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If you have a brain that doesn’t work the way it seems like everyone else’s does, or at least the way people tell you it should, that can be challenging. But can it also be a source of strength.
On this episode of the Autonomous Creative, we’re talking about neurodiversity and how to identify the tools you need to move from intention to action.
I’m joined by Emily Zilber, a curator with twenty years of professional experience in art museums and cultural organizations. Emily was diagnosed with ADHD in her late 30s, and now brings strengths-based, neurodiversity-informed coaching skills to artists, creatives, and cultural workers.
Join us as we explore the different frameworks for understanding neurodiversity, how it impacts creative life and business, and the importance of understanding one’s brain’s unique needs.
More from the episode
- What is a “neurodiversity-affirming framework” and how can it be more useful than a “disorder model”?
- Does laziness exist? If not, what the hell is it?
- How developing self-trust is a key part of the puzzle
- What is “pre-deciding” and how does it help with getting things done?
- How pricing your work appropriately ties into doing better work and having a better life
- How to look at pursuing goals as an experiment and why that might be key for solving big problems.
Through Avid Gaze Coaching & Consulting, Emily Zilber offers support and strategy for artists, creatives, and cultural workers. She brings twenty years of professional experience as a curator, educator, and writer in art museums, cultural organizations, and higher education to her work with clients, as well formal training in strengths-based, neurodiversity-informed coaching skills.
Connect with Guest
Click here to view the transcript!
Emily Zilber: If you are pricing in such a way that it’s not in alignment with your capacity, it’s not gonna work. I went through a couple of different phases in pricing how I work with clients.
And ultimately the price that I charge now, if the price that I ask now, is a price that allows me to bring my full self to the clients that I work with and serve them better. And also like be there for the other parts of my life.
And this kind of multifaceted, fulfilling kind of spectrum of interests.
Jessica Abel: What does it really take to become successful as a writer or artist?
There are a lot of destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like. We’re told we shouldn’t care about worldly success or money. We’re told that if we’re good enough, everything would magically fall into place. That’s a lie and it keeps us struggling, baffled, and hungry for any shred of information that might shed light on how to keep making the work we love. That’s why I get any two artists or writers or any creatives really together in a room. And it’s a foregone conclusion that the conversation will turn to money and the nitty gritty reality of being a professional, creative.
I’m cartoonist and creative business. Coach Jessica Abel.
In my own life. The studio visit back channel conversations with other artists where we share our insights and hacks anxieties and red flags have been critical to any success I’ve achieved.
And now. I’m bringing that conversation to you. This is the autonomous creative.
Jessica Abel: This time on the autonomous creative, we’re talking about neurodiversity and how neuro-diversity and other real life constraints, impact creative life and business, inspiring creativity, and also generating challenges that need to be addressed.
My guest today is Emily Zilber a coach who uses strengths-based neurodiversity-informed approaches to support artists, creatives, and cultural workers.
Emily has a background as a curator of contemporary decorative arts at institutions like the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum. She teaches, she consults, and she’s on the board of many awesome organizations. And she’s pivoting from this high visibility, high pressure curatorial career, just starting her own business as a coach.
I’m so excited to have this conversation today because so many people in this amazing community are neurodivergent, and it’s so common for creatives to have non-standard brains.
But whether a person has a clinical diagnosis or not, every person has all kinds of strengths and weaknesses that are inherent to our physical and mental makeup, along with all kinds of external factors of where and when, and what kind of family were born into, the financial conditions of our lives today, just plain luck, and the wide range of other humans who happen to need things from us.
How we look at neurodiversity, and leveraging it, managing it, whatever we need to do, can give us insight and tools for grappling with all the realities and constraints that we live with. And taking action despite everything, or with everything included, is how we live lives full of awesome.
We’ll dive right in, right after this
This episode of the Autonomous Creative is brought to you by the Creative Engine. I talk to working creative people all the time, both on the show and in our membership, the Autonomous Creative Collective, and one of the biggest challenges they struggle with is procrastination.
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Now let’s start the show.
Jessica Abel: Let’s start off with a big, big picture question. I want you to sort of frame this up for us in terms of, you mentioned in the materials you provided to me, a neurodiversity affirming framework. I mean, what do you do? How do you support clients using a neurodiversity affirming framework? What does that mean?
Emily Zilber: we often think about different diagnoses that kind of fall under the neurodiversity umbrella as disorders because they are pathologized, right?
They’re in the DSM. You get a diagnosis. A neurodiversity affirming framework essentially looks at that like we look at biodiversity, right?
It’s a fact. It’s not a judgment. It’s not a disorder. It’s not something to be corrected. There are lots of different kinds of human brains out there in the world.
Just like there are lots in of different kinds of plants, animals, flora, fauna, and it’s part of what makes this world beautiful and worth living in.
And so when we approach neurodiversity from a sort of affirming standpoint rather than a disorder model, we get to say, Okay, neurodiversity, like other kinds of forms of diversity is natural. It’s a valuable form of human diversity.
It’s one kind of diversity within a whole host of other kinds of human diversity, and instead of the inherent disorder being the thing that makes having a neurodivergent brain challenging, social dynamics are at fault here, right?
