll in her image.

Tajci has one of those dolls on a shelf in her office. I was envious when I first saw that doll. But then it occurred to me that the doll represented just one small piece of who Tajci really is. She's so much more than a doll in a box. No box could ever contain the boundless light, life, and joy she brings to her fans (and the world) through her music, stories, and video journal. Tajci's found a way to stay true to who she is and still create in ways that are meaningful to her.

In addition to being clear on who you are, you need to be clear on how you want to show up in the world. You also need to be clear on your message and why it matters to your audience. These answers come with time and practice, but they are crucial to having staying power as a creative entrepreneur. Tajci could have given up years ago, but she knew that music was her path.

"Throughout my journey," she says, "knowing there was someone out there who could hear my voice and my songs gave me a sense of being heard, accepted, understood and loved... I am a singer/songwriter and passionate about my music, I use it to express myself and give voice to my soul- as free as I am courageous to let it be."


It takes guts to face regular rejection of your work - and not see it as a personal rejection. It takes guts to step out on faith and do something you've never done before. Yet courage is one of the biggest elements sorely lacking in so many talented creatives. When I was a kid, I was told to be offended if someone ever said I had potential. "It means you're not living up to it."

For better or worse, Justin Bieber's got courage. In a 2009 interview, Bieber recounts how he met Usher:

"Usher happened to roll up in his Range Rover. I ran up to him, and I was like, 'Usher, I love your songs. Want me to sing you one?' The politest possible way he could say no, he did. ... I took the hint. I didn't get to sing for him: He had to run into a studio session."

Kids are often the most courageous among us, and Bieber was still a kid at the time of this chance meeting with his idol. He didn't let that stop him. He knew this might be the only chance he had to meet or talk to Usher, and he took that chance. It didn't seem to pan out at first, which is more common than you might think. But thanks to a little help from his support team (we all need one), Justin did get that chance after all:

"He actually watched my videos — after my manager got to talking to him — and was like, 'I should have let this kid sing,' and flew me back to Atlanta where I got to sing for him in a proper setting."

You've got to have the courage to own your message and speak it into the world - in whatever format your Great Work "speaks". You've got to have courage to consistently show up as your true self - warts, sparkles and all, as I like to say. You've got to be willing to be unpopular, and sometimes borrow someone else's courage for yourself. Stephen King's book Carrie was rejected so many times he threw it in the trash. But his wife was courageous enough to dig it out of the trash and not let him give up.

You've also got to be courageous enough to admit and own your mistakes and make amends.


Courage creates opportunities for practice - which is how you build confidence. Confidence to nurture your message, nurture your audience, and nurture yourself. It's the difference between being a Freshman and a Senior in high school. My physics class had students from all grades in it. Sure, I was smarter than some of the Seniors in that class, but when we left the classroom, they were the ones exuding more confidence in the halls.  They knew who the best teachers were, which ones to avoid, and the underclassmen looked up to them, aspiring to be them in many cases.

When you've been at the game for a while, you know the rules, you know where you can bend them and where you have to press on through the hard stuff. You know what to avoid, what to accept, and what you can change. You know the difference you can make. That's the difference between courage and confidence. Courage comes from facing the unknown while confidence is built through knowing.

Confidence allows you to say no with grace and yes with enthusiasm and know when things are or are not a good fit for you. Confidence gives you a greater ability to trust the process, trust your team, and make strategic decisions that benefit you in the long term even if they're not so great for you in the short term. Many times, when working with clients, this is the piece that snaps together the fastest, once we've got their courage issues handled.

Confidence is NOT the same as arrogance. Arrogance is confidence in your own infallibility. No one is perfect. Arrogance drinking your own Kool-Aid and believing your own hype. Don't fall victim to it.

Cash Flow

Here's the kicker. Ya gotta have more money coming in than going out. Toni Braxton is the poster child of this issue. After filing bankruptcy, she worked her way back and launched a self-funded stint in Vegas. Just after she renewed her contracts, she was diagnosed with medical conditions that kept her from keeping her commitments. She filed bankruptcy again, this time knowing she never be able to perform at her peak again. "I'm definitely on a budget," she said in a 2012 interview.

Where's the money coming from? Where's it going to? What do you have set aside or saved up for the unexpected? You can run on credit for a while, but, like Braxton, it'll eventually come back to bite you. The sooner you can get in the black and stay there, the better off you'll be.

