Hello. Hello. Welcome back to the show friends. I’m your host Miranda Anderson. You’re listening to Episode 113 of Live Free Creative podcast.
Today I’m going to be sharing with you all about the idea of grand gestures and how we can use them for our benefit, our own digging deep and making things happen in our lives that we want to happen and are having a hard time getting going on. If you know what I mean.
There are probably a couple things here and there in your life that you think about and think about and think about, and may even try to get started, or just want to get started and tip toe around and you want to just make it happen. A grand gesture might just be the way to do that.
So I’m going to share a couple of examples and how I like to use this principle, this idea in my life.
As we get started on today’s episode, let’s do a quick segment called Magical Adventure Moments.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Camille Andros’ Books:
The Boy and The Sea (pre-order now!)
Segment: Magical Adventure Moments
I’m recording this episode in Annapolis, Maryland. This weekend, Dave and I escaped for a quick anniversary getaway yesterday.
We spent the afternoon sailing on the Chesapeake Bay and it was beautiful. The sun was shining. The wind was a little bit brisk. It’s October and so it’s cooling down. It was like this perfect balance between warmth and coolness, sunshine and water. Just a really beautiful, beautiful day to be out sailing.
There was a point on our trip around the bay, where we were visiting a couple of lighthouses and learning some history. And we were out in the middle of the bay. I mean, miles out into the middle of this huge body of water sailing along. And I looked out over the water and noticed a butterfly. A huge Monarch butterfly flapping its little wings, just a couple yards above the water miles out into the bay.
And of course I quickly processed all of the things that I know about butterflies, about monarchs. I know that they travel thousands of miles. They all travel South. There’s a giant butterfly migration that happens every year.
And so it wasn’t unusual that this tiny butterfly would be out flapping its way South. It struck me. First of all, I was delighted by this beautiful site, this cute little tough, tough Monarch making its way South.
It also reminded me of nature’s ability far beyond our understanding. How this one tiny insect can travel miles and miles with nowhere to land, just making her way–I’m going to assume she was a female Monarch; I have no reason to do so–making her way across this body of water across the states, across the continent, all the way to settle in and continue the life cycle of her species.
I mentioned in a podcast or on Instagram, I don’t remember which, several months ago about reading a book by Gabrielle Bernstein. And she talks about choosing your own sign. Just deciding for yourself what you want your sign–as a manifestation that you’re on the right path and that the universe is conspiring in your favor–to be.
And I immediately chose butterfly without really knowing why. I guess I’m a child of the nineties. And so there’s probably a little bit there. But every time since then that I’ve noticed a butterfly or seen a butterfly out and about in the world, whether it’s on a billboard or on the sidewalk or in my garden or sailing across the Chesapeake Bay, it reaffirms to me that I’m on the right path and that life is conspiring in my favor.
This is a beautiful reminder to keep going and to look for the good and to notice the magic around us every single day.
That my friends was my magical adventure moment.
Main Topic: Grand Gestures
When I say the words grand gesture, what comes to your mind?
Do you think of a lavish gift or a big vacation or a big party or set up.
Grand gesture? I think in the past, when I’ve heard this phrase, it has usually had a connotation of someone going out of their way to make something known to someone else. Usually in a love story, someone does a grand gesture to show their love.
And the other way that I’ve thought of it is maybe in a more negative connotation that people use these grand gestures when really we need to focus on the small daily ideas and daily actions that make a big difference. That one grand gesture can’t make up for every single day, staying consistent and doing the things that matter.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Now, when I read a book by Cal Newport last year called Deep Work, I thought of grand gesture in a whole new way.
Cal Newport’s book is all about really using our focus and our attention and how that ability to really laser our focus into something important reaps huge benefits, and that we are slowly losing our ability to do this.
I talked about it a little bit in the podcast last week about the attention economy that our attention is being really vied for by so many different sources right now. And, unless we’re really trying to focus and be intentional about it, we can spend much of our time bouncing around from thing to thing, story to story technology, to technology, without actually doing the things that we want to do in our life, without actually exploring and learning and achieving and creating what we want in our lives.
In this book Deep Work, Cal talks about four different ways to get your good, deep work done.
I have to just say too, for those of you who’ve read the book, or if you plan on reading the book, one of the thoughts that I had that struck me as interesting was that his perspective is very much the perspective of a man. Granted he’s a family man with a wife and children. And when he’s talking about getting his deep work done, he doesn’t ever take into account the idea of having to take care of the children, maintain a household do sort of some of the regular things that I’m guessing someone in his life does, maybe his wife, maybe they have a caretaker for the family or the home.
