Art of Asking

The Art of Asking – a book review

I mentioned earlier this year that I was reading Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. I did say I would do a book review, and over four months after finishing it I’ve decided I need to get off my butt and do just that.

Let’s start with the obvious – if Amanda Palmer had given her TED Talk a year earlier it would have been part of My Year of TED. I said ‘probably’ in my previous post, but having an activity based around asking would have been a great addition to an incredibly vulnerable year. It’s true that I did have Thanks, Praise and Mindfulness, which had an asking element, but this would have kicked it up a notch.

A lesson in vulnerability

I gave an intro to the amazing talent of Ms Palmer in the previous post, but if I had to explain who she is I would say “a very open and talented human being.” The book is a brutally honest recounting of how she learned to ask – and ultimately how she learned to embrace being vulnerable to others. It’s fascinating because, prior to reading the book, I would have included the phrase ‘uncompromisingly strong’ to define Amanda – I still believe that is the case, but I now understand that there is a lot more bluff and bravado in that strength than I would have previously imagined.

And this is the beauty of The Art of Asking – well it’s the beauty of anybody being willing to share their inner workings with the world. I’ve mentioned before that I think this is a massive shift in our society; a shift towards being honest about our brokenness, moving away from the ‘perfectionism’ that has plagued us all for far too long, and a willingness to open ourselves up to vulnerability. My belief is that sites like TED have provided fantastic platforms for people to admit their weaknesses; admit their struggles and imperfections; and, to allow us all to realise that maybe we aren’t alone in ours.

By reading Amanda’s book I was reminded that even people who exude strength and confidence have to work at it. I was reminded that nobody is above feeling the sting of criticism and rejection; that true strength lies in being able to take the hits, dust yourself off and try again. I’ve spent too much of my life hiding from the world; hiding my true feelings, and hiding my creations. If you have a creative spirit that wants to share its brilliance with the world, Amanda’s book will remind you why you need to embrace vulnerability and be willing to ask.

A reminder of the best and worst

I also found the book was a great reminder of the best and worst of human nature. Amanda Palmer has always asked her community for support, she has an incredibly active community (online and off). The book recounts a range of anecdotes of Amanda trusting her community to house and feed her, and her band; and an equal number of stories of how she gives back in ways that are more important than money. Of course, not all of the stories are positive, she is dealing with human beings after all. But it is a great reminder that the positive stories far outweigh the negative ones, and the positive ones largely exist because she is willing to believe the best of people.

Amanda Palmer quote
This was one of my favourite lines – I’ve ben fortunate in the troll situation, but have seen far too many under other bridges.

Of course, she talks about the Kickstarter campaign that she received a lot of flack about. Hopefully some of her critics have come to understand that it wasn’t money for jam – that she had to use that money to produce an album, tour and distribute what her supporters paid for. Some of the criticisms levelled at her for that activity definitely showcase the worst of human behaviour. The seeming anonymity of online critics is probably the greatest negative the internet has given us – well okay, online gambling and a proliferation of porn are up there too.

But, it is the positive stories that I remember months after reading the book. It is the generosity of spirit of her community, a generosity she pays back in many different ways. It reminds me that asking can be a simple act, if you have cultivated relationships that allow you ask without fear; that allow people to say no, without it being a rejection of you as a human being.

The relationships

As much as The Art of Asking is about anything, it is about relationships. The two that feature most prominently are Amanda’s relationship with her husband, Neil Gaiman, and with her best friend, Anthony. It’s hard not to envy both of these relationships in Amanda’s life – although I think I envy her friendship with Anthony the most. I don’t know what my life would be like if I’d had an adult who believed in me and gave me the support and love that Anthony gave Amanda.

I’d like to think that I’ve been able to give some of that to people in my life, I certainly try to be supportive and loving, for the most part. As an adult I have found some amazing mentors and friends who have filled that Anthony role in my own life; but to have had it from a younger age? well, it’s one of those unknowable things now. I don’t envy her relationship with Neil, largely because I have a wonderfully loving and supportive partner in Derek. Actually, I should say I don’t ‘envy’ any of it, because there is a negative connotation with the word. It’s more that reading about her friendship with Anthony, I became painfully aware of something that I missed out on for most of my life.