I talked about all this in today's Facebook Live. Here's the replay:

[Note: This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Creative Freedom. If you'd like to be part of the advance team and get more sneak peeks of the book, contact me for more info.]

There's a quote often attributed to John Lennon:
"Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end."

Dreams are kind of like that. It sounds trite, I know, but the reality is that if something really matters to you, there are really only two things that will prevent you from pursuing it in some way:

1. Death (in which case, you're no longer dreaming).
2. Something else that matters more (in which case, it's no longer your dream).

Death is fairly self-explanatory, so we'll leave that here and explore option two.

What matters more than your dream?

When I was a kid, I fancied myself as the next Madonna or Paula Abdul. I was a pretty good singer, and I spent countless hours practicing dance routines for the world tour I imagined I would lead once I became a rock star. I studied music at college, got a degree, and even moved west in pursuit of that dream.

Then life happened: single motherhood, relocation, marriage, second kid, etc.

For years, while my dreams of professional achievement languished, I put my focus, energy, and money into being a wife and mom. That was my priority. I made it so. I chose that life over pursuing my dream.

There are all kinds of "reasons" I could give as to why I made that choice. Here are a few:

  • I want to be a good mom... or at least be seen as a good mom. And good moms don't abandon their family to pursue their dreams.
  • I have a "sure thing" here. It's better to be safe than sorry. Who knows if I could really be successful anyway?
  • I made my bed, now it's time to lie in it. I need to honor this commitment no matter what.

Ultimately, I let guilt, shame, and fear dictate my priorities. Choosing to be seen in a certain light (by my family, friends, and children) were more important to me than pursuing my dreams.

So I didn't.

bigdreamsboxFor more than a decade, my dreams sat in a metaphorical box on a shelf in the attic of my soul. I didn't touch my musical instruments (I owned seven). I didn't even play the radio much. Music was all but absent in my life, with one exception: community theater.

I was somewhat of a fixture at the local theater. Ted, the Artistic Director, knew I was talented and a hard worker, so I was practically guaranteed a role every season. Usually not the lead, but something that allowed me to be in the spotlight, share my gifts, and get me out of the house a few nights a week during the run of the show.

That was my "fix" and, for a while, it worked. I was happy to contribute and be part of something that gave me a small glimpse into the life I wasn't ambitious enough to pursue because of other "reasons".

It was enough. Until it wasn't.

A friend and I had approached Ted about doing a holiday musical revue. He loved the idea. As we began rehearsals, Ted told me that ours would be the last show produced at the theater. After 15 years, he was closing his doors.

At first, it didn't register how much I depended on Ted and this rag-tag bunch of musical misfits. We all had "other lives" that kept us busy - teachers, lawyers, service workers, college students - but on Ted's stage we were all equals. We were all craftsmen.

We were family - and Ted was breaking up the band, so to speak.

I didn't realize, until recently, how important that creative outlet was for me. It was my primary source of adult conversation and a safe space to practice my art. It was also a happy-medium for a married mom of two with responsibilities and "reasons" that kept me from pursuing my dream.

And then it was gone.

I briefly toyed with the notion of taking over the theater, but my life and financial situation at the time just couldn't swing it. That's when everything in my life started to unravel. My kid ran away and ended up in jail, we filed bankruptcy, I lost my car, my home, and I hit the skids - quite literally.

I was driving my husband's car on the freeway. As I started to change lanes, it spun out of control. I threw my hands into the air as the car swished and fishtailed across three lanes, landing in the ditch, facing oncoming traffic. I looked up just in time to feel the rush of wind as an 18-wheeler sped past.

Somehow, I was still alive. Unscathed. Awake. The car had stalled out, but was otherwise fine. A Freudian moment.

I reasoned with myself that I should probably be dead. The only reason I survived was because, as Lennon put it, it's not the end.

So why I was still alive? What was this wake-up call all about?

Darth Vader told me to record 300 songs.

God talks to me in the voice of James Earl Jones - very deep, precise, and clear. Each morning for a few weeks, I posed the "why am I still alive?" question during my sacred practice. One day the notion to spend a year working on a new album crossed my mind. That thought led to doing 100 songs - just 2 songs a week. That's when Darth Vader boomed in.

