The Movie of Your Life

My background is in film and television and in that world there’s a large group of people whose only job is to influence your brain in ways you can perceive but that you’re not consciously aware of. And I’m going to amaze you by showing you proof of what you haven’t noticed.

773 Relax and Succeed - So I guess we areYour mind is such a subtle thing. It’s difficult for you to accept but your version of reality is little more than a collage of your thoughts and beliefs. The influences on you are many and they are both intentional and unintentional. But in this blog I’ll prove that all day long your mind is doing far more interpreting than you realize.

A good example of how things outside of your awareness influence you; note that a talented motion picture Sound Editor can suddenly have all of the birds go quiet in an outdoor scene at the exact same moment that the lead actor says the screenwriter’s key Oh oh…” line in the film. You get a sense of dread. You think the actress is brilliant.

The actress is brilliant. But she is helpless without the line being written well, the score subconsciously defining the right mood via music, the lighting setting a tone, and the sudden absence of the birds–which triggers an ancient response in us that something is wrong, because that’s when the birds historically all suddenly went quiet. And that affects you far more than you realize.

773 Relax and Succeed - We stopped checking for monstersBut you won’t notice that any more than anyone noticed that the Wardrobe person took a character who was harsh and wore sharp, hard-edged clothes and how as the character softened so did their clothes. Smith in The Matrix looks like The Man because represents The Man. The Production Designer and Colourist will literally set tones for a project–it goes on an on. That’s a big part of what makes a TV series look like a series.

It’s also unlikely that you never noticed that the Director of Photography made the hero look good by lighting her from above, referring to daytime–when we feel safe. And that the same DOP made us not like the villain by lighting him from below, as though it is nighttime and we’re huddled around a fire listening carefully to the darkness that leaves too much room for our imagination.

Another great example is aspect ratios. You don’t even know you know about aspect ratios. But you know all kinds of things about them based purely on on the patterns you’ve seen. If one aspect ratio is always associated with certain things, then when you see it your brain begins to presume those other things must also be present. The video near the end will explain it very well.

773 Relax and Succeed - You see highlight reelsEvery talented and skilled film professional is working to move the story forward through their own artform. If they’re good and they know what they’re doing then they are intentionally manipulating wiring that you already have in your brain for interpreting the world. That matrix of beliefs is why the world appears to you as it does. And that extends beyond movies and TV shows and into your everyday life. It’s only a matter of–what did you get taught to edit into your own life movie?

To use a couple different metaphors to help make the point; it’s like your life feels like you’re cruising through an ocean with a fishing line and bait in the water, but you keep catching a fish you don’t like because it likes that bait. So you think the world tastes bad when really it’s the bait you’re using.

The same if you’re locked in a dark house with a flashlight. The house is like the universe and the flashlight is like your attention. The rest of the world/house doesn’t matter because you only process what you’re attention is on. So if you constantly shine it on things that scare you, don’t blame the house. The house is not scary. You just have a habit of focusing your attention on scary things. The house was filled with other stuff. Someone taught you to pick scary things. Or sad things. Or upsetting things. Or… enjoyable things.

Watch this video and realize how much you’re influenced by people who know more about your brain than you do. And then think about their agenda. These people just want to take you on an emotionally satisfying journey. There’s other people with less generous agendas, and there are many ways in which the world mesmerizes you with beliefs that you are convinced to turn into “actual things” in your imagination.

Your only defense is to know it happens, and to know that it means you never can be super sure you ever really know what’s going on. For all we know we could’ve been in a coma for the last 15 years and we’ve imagined this entire life from a hospital bed. So if the entire thing is that flexible you can see there’s no real way to know exactly what to do, so you can just relax. Treat the place less like a testing ground and more like a playground. Have some fun.

The world is an extremely flexible place. Your perspective is much more fluid and arbitrary and open to change than you ever thought possible. This does not make the world more frivolous. It gives it more potential. Because once we become aware of how much our thoughts change our perspective on what we see the less those thoughts affect us. And the peace that remains is what absolutely everyone is ultimately seeking. And that’s a movie we’d all like starring in.

Now go edit yourself an awesome day.

peace. s

P.S. The screenwriters who wrote the Joker’s line were Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower was written by Stephen Chbosky.

