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The Fire Starter Sessions

The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms by Danielle Laporte

Some of my favourite excerpts…

Passion is the wind in your sails, and practicality is the rudder. You need both to get where you’re going.

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My great friend Marie Forleo, founder of the Rich Happy & Hot LIVE events, has her own kind of enthusiasm policy for how she chooses her projects: if it isn’t a “Hell yes!,” then it’s a no. Enthusiasm is the genuine Yes! that will uncork your genius, signal your muses to come down, and magnetize the resources you need to be within your reach. Enthusiasm is the beautiful beginning that changes everything.

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If I have to choose between two service providers with similar skill and equal pricing, I’ll always go with the one who freely expresses his or her excitement. I did a gig with someone who said, “Oh, my God, I’m so excited to work with you! I’m going to hang up the phone and do the happy dance.” She was so uncool about it all. No pretense—just joy and bright faith in how much fun we could have. So then I said, “Me, too! Now I’m really stoked. I’ll do the happy dance when I hang up, too. Let’s do this!” My best strategic meetings have been the most uncool. Whether they’re construction contractors, publishers, or florists, they’re unself-conscious and eager. They’re stoked to be there and they say so.

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What three actions will you take this week to condition and nourish your true strengths? 7. What three actions will you take this week to decrease your time spent on the activities that drag you down and don’t feed your true strengths?

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First, get clear on how you want to feel. Then, do stuff that makes you feel that way.

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If you have goal lists or vision boards, write your desired feelings on them—front and center. Stick a note of your key feelings into your daily planner. I have a sticky note inside my Moleskine planner that says CONNECTED. AFFLUENT. DIVINELY FEMININE. INNOVATIVE. And that teeny note, those few words, are the rudder of my ship. David Allen, the king of prioritization and time management, gives the most refreshing answer to the question “How do you set priorities?” “I have a radical point of view: Learn to listen to, and trust, your heart. Or your intuition, or your gut, or the seat of your pants, or whatever part of your anatomy is the source of that mysteriously wonderful ‘still, small voice’ that somehow knows you better than you do, and knows what’s better for you, better than you do.” Letting your feelings be your time management guide? Radical indeed.

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It doesn’t matter if you’re a VP or a hospice volunteer, a trust fund baby or a perpetual student, you need to have a genuine cocktail line, an elevator pitch, a clear one-liner about what you do in the world. Note: genuine. Not the chips of truth that put the “small” in small talk. Why do you need a genuine cocktail line? You could be riding the elevator with your next future customer, lover, funder, best friend, or a primetime TV producer. When serendipitous promotion and soul sparks fly, it’s good to be on your mark. But mostly, it’s a practice in presence. How you introduce yourself could be a sacred distillation of your reality, talent, and deepest interest. Yep—all that in just a sentence or two. Clearly, this is no trivial exercise.

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Eventually, we all get around to wondering what someone does for a living. The problem with introducing a conversation with this question is that the answer can shut down a more meaningful exchange. We’re prone to put people in categories according to their jobs: winner, loser, somewhat intriguing, or totally unrelatable. There’s a quick, sure fix for this dilemma. The question: “How does it feel to…?”

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If you can assess how yesterday’s agony affected you, then you not only defuse its potential grip on you, but you also place it where you want it to be in your psyche. By observing it, you transform it. The willingness to interpret and integrate the lessons of hardship is a key characteristic to forward-facing people. They get it. And they move on.

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I’ve had times in my career where after I left a venture, I could hardly bear to think about profit margins and new connections. I just wanted to write sutras and make soup. Burnout is the ideal time to take a dream hiatus and take stock. Move slowly in the shifting terrain of ambition and idealism. It will be tempting to make plans for what’s next, but resist and be still. Go into Savasana. At the end of most yoga classes there is time for Savasana, or the corpse pose. You just lie flat on your back, breathe, and integrate. The purpose is that all the work you just did is metabolizing. It’s taking effect. We need more Savasana in our lives to integrate what we’re learning.

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If you “follow your bliss…you will begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you,” said Joseph Campbell, explaining his theory of the “invisible hands” that help you through life. While you’re still tripping on the Milky Way of potential, call in your invisible elders, angels, or faith leaders. Imagine hanging out with the wisdom keepers or titans of your industry—your idols. Now assume that you are their contemporary—that you’ve earned your place alongside them. Ask for their grittiest stories and advice, just as you would a new best friend. Jam with them. Observe. Tell them your ideas, give them your pitch, sing them your song. Pay close attention to how they respond. What do they tell you?