So he doesn’t even take into account like the actual rhythms of a household and a family. He’s talking about, professionally, how to get work done. And that even if the only thing you have to do is get your specific work done that there’s lots of distractions.
So imagine adding onto that, if you are a mom or a wife, or a homeowner, or a pet owner, you have other responsibilities on top of the work you want to do.
And your work in this case can refer to lots of things. It could refer to an actual job. It could refer to a hobby, it could refer to a cause that you are engaged in, that you love and want to fight for.
There’s lots of different ways to think about this. It could really refer to just some goals that you have. Simple things like the goal of doing your family photo books, or writing a journal, or catching up on your exercise and really focusing on your health. Anything that you want to focus on intentionally and do–like kind of dig in deeply.
That’s what deep work refers to–really focusing on something for a long period of time. Not just a little tidbit, but for something that might take a while.
So Cal talks about these four different ways that you can do that–focus on your deep work–and the final one is the grand gesture. And this is what I want to talk a little bit more about today.
My experience with grand gestures
As I was reading about this idea of a grand gesture, he gives some examples throughout history of academics and authors and people who knew that, in the rhythm of their life in town or with their families, or in their regular jobs, that they wouldn’t actually have the time to go really dig in deeply. And so they would take themselves away, apart, and give themselves the gift of this focused time through a grand gesture.
He talks about Henry David Thoreau going to Walden Pond, and he would live there while he was working. And much of his days were spent just wandering around observing. And that was where he had all of the experiences that then led him to be able to create the things he created.
As I was reading it, reflecting on my own experiences. I realized that I have had quite a few times where I have inadvertently–without really thinking about it in this way–I have given myself the gift of a grand gesture in order to accomplish and work on and focus on something that has been really important to me.
Writing a book
The first example that I want to give is when I decided I wanted to write a book. I thought about it. I knew the story that I wanted to tell. I had lived this experience of our families experiment of not shopping for a year and throughout I had been writing about it and sharing about it.
And it felt like such a great way to share the things that we had learned, writing a book and sharing it, and really like summing it up tightly for myself as well as a reflection on what we had been through and how it was going to impact our life moving forward.
I decided, okay, I’m going to write a book. And I piddled around with it a little bit. I had some notes in my note app, I had opened a Google doc and started to write a little bit of an outline and maybe a little bit of a framework.
And I also was living life. I was working. Doing blog posts. I was working for some companies creating content. I was living with my family. We had just moved to Virginia. We were working on renovating our home and life happened. Life was happening.
The thought that I was going to take time apart felt like adding something that I didn’t have. Like I didn’t have any extra time without giving up things that I was already doing. And I liked all of the things that I was doing. So it was this sort of Catch 22 of I need to make space, but I don’t really know where to do it or how to do it.
And the idea occurred to me to give myself a weekend–just give myself an entire weekend by myself–where the only focus of the entire weekend was going to be to work on my book.
I was already traveling that spring for work. I was going to a conference and I had my ticket to the conference. And I looked at the dates and decided I could add three days onto the beginning of my trip.
So I would spend the weekend by myself and then head into the conference. And I already had to arrange for childcare and logistics for the conference week. So if I added a couple of days on it sort of lessened the workload of arranging everything, because I could just add a few days on. And I did that.
I’m so lucky that Dave is super supportive of these types of things. I’ve traveled a lot for work in general over the last five years. And so adding a few days to the beginning was my grand gesture.
I arrived at an Airbnb by myself in Joshua tree. I had a bunch of groceries and frozen pizza and Topo Chico. I had set myself up so that the only thing that I needed to do was to write and to think and to write.
And it was really a little bit of the shift of adjustment. The first couple hours I sat down and started writing and then I ran out of ideas. I needed to walk around a little bit. And I went on a walk in the desert and I came back and then I started writing. I started to loosen up my creativity, loosen up my ability to express myself and to share and to gather ideas and to organize those ideas.
And I got into it.
And by the end of the first day I was rolling. I had a very clear vision. I had reorganized and organized and reorganized again, sort of the framework, the way that I wanted to tell the story. I had pulled out a bunch of principles, and then I could start typing in some anecdotes to go along with the principles.
Things started to come together. I popped a frozen pizza in the oven, and I sat down and worked for a little while. And then I ate my frozen pizza and hung out in the hammock and sort of rested my mind and allowed myself some space to let things kind of fall into place. And then I got back up and kept working.
After three days of really focused work, I emerged. I left Joshua tree and headed to the conference with a full, complete outline of my manuscript and almost 20,000 words, which eventually got edited down and out and shifted around a little bit.