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Review: Inside Out

Many friends have seen this movie—and several (particularly those who have studied with me or who are similarly minded) were very interested in what I thought as both a screenwriter and as a teacher of the Principles of Human Experience. Fortunately my brother and I were racing the car at the Nationals this weekend and while we were there a good friend told me she wanted to see the movie again and so we decided right then to go together.

734 Relax and Succeed - Inside outShe had loved her first viewing and noticed a lot more contributing details on the second viewing. I was very impressed with how well it was put together and I found the symbolism and message to be quite good, especially considering the limitations of the medium.

Keep in mind: there is no such thing as a good or bad movie. There are ones you like and ones you don’t. So no one is wrong if they didn’t enjoy this film. But from a professional screenwriting perspective it’s very tightly and effectively structured, its characters are consistent and are weaved with such skill by writers Pete Docter and Reonaldo Del Carmen that they serve the plot quite naturally. As we were leaving the theatre several people remarked that it seemed to be over very quickly and we felt the same way despite it being a traditional length—that’s always a good sign.

I loved a lot of the details, like how the memory storage banks held moments rather than stretches of time. I also liked they were organized like a brain structure, and how the ladders up them looked like DNA. There were so many contributing elements, including even more abstract things like the particular types of memories that children both lose and abandon and why. I also liked how it addressed how our current emotions will impact and colour our recollection of past events.

734 Relax and Succeed - Somtimes the thingMaybe even more impressive was each character’s demonstration of a dominant trait—a primary filter or emotion through which the world first passes before being optioned to other possible reactions. This is our default reaction to the world. In the daughter it was Joy, the mother Sadness and the father Anger and these would be how a large percentage of children perceive western childhoods: Dad’s seem busy and mad all the time because of mistakes we’ve made, and Mom’s appear to never want to play and they’re always disappointed we didn’t do something or other exactly the way they wanted.

Another nice touch was the use of the individual characters played in multiple heads. There were many looks for each emotion but the daughter’s Sadness looked just like her mother’s, while her Fear and Anger looked just like her father’s—illustrating the point that we inherit our traits and personalities from the dominant traits of our parents and/or the people that raise us. And, if saw correctly, especially clever was the fact that in any head where you saw Anger you also saw his partner Fear.

Mild spoiler alert—I may give away some later plot details that will give away the ending here, so if you haven’t seen it you may want to save the rest for afterwards.

My favourite aspect was the transition at the climax, when Joy comes to understand and then employ the value of Sadness. That is when the audience—and thankfully many children—are presented with the idea that sadness has value and should not be dismissed from life, and Joy’s role helps to nicely reflect the experience and growth happening within the audience member.

735 Relax and Succeed - Let it BeIn the denouement it was quite fitting that the film set up the notion that it’s not a tragedy when we change our core beliefs. That is the growth I often talk about in this blog as happening every 7-9 years, and of course Joy is I believe nine years old in the film. It is when we fundamentally shift how we see the world and how we understand it and our place in it.

Over the years we establish and fortify a new set of beliefs more appropriate to who we currently are. And again in 7-9 years we’ll tear down those core beliefs and build another set refined by new experiences. It is very healthy for people to see that process as natural. We shouldn’t get angry when things get tumultuous. We should get excited.

This film probably won’t blow kids away in theatres. But I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it becomes an important part of future realizations for decades to come. Just as Wall-E informed a generation about the external environment, Inside Out is informing a generation about a healthy internal environment.

I found this to be an excellent film on virtually every level and I highly recommend seeing it. It’s funny that parents worry when their kids become artists. And yet artists are who despotic leaders lock up first, because they’re also the people who change the world in subtle ways. Like the ways in which this film will change the stigma around being sad and how it will instill that our emotions are within our control. That’s important stuff.

Five thumbs up.

peace. s

Producing Disappointment

I ways back I used to eat my porridge every morning in a greasy spoon near where I lived. An old farmer owned it and it was one of those totally unpretentious places where everyone knew everyone, the service was fast and friendly and it wasn’t unusual to have strangers at your table. I went in the morning of my 28th birthday and ended up sitting next to a huge Aboriginal guy who was quiet, but very friendly. He heard the staff wishing me a happy birthday and he asked me how old I was turning. When I told him he said, “Ah, 28. The year you learn to say ‘no.’”

