Inside the Producer’s Corner with Suzanne Lyons
This is a series of articles that film producer and best-selling author Suzanne Lyons (listen to her interview here) will be writing over the next 6 months. I personally asked Suzanne to share her knowledge, experience, and motivation with you the IFH Tribe. Whether you are a director, producer, cinematographer, screenwriter or editor I think you’ll get a ton out of this series. Check back every week for a new post that will help you on your journey as an indie filmmaker.
10 Tips for Turning Your Weaknesses into Strengths
I have literally spent the last month thinking about this topic and I have to be honest, this has been a difficult one. Turning our weaknesses into strengths! The more I thought about it, the more I realized I could write a book about this topic or a whole series of books for that matter. Just being in the inquiry and observing myself and others has been amazing, enlightening and yes, at times, downright depressing.
I’ve even reread “Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. If you haven’t read this book, go online and order it now! When you’re committed to the highest artistic standards as Catmull and his colleagues were, you are going to bump up against your weak areas again and again. Never did he or his colleagues back down from a challenge. They faced each breakdown and problem head on, dealt with it and found solutions. The results were pure creative genius and we as audiences got to enjoy the magic they created.
Are you pushing your limits and committed to breakthroughs? What I’ve noticed in my observations (myself included) is how much we argue for our limitations. It’s like our foot is nailed to the floor and we spend our time defending our weaknesses instead of facing them head on and turning them around. It’s crazy. We’re here to learn, to expand, to grow… period!
So, let’s look, really look, at our weaknesses. I promise it’s like mining for gold. Look for them… seek them out… welcome them. You’ve been given a magnificent opportunity to have a magical life. Have it be BIG… have it be BOLD… ever expanding, always challenging! Identify your weaknesses, address them and turn them into strengths!
As one of my favorite authors and brilliant thinkers from the early 1900s, Wallace Wattles, says, “The very best thing you can do for the whole world is to make the most of yourself.”
Let’s look at a few ideas and suggestions that may help get you started.
1) YOU WANT CURVES? TRY THE LEARNING CURVE!
In my early years in television I was one of the first women to break the glass ceiling and at 29 I was a VP. I’m not saying I wasn’t terrified, I was, but I wanted the challenge. What I noticed is that the more at risk I was and the more challenging the job, the more I came face to face with the areas where I was weak. Put yourself at risk like that.
It’s like putting yourself under a magnifying glass. You will see clearly the areas that need attention… the areas that need to be strengthened. It’s not going to be pretty or comfortable, but it’s worth investigating. I was from an era and culture that said I should be sweet, nice and quiet. Management skills were not my forte. Not by a long shot. Even my boss at the time didn’t want me there.
My first day on the job he said that as a woman my place was to be in the kitchen (he had obviously never tasted my cooking!). The good news is that my heart and intuition told me otherwise. Would I need to strengthen my weak areas? Absolutely! Was I willing to raise to the occasion? You bet your… well, you know what I’m saying.
2) SPEND 5% OF YOUR INCOME ON PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL GROWTH
At 29 and in those days, I knew I wasn’t trained in management skills. But instead of shrinking from the opportunity and the responsibility I looked for workshops, books, mentors… anything and anyone that would help me grow. I’d heard that professional business people put aside a percentage of their income every year for this purpose, so I invested time and money into programs like self-assertive training, stress management seminars, time management courses, and other workshops that pinpointed the areas that were my weakest.
3) BEING RESPONSIBLE
I’ve lead workshops to thousands and thousands of people in the entertainment industry (and other industries). And when folks are pushed to create bigger goals and raise the bar for themselves, their fears surface and I’ve witnessed first-hand just how frequently we let our fears get in the way of our goals and dreams.
I always encouraged the participants to take on big goals and I saw each student as bigger than who they saw themselves to be. This pushed them right up against their fears. And, when they would see that they were the one in charge of their life and that they got to say the way things were going to be, it helped the fear dissolve and allowed them to step into the bigger picture.
In other words, they got out of the way. They took full responsibility and let their commitments, not their fears, run the show. Maryanne Williamson said it best in her quote “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world… we are born to manifest the glory that is within us.”
4) COMPLAINTS… WHAT DO THEY REALLY MEAN?
My coach used to say that if I complained about something more than once (which I did with frequency) I was doing it to get off the hook. Of course, I argued with her, but the more that I started to notice it and catch myself complaining about one thing or another, the more I realized I was using it as a crutch.
I didn’t have to move forward, or get bigger, or risk or take on whatever that new challenge was, because I could stay stuck in my complaint. The interesting thing was that I used to look for agreement to help justify my complaint (my opinion) and I’d always find it.
I’d make sure I had people around me who agreed with me, which unfortunately only perpetuated my story of what was wrong, what wasn’t working, putting the spotlight on the drama, keeping me stuck and playing small. Look to see where you might be doing that.
5) PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING
There is a great quote that explains this one perfectly, “The way you choose to see the world creates the world you see.” Start to watch how quickly you jump to a decision about someone or something without thinking… really thinking. Just begin to observe and listen to yourself next time it happens. There is an exercise I use all the time to help me with this, and it’s called ‘pivoting’ from Ester and Jerry Hicks’ book “Ask and it is Given.”