"300 songs!"

I've learned not to argue when my inner Darth starts talking. So I started on the journey that has now become my 300 songs project.

Jim Rohn famously said "Become a millionaire not for the million dollars, but for what it will make of you to achieve it." About 100 songs into the project, it became clear that it was less about the number of songs, and more about who I was becoming in the process of making them.

Dreams vs. Fantasies

I was unpacking my dusty box of dreams, recalling the value of these old treasures - some of which still had meaning for me, others from which I was finally ready to move on. I pulled out those old songs, those dance routines, and I had to decide what my dream really was.

See, your dream is relentless. It persists even when you don't want it to. You almost can't let it go because it keeps coming back to haunt you. Fantasies, on the other hand, are something that you can plow a lot of time, energy, and money into, but at the end of the day, you feel a relief to let it go.

Dancing was like that for me. I still love to dance, but I'm almost 100 pounds heavier than I was when I dreamed of being the next Paula Abdul. While I'm working on getting into better shape, the thought of re-conditioning my body to the level of a professional dancer feels like a punishment worse than death!

When I gave up on the dream of becoming a dancer, I felt unimaginable relief. Can I still dance? SURE, but on my terms - without the pressure of maintaining a dancer's body.

Becoming the next Paula Abdul or Madonna was my fantasy, entertaining and inspiring people is my dream

In fact, I can't imagine my life without a spotlight and inspiration in some way, but if I could never dance again, I don't think I'd cry too much about it. As a kid, I believed that's what I should do, if I wanted to be famous. I should learn to sing, act, dance, and play an instrument - and be good at all of them. That way, I've got a much better chance at "stardom".

But as I unpack this box of dreams as an adult, it isn't about the "shoulds" of the world around me. I'm older now, and while I still care what people think of me, it matters far less than it did a decade ago when my roles defined me.

That's not who I am anymore.

Those priorities don't matter like they used to. I stopped defining myself by what I couldn't have and began to shift my focus to what I really wanted - what truly mattered to me.

And that's the point. When something else - even fear - matters more than honoring the Divine call of your dream, you'll try to ignore it. But if it really matters to you, it will not remain silent. It will fight to be heard. It will wake you from your anesthetized way of living. It will violently shake you - with the force of an 18-wheeler - until you make a choice.

Then you will find a way to pursue it - in stolen moments while the kids are at school, or while waiting on hold with the power company. You'll get up early, stay up late, and make any excuse you can to take even the smallest step toward realizing your dream.

Or you will choose to let it go. No longer a priority. No longer the dream it once was. In which case, it's not your dream anymore, so it no longer needs pursuing.

Mourning the loss of a dream, or letting it go joyfully (your choice) is not uncommon. Kids do it every day, with much less drama and heartache. They find something new that captures their imagination, and they pursue it until it's not worth pursuing anymore. Everything they pick up and put down acts like a filter, helping them draw closer and closer to what it is that really matters to them.

For me, dance and drama led me to refine my skills as a storyteller, a performer, and to be more comfortable in my skin - critical skills that make me a better musician, author, and coach. For a time, I thought dancing was part of my dream. Dancing wasn't my dream, but it pointed the way.

Will your dreams always manifest the way you envisioned? Not likely. But that won't deter you if it's really your dream. Many are the stories of elderly men and women who found success with their dreams much later in life. Who cares how long it takes? The pursuit is part of the work of building the dream in the first place.

And should there come a time when other choices, other goals, other priorities truly do matter more than your dusty old dream, then pack it away for a time, pass it on, or simply let it go.

In the end, whatever you choose will be okay. And if it's not okay...



Feeling stuck and unsure of your direction? I am honored to be co-hosting a webinar on May 12 with Tajci Cameron that might help. Tajci's a former Croatian pop star who left it all to try her hand at the American Dream, only to get stuck herself. Join us as we explore the steps she took to awaken to joy and purpose in her life and break the cycle of pain and fear that was holding her back. Click here to meet Tajci and register for this special event!