453 Relax and Succeed - There is only one wayNot long after that I got a call from a billionaire that used to meet with me fairly regularly. He used to use my ability to notice strange patterns in things to help him make business decisions, although secretly I think he was actually more interested in the fact that my Dad is my hero and I think he wanted to know how to be a hero to his kids. This time the call was all business. He was greatly expanding his television network and he wanted me to come on board to help choose and develop future programming on the both the film and TV side. I had just come off a couple of movies and a few series, so I was due for a change and I agreed. What exactly I was agreeing to though, I did not fully comprehend.

Canada was/(still is?) the second largest exporter of TV worldwide after the US, but it was still a small enough industry that all of the steady working people knew most of the people in their region and a lot of us knew most of the people from one end of the country to the other. That closeness proved to be an interesting factor when it came time to do the job.

I had a budget that was the envy of the industry. I had the freedom to work in both free and pay TV, on series as well as features. It was the only job like it in the country and it brought virtually every type of producer into my office. On average we would receive about 1600+ submissions a year, we would develop maybe 25-50 and produce about a dozen, including series. Of course those numbers meant that I was saying “no” the vast majority of the time.

The trick was, I was saying no to my friends. People who I had grown up with in the industry. People I liked and respected. People close to me. And to each of those people their projects were generally the only thing they were working on. They had all of their eggs in that basket—their heart and soul was into it, and I would be the guy who would crush their dreams of ever getting or sustaining a mortgage.

453 Relax and Succeed - If nobody hates youBeing the guy I am I was able to appreciate that someone had to make the determination. They couldn’t give the money out on a first come first served basis. Nor could we do it alphabetically, or by script weight. Someone had to give an opinion about what they thought would work and the billionaire anointed me. I won’t say that I liked turning down my friends—or even the non-friends who I knew had worked super hard on their submissions. But this wasn’t a popularity contest. I had a job and my job was to pick things that would recoup their investments and it turned out I was extremely good at that. But that meant that I had to turn down development proposals that ended up destroying companies and careers. And it’s not like I didn’t turn away some heartfelt personal stories. And undoubtedly I was wrong many times. I crushed a lot of dreams being a success at that job.

When you’re responsible for money like that it’s strange. Everyone has theories about what they would do if they had the job, but it’s much different imagining spending one million dollars on Richard Chamberlain. It’s another thing altogether to actually be responsible for one million dollars for Richard Chamberlain. Because there is no way to actually calculate beforehand if he would be worth it (it turned out he was), and there was no shortage of people I’d turned down who disagreed. I also had to chastise lazy writers, and inform neophytes about what they didn’t know. I had to not cast people’s spouses and even for those that got money, they didn’t always get what they wanted.

People used to ask me if it bothered me that there were people that hated me for those decisions (and undoubtedly for differences in our personalities too). But the answer was no, it didn’t bother me. Why would it? No matter who I chose, someone wasn’t getting money. A lot of someones weren’t. The majority of someones weren’t. And so I made a lot more people angry than I made happy. But hey, that’s why it’s tough at the top. That’s why they pay you the big bucks. But bottom line, you can’t be who you are and also cater to the desires of everyone you meet. You have to be your own person. You have to have faith in yourself. Not to be 453 Relax and Succeed - Stop being afraid of what could go wronginfallible. But to realize that you’ve been given a job because it needs doing. And your job is to do it the best you can, which I did.

We won a lot of awards and set a few records while I was there, but that’s not why I felt successful. I felt—and continue to feel—successful because I chose those projects with great care and with tremendous respect for the money I was investing and for the work that had gone into the projects. I knew I couldn’t be right every time, but I was going to be right as often as I could.

You sense of self can’t come from the approval of others. If everyone likes your decisions then you’re not making any—or at least any of consequence. To make an omelet you have to crack a few eggs. You can’t focus on the cracked shells, you have to focus on your objective, and the objective wasn’t to reject things. I’m sure there were many money makers in the “no” pile. But again, I only had so much money. So rather than focus on who I disappointed, I focused on who I could help. And I’m pleased to say that I gave a start some very talented people who’ve gone on to great careers. But I couldn’t have done that if I wasn’t prepared to put myself out there to be criticized for my decisions. I get that. If I worked two years on something and it got rejected I would be upset too. And I might even call the person who did it some names for a few minutes after I found out about the rejection. But eventually that would wear off and I would know that someone had to choose, and they couldn’t say yes to everything and so it only makes sense that we all have a better chance of being in “no” pile.