To me it means turning your perception around on a dime. I was at the airport at home in New Brunswick a couple of summers ago and had booked and paid extra for the exit row seat on the plane I’d be getting from Toronto to Los Angeles. The guy at the airport at home said that I couldn’t have it (even though I paid for it) and he was really nasty about it and said that someone else now had my seat.
I didn’t care about the flight from home to Toronto since that was a shorter flight but I really wanted the space that the exit row seat provided from Toronto to LA. He got nastier the more I argued so I finally said okay. But even as I walked away I was fuming, I was so upset and angry. The conversation in my head was making him wrong in every way. All I could think of was what an idiot he was.
I almost continued that conversation when all of a sudden, I remembered ‘pivoting’ and on a dime I changed my conversation. I said to myself that my seat would be great and my neighbor in the next seat would be lovely… it would all work out. I forgot about the guy at the desk and went on to get my flight to Toronto. While sitting at the gate in Toronto waiting to board, I heard my name called three times to come to the desk. I couldn’t figure out why they were calling me, so it took them three time before it registered.
The gal said,
“I hope you don’t mind, but a mom wants to sit with her daughter, so would you mind giving up your seat and taking the mom’s instead.”
I looked at the seat number and started to laugh. It was the exact seat that was originally mine… the aisle seat in the exit row! Pivoting, wow, what a great exercise. Change your perception on a dime and watch miracles happen!
6) WHAT STORY ARE YOU TELLING?
Is the story you’re telling empowering you or disempowering?… Is it positive or negative?… Is it inspiring or discouraging? I think for the most part we’re not really aware of just how much and how frequently we tell the story of what’s not working, what’s wrong, what I can’t do, what they did to me, etc. Begin listening to yourself and if the story you are telling is not empowering you, stop, or put a new spin on it and make it empowering! This is an incredible exercise. You’ll love it.
7) IDENTIFY AND MAKE NOTE OF YOUR WEAK AREAS
Author Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great,” talks about disciplined thought. He suggests that we need to “have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of our current reality, whatever they might be.” When we don’t do this the fall out can be devastating, not just to you but to the people around you. I worked with a fairly new director on one of my feature films and I didn’t realize until we started shooing how insecure he was.
Instead of letting me know that that was a weak area for him and that working on a feature caused him a lot of fear, he kept it to himself. Every day he would scream at the crew calling them names and disrespecting them in front of everyone. Of course, everyone could see through it and knew he was insecure and just pretending to be powerful by trying to make others wrong, but it still hurt and caused a lot of upset that I as the producer had to deal with every single day.
At the end of each day I walked around apologizing to the folks that he hurt. If he had just been honest about his fear and used the film to turn it around and strengthen that muscle it could have made a world of difference for him and for all of us.
8) GET BIGGER… IT’S WORTH IT
Oddly enough the bigger you get, the more unwilling you are to argue for your limitations. Years ago, I took on a three-month volunteer role of having 300 people at a huge satellite event about ending hunger. Taking on something that challenging had me come face to face with my shortcomings. But I didn’t run from them or cover them up. The event and the purpose of the event
The event and the purpose of the event was bigger than me and bigger than my fears and insecurities, so to rise to the occasion I had to face those weak areas… lack of confidence, time management issues, fear of failure, leadership concerns and more. I faced them, worked on them and got bigger.
9) THE BIG PICTURE
Another take on Tip #8 is to look at the big picture in all areas of your life. One of the tools I use personally and that I teach in my “Creating Your Best Year Ever” workshop is a Vision Board. Use pictures, images, drawings, symbols, anything you want that will help you focus on your dreams, vision, purpose, and desires. When you stand in your commitments and desires you are far more willing to take on getting bigger… it becomes a natural effortless process. As
When you stand in your commitments and desires you are far more willing to take on getting bigger… it becomes a natural effortless process. As a speaker and author Chuck Gallozzi said “Once we yield to this inclination for continuous and never-ending improvement, we lead a life of endless accomplishments and satisfaction.”
10) TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
I know you’ve heard this a million times. I’ve heard it a million times too, but it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve tried it and guess what… it works. You know in your heart where you need and want to expand and grow. Start paying attention to your instincts, to your feelings, to your gut response. We were born with a perfect guidance system, I think we’ve just forgotten how to use it. Get back in touch with it…
Get back in touch with it… breathe, meditate, visualize, relax, take a time-out for yourself. As poet George Bernard Shaw said, “Life if no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” So, strengthen your weakness and have the brilliant magnificent life you are meant to have.
BONUS: I invite you to join me in an inquiry into this important topic. Why do we live a lifetime without confronting and altering our weak areas? Why live with them? Why try to cover them up? Start observing them and begin looking for ways to strengthen those areas. Let’s all do this, so we can all delight in every aspect of our wonderful selves!
My next blog will be about another one of my favorite topics… Leadership. In fact, there is so much good stuff to say about it that I will be writing two articles and offering some great tips on leadership and how to play on the leading edge. Until then, stay present, be conscious and dream big!
Suzanne Lyons is President/Producer of Snowfall Films, Inc. having produced/exec produced 12 feature films to date. She co-founded the Flash Forward Institute which focused on teaching the tools of business needed to market oneself in the entertainment industry. She recently launched a game-changing online course called Indie Film Producing Masterclass with Suzanne Lyons. She’s the author of Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking published by Focal Press. She has also hosted over 125 informational videos on the film industry. When time permits she does private career and business coaching. Suzanne is originally Canadian and lives with her husband in Los Angeles, CA.
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