As an awfully sad footnote to this, Anthony finally succumbed to his cancer about a week ago. It’s funny how many people in Amanda’s community felt a connection to him from the book, and her posts. I think we all felt like we lost a dear friend – it’s weird how that works.

The Review

Amanda Palmer has written a thoughtful, thought-provoking, and intensely personal account of how she learned to ask. Her story gives you all of the positive reasons you should embrace the vulnerability of asking for help, but it also provides the counterpoints when you are dealing with flawed human beings (and aren’t we all flawed in some way?).

If you are a creative person who is scared to share their creativity with the world – read this book! If you are someone who hates to ask others for help or assistance – read this book! If you find personal narratives intriguing – read this book! If you are considering creating a large online community, and being controversial (very honest with them) – read this book!

I don’t think you will be disappointed, and you might just learn something about the value of being vulnerable.

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Does your organisation suck?

Last year I had the great fortune of speaking to a small number of TED speakers; I used their talks as part of My Year of TED. Part of their conversations are being included in the book (yes, that thing I don’t like to talk about because it is taking far too long), but I’m also writing a series of articles for the Huffington Post from these conversations.

Society’s Addiction to Sucky Organisations 

The first is from my conversation with Dave Logan, the Tribal Leadership guy. It’s about Tribal Leadership, addiction, a key problem with management and his purpose. You can read it here.

The aim is to get one of these up a month until the end of the year – I hope you enjoy them.

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What Aerial Silks are Teaching Me About Balance

I’ve mentioned that I’m learning aerial circus at the moment, and that includes the silks. We were doing a strength activity the other night where the silks were tied and we were effectively see-sawing from being upside down with legs in a wide V to stop falling out, and then pulling ourselves up to a slightly seated position (like the picture above). As I was pulling myself up the instructor said “feel for the point where you go from pulling to pushing, that’s very important for some of the more complex tricks.” As I was lying in bed that night I thought that was a great metaphor for life in general, and particularly since I’ve moved into the freelance/working by-for myself space.


On the silks, the movement is all about balance. It’s about being able to feel that point where, if I were to keep pulling I would fall forward and out of the safety of the silks, so I need to rapidly shift to pushing back a little to keep my balance. But if I push back too far, then I will turn upside down again, and if my legs aren’t ready for that it would mean falling out of the silks onto my head. The pushing and pulling of this physical activity is how you maintain balance and, eventually, elegance in the silks.

The metaphor is great, because I’ve had to learn a lot about balance, starting my own business:

  • Sometimes I need to push everyone away and buckle down for business development — sometimes I need to remember to pull people close so I have mentors and support
  • Sometimes I need to push myself out into the world to get the work and make sure people think of me (and yes, that means selling) — sometimes I need to pull back, be kinder to myself and recharge my batteries
  • Sometimes I need to push through, giving the business more time and energy, making sacrifices — sometimes I need to pull away from the fun, but not time sensitive business activities and be with Derek, Lily and my friends

It can be a fine line, this yin and yang of starting your own business. I’m not doing a lot of things that I need to push myself to do, as a result I’m not pulling in the amount of work I would like to have. When I was an employee this was never a concern of mine, now it is a vital component of my balancing act.

Balance isn’t about equal measures

The reason this struck me as so relevant in my business is because I’ve been working very hard on understanding myself as a freelancer (the solopreneur title does not fit – but that’s a whole other blogpost). I did a whole activity on Balance in My Year of TED, and that resulted in defining my perfect day, but that was a perfect day as an employee – and the concept was problematic. I had tried to do some mix and match to redefine that, but working for yourself is more complex than that, the value of everything changes a little bit. What do I mean by that?