But to give you an idea, if you’re not familiar, I wasn’t at the time, a typical nonfiction book is about 40,000 to 50,000 words. So after about a year of thinking about writing a book, trying here and there, and jotting down some notes once in a while–after three days of focused work–I had a complete outline and about half of a manuscript in word count finished.
In three days!
That was a grand gesture. That was taking myself apart and giving myself the gift of one focus. Just one focus for the weekend. And it was so powerful.
Giving myself a kickstart was so helpful because I had a framework to work with. I had some guidelines and I was able to then go on and set myself some goals. I actually sat down that whole manuscript for months, but when I picked it up again, I knew what to do with it. And I knew how to get that work done.
At the end of writing my book, I did a similar thing. I had a couple chapters left to finish. I had a personal deadline to finish by the end of January. And this is a couple of years ago. I called my friend Camille Andros, who’s a picture book author.
Camille Andros’ Books:
The Boy and The Sea (pre-order now!)
But we decided to spend a weekend at a hotel together and work. We did our mini writing retreat. This was another grand gesture in to enable us to focus in and really just hit it hard and get that work done.
I bet you can guess what happened. We spent some time eating and spent some time at the spa and created space to relax and to get those creative juices flowing.
And by the end of the days that we spent together, I had written the last words. I had finished the manuscript completely and was able to turn it into my editor.
These two writing retreat experiences were grand gestures. They were investments of time, of money, of resources, of attention. And they were the key for me completing the goal that I had of writing and publishing a book.
I absolutely believe in the power of consistency and of small actions, all adding together to reach a goal. And I can tell you that I believe deeply in the power of giving ourselves the gift of a grand gesture in order to move the needle past the point that we can ignore. To push ourselves with this space, like creating this open space where the only thing that we have to do is the thing that we want to do and how powerful that is.
My six mile run
I know that not everyone listening to this podcast wants to write a book. I do believe though that most of us have something that we really want to achieve, or that we want to work on, that we want to focus on, and that we are having a hard time creating space for it.
One of my goals as a business owner, as a mentor, as a podcast host, is to help women create space for the things that matter most to them. And one of the ways that you can do that is through a grand gesture.
I want to give you another example. A few weeks ago, maybe even a couple months ago now, I decided after many months off that I wanted to start exercising again. COVID and quarantine did to me what it did to so many people, it sort of sucked my motivation. It disrupted my routine, and I had a hard time figuring out where to put all of the things that I wanted to do, and it was just a little bit confusing.
I had such a good rhythm and routine for my running and for exercise and all of it kind of shut down at once. I was trying to pick it back up and put it back together and figure out where to make these things fit, where to schedule in a long run, where to schedule in some exercise.
I was able to start just slowly building on going on walks every day and creating space for that. And then got the motivation to say, okay, I’m going to start running. And I started planning for a loose half marathon training.
I kind of kept hitting the same wall though. I would run for two to three miles felt really easy for me. That’s kind of like a baseline for me, so I can go and run two miles no problem. I can go and run three miles no problem. And I was getting to I want to run the three, the four, the five, the six.
And I even remember going out on a run that was supposed to be a five mile run. And I got to about four and thought, I’m just kind of bored. I’m kind of done. And so I said, four is good for today. That’s fine. I just didn’t push myself through it.
Well, a couple of days later I decided, rather than running from my house, which is what I normally do–and one of the reasons I love running, because it doesn’t require very much, a pair of running shoes and that’s it. You can just take off from wherever and go run around the neighborhood, which is normally my plan.
I was scheduled to run a six mile run. And I thought through it. And I thought about where I would go from my house in order to do that six miles and realized I was kind of retracing some of my regular runs. Three mile, four mile, five mile runs. And I was not that interested in that.
I could see myself already hitting a three mile marker and feeling like, ah, I’m just going to like take this shortcut home and just kind of be done.
I decided to set myself up for success by creating somewhat of a grand gesture. And this is going to sound like not that big of a deal to you probably, but it felt like a grand gesture to me.
Rather than running from my doorstep, I decided to wake up and get in the car and drive about 15 minutes across town to a running pathway. This trail goes along the James river. And then up into the hills and some farm country.
The trail itself actually goes from Richmond all the way down to Williamsburg. It’s like a 50 mile running and biking trail. Needless to say, it was more than enough length than I needed for my six mile run.
I put on my shoes. I put in my AirPods. I got a podcast going. I could hit the go button on my watch and I started to run. I ran up the trail and by the river and past people with a smile and a wave. Through the little windy part, across a couple of bridges, and up the big hill next to the fields.