It’s, it’s, social dynamics, place, different kinds of brains and hierarchy as opposed to frameworks where we really work with the sense that there’s lots of different ways to process information, to see the world, to engage with what’s around us, and we need to accommodate that as opposed to expecting everyone to sort of conform to a single type.
Jessica Abel: Totally agreed, and I love that you compared that to biological diversity. It just makes so much sense to me.
I, I don’t have a brain that has been diagnosed as anything in particular, but I know I’m not like everybody else. That the way I think and the way I engage with the world is as diverse as anyone.
It’s just in a different direction than what has been pathologized and it presents its own challenges at times. So I think that’s really, really helpful. Thank you.
Emily Zilber: Yeah, exactly. I think it helps to think about everyone is neurodiverse, right? Not everyone is neurodivergent.
Jessica Abel: When I was first hearing this word, yeah, I heard neurodivergent and I was like, I don’t love using that. And that’s what the person I was speaking to was using about themselves.
Emily Zilber: Yeah.
Jessica Abel: And, and I, so I was using it, but I felt like… it’s not, I mean, divergent from what? Like what standard? Like defining standard is the question.
Emily Zilber: Exactly. We think about that as like divergent from a societal norm, but even somebody whose brain works with that societal norm, where like those things make sense for the way that they operate in the world.
They’re also part of a neurodiversity framework, right.
They have their own brain and it’s a part of this big, beautiful kind of stew of, of brains
Jessica Abel: Yeah. And things about standard functioning trigger me in different directions. They, they have issues that present themselves that might not be an issue for somebody with ADHD.
Emily Zilber: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. So, all awesome and a good place to start. So can you just tell us a little bit about your journey from curatorial work to coaching?
Journey from curatorial work to coaching
Emily Zilber: Yeah, and I would say one of the things that, that sort of learning about my own neurodivergence has allowed me to do is accept that I have lots of different parts of my identity and they don’t, I don’t just have to pick one lane, right?
So I still do work as a curator, even as I work as a coach and sort of work one-on-one with artists. I have always been a creative person.
I spent a lot of time in settings where I was praised for things that were socially acceptable and my creativity was not necessarily centered.
I often thought that my creativity didn’t matter to me because I couldn’t necessarily figure out ways to do it even when things got hard.
I can look in retrospect and say, okay, well you didn’t have the right structure. You didn’t have the supports, right? And so I went into a very structured way of thinking about art and art history and how artists can show their work.
And that was through the sort of world of curatorial practice through the museum world.
When I was diagnosed with ADHD, um, which is highly hereditary. My mother has it, my children are neurodivergent.
That was during a time shortly after I did have my kids, which is often during like big hormonal shifts is when people might get a diagnosis.
So we think about the move into adulthood, the move into parenthood. A lot of people end up getting their diagnoses as they’re sort of going through menopause or perimenopause.
I was able to use that understanding to take a look at the things that had been really hard for me that I had never been able to sort of make myself enjoy or fit into or really feel at home in, in my work as a curator and say, okay, maybe it wasn’t me.
Maybe I was trying to, to shove this like square peg in a round hole all the time, and instead to think about what’s the work that I really loved doing as a curator.
It was connecting with people, helping people solve problems, helping artists figure out how to figure out what they wanted to say, the resources that they wanted to employ what they had at their disposal, and to realize something big and meaningful and important to them.
I would do that as a, as a curator working with contemporary artists to realize projects. And I said those are the things that come naturally to me.
My brain is one that responds to being stimulated by other people, which is different than a brain that needs to research and write academic papers. Right.
My brain is one that needs to have a certain level of stimulation and also deadlines, which being in tandem with another person, right, gives you.
So as I explored and got to really know myself better in a new way, right, in my late thirties, I also was really lucky to connect with the peer coaching community.
I think I see somebody from, from that community on the call today.
And she realized that a lot of the work I’d been doing, essentially coaching artists and working with students and working as an educator had this analog in formal coaching practices.
And so pursued some additional training there, not only to support myself, but also to support others. And I ramped up that part of my work.
And I see it as part of this kind of bigger, larger, sort of bouquet of things that I do.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, I mean, ’cause you do still work as a curator, but you don’t work formally as a like head of a museum or head of a collection or something like that, the way that you might’ve done in the past.
Emily Zilber: No, no. And I stepped away, in fact, from a really big, from a really big job.
Some of that was because I wanted to prioritize certain things in my life, but a lot of it was also because I had to really think about my capacity,
what certain kinds of jobs required of me, what I wanted to give my time to.
Knowing your capacity
Emily Zilber: And doing it through this new framework allowed me to make some different choices that I might not have made when there was only one option for success, right?
The only option is to get the big job to run yourself ragged working, you know, 80 hours a week for the institution with the big name. I had great experiences there.
There’s also some things that are maybe a fundamental mismatch with my capacity levels and what I need in order to function as a happy and human– happy human person in the world.
Jessica Abel: I would also suggest that 80 hours a week of work
Emily Zilber: It’s not sustainable for anyone.
Jessica Abel: It’s I just like not, okay.
Emily Zilber: Not sustainable for anyone.
Jessica Abel: Not sustainable. Yeah.
