April 7, 2020

Elle Luna: Journey to the Crossroads of Should and Must

Elle Luna: Journey to the Crossroads of Should and Must

Elle Luna was rejected from every law school she applied to. After that, she stood at a crossroads between what she felt "should" do and what she "must" do. But thanks to a recurring dream that led to a life-changing painting, she w...


Elle Luna was rejected from every law school she applied to. After that, she stood at a crossroads between what she felt "should" do and what she "must" do. But thanks to a recurring dream that led to a life-changing painting, she was able to find her calling. Take a listen to her story of overcoming adversity, trusting in her community, and how following her "must" changed her life!

 

Elle Luna is a designer, painter and writer. She also runs a textile venture, the Bulan Project., a collaboration with master batik artists in Bali, and has previously worked at international design firm IDEO and with teams to build Mailbox's iPhone App, redesign Uber's iPhone App and scale the storytelling platform Medium.  You can follow her on twitter @elleluna.

 

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Transcript

Elle Luna: The Crossroads of Should and Must: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

Elle Luna: The Crossroads of Should and Must: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Elle Luna:
Well, welcome to the unmistakable creative, thanks so much for taking the time to join us.

Elle Luna:
Thank you for having me.

Elle Luna:
Yeah, my pleasure. So you have been a long requested guest by many of our listeners, by mutual friends, and you've also been referred by former guests. So I knew it was only a matter of time before we had you here on the show. Absolutely. Love your work. Such a big fan. So on that note, can you tell us a bit about yourself, your story, your journey and your background and everything that brought you to the crossroads of should and must?

Looking for Signs

Elle Luna:
Wow, that's a lot. There have been so many influences. Looking back, I can see the signs everywhere. But the one most clear sign that happened very, very early on really boils down to this. I began to have a recurring dream night after night for months. And it was a dream about a space. It was a white room. And in my dream, I would walk in and sit on the floor of this room, concrete floors, tall white walls, warehouse windows and a mattress on the floor. And the most incredible thing would happen when I was in that space. I would be filled with the warmest, most pervasive sense of peace and calm. And one day I was telling a friend about this room and how weird it was that I kept dreaming about it. And she asked the question that really, really turned my life inside out. She said, Have you ever thought about looking for this dream in real life? And I don't know how many of the listeners have ever actually had a dream and then got about, like, trying to find the people and the circumstances from that dream. But I certainly had never done this. And the idea felt, if I really can be honest, it felt just silly. But there was something about it where I began to wonder if there was greater intelligence in the dream.

Elle Luna:
And so I started searching for this room on Craigslist and I didn't really know what it was. I didn't really know if it was a house or studio or a business. I didn't know. And one day, as the universe would, I'm scrolling through Craigslist and I see a photograph literally of the dream that I've been having at night, and that words just can't describe how incredible that is when something like that just manifests and happens in your life. And I took it as a big sign. There was an open house. The very next day I went, I got the apartment. Two weeks later, I moved in to this space and I sat in real life on the same floor that I had been sitting on in my dreams. And instead of being filled with peace, I unexpectedly began to panic. I looked around at the room and I began to wonder, what was all of this about what was going on? And I literally said out loud, why am I here? And as clear as day is clear as anything I know to be true, the room replied and said to me, It's time to paint. The next morning, I got up and I had painted a lot as a kid and as a younger woman, but I had kind of stopped along the way.

Leaving a Startup to Start Painting

Elle Luna:
I went I decided to rebuild my painting tool kit, and I started painting in this white room. And literally I mean, I had no idea what I was doing, but I just felt inwardly, deeply compelled to do this thing. And this energy just started pouring out of me. And I started making and making and making. It was almost unsustainable, the amount of energy that was just rushing through me. And around the same time, the the only small detail in this whole story is that I also had a full time job. I was working at a startup in San Francisco called Mailbox, and we wanted to revolutionize email on the iPhone. We wanted to change the game. And I was working with this incredible team. And I got to a point where the mailbox work was going so phenomenally, so beautifully. And the painting was also feeling so amazing that I remember on launch day, it was February of 2013. I was sitting at my desk, we launched mailbox. We had a waiting list of almost a million people waiting for our app. And I there and then saw this what I now call the crossroads of should and must. It was this moment where I could see my entire design career and startup career.