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Think of something you’re afraid of. Got it in your head? Now ask yourself “Why am I afraid of…?” Answer it. Ask again. Because why? Answer again—you can give the same answer or a different one, but eventually you’ll need to get unstuck and discover another reply for yourself. Keep repeating the Because why? question and keep answering it. It’s amazing what the basic repetition can dig up as you drill down closer to the source of your fear.

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Consensus can create mediocrity. When you and your partner(s) decide that you have to agree on everything, it can stymie decision making, slow you down, foster risk aversion, and weaken your strategizing. When you have to agree, you tend to avoid things that might cause disagreements. Not good. When, however, you agree that one person has the final say in a particular area, here’s what happens, ideally: The person with the final call is extra-thoughtful, weighs the options, does their homework—and trust is nurtured. Teamwork isn’t about harmony at all times; it’s about covering all the bases so you can win the bigger game by letting each person exercise their true individual strengths—and carrying the success and the failure together. So figure out who’s in charge of what—the marketing, the money, the staff, the front end, the back end, the brand. Allow for creative tension, and give everyone enough space to leap, to lose, and to take their charge to a whole new level.

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Tonglen is Tibetan for “sending and taking,” and it’s a Buddhist meditation technique for overcoming fear and suffering. Tonglen is one of the most empowering, life affirming, and truly creative practices I’ve experienced. It’s best summed up as this: Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. Breathe in suffering—yours, others, the world’s. Breathe out compassion—for yourself, for others, for the world. The tonglen practice is a method for connecting with suffering—ours and that which is all around us—everywhere we go, and dissolving the tightness of our heart. As Pema Chödrön describes it, “Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be.… However, we often cannot do this practice because we come face-to-face with our own fear, our own resistance, anger, or whatever our personal pain, our personal stuckness happens to be at that moment.” Tonglen suggests a radical approach to our habitual ways of resisting pain and all things negative: Absorb it and therefore transform it. The approach is sometimes referred to as “using what seems like poison as medicine.”

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HOW TO TONGLEN 1. Get yourself into a calm and centered meditative state of mind. (I’ve done tonglen on a meditation cushion and on the crosstown bus; for an hour and for three minutes. There’s no need to get formal about it if your intention is clear.) 2. Focus on the suffering of a specific person or on your own personal pain. Breathe in the pain. Let it be vivid. Let it be heavy or smothering or whatever it needs to be.   Some teachers suggest imagining black light streaming into your heart, or calling on the power of enlightened beings to help open your heart to compassion. 3. Breathe out relief to that person or yourself—whatever you feel would be the healing counter to the suffering. Send out any feelings that encourage openness and ease. This is where some teachers suggest envisioning white light extending out of your heart. Who (or what) do you know that’s hurting? A child. A friend in her first round of chemotherapy. Your racist neighbor who doesn’t even know he’s suffering. Victims of rape and human trafficking. One of many impoverished nations. Starving polar bears. Our oceans and rivers. Breathe in the wish to take away all their pain and fear. Then, as you breathe out, send them happiness, ease, care, or whatever you feel would relieve their pain. You can start with your own fear and tough stuff, or that of those around you. Breathe in the worst thing that ever happened to you. That sunk feeling. That thing you wish you could take back. Recapitulate it in breaths: the blackness, the sickness, the fibrous seething rage, the sticky-scratchy, inconsolable weight of it. Take in the unbearableness. You may want to escape. Press on. Go beyond the grip. Inhale the pain in to your every cell. You won’t die. You’re going to expand. Keep breathing. You’re on the verge of a miracle. Now breathe out joy. Soothing golden warmth. Luminous flying birds of clarity. Electric rays of smiling karate chops. Feel your lungs as powerful creative engines of healing and righteousness. Pulsate rapture. Let happiness emerge from the fractures. Let scar tissue become bridges that lead to a festival of relief and dancing. See joy. Feel joy. Hear joy. Sing joy. Breathe love into every cell of the situation. Now do it for other people’s suffering. Please. For that homeless man on the street, in winter. Cold and demoralized. Inhale his agony. Exhale comfort and transformation. The jobless folks with families to feed. Cancer patients fighting to live. People gone mad. Soldiers who kill and the families they destroy. Take in the wreckage. Turn it into light and give back compassion and tenderness.