I mean, one of the biggest things we talk about in the Creative Focus community overall is this idea of figuring out what’s sustainable for you and what works for you, regardless of whether you have a neurodiverse diagnosed brain or not.
Like, you’re always needing to think about what is your capacity and it changes all the time depending on what’s going on in your life.
I know Lou, when they were warming up the, uh, the crowd when I wasn’t here yet was asking about what happened for people in the pandemic.
And I think the pandemic increased some people’s capacity and decreased other people’s capacity. It was very dependent on what your life situation was at the time.
Emily Zilber: Yeah, and I think for a lot of people, showed them what their capacity could be if they took out these things that were inordinately draining. Took them out of their life, right?
That they could grow capacity in areas that really mattered to them because these other things were not on the table. There were people who, you know, were not having to show up to jobs where they had to try so hard and expense so much energy masking or putting on persona to get through the day that then they had energy to devote to other areas of, of their life and practice.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. And on a simpler level, there are people who had an easier time. My brother-in-law was commuting from Baltimore to Connecticut, so his life changed.
He had so much more capacity to spend time with his family and hasn’t had to go back to the office yet, thank goodness.
So yeah, I mean, I think this, all of these things are very… there’s a flow and I think that one of the things that getting explicit about these kinds of frameworks can really help with is strategically looking at what are those factors that go into your capacity right now, but also your priorities right now.
Like, how are you going to choose what’s most important and actually see those things through.
Emily Zilber: Well, and I think, I think you have to think about this in the same kind of framework, right? As a universal design kind of framework. If we structure things to sort of support the most different kinds of brains and approaches and ways that people sort of engage with the world, everyone benefits.
As opposed to thinking about kind of a neurodiversity affirming framework only benefiting neurodivergent folks.
Jessica Abel: Right, and like taking away in some way other Yeah. Especially in an institutional context. I think that makes a ton of sense. A lot of people here are dealing with this more in their creative life where there’s more flexibility around and maybe too much flexibility around what they’re get done. Right.
So let’s, let’s, let’s switch gears to that a little bit.
Balancing advantages and disadvantages
Jessica Abel: One of the things you said to me in preparing here was that there’s kind of a balancing maybe advantages and challenges question with neurodiversity, lots of kind of neurodiversity of, on the one hand, having potentially more openness, more curiosity, more creativity, more ability to kind of jump from thing to thing and see connections.
All those kinds of things, versus maybe a lack of starting energy, having issues with estimating time, challenges around planning and kind of seeing how things are gonna play out over the longer term.
Does that sort of sum it up for you? Is there, is there more that we need to?
Emily Zilber: You’re talking about, when we come to challenges, a lot of things that sort of fall under this rubric of what we think of as executive function, which is this kind of self-management.
Whether it’s self-restraint or the ability to organize, the ability to self motivate, to regulate emotions, those are all challenging for, again, for everybody, even people who are not neurodivergent, their executive function depleted at times by certain things.
But that’s sort of baked in.
On the other hand, and again, everyone with ADHD or ASD or any kind of neurodivergence is– there’s no one profile.
Everyone has to really get to know their own profile. But generally speaking, we think about folks who have ADHD being able to really quickly process ideas and information, which makes us really good conversationalists.
It means we’re highly adaptable. We can shift like when we had a challenge in, uh, coming into the conversation today.
We can see from one starting point lots and lots of different possibilities.
The problem might be narrowing those possibilities, but that ability to think about how the boundaries of an idea are limitless, that’s a real advantage to somebody who is working in a creative field.
We can also think about sensory sensitivity as a part of many profiles for neurodivergent folks and so that can be a challenge, right? You may need a certain kind of environment or a certain kind of stimulation in order to like get yourself ready and going and get things done.
We can also have sensory sensitivities in areas that support our work, right?
We’re a really strong visual or auditory processor, and that translates into how we bring what we see into what we make and share with the world.
It’s great to have that ability to hyperfocus to get into like, kind of states of flow.
Ultimately, especially with, with ADHD, we think of it not as, not as a sort of type of brain that doesn’t have enough attention. Right?
Like the deficit is a misnomer. It’s more a question of, you have the surfeit of attention, but you struggle to regulate it.
And so that’s really great when the attention is going to all of these wonderful fun things that, that kind of help you be who you are as an artist in the world.
And that’s really hard when you get excited about getting started, you have issues with regulating the energy through the long stretch of a project.
And we may not finish things and we may have a hard time committing to things. It’s very much a set of challenges and a set of really positive attributes too potentially.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, and I mean, I’ve been teaching in art school for 25 years and I have to say that I would guess the majority of my students are possibly undiagnosed, but, uh, neurodiverse in various ways.
I feel like there’s just a huge overlap between people who are, who would commit themselves to a creative life and who are somewhere on some spectrum.
And I think that’s, I’ve always loved and appreciated those parts of the wild creativity and the kind of making, being able to make connections between things on the fly and all those kinds of things.
I mean, there’s huge advantages, but of course also disadvantages.
And you offered up this question you get all the time, why can’t I get my actions to match up with my intentions? Why can’t I do the things I know I wanna do?
Now I get that all the time. I mean, that’s literally what we do in the Creative Focus Workshop. So how do you look at that question?
Why can’t I get my actions to match my intentions?