453 Relax and Succeed - You are not designedDon’t let fears of being liked prevent you from doing what you think is right. You absolutely will be wrong quite often, just like all of us. But as long as you’re right more than you’re wrong, they let you keep playing the big sandbox.

I’m glad to be out of that now. I had a ton of fun at the height of the industry—just before the internet took the legs out from underneath the golden age. It was nice hotels, limos, cool festivals and real life movie stars. But you got none of that unless you were willing to have some writer scream obscenities at you in a hotel bar. You had to be willing to know that a good friend considered you the reason that her business failed. Again, everyone has their separate realities and it’s obvious I would be the villain in many people’s rejection narratives. But that’s like having someone mad at you because you don’t want to date them. You’re not saying they’re not worth anything. You’re just saying they don’t match you.

Don’t be a pleaser. Be yourself and those who love you will make ample room for your choices. You’re not here to make us happy, you’re here to make you happy. So respect people. Be empathetic to their pain. But as much as possible, don’t let the downsides dictate a decision. Just make the best decisions you can with the information you have and go from there. And just always remember that they could be right; you could be wrong. 😉

peace. s

2013’s Blog of the Year #8

273 Relax and Succeed - The hardest thingYou’re worse at keeping secrets than you imagine. Like a child who thinks that if they cannot see you then you cannot see them, your attempts to hide your feelings are only half-successful. That’s largely because you see the world from inside out, and other people look at your life from the outside in. You think the thoughts, we see the expressions.

I suspect this blog got into the top ten strictly with its subject matter alone. Many people completely forget that their face is a direct reflection of their thinking. It’s funny, I had more than one person tell me that their vanity was helping them stay conscious because they were very alert about giving people the wrong facial signals. So ironically their egos motivated an exercise designed to promote consciousness. Go figure.

It’s short, sweet, and it’s my reader’s choice for the 8th Most Popular Blog of the Year:

Your Secret Communication

When I’m watching auditions and screen tests for a project I’m casting, I’ll always watch the actor when their role isn’t talking because that’s when you can see if they’re truly in character. A bad actor will tend to either just play the emotions, or they’ll create a collection of affectations that they imagine is interesting and in alignment with the character. The really good actors don’t 273 Relax and Succeed - Be mindful of your self-talkhave a line between the character and themselves. They are Being the other person by thinking their thoughts. But how do I know which is which?

What you perceive as “your body” is actually a cooperation of individual cells working together to make you operational. Your brain does the processing, but your whole body is smart. And your body talks via chemistry. So when you think a frightened thought, your hypothalamus will stop pumping out the chemical for your previous experience, and it will shift to pumping out the chemicals for fear—chemicals like adrenaline.

Your body will react instantly to this chemical signal. Each cell has essentially been given its orders relative to the group. Muscles in the legs will tense in preparation to fight or run, your heart rate will increase to oxygenate those muscles, and the muscles in the face will adjust by opening your eyes wider to allow your dilated pupils to see everything going on. The chemicals will flare your nostrils to allow more air to get into your lungs so your heart can get it to those muscles. And the result of all of that is what we call “a frightened look.”

So back to the actors; when the bad actor isn’t talking, he looks like he’s waiting to say his next line because that’s what his thoughts are doing. The good actor looks like he’s listening to the other actor as though he’s never heard the words before.

273 Relax and Succeed - What I thinkAll of this means that when you believe you’re hiding how you feel, that’s because when you talk to someone you say to yourself, “yes, just smile and nod. That’s right, let this bitch think you really care one second about what she’s saying,” and you can almost genuinely smile. But when the person leaves, you’ll feel safe and you’ll go back to your internal narrative. And you’ve forgotten people can still see your face. And because you’re inside those thoughts at that time—you are being them, rather than observing them—you don’t notice that you’re communicating a lot to the people around you. It’s why deaf people generally spot liars much faster and more easily than people who can hear.

I used to walk my cute little Bichon Frise down Whyte Avenue and I would see punks or skinheads or hipsters, and when they first saw Mo their face would expose a dog-lover. They would explode into a smile—but then they would catch themselves. This is a street to be cool on. And I would watch them remember that, and that thought would shift their expression to careless indifference. (I suspect it’s models and mannequins that suggest to young people that pouty dissatisfaction is equivalent to being sophisticated and discerning.) So on the street with the dog, that kid will have forgone his own natural interests in favour of looking cool to others. It’s like we’re all peacock’s and advertising has taught everyone that mating season is 24/7 for 365 days a year.273 Relax and Succeed - Beauty is not in the face

Your face is a real-time biography. Everyone knows much more about you than you realize because your face can’t keep the secrets if your brain thinks the thoughts. You can’t have one thought and another expression. That’s what an expression is; it’s the result of the chemistry from your thinking.