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“It was like jumping off a cliff. It was an amazing feeling,” Frank says. “I was so happy from then on.” Even after his big-yes moment, there were failures for Frank. He was supposedly cash-strapped more than once. He bid on projects that he never got. He had to can staff. He seriously questioned his own judgment. But he never did another building that he didn’t absolutely love creating. The moment you say yes to acting on your desire is the real beginning. It’s not when you give your notice or when your novel is off the press. Do you want a career that amazes even you? Then say yes. Do you want a love life brimming with adoration and the sweet stuff? Then say yes. If you start to tell me why it’s not possible, or how bad you want it but you don’t know how to get it—then you don’t want it bad enough. Maybe isn’t going to cut it. Maybe clogs up the dream machine. But before you can say yes to the good stuff…you probably need to learn to say no to all that other stuff.

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The silver bullet? Call it for what it is: crazy making. “I let them know that I gave it my all, and that the decision racked me, but that I just couldn’t be of service to them anymore. I returned a month’s worth of pay, gave them all of their files, and offered to bring their next contractor up to speed. I took a deep breath when I pressed send, and then I did the karate chop of victory.” Once Chris paid his fee at the Crazy Town tollbooth, something wonderful happened, as it typically tends to when we choose sanity: A dream client showed up the following week with deep pockets and a penchant for decisiveness.

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Talk show host Charlie Rose asked folk rocker Neil Young about following his own muse. “So if you get an idea at, say, a dinner party, if you hear a tune or a lyric, do you excuse yourself from the party?” Charlie inquired. “Of course. You never know when she’ll [the muse] come again. I’m responsible to her.” Sometimes, Neil would hide out in a bathroom to scratch out a song that was coming to him and return to his dinner guests after he felt he’d captured it.

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That question climbed into me and set up camp. I meditated on it for two years. I printed it out in forty-point type and pasted it onto my notebooks. Before I planned any project, I went and sat with this question. Could I trust that my art would support my life? The only way to find out was to…trust, to operate from that place of luminous, fierce wishing within myself.

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If you knew that your art would support your life how would you live?

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I have never met someone who is living a bold and successful life—and by successful I mean prosperous, kind, and in touch with the meaningfulness of what he’s doing—who has apologized for being perfectionistic, mercurial, unrelenting, or whatever his slightly controversial hallmark characteristics are. You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge.

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Dear Friend, I’m taking a leap. Reaching out. Trolling for insights, reflections, and objectivity…from you so that I can see myself more clearly. 1. What do you think is my greatest strength? 2. How would you describe my style of living? 3. What do you think I should let go of? 4. When do you feel that I am at my best? 5. What do you wish I were less of, for my sake? 6. When have you seen me really shine? 7. What do you think I could give myself more credit for or celebrate more?

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(Home day perfection) In everyday life, where would you be, what would you be doing, who would you be with, what would you be eating, how would you be earning, helping, creating, living, loving in a span of twelve hours? Walk through everything that would go into the waking hours of blissdom for you.

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(Away day perfection) In an extravagant or time-bending day, where would you be, what would you be doing, whom would you be with, what would you be eating, how would you be earning, helping, creating, living, loving in a span of twelve hours?

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Sometimes we take on to-dos and commit to climb mountains because our soul is called to. Sometimes life throttles us with unforeseen and unrelenting demands, such as growing families and aging parents and fledgling businesses. Busy can be great. Busy can suck. But most often, busy is a choice.

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I don’t buy the “busier than our predecessors / age of technology / workaholic culture” argument. Yes, we appear to be more compulsive, less nuclear, and able to survive on less sleep than everyone in Little House on the Prairie, but their lives were just as packed, planting potatoes and raising barns, surviving from sunup to sundown. Before microwaves and disposable diapers and Internet access, our grannies worked to keep it all humming. We fill up our lives. That’s what humans do. The question is what are you filling it with? Are you out-of-control busy, or are you full with life? Full is beautiful. Frantic is a buzz kill.

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 (I highly recommend Tim Ferriss’s “dreamlining” exercise in The 4-Hour Workweek book. It’s posted on his website for free. He offers a formula that’s just the right combination of visionary and nitty-gritty and, in his words, “reverses the repression” of being on the hamster wheel of earning and spending. Go get it.)

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Get clear on your desired life. Then you’ll be clear on your purpose for money. Then you can match your purpose with your actions. This is the heart of lifestyle design.