Emily Zilber: It’s a hard one, right? Because I think also we’re, we’re taught often as artists that the myth of wanting to do something, the myth of like having the passion to do something should be enough without
Jessica Abel: Don’t get me
Emily Zilber: Without… right?
We, we feel the same way about that.
Without taking a step back and saying, what tools do I need to actually move from intention to action? What’s keeping me from doing this? And is it things, are they things that I can, like, pay attention to and, and get resourced behind?
If I’m overwhelmed by this, how do I take a step back and figure out what the smallest possible action is? How do I set myself up for success in terms of the environment that I need to be working in?
Instead, we get this, I can’t do it in this framework that everybody else is able to do it in. And so of course, I must not be committed. I must not be engaged.
It must not be important to me when usually that person, the person who’s asking me that question, has not, not had the opportunity to like honor who they are and what their unique brain needs to move forward.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, and I mean, speaking as somebody who doesn’t have anything diagnosed in particular, like, it’s hard for me too. You know, it’s not
Emily Zilber: Yeah.
the creative engine
Jessica Abel: This is just hard. One of the things I say all the time is that it’s just really, really normal to have difficulties with trying to follow through on anything that’s not assigned.
Anything that– you said you appreciate deadlines. Anything that doesn’t have an external deadline, it doesn’t have, it’s not on somebody else’s agenda.
It’s your thing that you wanna do. They are the things that matter most to us, but those are the things that are the most difficult to move forward cause you have to just maintain not only the process, but the self-belief that it’s worth doing in the face of seeing yourself not doing the thing, in any given moment.
And one of the things I use for this is, I use this framework called the Creative Engine which goes through four phases, which is the Collect Phase, then the Decide Phase, then the Act Phase, and then the Reflect Phase. And it sounds very straightforward, right?
It’s like this is how creative projects happen. Collect is when you do research or you come up with your ideas, or you outline, you do that kind of thing. Decide is where you pin down what direction you’re going, and you say, this is the project I’m gonna work on.
This is the element of the project. This is the way I’m gonna go through it. And then you get into the Act Phase and you’re doing the thing and executing on it.
And then you need to reflect on how did that go? And that usually puts you back into Collect because then you need to like get more resources, say.
Or answer some question that you didn’t have the answer to. And that can happen on like a work session basis. You go through all of those.
It can also happen at the scale of the entire project. The number one thing I see people failing at is Decide. Collecting is fine. Everybody loves collecting and
Emily Zilber: That’s the fun part.
Jessica Abel: Really fun. Deciding is fun too, though. I say I, I would assert that deciding is fun, but you have to, it’s scary because it’s, that’s when you’re committing to something.
Emily Zilber: Yes.
Jessica Abel: And it’s the biggest spot that people get stuck at, and I feel like that’s something where, people with ADHD in particular have an issue with that because they want to, they can see all these possibilities and they wanna maintain all the possibilities and not like feeling the pain of losing the opportunity cost of all these other things.
Emily Zilber: Yep. You have to make that sort of intentious conscious decision to, to sort of narrow, which is incredibly hard when everything is so interesting, right? When you wanna pay attention to all of these different things.
Um, it’s also really challenging for folks who struggle with executive function to see five steps into the future, right?
To know that if I make this decision, I’m gonna have to plan out all of these things in the messy middle, and I’m gonna have to make decisions again and again, and again and again to get myself from the next step, to the next step, to the next step.
That’s a challenging thing. Again, for anyone to sort of comprehend and to know that that’s the path you’re going on.
There are some folks who, whose brains just really like, don’t support that.
And so it’s a combination of how your brain works, but also I think for a lot of the clients that I’ve worked with who are, who are neurodivergent, the self-talk and challenge of managing the emotions that come with, I don’t want to do this.
This is hard for me. I can’t go to the next step. I am too distracted by all these other things. There’s too many things that are interesting to me. I procrastinate.
I can’t get this done. It’s that kind of heady mix of both the way that we frame the things that are hard for us, and also things genuinely being hard for us. So,
Jessica Abel: Agreed. I wanna say sort of two things about that. One is in terms of the planning, I think one of the things that can stop people is what you’re talking about, where they think I need to know five steps ahead and I need to make all these decisions.
Emily Zilber: And you don’t.
Jessica Abel: And you don’t. I always try to get people to just like narrow their scope. I mean, you need to know the direction you’re heading and that’s part of the decide thing.
You need to have like, this is where I want to go, and you need to recalibrate with that regularly, or you can really get off track.
But having that sense of like, all right, all I need to do is this next step, which includes these actions. And when I get to the end of that, I’m somewhere. Somewhere else, and I’ll figure it out then. And I don’t need to know everything.
I don’t need to know where we’re going with this exactly, as long as I know we’re heading in the right direction.
So breaking things down that way I think has been really, really helpful for me and for lots of people.
The other thing is, as Sarah says in the chat, "the amount of times I’ve had the conversation with myself if I’m lazy or not". That’s the self-talk part, right?
It’s not, none of this is about being lazy. There’s, I don’t know… I think I’ve probably met lazy people in my life, but I haven’t met them in the context of the Creative Focus Workshop, that’s for sure.