So if you really want to look beautiful, forget buying better foundation or eye-liner—try actually noticing what’s nice about the universe around you. Because that thought will immediately beam out of your face, and it’s the only look that everyone agrees is beautiful.

Now go be yourself. Go be beautiful.

Much love, s

The Pharmacist

Many of you know that in addition to the work I do with Relax and Succeed, I also write and produce film and television, and I teach screenwriting and creative production. In fact, Cineplex Odeon is releasing my latest film this coming Friday (April 26th, 2013), and it includes the hard work of many of my very talented film school students.

93 - Relax and Succeed - The Pharmacist One Sheet
The Pharmacist One-Sheet

This idea was created by my friend and co-producer, Chester Sit, who also directed the film. As an artist, Chester was always amazed to hear about friends driving every day to jobs they said they hated. And they would do this for years. It felt to him like they were zombies, and so Spencer and his narcolepsy (the sleeping disease) are intended as a metaphor for people who are sleeping through their lives.

Now despite that lofty beginning, this film is ultimately a straight-ahead a dark comedy. You could say it’s a bit like taking a nerdy character and dropping him in the middle of Pulp Fiction. It ended up winning both Best Feature and Audience Choice Awards on the festival circuit and those two two things are linked. The film’s broad appeal emerges from its artistic authenticity.

Whenever I take on creative producing duties (if I’m not writing the script myself) my primary focus is on ensuring I know what the fundamental intent of the original creator and/or writer(s) was. That way I can ensure that intent isn’t lost as I do my work. But as much as I need to know where they were coming from, I also can’t develop a story and characters and a movie without somehow finding my own way into the work with the same sort of enthusiasm as the original creators.

In the case of The Pharmacist, Chester’s main point was that people had to find a reason to live—that surrendering ones life to consumerist pursuit was a death of the spirit. The original writer, Indy Randhawa, wanted to comment on how he felt his generation was lost in the sense that it had no greater purpose—it was only focused on its own selfish gratification.

93a - Relax and Succceed - The Pharmacist Producer Credit
Producer Credits for The Pharmacist

Indy created some magnificent characters, but he had never written a screenplay before and it’s quite a technical field in many ways. I knew extensive changes would need to be made, so when I re-worked the story I was able to insert my own spirit into the work in a way that enhanced Chester’s and Indy’s overlapping intentions. When I did that, I also had to make sure it was all done in a way that could be genuinely embraceable by Chris Craddock, who wrote the brilliant final drafts, including the one that went into production.

My addition to Chester`s idea that people should have a reason to live, and Indy`s intent that people require a greater purpose, was that; I have found people are at their best when they are more concerned about others than they are about themselves. This is the Raison d’ệtre of the film—to achieve a meaningful life people need a reason to live that represents something bigger than themselves, and that thing is most naturally a love for other people.

Why that`s meaningful to me is important. Because the reason you can enjoy being sad, or scared, or angry in a movie, is because you know that those feelings are transient. They’re just part of the story being told, and because you’ve done as the Buddhists say and you’ve Accepted that, then you can travel through those emotions with no problem. You just have to start seeing your life like that too. It’s like a story your spirit witnesses and enacts at the same time.

93b Relax and Succeed - Scott McPherson on The Pharmacist set
Scott on the set of The Pharmacist

Now can you see then why it’s better for you to think of others than of yourself? If you’re focused on watching their story, then you’re not worrying about yourself. If you’re not worrying about you, then you’re fine, because there’s a difference between compassion and worry. Compassion is love going out. Worry is love being stifled from coming in. Spend your life being compassionate and your life will be filled with love. Spend it worrying, and you will surrender your chances for happiness.

The film is not only funny, but it`s genuinely trying to say something meaningful about life. I do hope that, if you’re in Montreal, you will take this chance at some happiness: Consider checking the movie out. It’s called The Pharmacist and it will be opening the week of:

  • April 26th, 2013

  • Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas

  • 2313 Sainte-Catherine Street West, Montreal, QC

If you laugh and enjoy the story as much as festival audiences did, then please do considering sharing it through your social networking. This is a remarkable achievement for a film of this scale and I’m extremely proud of my cast and crew and partners. It would give me great pleasure to help even more people enjoy a couple hours of their life by viewing something we all poured so much heart into. And the world could always use another reminder that we’re all at our best when we’re actively loving others. Thank you.