I passed the 7-11 and crossed the street at the stoplight and continued on the trail on and on. By the time I got to the three mile marker where I was going to turn around, my watch buzzed me at three miles, I realized that I was feeling good.
I was entertained. I loved being outside. Just the newness and the freshness of being somewhere different felt empowering and added some confidence to my running that day.
I turned around at the three mile buzz and started heading back along the trail and noticed the homes along the way, and noticed the way that the fields were almost ready for harvest, and the way that the sun was getting higher in the sky and casting these long shadows across the trail.
I finished my six miles and felt so good. I felt motivated. I felt confident. My body didn’t hurt. My breath felt calm. And I thought about the power of this grand gesture–which honestly was not that grand–that was taking myself away, adding maybe a little bit of intention, a little bit of planning, investing a little bit more time and a little bit more thought, to give myself and support myself in the accomplishment of my goal.
If I had just run from my house, I probably could have done my six miles. I probably would have been fine. And just knowing that it was going to be a little bit distracting, it was going to be a little bit tricky for me and having seen the way that I had tried to push myself a little bit further before. And hadn’t quite gotten there.
This allowed me to say, I’m going to take myself apart. I’m going to give myself the gift of this beautiful trail on the sunny morning and take a little bit more time and give a little bit more thought and support myself and encourage myself and set myself up for success. That was a grand gesture. And that grand gesture led to the outcome that I hoped for.
Maybe what you could use is a grand gesture
Sometimes we know that we can do things within the course of our lives, within the day to day, and so we try to force ourselves to just be more consistent and be more hardworking and just try harder.
And I want to just invite you to consider that if you have something that you want to do, that you want to work on, that you love the idea of, and you can’t seem to find a way to fit it in, maybe what you really could use is a grand gesture. Maybe what you could really use is creating some space where the only thing that you have to accomplish or that you have you have to focus on for a couple hours, or for a day, or even for a weekend, or even maybe for a month, whatever it might might be.
How can you give yourself the gift of a grand gesture that sets you up for success and adds layers of support? You create your own safety net so that everything is taken care of. And the only thing that you then have to worry about is doing the thing that you want to do.
The reason–if you’re thinking, I don’t even know how I would do that, that’s impossible or it feels really hard–I think the reason that some of these things feel a little bit trickier is because we’re not used to setting ourselves up for success that way.
We’re used to saying it’s okay that I’m not doing all of the things that I want to do because of these excuses, because of the responsibilities I have, because of my kids, because of the household work, because of my budget, whatever it is.
We say these are all the reasons that I can’t do it rather than thinking what would enable me to be able to do it.
If this were simple and I had everything that I needed in order to move forward, what would that look like? And how would that feel?
Anniversary celebrations can feel like a grand gesture
Right now, as I mentioned earlier in the episode, Dave and I are celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. We for most of our marriage have tried to spend at least a night away, at least one night away. Usually we’re able to get a weekend away to celebrate our marriage every year. This feels like a grand gesture.
There have been years where it impacted our budget in such a way that we had to rearrange a lot of other things in order to make it happen. And we’ve realized that giving ourselves the gift of the grand gesture of some time for just us to reconnect–I say reconnect as if we’re not connected normally.
We love to do the daily things and the weekly things that connect us. We have gone on a weekly date night for over 10 years. We have dinner together as a family. We call each other during the day. We do lots of things in our day to day lives that maintain that connection and that help us work on our marriage and our relationship regularly.
And there’s something special about giving ourselves the gift of a grand gesture, where we have two days that all we need to do–all that we want to do, all that we are expecting of ourselves–is to enjoy being together. Whatever that looks like.
Yesterday we went sailing and got to just have a new fun experience together. We went on a long run together just for fun. We watched Saturday Night Live. We drank Topo Chico and ate cookies in bed.
The reason that it’s called a grand gesture is because it’s grand. Because it’s special. Because it invites all of the feelings that you want to. It creates space for you to do and think and feel and connect and create and focus and love your life, and love what you’re doing.
Live Free Creative Camp is a grand gesture
Next month I’m gathering with a group of a dozen women in a beach house on the outer banks of North Carolina for Live Free Creative Camp, which is my in-person deep work retreat. This offering came directly out of my own experiences with the grand gesture.
My goal with Creative Camp is to cover every need that one of the attendees may have. We provide yoga and meditation and incredible food with an onsite nutritionist and chef and beautiful accommodations and a lovely outdoor setting and some creative exercises and some peer reviews.