There’s, sometimes you need a break. And that’s legit. You need a nap. You need to not be doing this thing right now. You’re burnt out. We burn ourselves out from trying to do too much stuff.
Lazy. Is it even a thing? Like what is that?
laziness does not exist
Emily Zilber: A book and article that I recommend to folks all the time is, um, _Laziness Does Not Exist_ by Devon Price, who is a neurodivergent academic. A sort of alternative academic that really goes at this idea, right, that the behavior that we have labeled as laziness is often the result of not being appropriately resourced.
It’s often the result of not having the right frameworks that we need to help ourselves get through to the next thing and the next thing. Sometimes it’s sort of physical resources. Sometimes it’s emotional and mental resources.
But that’s the great, a great– there’s a book, but then there’s also a _Medium_ article that if you don’t wanna commit yourself to a book is a great way to sort of begin thinking about some of that reframing.
Knowing just the next thing to do. If you can think about that as like an empowering choice, right? I don’t need to know… but it also requires a lot of self-trust.
I trust that once I make this choice, I’ll be able to figure out what the next one is. And that’s hard for people who have labeled themselves as procrastinators or disorganized or lazy.
And so, it can become for folks this vicious cycle. I’m labeling myself as lazy because I’m having a hard time doing this thing.
And then the behavior reflects what I think of as laziness, when in fact… can you reframe it?
I’m, I’m not a procrastinator, but I’m somebody who needs outside stimulus or a deadline or this kind of framework in order to move from one step to the next.
Am I disorganized or am I somebody who can work in kind of flexible ways and see things within the context of complicated environments? Right. It takes active work to think about these things that have been pathologized because of this disorder model.
When we think about neurodivergent, neurodivergent brains through, and say, I’m gonna trust myself to figure out the next step when I get there and if I don’t know what that is, I’m gonna find the resources.
Whether it is, you know, a body doubling community, whether it’s working with a coach, whether it is giving yourself supports as simple as, okay, I need to externalize things that are in my brain. I’m just gonna cover my room with Post-its right, so I don’t have to keep this inside of me.
Have you given yourself the chance to know what you need and to, to try to resource yourself fully? It’s a hard thing to let yourself do when you don’t trust yourself.
Jessica Abel: Absolutely. Absolutely.
One of the things I find myself saying all the time in coaching is somebody will come to me and say, I’m doing this thing again. I’ve been trying to do X and it’s, this is the way that this has been going off the rails repeatedly.
And my question is always, okay, so maybe the first time or two went off the rails you look at yourself and you say like, can I handle this and just do it differently? But if something is consistently not working for you, you’re not broken, it’s broken.
Something’s wrong with what you’re trying to, like, the way you’re going about trying to achieve something.
Or the demands that you feel from your inner critic or the outside world or whatever it is that are misaligned with your life.
And often it’s a capacity question, where it’s like, why can’t I write, I don’t know, 2000 words a week on my novel?
Well, could it maybe be that you’re working three jobs and have two children under the age of five? Could that be why?
Emily Zilber: That that would be a reason.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. You know, like there are real reasons that these things can’t happen. You know, it was funny, I have a client right now who has been coming to coaching calls regularly in the Creative Focus Workshop, and she’s gone through this long process of developing, and this is one of the things I talk about a lot and I’m sure you do too, is the idea of habit building as a solution for this.
Because habit building essentially is pre-deciding. It’s setting up a situation in which you don’t have to decide in the moment what you’re gonna do. You just do the thing. And so this is a way that I teach a lot about creating– building a creative practice.
And so she’s a writer and she’s been building this writing practice. And the last time she came, she said, I have been doing what I said I was gonna do. I see results. I see that all this stuff is, you know, I finished this draft of the first part of the book.
I was like, that’s fantastic. And she said, but my inner critic is telling me I’m not working hard enough and why am I not producing more?
And I said, could it maybe be that you’re not allowing yourself to see what is happening in front of you because it doesn’t match up with a model from society.
And she’s like, Stephen King. And I’m like, yeah, Stephen King. Of like, how much you’re supposed to be producing per day. And nonetheless this is the result.
And like before, when you’re trying to match up to that model, nothing was happening now you’re following your own pattern and it’s working.
Emily Zilber: We’re terrible judges of our own accomplishments, and so sometimes making that list of habits or even kind of habit formation, deciding on that habit, deciding on the structure ahead of time is not enough.
And so when people have a hard time, you know, clients that I work with, they say, I’m gonna do this thing. I’m gonna do this. I’ve scheduled it into, and they don’t do it.
The challenge is that instead of coming to a coaching conversation where we can say, why didn’t you do it? What didn’t work about it?
What else did you need to potentially do it? Is it that the habit is not structured well for
you? Like, how do you redesign this experiment?
They say, I need to scrap this, and start something new and it’s my fault, right?
And, and instead it comes back into this, the only model for success is this model that is fundamentally incompatible with who you are and how you work and your skills and your gifts, and your strengths, which are plentiful for everyone on this call, for everyone who will listen to this, right?
Like you have plentiful gifts and strengths.
Are you giving yourself the appropriate support and are you committing to– in, in coaching with folks, when I work with people to kind of design an experiment, when we have a conversation about, I’m gonna do this this week,
I tell them that there’s only one thing that I ask of them.