Here’s some links to information on the film. Please feel free to share them on your social network pages. Thanks!

The Pharmacist – Official Website

The Pharmacist – French Facebook Page

The Pharmacist – English Facebook Page

The Pharmacist – Comedic Trailer

The Pharmacist – Dramatic Trailer

The Pharmacist – French Trailer

The Pharmacist – Facebook Guerrilla Trailer 1

The Pharmacist – Facebook Guerrilla Trailer 2

The Pharmacist – Facebook Guerrilla Trailer 3

Enjoy!

peace. s

Your Secret Communication

Winner: 2013’s Blog of the Year #8

When I’m watching auditions and screen tests for a project I’m casting I’ll always watch the actor when their role isn’t talking because that’s when you can see if they’re truly in character. A bad actor will tend to either just play the emotions, or they’ll create a collection of affectations that they imagine is interesting and in alignment with the character. The really good actors don’t have a line between the character and themselves. They are Being the other person by thinking their thoughts. But how do I know which is which?

44 Relax and Succeed - If you have good thoughts they will shineWhat you perceive as “your body” is actually a cooperation of individual cells working together to make you operational. Your brain does the processing, but your whole body is smart. And your body talks via chemistry. So when you think a frightened thought, your hypothalamus will stop pumping out the chemical for your previous experience, and it will shift to pumping out the chemicals for fear—chemicals like adrenaline.

Your body will react instantly to this chemical signal. Each cell has essentially been given its orders relative to the group. Muscles in the legs will tense in preparation to fight or run, your heart rate will increase to oxygenate those muscles, and… the muscles in the face will adjust by opening your eyes wider to allow your dilated pupils to see everything going on. The chemicals will flare your nostrils to allow more air to get into your lungs so your heart can get it to those muscles. And the result of all of that is what we call “a frightened look.”

So back to the actors; when the bad actor isn’t talking, he looks like he’s waiting to say his next line because that’s what his thoughts are doing. The good actor looks like he’s listening to the other actor as though he’s never heard the words before.

All of this means that when you believe you’re hiding how you feel, that’s because when you talk to someone you say to yourself, “yes, just smile and nod. That’s right, let this bitch think you really care one second about what she’s saying,” and you can almost genuinely smile. But when the person leaves, you’ll feel safe and you’ll go back to your internal narrative. And you’ve forgotten people can still see your face. And because you’re inside those thoughts at that time—you are being them, rather than observing them—you don’t notice that you’re communicating a lot to the people around you. It’s why deaf people generally spot liars much faster and more easily than people who can hear.

I used to walk my little Bichon Frise down Whyte Avenue and in the winter he would look particularly cute in the little boots that protect his feet from freezing. I would see punks or skinheads or hipsters, and when they first saw Mo their face would expose a dog-lover. They would explode into a smile—but then they would catch themselves. This is a street to be cool on. And I would watch them remember that, and that thought would shift their expression to 05 11 Mo dressed 2careless indifference. (I suspect it’s models and mannequins that suggest to young people that pouty dissatisfaction is equivalent to being sophisticated and discerning.) So on the street with the dog, that kid will have forgone his own natural interests in favour of looking cool to others. It’s like we’re all peacock’s and advertising has taught everyone that mating season is 24/7 for 365 days a year.

Your face is a real-time biography. Everyone knows much more about you than you realize because your face can’t keep the secrets if your brain thinks the thoughts. You can’t have one thought and another expression. That’s what an expression is; it’s the result of the chemistry from your thinking.

So if you really want to look beautiful, forget buying better foundation or eye-liner—try actually noticing what’s nice about the universe around you. Because that thought will immediately beam out of your face, and it’s the only look that everyone agrees is beautiful.

Now go be yourself. Go be beautiful.