When I am balanced on the silks, the top half of my body weighs more than the bottom half, which is effectively just my legs. The balance is not about being perfectly level, because the two sides do not weigh the same – and that is how it works in life as well. Having work/life balance does not equate to spending the same amount of time at each, we all know that. So everything gets a value inside our heads, an arbitrary value that only we can define and decide upon. If I hate my job, then I’m going to need a lot more non-job related activities that bring me fulfilment and joy to balance that out. If I’m in a crappy relationship, then maybe spending more time at work is how I achieve the ‘balance’ of happiness.

My ‘perfect day’ when I was commuting into a job that was slowly sucking the life out of me, and watching people around me being treated extremely poorly, had a very different set of values than I have today. So, the last year has been about trying to understand those arbitrary measures for myself; learning which tasks I enjoy, which I hate and how much pushing or pulling is required so I don’t fall on my head, or face plant the mat.

Do you know your arbitrary values?

This post isn’t about me, it’s about you. Do you know how to get the right balance in your life? Do you understand your tipping points, and what keeps you in the safety of the silks? I don’t mean knowing that 30 minutes of X will require 2 hours of Y to make it better, I don’t think any of us know that. But are you aware of when you are pushing or pulling and when you need to shift gears to stay balanced? If not, maybe you need to spend a little time trying to work it out, or else when you’re at the point of learning the more complex tricks, you are likely to fall from a greater height.

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Gratitudes – Day 30 – Can you believe I forgot?!

Yesterday was Day 30, my final day of gratitudes for this mini-activity, and I completely forgot about them. Well, I remembered at about 2pm that I needed to do them, and I remembered when I got into bed last night – but at the time I should have been doing them… nothing. I think it was due to the fact that I had a very busy day on the computer yesterday, got into pretty good flow with a number of things, and that can often result in forgetting things.

Anyway, I should write my gratitudes for yesterday to complete the activity.

  1. Clarity – this has been a big thing for me in the last couple of weeks. I’ve had some great moments of clarity about the business, but yesterday was clarity about the book (yes, that all elusive book about My Year of TED).
  2. Mindless movie – we watched Fast & Furious 5 last night, sometimes mindless action is a great mood enhancer.
  3. Resources – found some great additional references and resources to include in the resource guide for my Social Media Savvy course – I will share some of them on dinkylune as well in the coming weeks.

I guess I am also grateful that the pressure to post these gratitudes daily is now over. It’s been a fantastic activity for me though; not only to remind myself how powerful daily gratitudes can be, but it has re-engaged me with writing on the blog. So expect to see more consistent content again, after all there is a lot going on in the Kylieverse*

[Couldn’t help myself Adam and Neil, hope you don’t mind :-)]

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Gratitudes – Day 29 – I guess I should include Mum today

Second last day of gratitudes, and it’s been another very slow day. As I’m writing this I have no idea what the three gratitudes will be – which is weird because I usually have clarity on that before I start writing the post, but anyway.

  1. Mum – it would be remiss of me not include gratitude for my mother on mother’s day, so it’s in my list. Now that sounds a little mean, and I didn’t intend for it to sound that way. I am grateful for my mother (and my father), it’s just that this particular day in the calendar has mixed history for us – I’ll just stop digging the hole here and leave it at that.
  2. Clarity – more elements clicking into place for my business and how I conceptualise it.
  3. Derek & Lily – they can share the third spot. I am always grateful for the little family we have created for ourselves.

I’m in quite a sombre mood today – it happens, and I’m hoping that it will be short lived, but that might be why I’m finding the gratitudes a little more difficult to come by today.

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Gratitudes – Day 28 – fun and relaxation

It’s been a pretty lazy Saturday for Derek and me today; a much needed one.

  1. Wii – we’ve been in the new house for almost two years now and have never set the Wii up. Today it came out, and we found out how rusty we are with the games :-)
  2. Connection – a few lovely responses from the mailing list email I sent yesterday. Always enjoy it when people let me know how they feel about my writing.
  3. Dodgy movies – sometimes it’s just nice to have something mind numbing to watch; enjoyable but not too taxing in the plot department.