They don’t have to do it, but they have to be willing to come back and have a conversation with me about how it went, which people don’t want to do. Right?
People get really stressed out about that.
Jessica Abel: They didn’t wanna pay attention to it. They don’t wanna see.
Emily Zilber: They want. They want to do it. They want to come back and be like, I did it. It’s the thing this worked. And it’s like, no. What’s actually the working process of it is coming back to me and saying, I didn’t do it. This is what was hard about it.
And so how do we redesign it. Kind of seeing that perpetually iterative process as something that is much more supportive than this black and white, I did it.
I didn’t do it. If I didn’t do it, I’m not gonna talk about it. I’m just gonna label it a failure and like spend my time in the same cycle. I’m putting together another thing that I’m probably not going to to do.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. I love that. That’s great.
All right, so we have a few minutes left here.
And I’m gonna jump into a few questions that we had preloaded. And if you’re here, feel free to raise your hand and we unmute you and have a conversation about this.
And if not, then we’ll just try to answer them without that. So, Rauni I know is here.
I’m gonna guess you’ve tried lots of different systems to manage how you spend your time.
What have you settled on and have you found any particularly useful tips or frameworks or systems?
q: any particularly useful time management systems?
Emily Zilber: So I think this is, I’m, I’m constantly disappointing people when they ask me these kinds of questions because, because what is going to work for my brain is not necessarily going to work for you.
What has worked for me in terms of developing systems is to really get to know how I best process information, right? I’m a verbal processor. I like to talk.
Sometimes I need another person to talk things through in order to get my ideas out.
I will design systems for myself that lean that way rather than, like, I used to think I hated writing cause I’d sit down with like an open Word document and it would be just torture to get words on, on the page.
I know now that if I record a voice memo to myself, that lets me talk out ideas at a speed that is, you can maybe hear that I’m a fast talker by nature, right? At a speed that is more compatible with my brain than how my fingers type. I can sit down and listen to that later and like play with it and massage it, right?
But I wouldn’t necessarily have given myself the permission to do that before I could really say like, I need to talk this out. I need to have a conversation with somebody. I need to bat my ideas around. It’s not that I can just chain myself to the chair, right? And so I work with clients who say, information comes to me visually.
And so we prioritize that, right? Like, how can you create a system of recording that lets you think in images?
If that’s, if, if alarm’s on your phone, right, if you struggle with auditory processing.
‘Cause I think a lot of, like the standard like ADHD advice is like get a visual timer and have this kind of planner and have… none of it’s gonna work if it doesn’t work for you.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, getting curious around your own, like what works for you. And Rauni you’ve done a lot of this. And doing the, um, talking out the ideas. That’s actually, you do that right?
Rauni: I do. Yeah. I think, think things through and record things in order to clarify my thoughts. I am much less liable to go through and process that verbal.
So I kind of want someone to wave a magic wand and turn my verbal diarrhea into something that’s a bit more… I mean, Descript helps. I, I discovered Descript through working with Jessica and I
Jessica Abel: Which is an app where you can put in audio or video and have it transcribed. One little tip you, Rauni. Next step ChatGPT. Take that transcription, stick it in ChatGPT, and ask them what it’s, ask it what it’s about, and it will give you your bullet points.
Rauni: Okay. Really? Okay.
Jessica Abel: It will.
Emily Zilber: I think, I think just deciding that like there’s no hierarchy in how you get your ideas down is a big step, right.
That way of– it reminds me of when I, when people say, well, I don’t really read, but I listen to audiobooks. I’m like, no, you read, you just read the way that works for you.
Right. There are plenty of like specific products and recommendations and this is the best way for a person with ADHD to structure.
Ultimately, until you try it and fiigure out if it works for you and really get to know your own brain.
You’re not gonna know if you are the person with the type of brain that that thing has been designed for, which is a lot more onerous as a process, right?
I think we all want that like magic bullet that says, oh, here’s the perfect planner.
You know, I have things that I like and use. I have things that I have tried with myself that work for clients and don’t work for me.
So be curious.
I know that’s not as concrete probably as many folks would like it to be, but be curious and take the judgment out of what structures work for you, as you sort of design things.
Jessica Abel: Totally agreed. We have in the Creative Focus Workshop, we’re using like a four step process for figuring out a new system for something. Anything.
The first step is to look at what you actually do now and capture that process and go like, oh, this is how I actually do this, even if it’s inefficient. I don’t like it. But like, what is it?
And then what parts of that are things that actually function for you and what parts of that are falling apart? And then how can you fill those gaps?
Emily Zilber: You’ve got a neuro–neurodiversity affirming paradigm in, in your program, even if you didn’t label it that way.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, just diversity affirming.
Emily Zilber: Diversity affirming, right.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. Which is, this is actually something that Jen W also asked, and I don’t know if Jen is here, what tools, approaches and resources are best suited for creative professionals with autism and chronic pain or illness who are trying to build a solo business that can provide a comfortable income while also being sustainable and adaptable? So part of it is what we just talked about, which is, in terms of processes and so on, finding ones that function for you.