Much love, s

Living With Fear

They play through your life all the time. Your dreams. The things you feel a compulsion to move toward. But you sit still instead, calculating all that could go wrong. Calculating the prices your psychology will pay if you fail. You imagine all of the disparaging thoughts the witnesses might think or say out loud. Meanwhile you look on enviously at others lives, 34 Relax and Succeed - Fear does not stop deathassuming theirs are better when really it’s just that you’re not fully living yours. Those fears keep holding you back. And when you think about it, those are strange fears to have. To not live your life because someone else might temporarily hold a judgmental thought in their consciousnesses? That’s what we’re all afraid of.

Back when I was writing exclusively for film and television I ran a BBS chatroom where local writers in my city could ask questions and debate ideas with top Hollywood professionals. There were Oscar and Emmy winners and nominees, and writers of many famous and beloved projects ranging all the way from Woody Allen movies to groundbreaking series and guilty pleasures like Cheers or Baywatch. Young or old, those were very generous writers and producers and we were all very lucky to have their daily guidance. Especially me. Because that experience lead me to meet and eventually become good friends with a wonderful man named Jack Sowards. Jack’s the man who famously killed Spock when he wrote Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan.

For several years and for reasons I’ll never fully understand, Jack used to spend at least an hour a day on the phone with me and sometimes we’d be on for over four hours. Jack had learned a lot from other writers and he was known as a bit of a 34 Relax and Succeed - The worst enemy to creativityguru in Hollywood because he really enjoyed passing that knowledge on. And with me he had a super eager student. Even though it got to be a daily routine, I never stopped feeling lucky every time he called. As I matured as an artist I later realized I was actually in large part an aspect of his own fearful procrastination.

At one point it turned out that Jack and I were up for jobs at the same time. His was for a million-dollar re-write of some star-filled project and mine was for a smaller (but for me still very substantial), movie-of-the-week. We both found out the same day that we got the jobs and we had a wonderful conversation about how awesome it felt to be the chosen writers.

And then there was the next day.

I was in a panic. Every artist and most others will know this feeling; the feeling that you’re doomed. That there’s no way you’ll actually be able to pull it off and you’ll finally be exposed as a fraud. The feeling like everyone’s finally going to figure out that you’re just faking it. That you’re just pretending to know. That you really can’t do this incredibly hard thing. And you certainly can’t do hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars worth of it. I remember thinking, how can anything I just invent in my imagination be worth this kind of money?!  I was so worried I couldn’t write. Every word felt like it had to be worth hundreds of dollars. That makes them hard to choose. So I called my guru.

34 Relax and Succeed - Work hard do the best you canI’m glad you called.”
“Jack this is ridiculous. I can’t write anything worth this much money. I’m in way over my head.”
“I know. Me too.”

Wait a minute—what?

Jack was scared too? How could this guy who’d had hits—who’d been paid these amounts lots of times—how could he be worried? He did know what he was doing. He’d proved it numerous times. Oddly though, the news calmed me. Being in a group with Jack felt like a safe place to be as a writer.“You thought you weren’t supposed to be scared?” he said. “Scared’s part of the deal. Scared’s what you get all that money for. Scared is what most people won’t walk past to get to their real life.”

Is it any wonder I loved the guy? I thought all of these artists “above” me were all calm and collected and done. They were finished. They knew all they needed to know. In fact there is no such thing. Just when you’ve figured out how to be 20, you’re 30. And by the time you figure out how to be 30, you’re 40. And so it goes. As soon as a writer has a good list of skills, all they tend to notice are the skills they don’t yet have. They feel like that must be what’s preventing them from succeeding with their current project. But that’s not true. What’s preventing them from succeeding with their project isn’t what they don’t know—it’s their lack of use of what they do know.

34 Relax and Succeed - The only thing standing between you and your goalYour job isn’t to figure it all out and then live your life in some impressive way. Let me save you the time: there is no figuring it out. That’s like saying you have to know everything about music to create a song. I’m sure Mozart still felt like he still had much to explore. But the music he wrote came from what he knew, not what he didn’t know. You can’t create with knowledge or understanding you will have. So you just march forward and forget what everyone else thinks.

People’s judgments about your life are just words in the wind. Think about people in your family that have been dead for 20 years. Are people thinking a lot about what they did in their life, or does it come up once in a while and without much detail? And even if they did, do you imagine that bothers the deceased? Or the living? So what are you worrying about? The fact is, people are too busy studying their own lives to really focus much on ours, and so their opinions of us have more to do with them than us.

Be bold. Know that every great person dealt with tons of people who hated their choices and yet still they went on. They went on because they weren’t trying to be impressive—that would be impossible. Instead they trusted that strange tuning-fork that lives inside all of us. And by listening they heard it and it told them which way was theirs. They went past their fears simply because they felt that was their way to go.