This week, I'm in Nashville on a recon mission. Hubby and I are looking at possibly relocating, and Nashville is one of the towns on our short list. We booked one of those extended stay hotel rooms with a full kitchen, so it feels as much like home as possible. Which means I have a sink full of dirty dishes every night after dinner. 🙂

tajciIn the few days I've been here, I've scheduled multiple meetings, including an impromptu connection with Tajci Cameron (international performing artist and creator of Waking Up In America - here's a pic of us from last night's Music City Roots show). I've also created worksheets for this week's Creative Freedom Apprenticeship, had some pool time with the fam, read two books, and done a good bit of driving to look at various neighborhoods.

In short, we're very busy and highly effective. My husband has been sleeping in, watching TV, and his anxiety is visibly lessened. The kid is relaxed and easy to manage. Even though we've got a lot on our plates, we're  navigating the week with aplomb, and really enjoying our time together.

There's a joke I sometimes hear about how people seem to get everything done just before leaving for vacation. Parkinson’s Law reminds us that work expands to fill the available time. Which means if you've only got 45 minutes to get "everything" done before you hit the road for a 9-hour drive to Nashville, you'll find a way to cram one last plate in the dishwasher so the sink is empty when you get home.

How is it we manage to get so much more done in so little time? And more importantly, how can you channel that kind of efficiency on a daily basis - not just in the 45 minutes before you have to leave town?

In order to really capitalize on this kind of energy, you need to understand two "laws" of human potential: Parkinson's Law and Yerkes-Dodson Law.

Putting Parkinson's To Work For You

In high school, most of my classes were pretty easy for me. I was one of those kids that didn't need to study much, and most projects could be completed in a day or two before the due date. Instead of methodically planning out an easy approach to completing the project over the course of three or four weeks, I'd spend one night figuring out what I was going to do, and the night or two before the due date finishing the project. Looking at the school habits of my teenager and his friends, I know I wasn't the only person to behave this way. But I didn't understand why until I was much older.

As a kid, there was always something more interesting, exciting, or fun to experience which subjugated homework towards the deadline. I was frequently found finishing homework on the bus ride to school, because the bus ride was boring, and there was nothing else to do. So that was the excuse I gave when people asked why I procrastinated. It seemed to be a great explanation, until I understood these two laws.

Parkinson's Law compresses or expands time like a Jedi mind trick. In essence, it's about focus. If you carry yourself as if you only have a bus ride to complete your homework, you'll get more of your homework done in a shorter period of time - even if you're not on the bus. As an adult, I've come to love using a timer. Not only has it helped me get a better handle on how much time it really takes me to accomplish a task, it's also put a little pressure on me to complete projects within the time alloted. I could take all day to draft copy for a sales page, but if I give myself 45 minutes, I get it done because I have "fearsome focus." That's a phrase I picked up from Dave Lakhani's book "How To Sell When Nobody's Buying." By locking down my attention to ONE thing for a period of time, focus is high. Plus, the small amount of "pressure" I put on myself to do the best I can in the shortest amount of time, increases my performance... which is where Yerkes-Dodson comes in.

Yerkes and Dodson who?

While a lot of people have heard about Parkinson's Law, fewer are familiar with the Yerkes-Dodson law, which states that we need a certain amount of mental stimulation to prime the pump on getting things done. But only to a point. when things get too stressful, or we're overstimulated, we shut down and our ability to perform the task at hand decreases significantly.

In the above scenario, the timer gives me a constraint, and puts some "pressure" on me to perform - to get stuff done. The pressure creates enough mental stimulation for me to stay engaged with the task, but not so much pressure that my mind melts down and leaves me sobbing and rocking back and forth in the corner of my office.

For me, the timer is great because if I need more time, I can always add more - so there's "pressure" that I can control. But the threat of the "DING" happening before I've completed my project is just enough pressure to keep my mind stimulated and motivated. It's like a boss giving me a deadline. I've learned that setting my own deadlines doesn't always keep me engaged, but having an externally driven deadline (clients waiting for a call, program release dates) gives me enough motivation to keep things moving... to a point.

Too much pressure, and I crumble.

Ever had a meltdown when your boss is standing over your shoulder? Doing even the most simple task becomes frustrating and difficult when you're feeling too much stress or pressure. My son was watching an episode of Spongebob Squarepants where Squidward had challenged Spongebob to learn everything about providing a completely high-end dining experience. Spongebob ended up unlearning everything else - including his name. So when he was asked for his name by the patron Squidward was trying to impress, Spongebob brokedown in a pool of worthlessness because he couldn't remember his own name. The whole charade fell apart.