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sm savvy

Gratitudes – Day 27 – Reminder of changes

Wow, the last week of gratitudes has just flown by, or maybe it’s just that the last week has flown by. Anyway, here are today’s:

  1. Learning – attended a great online clinic today. It was on a topic I discovered about a year ago, but my brain is now ready to comprehend what it means for me – yes, I can be a slow learner at times.
  2. Inspired – I went to a networking afternoon where we were fortunate enough to hear Glenn Manton speak. If you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend it. I’m very grateful for Glenn’s messages and humanity.
  3. Sale – last night I launched my first real online course (90 days of TED was only Hobart and partly done in person so doesn’t entirely count), called Social Media Savvy. This morning I woke up to my first sale! It’s actually a great commentary on the course, given it is a person who has been reviewing the content for me, and he still thinks it’s worthwhile to spend money to get the course in its entirety!
    [P.S. – if you’re a dinkylune subscriber you will be getting an email tonight about the course, with a link to the sales page that already has Lesson 1 unlocked for you.]

There was a lot happening today, and one of the events was a reminder to myself that I’ve come a long way. I messed up with an appointment this morning, which for many of you might not be a big deal. Pre-My Year of TED Kylie would have spent a good hour or so berating myself about how I could have been so stupid, dwelling on the lost time and money associated with the error. So, I was pleasantly surprised when my first reaction was simply “bugger!”

I didn’t beat myself up, there was no internal commentary about how this simple error was an indication of how [insert insult here] I am – it was just a simple, factual account of how much more pleasant my morning could have been if I hadn’t got the time wrong. So, for all of you perfectionists out there, all of you who have a shocking internal critic and no ability for self-compassion – I am living proof that you can change that internal dialogue. It takes time, but the fact that I didn’t even have to catch myself and practice self-kindness was a wonderful realisation of how far I’ve come in this whole crazy adventure.

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Sleeping Beauty

Gratitudes – Day 26 – Snow, excitement and laughs

Winter made an early appearance today, although it’s not that early by Tasmanian standards I guess. Onto the gratitudes for today:

  1. Snow – lots of beautiful snow. Yes, it’s cold but stunning (above photo is Sleeping Beauty, mountains behind us).
  2. Email – I do not like to talk about things until I have complete confirmation of them, so let’s just say that I got a fantastic email today that I’m very excited.
  3. Friends – a lovely lunch spent with friends, always a reason to be grateful.


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Gratitudes – Days 24 & 25 – Treats, tech wins and an epiphany

I didn’t post gratitudes yesterday because I didn’t think it was right to include them in the interview post, and I didn’t want to break the cardinal rule of posting only once a day on the blog. So, you get a double dose again today. Here goes, gratitudes for Tuesday:

  1. Chocolate – so I’ve been pretty much fructose-free since August last year. I still eat fruit, but maintain less than 3grams per 100grams of sugar in everything I eat (yes I still do lactose). This was not due to the “sugar is evil” debate, although since I have had to be more conscious of sugar levels in things it has shocked me what has sugar in it. It was to help my liver recover from finally feeling the effects of my steroid overdose years ago. Since Christmas, I’ve had a couple of events where I’ve let loose, but I still stay close to the diet. Yesterday I gave myself a treat, and I am very grateful that I can do that now without pain.
  2. Rain – I enjoy the rain, and yesterday morning it was lovely sitting inside out gorgeous house and watching the rain and the mist.
  3. Interview – lastly, I’m grateful that I got the editing and transcribing finished for the interview with Vanessa, and it all went up without any technical hitches.

And what am I grateful for today?

  1. Video – I’m extremely grateful I finished the sales video for my new course, one day I will have to cut together all of the atrocious takes and faces I pull at the camera when I have to do that sort of thing.
  2. Aha moments – I had a mini epiphany about something this morning. It needs a post dedicated to it, but I will say that I made a niche decision and I’m not hedging my bets anymore.
  3. Circus – come on, it’s Wednesday, you knew it was going to be in here. Although given how cold and rainy it is, getting there and back is not part of the gratitude :-)

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