34 Relax and Succeed - One should as a rule respect public opinionYou have those feelings too but you ignore them in favour of building barriers with word-based thoughts that focus on your fears. Your ego talks your spirit out of enacting itself. But those fears are only an ephemeral curtain of thought. They are the illusion that separates you from your own fulfilling life. Just like other people’s opinions.

Instead of looking at what someone else has look at what you have. Stop trying to get people to be impressed with your life and start actively loving your own life exactly as it is. Because truly loving it in the present moment without changes or adjustments is what allows us to see our way through the fear. And that’s important because past those fears is where your real life is.

Carpe Diem. Life: it’s yours for the taking.

peace. s

Why I Love Artists

33 Relax and Succeed - We think we understand the rulesI seriously wish I could do one-on-one sessions with everyone on Earth just so I could steal their script. Did you know you were performing a character? Can you recognise that we are all largely puppets performing in society’s play? It’s not an exaggeration. We act out what others have taught us is acceptable or desirable. That’s what hairstyles and fashion are: performances we engage in within society’s theatre because that’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what our societal script claims.

But are you aware that you are ultimately the writer of the play? You are also the director and its star. You can do anything you want. Instead you do what everyone else is doing. Because that’s safe. Because people might compliment you on that, and that would be a connection. And after all, connection is the only thing you’re ever really looking for.

33 Relax and Succeed - Every child is an artistThis is what I love about artists: they work four times as hard for a quarter of the money and they still like their jobs more than most people. That really tells you something. I have a long history in the arts and it’s almost without exception an extremely compassionate, supportive group. That’s why outcasts feel comfortable in the arts. That’s why people think artists are weird. They don’t get that we’re not really outcasts; we’re a collection of people that care a lot less about the play that everyone else is performing in.

You don’t really do what you want to do. You conform. You try to be liked. You make choices others have already made. You don’t want a boldly designed home that strongly represents your personality in case it would be ugly to someone. You want the banal showhome that isn’t even trying to be loved—it just wants not-to-be-disliked. It’s safe. It won’t be criticised. You wear the clothes that you think will make you look impressive. You listen to music you think will make you look cool. You try.

33 Relax and Succeed - Choose a job you loveArtists pay in a different way. They may not care quite as much about what people think of them, but at the same time they have to put every single piece of work they’ll ever do up to be judged by the public. That requires serious bravery. Imagine if every single thing you did at work would get judged out in the open by everyone all the time. Artists live like that. And doing so involves risk.

When you put on a real play—you’re out there. If people don’t like it you will find that out clearly and personally. If your book doesn’t sell it doesn’t sell and you make no money. If people don’t watch your TV show they don’t and the ratings report it. If they don’t like your song they’ll say so and that stuff really hurts. Your income is dependent on people liking you. And more than that; your creations are like children to an artist. And yet despite all of these ways to suffer artists keep doing it anyway. Why?

If you’re inside the matrix of society you can’t comprehend what you’re missing. You’re like a two-dimensional person trying to understand the idea of over. You’re not familiar with the experience of freedom and expression. Instead you are filled with anxiety as you try to be beautiful, thin, sexy, rich, smart, capable, vulnerable, strong, classy blah blah blah. Why criticise yourself all day worrying about what co-workers think about your life? How about being yourself instead? Because that would be awesome. No one else is being you, so if you don’t do it your you-ness will never get lived and the world would lose something important.

33 Relax and Succeed - Don't ask the worldLook, even artists are loaded with ego and we too lead lives with plenty of suffering. But artists put up with that too-often horrible work-to-pay ratio for one reason: it allows them to spend time with other people who can also see through some of the aspects of our social and economic systems. They’re the ones pushing on life’s borders looking for more room, maybe a way out. It’s brave work and more respect for it wouldn’t be misplaced. It’s also quite exciting. Like Neo in The Matrix exciting.

The next time you see someone you’re inclined to call silly or lazy or childish or irresponsible, try considering the fact that silly can be called creative, lazy can be called efficient, childish can be called confident, and irresponsible can be called free. It all depends on how you look at it.

Forget the rules. Forget what’s popular. Forget what’s in fashion. Forget what people think. Just take off the mask and breathe. We’ve been waiting for you.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.