Like so many things in life, "pressure" and "stress" are relative. Some people thrive with lots of deadlines, while others crumble if you look at them sideways. The trick to putting the Yerkes-Dodson Law to work for you is to recognize which types/levels of stress are motivating and which are debilitating. When I'm working with clients in the Creative Freedom Apprenticeship, I emphasize regularly that you have to understand what works for YOU in YOUR specific situation. One man's stress is another man's stimulus.

If my timer didn't allow me the ability to re-set it, or when my 45 minutes was up someone came in with a red pen to tear apart my work, my results probably wouldn't nearly be as good. Just like when I get home from Nashville, knowing the sink is empty is what really matters. If half the dishes in the dishwasher didn't get clean, I don't care. But if my Mother-in-law called to say she was coming over for tea, I'd be falling all over myself to get the dishes re-washed before she got there (and probably break a few along the way).

Yes, that's my personal baggage talking there, but I hope you see the point.

Accomplish more in less time

Creative entrepreneurs can often agonize unnecessarily about their projects. We lay in anguish for far too long about minor tweaks that just slow everything down.

"my website isn't finished because..."

"the new album's on hold until..."

"I don't have the right/enough..."

While I'm not a big fan of fail fast and often, I do believe we can often do more in less time if we'd just stop tweaking. Sometimes it's a case of perfectionism. Many times, it's a lack of proper motivation and perspective.

Marie Forleo has used what I call the "Oprah incentive" as an example of how to accomplish things faster. She says that if Oprah called and asked for a 3 minute video within the hour you wouldn't procrastinate. You'd get off the stick and get stuff done.

Sadly, that's a superficial assessment. In some cases, yes, you'd flip out your video camera and do the best you can. Sometimes, though, the pressure to perform would be too great. You'd choke up, feel way too overwhelmed and yes, you would procrastinate, because there'd be too much pressure on you.

It's easy to say "suck it up buttercup" but there's a reason why it doesn't always work that way. (tweet this)

So while it's true we can all get more done in less time than we typically believe is possible, it's still important to understand your own level of preparedness, focus, and ability to handle stress and pressure. The more pressure you can/want to take, the easier it will be to double your productivity. But everyone has the ability to accomplish even a small increase in productivity and efficiency by taking advantage of Parkinson's and Yerkes-Dodson.

They're like the Wonder Twins of personal efficiency.

Here are some specific ways you can customize your own efficiency plan and accomplish more of what really matters in less time:

1. Apply Fearsome Focus

Remove distractions - even if it's only for 15-20 minutes at a time. Turn off the phone, the email, the doorbell, and let people know you can't be disturbed. If we can do it for important phone calls, we can do it for our important tasks. Barring a real emergency, don't let other people's priorities become your own. Remember, you train people how to treat you based on what they expect from you and what you've come to accept from them.

2. Clarity is King

Know what you're going after and don't let other things get in the way during your period of focus.

3. Play DUMB

The beauty of D.U.M.B. goals is that the size and scope doesn't matter. Whatever you want to accomplish needs to be Do-able, Understandable, Meaningful, and Believable for you... regardless of whether or not other people get it. Just because I can sit and focus for 45 minutes doesn't mean you can. So focus for 3 minutes, or 3 hours... whatever floats your boat.

4. Apply Optimal Pressure

While this one won't always work (sometimes someone else will impose their own set of pressures and deadlines on you), when you can find your balance point between getting stuff done and falling apart, you'll find your peak performance zone. Just remember: too much pressure and you'll explode; too little and you'll be cramming to get your homework done on the bus ride to school.

5. Check Your Thermostat

Getting stuff done is as much about your attitude as anything else. When I worked in the high-pressure automotive industry, I juggled lots of projects every day with relative ease. Once I moved away from that environment and slowed my tempo, I recognized that I couldn't handle that much pressure all the time (nor did I want to). Likewise, when I go into project launch mode, I know that a certain amount of extra stress and pressure comes with the territory. That means your stress thermostat will likely change over time. Be present to and aware of that. Be willing to be where your at - without comparing yourself to someone else.

Remember, success is a destination and you are already there. What are the tools, strategies, and concepts that help you be most efficient and effective in the world? Share your ideas in the comments and let's help each other do more of what really matters.