The other piece of this is something we haven’t really touched on, which is making sure that your pricing and your business structure, your business model, is aligned with your brain and matching that up with what you need to come out the other side in terms of money and the time and so on.
Emily Zilber: I think you’re absolutely right there.
If you are pricing in such a way that it’s not in alignment with your capacity, it’s not gonna work, even, even if you think that lower price is gonna bring sort of like more… I think about, I went through a couple of different phases in pricing, how I work with clients.
And ultimately the price that I charge now, if we’re gonna just like get into price tag, the price that I ask now, is a price that allows me to bring my full self to the clients that I work with and serve them better and also like be there for the other parts of my life.
And parent my beautiful neurodivergent children, like, um, make my own art and have this kind of multifaceted, fulfilling kind of spectrum of interests.
It took a lot of… I was profoundly uncomfortable doing it because I think we, we often think, okay, what’s the value that I have to provide for this price?
And and reframing it, you know, and saying like this is for now with my current capacity, what’s going to allow me to serve people well. I can reevaluate that at any time.
And then also clearly communicating that to folks. I do say that this is what I can do.
I’m moving, I’m trying to move towards a business model that allows me to do different things within, you know, what my own capacity makes possible.
And just being as transparent about that as I can. That language is there.
You are not gonna do… you’re not gonna be able to build a business that can support you if you are pricing yourself so that you cannot take care of yourself. That’s a
Jessica Abel: Meaning like that you have to have prices that are high enough that you can do a few enough of the things that you can make it work. Right.
And I think the problem is that most people look at the problem, I think, it sounds like the way Jen is looking at the problem, is this question of, alright, so I need to be making, I need to be making this kind of money.
How do I come up with systems that allow me to do enough, like more stuff?
Emily Zilber: More stuff.
Jessica Abel: How, how can I do more stuff in order to hit that number?
It just doesn’t, it doesn’t work. Like that doesn’t, it’s unfortunately not a model that will get you there, for the most part. Just doing more things.
And that’s, I think where our brain goes is like, we think the flexible number in this equation of time times number of clients times money equals, you know, sustainability.
We think, well, the thing that’s flexible is my time. I can do more time.
But you can’t, there’s a, there’s a limit to your capacity and I think recognizing that and planning around that is essential.
Emily Zilber: Yeah. And how can you build that capacity by taking out things that don’t work for you?
I think often when I work with people in coaching people wanna add, they want a new system, they want a new thing.
And a lot of the times the first thing that we do is look at the work that they’re trying to do and say, okay, what can we take out that might make space for the changes that you want to make, or the shifts that you wanna do or the project that you want to move forward in?
And then also having a really like, clear understanding of where you are in your capacity ebb and flow.
Like to not think I’m gonna design this business and it’s gonna look the same all the time because I am always gonna have this level of energy.
I’m always gonna have this level of need. I’m always gonna have these resources. Probably not. Life doesn’t work that way. I wish it was more consistent.
But to be able to say how can I price in such a way that I can accommodate having a practice or a business that has ebbs and flows in my capacity, and doesn’t assume the way that I work, my energy levels, and my needs, my resources, my interest in what I’m doing, will remain the same all the time.
Jessica Abel: I think you hit the question that came up in the chat, which is what about variable things?
And I would add everybody gets sick. You know, everybody has times when they’re less capable of functioning, and sometimes that’s a week, sometimes it’s much longer than that.
We have a really wonderful client who struggles with chronic illness and has lots and lots to share about how to create when sick, but you have to acknowledge that that’s the reality. So, Jen, did you have any further questions about this?
Jen: It’s just a really messy problem. Yeah, it’s
Jessica Abel: It is
Jen: I mean, I am, I am, I’m somebody who, I can plan like you would not believe. I’ve always been very good at project management from that perspective. But it’s, it is the execution and it’s not always because, oh, I don’t know where to get started, or I’m procrastinating.
It’s because, oh, I have a migraine. Oh, I have an emergency doctor’s appointment. Or I’m, I’m about to have a big surgery.
That kind of stuff had, but I don’t know when it’s gonna take place, and how do I plan all the things around that?
And it’s, it’s a, it’s a lifelong challenge. And I do hear you. I think that this wisdom is excellent and is right on point.
I just haven’t been able yet to make it all work on a consistent and sustainable basis, so I’m still struggling with that.
Emily Zilber: This is.
Jessica Abel: It’s ongoing.
I’m gonna get you to say answer in just a second, but I just wanted to say like, I just interpret a little bit of what we were saying a minute ago when Emily was talking about pricing for your capacity.
The key to this is going to be pricing for a lot more than you can do right now.
Actually having much higher prices than you think you need so that you are creating margin and you’re creating a reserve for yourselves and you’re able to stop doing whatever you’re doing when you need to do that.
Jen: Oh yeah.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. Go ahead Emily.
Emily Zilber: I also just, I hear that like consistency word there and that’s always like a little flag for me.
I try to kind of ask people to think about resilience over consistency, right? What if the value was how you come back to things as opposed to that it’s consistent all the time?
Does reframing in that way help you think not about like, oh, this hasn’t been consistent, I’m, I have this kind of lack. What if it’s, I’m coming back to my practice after these things that are challenging and I now have more information about what I want to do differently to support myself better in moving forward.