And mostly, all of the space and time that one might need to focus deeply on the creative work that they want to complete.
Whether that’s writing a book, whether it’s organizing the logistics of a photography business, whether it’s creating an e-course that you want to launch, whether it’s writing a personal history and giving yourself a couple of days to rest, relax, be taken care of, be fed, and just reflect on your life and write in a journal and create something that you hope to share with your family one day.
So much of my hope for Live Free Creative Camp stems from the idea that we all have something that we want to do, that we aren’t giving ourselves the space to do it, and that we’re trying to fit it all in, into little chunks and little tiny bits and pieces within the nooks and crannies of our life.
And maybe if we just really jump in the deep end and just immerse ourselves in this goal or in this work or in this idea, that we’ll emerge and then have the motivation and have the ability to widen and create space for it in our everyday lives going forward. Because we’ve gotten in so deep that we’re ready to really understand it and move forward with it.
Sometimes we really want to believe that this thing that we want to do is important, and we don’t quite get there. Cal Newport says,
“By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated towards supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task.”
One of the complaints, or one of what you might feel like the downfalls of a grand gesture is, is the idea that it’s a significant investment of time, effort, or money. And in fact, Cal through his research suggests that this significant investment of time, effort and/or money is exactly the reason why a grand gesture works.
When you are investing in that way, investing your resources, you are telling yourself, you’re training your brain, that this is something that I value. This is something that’s important. You actually, by and through your investment of your grand gesture, teach yourself how important it is.
Sometimes it feels like it’s a little backwards, the idea of invest so that you feel the importance, rather than what we would like or what feels more normal, the idea that feel that something is important and then invest in it.
Cal Newport, and this idea of grand gesture, suggests that as you invest in things, you change their importance, you raise their importance in your own life.
There are many ways to make a grand gesture
I hope that through the different examples I’ve given that you see that there are lots of ways to do this. It doesn’t have to be going out of town for a weekend, even something as simple as driving away from your normal environment in order to give yourself some focus can help you feel like you want to do this, like this does matter and it is important.
As I finish up the episode today, I want to invite you to think about what are some of the things that you really want in your life, or that you have this nagging? Most of us have a project, an idea, a goal, something we keep pushing to the back burner and keep thinking, as soon as I have more time, I’m going to do that. Or as soon as I have more money, I’m going to work on that. As soon as my kids all go to school, then I’m going to dig in.
What is that thing for you? If you had a weekend in a beautiful hotel or bed and breakfast, and everything was taken care of, you didn’t have to take care of your kids, someone was providing all of your meals, you had everything taken care of, and you were just going to focus on one thing.
What would that thing be for you?
I want to invite you to consider where and how you could add a grand gesture in your life in order to build up the importance of the things that matter to you, create space so that you can live the life doing the things that you really want to do. Believe that are worthwhile, and that the ideas that you have are equally worthy of attention and investment.
Thank you so much for listening in, for being part of the Live Free Creative podcast community.
You may remember that last month was our big two year anniversary. And I hosted a giveaway. I am thrilled to announce that the winner of the giveaway is mama of two. So that’s the screen name, the review that she left says this:
“Big sister life advice. The other day it hit me just how many areas of my life Miranda has influenced for the better. It might sound a little dramatic or cheesy, but it’s true. She feels like a big sister, just a few more years down the path of motherhood, marriage, creativity, life. She always shares her advice freely and candidly. She has taught me how liberating it is to reduce your amount of belongings. She has shared ideas for living more sustainably. I feel like all of our recommendations are authentic and quality. Hey, I even credit my favorite chicken salad recipe to her peak of the week about working at Sundance. She gives renovation and style advice, and most importantly, cultivating balance in personal development and creativity with motherhood and other responsibilities. Listen in. You’ll love what she has to share.”
Mama of two send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will grab your address to send you the big birthday giveaway package.
And thank you to everyone who left a review. I had dozens and dozens of really kind and generous and lovely reviews to read through. And it just reminded me how much I love doing what I’m doing. And I’m so happy that it’s impacting you for good.
And after all of this talk of grand gestures, I wanted to invite you to learn more about Live Free Creative Camp to find out if it’s something that will be right for you.
I have dates and locations available already for 2021. And if it sounds like something that could benefit you in your life or your business, I would love to invite you to check out all the details livefreecreative.co/camp.
You can head there and find out all about the events that I have happening in 2021, where you can come and enjoy and relax and work and learn.
I’ll talk to you next week. Have a good one, friends. Bye bye.