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I’d advise Kelly to create a free “salon meets coaching” in-person event on a hot topic that relates to her expertise. Invite a small group of women, say, friends of friends. Meet in someone’s gorgeous living room, a yoga studio, or a great workspace after hours. Perhaps the hot topic is stress and sex. Kelly leads a conversation by asking key questions of the group, and she works her own teaching, fact-finding how-tos, and insights into the experience. Women are taking notes. They’re getting inspired and seeing Kelly as a wisdom maven. Now she has five women who will potentially go out and talk up her wisdom and either become clients themselves or refer other people. She also has data—more information and real-life stories about women, stress, and sex that she can write about on her blog or in her new book, or talk about on the local breakfast television show.

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We both agreed that conceivably, I could cost the project out at close to $200,000. But what I felt comfortable with—solid, aligned, very pleased—was $120,000. Cushy. Juuust right. I could ratchet up if and when I took on another similar project. I felt honorable, I felt blessed, and I felt like my goal was within reach. And I didn’t feel ridiculous pressure to excel and compete. I won that contract and it was one of the most hassle-free, time-efficient projects I ever worked on. My profit per hour was outstanding. When your money shoes fit, you’re more agile…and sensational.

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I tend to think of money in the same way I regard time: It’s a form of energy. It comes and goes according to my intentions. The clearer my intentions, the more the money flows. Before I decide if I’m going to spend my coin on something, I weigh out the potential for results and pleasure.

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At any given time you could be juggling a “soul job” and a “ho job.” Soul jobs are a full-meal deal: stimulation, inspiration, and cash, all in one. Ho jobs are low on the spiritual fulfillment but can go a long way in financing your art. If you need to suck it up and take a gig to pay the rent, just do it and spare yourself the “artistic integrity and compromise” judgment. Paying the rent is a good thing. Being hounded by credit card collectors is a bad thing. When you suck it up for your own greater good and keep your personal vision front and center, you’ll have the stamina to do what needs to be done on all fronts—and depending on how soon you want to stand your dream up, “what needs to be done” is a lot. The “Soul + Ho” combo is a double-time gig. And the return can be truly great.

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In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. —Albert Schweitzer

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Aim for passion, not balance. Balance is a myth. Passion will put your life into the right proportions that work as a whole.

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Ask yourself what you’re going to have to give up in order to pull it off. It’s a total downer of a question, and superheroes hate this part of strategy. Innovation by nature is disruptive, not accommodating. Something will have to give so the greatness has room to emerge. Give stuff up so it doesn’t take you down.

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Striving for balance will derail your plans for greatness. Do you think that Leonardo da Vinci or Amelia Earhart or Richard Branson set out thinking, “I want to live a balanced life”? No. Their aim was on audacity, full expression, and all the boundaries that they were compelled to break.

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The antidote to exhaustion isn’t rest. It’s wholeheartedness. —David Whyte, poet

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Think of the totality of your life as a symphony. Great music has dimension and layers that compose the overall harmony. It’s not about making sure each instrument is played at the same volume all at once—that would be droning. There is a time for the strings to carry it all, and for the drums to take it in a new direction, and for the trumpets to punctuate. There is a time when your relationships matter more than your job. There will be months when your career sets the pace of your entire life. There will be passages when your focus is inward and you retreat from the surface of your life to tend to your body and soul. Balance doesn’t exist, but proportion and harmony do.

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Your work. Your relationships. Your inner life. In his book of the same name, David Whyte calls these “the three marriages.” “Each of the three marriages is nonnegotiable. They cannot be ‘balanced’ against one another—a little taken from this and a little given to that—except at their very peripheries. To ‘balance’ work with relationship and with the self means we only work harder in each marriage, while actually weakening each of them by separating them from one another.” These fundamental components of our existence must work to support one another, not to vie for unfaltering attention.

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It’s not the imbalances of life that will get you down—it’s doing meaningless things that aren’t taking you where you want to go. The more you pursue what you’re passionate about at any given time, the less friction and more fluidity you’ll have in your life. And that’s the definition of harmony.

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Full-on living includes fantastic productivity and immense stillness, self-centeredness and self-sacrifice, time to flare and space to fizzle. Up close, or by the standards of those who prefer the safety of balance, it may look off-kilter, but when you step back, you might see a masterpiece called Your Life, Lived. Priceless.

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