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We love the idea of potential and possibility. And if we're good at what we do, we may have people telling us to aim higher. Encouraging or even pressuring us to do more, be more, achieve more.Those are expectations others have for you, their vision of your life.

But here's the thing: We get to live our vision.

Aspirations and goals are vital to success, but just because we can be bigger, higher profile or whatever doesn't mean we have to be.

Maybe success to you is running a business that provides a good living and lets you have time off to spend time with you family and friends, read or paint or make music, do volunteer work or tend your garden -- whatever!

Maybe success to you is serving a small niche.

Maybe it's working behind the scenes rather than in the spotlight.

The point is, we determine what success means to us and it's OK to want just that as long as we aren't settling for less than we -- not anyone else -- want.

Don't be afraid to pursue the business life (or personal life for that matter) you want. And don't be self-conscious about wanting what you want.

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Back in college, my pal Sandy and I used to dream of owning a store front where we had two desks and just answered questions all day from passersby for a small fee. It was some combination of Lucy's advice booth from Peanuts and our work together at the Carolina Union information desk.

Sandy Curry and me (seated) at the Carolina Union Information Desk, circa 1983. (Photo by Stretch Ledford or Scott Sharp)

We never achieved that dream, but earlier this year I successfully launched a related one: office hours. My friend Keebe, who owns McIntyre's Books, generously offered me and Steve space in her store to hang out for a few hours one afternoon a month.

Steve Peha and me during office hours at McIntyre's Books
(photo by Keebe Fitch)

During that time, we're available to chat with people who wander in and with those who show up specifically for some help with writing, to chat about publishing or just hang out. We can even have brief drop-ins with clients there.

It's a great way to cultivate new relationships (some of them paying), raise our profile in the community (since we both work mainly nationally), build our brand and have some fun.

The same concept might make sense for you -- even if you work in a company. Could you set up shop in the breakroom or common area? I bet you could.

Making yourself open and accessible to other people for casual interaction builds relationships and trust, and expands your circle of influence and influencers.

Give it a try today.

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We picked up a new client a while back, adding capacity to a busy PR team. My experience in journalism has always been a handy tool for PR writing, but what has really wowed the client was the quick turn-around we offer. Now they're sending us short pieces that need a quick revision or copy edit in addition to the writing work.

The quality of the content was what got us the gig and what made them see we could help as editors, too. Executing that quality in a timely way is what convinced them to expand our scope of work.

Always deliver what you promised, of course, and look for opportunities -- tangible or intangible -- to add even more value. This is what separates you from everyone else on the team or in the marketplace.

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Constraints fuel creativity

It's easy to feel like open spaces and blue skies are required to boost creativity. And they certainly can. But the real world offers few opportunities for that, thanks to time, resource and other factors. That's why it's important to learn how to use constraints to fuel creativity.

I use constraints two ways:

1. Time constraints to support creativity

When I've got a problem to solve or am stuck in my writing, I'll often set a time for 25 minutes with a goal of seeing how far I can get with idea generation or content creation. The only rules are to work continuously until the bell rings. If I find my groove, another 25 goes on the clock. If I'm still struggling, I grab a little blue sky (or gray) by going outside for a quick break to reset. Then I'm back to the clock. I like this approach because even if it takes a couple of reps to get the creative juices flowing, I'm not thrashing around aimlessly for hours or avoiding the work altogether.

2. Intellectual constraints to drive creative thinking

A laptop and notebook illustrating a post on memos from writing coach Margot Lester of The Word Factory

A blank page can be freeing or freezing. When I'm struggling with a problem, especially a content issue, I avoid blank-page paralysis with a handful of frameworks that include prompts and restrict space. I often write about the Content-Purpose-Audience Strategy(c) and how I use it to plan projects. A hidden value to the worksheet is that it's got finite spaces for my thinking. I usually work through it by hand on paper, which slows my brain down just enough to process more effectively. When I do use it on my computer, I work in a PDF, again because it forces concision. The combination of the directed questions and the limited space creates a fertile environment for clear thinking and creation.

Try these tactics next time you need a shot of creativity or to get unstuck.

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Our most-read posts of the quarter, served again in case you missed them.

Team training icon on The Word Factory corporate training page

Write better faster

Writing is processing and processing is necessary work. Good work. But it takes time and it's messy. Here are some fast and effective strategies for going from good to effective as quickly as possible.

 

Be a better client

When you low-key fire or just plain neglect a contractor or agency, when you just let things go, there are ripple effects you might not have considered that affect your partner and your brand. Margot explains.

 

Are you violating a copyright?

Not being clear on copyright is dangerous. Even if you don't have a ton of assets that make you a viable candidate for a lawsuit, if a pissed off client gets in trouble for because you violated someone's copyright, they can at the very least never work with you again and tell all their colleagues to steer clear of you, too. That could end your career.

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