Jen: It’s interesting that you say that because resilience used to be kind of my, my touchstone word and it kinda got lost somewhere in the past couple of years and it just came up again a couple of days ago.
So I’m gonna take this, this emphasis from you on that, that word again as like, oh, maybe I should take a look at that. ‘Cause I think that that really is where my strength may lie.
Emily Zilber: I think it’s often like we think there’s this like, resilience buck up and that’s not the way I’m thinking about it here, right?
Jen: Oh, yes, yes.
Emily Zilber: That’s not the way you’re thinking about it. It’s just like coming back to. Can you come back to your business? Can you come back to your practice?
Can you come back to things after some time away? That’s where kind of that power can be in, in bringing this into your life
Emily Zilber: in a way that’s deep and meaningful.
Jen: I’m a natural and fundamental optimist, so that’s always gonna be,
Emily Zilber: That’ll help.
Jen: be core So thank you. So, I didn’t mean to turn this into my personal therapy session but thank you.
Jessica Abel: I mean, as usual, I think the questions that you’re answer, I mean, clearly in the chat, the question you’re asking is a question a lot of people have.
I wanna just say to everybody when you have questions for Emily, for me, when you ask a question in a forum like this, you’re doing a service to everybody else because either people haven’t realized they have that question and they have it, or they’re shy and they don’t wanna ask it.
So whenever you are willing to put yourself out there and ask the question, you’re really helping lots of people. And so I think that’s really… I just wanna emphasize that.
I have one last one I wanna, um, stick in here really quickly that I just we sort of touched on it, but I wanna be more clear.
Joe asked how do you make a choice and commit time when you have many interests competing for attention at the same time? I get stuck here.
Well, we talked about it a bunch, but I think it gets back to this thing we were just talking about with designing a system, for example. Like you have to look at what are the criteria that are going into the decision right now for you.
And that has to do with what is your capacity right now in terms of your, your energy level, your physical health, the amount of time you have available, how much money do you need? How much money can you spend?
And what are the most important qualities for you right now in terms of a creative project that would fulfill as many of those things as possible and to get really explicit about what it is that you’re trying to solve for, like what are you trying to do? And all of those creative projects, they don’t have to go in the trash.
You may do them in the future, but the only way things get finished is if that you put focus on them and you continue working on something for a while. And so understanding that if that’s one of the things you value is actually having things finished, if that’s one of the criteria for what matters, it’s gotta count really heavily in terms of deciding what are you gonna focus on.
Emily Zilber: I mean I think you… moving with your interests when everything interests you is really hard and so making decisions, but also noticing like you choose one project.
You’re working on it, you’re working on it, you’re working on it. Your mind is going back to this other project that’s important, valuable information, and knowing that yes, you made a decision It’s okay to course correct. It’s okay to notice what’s coming up for you.
It’s okay to, to follow where your interests are taking you, even if it delays you a little bit, even if it’s not that consistent, like I just need to buckle down and focus.
You have to, to kind of be your own best scholar of yourself in a kind of judgment free way and notice what you want and how it works for you and be unafraid to change at the same time as you value working through the thorny, naughty parts that get you to a finish line.
Jessica Abel: Absolutely, and I think the differences between valuing consistency over seeing the value in the thing you’re doing, even when you’re in a hard part.
Consistency in and of itself is not important. And I think this sort of like juggling, balancing these two things of, yes, you are allowed to change your mind.
Yes, you’re allowed to do something different. But then like really thinking like, is that actually what you want? Or is it just that you’re in a really sticky, hard part right now?
And so you’re feeling resistance around it and you need to give yourself that chance to go through the decide phase and really like sit there with it and figure out what it is you need to decide.
Like what are the, what’s the question you’re asking that has to have an answer? And giving yourself time to do that, rather than just going like, ah, yeah, screw it.
I’m on the next thing. That’s where I think regrets can come up.
Emily Zilber: Or saying I made this decision. I’m sticking with it. There’s no way I am
ever changing, and then it just doesn’t happen, right?
Jessica Abel: And that’s much more me, like that’s my neurodiversity is like sticking with something, even when it’s a bad decision.
Like just ’cause I said I would do it and I just do it and I see it through. That’s something that I’ve, I’ve struggled with sometimes where I’m like, why am I still doing this thing? I need to stop.
Emily Zilber: Yeah.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. Awesome. That was so great, Emily. Thank you so much for bringing all your wisdom and all this insight. I really, really appreciate you and appreciate your time.
Emily Zilber: Oh, well, I’m, I’m happy to be here and I’m just reading everything in the chat and I just want everyone to know that these problems, like you are so far from alone in, these challenges, right?
These are so human and a part of the way that creative people often process the world.
And so I’m really grateful to, to have this time with you, but also for everyone here sharing, sharing their thoughts with all of us. And, you know, I look forward to following each of you and learning more about your work.
Jessica Abel: Awesome. Yeah, I love that.
And again, like the diversity is diversity and all of it is valuable. And so I think that’s the biggest thing that comes out of this for me.
Alright everybody, thank you so much for being here. I hope to see you soon. Bye-Bye everybody.
Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.
Our show is produced by Matt Madden, our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden, and I’m your host, Jessica Abel.
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