The Crossroads of Should and Must

Elle Luna:
I'd worked on the Uber app. I'm sure most people are familiar with Uber and worked it all these amazing startups. And I'd done all this stuff that all had led me to this amazing point of launching this product. But I had no idea what any of that had to do with my dream of painting in a white room. And I think that's really the gist of where I am in my journey. And the story that I'm sharing is that this crossroads of should and must arrives in all of our lives over and over again all the time and big and small ways. And I mean, like, let's look at that that day, right. Like peak of a startup and also this kind of fledgling, bizarre expression of wanting to paint those worlds were both equally appealing, but they were totally different. And standing right there between those two paths, I had to choose. I couldn't keep it up. I couldn't do both. And I looked at my finances. I saw that I could buy myself some time to give it a go. And I just I went in all in two feet into painting. And that's what led me here to today. I guess that was three years ago now, two years ago.

Elle Luna:
Ok, I want to go back to before the dream. We'll get to everything you just said. But I want to talk about the journey that happened before all of that. You know, working at the startups that you have working at IDEO and all the things that have led you to that point. I'd like to dig deeper into some of those because I feel there's so much more there in uncovering your story and some of the lessons that you've brought from all of those and some of the childhood influences and people that have shaped and influenced the way you see the world.

Elle Luna:
Cool. Let's do it.

Ellle Luna's Childhood Influences

Elle Luna:
So, I mean, talk to me about the early childhood influences. I mean, how do you get to the point of getting to do all these really cool jobs? Because, you know, when I looked at your background, I thought, wow, she has gotten to do some of the coolest work ever and she's gotten to put her thumbprints on things that anybody would sign with pride.

The Greater Intelligence Beyond Ourselves

Elle Luna:
Wow. Thank you. I OK, let's see. Well, again, it comes down to this kind of intelligence beyond our individual selves. So when I was in college, I really was making a lot of art, but I felt like I should go to law school and I, I took the LSAT like so many times. I, I, I had good grades. I was an English major and I was also doing a lot of art. But I don't know, it's just something about it. Like the art never registered. You know, it was like you should go to law school, you should I come from a family of lawyers. And so it just seemed very logical. I guess it's the world I understood and I didn't understand what it meant to be an artist. And that also actually sounded very scary. And so I applied to nine law schools, my senior year of college, and I was in the universe's great gift to me, rejected from every single law school. And to be honest, I don't know how it's possible. Like I maybe I didn't have good enough grades to go to the best school, but I certainly had decent enough grades to go to the lowest school on my list. But it was like the universe just said, hey, I'll thank you for applying to all of your schools. We know this took you a lot of time to write all these essays. But, you know, if you get into one of them, we know that you're really going to go and that really is going to set us off by like.

The Upsides of Getting Rejected from Law School

Elle Luna:
15 years. So can we just avoid that and can we just tell, you know, because what happened is the minute I was rejected from all those schools, I took a look at my life and I was like, you know, I've slept in the art studio for the last three days and maybe I should actually be serious about this art business, this art thing. And so I applied to to art schools. I got into both. I went to art school. I did just stuff that came intuitively. I was in film doing. I done all kinds of things, graphic design, typography, illustration, all kinds of wonderful things at the Art Institute of Chicago. And at the end, I learned about this company called IDEO, where you can basically go and do all different types of things, like they're a company that believes in diverse skill sets to make really amazing teams and amazing products. And this is the first time I learned about this idea of innovation and disruptive innovation, primarily being based on this idea that through diversity of teams and of practice, we can actually kind of open up the floodgates and let the creativity come into our work and our process. And so I applied to this thing called IDEO through IDEO Dotcom. I applied online and I put together like a really wild, weird collection of just the kind of experiments that I was up to in life.

Elle Luna:
And I got a job there. And IDEO is is it I don't know how I got a job there. I think it was like one of the coolest places in the world to work. And it's like the type of place that you pinch yourself every single day. So your question was about I think I'm headed there. How did all these things kind of happen? I think they happened because I kept just putting forward really raw work that didn't really proclaim to have the answers, but really just surfaced the questions I was grappling with. And I think people just liked my questions. And I think people said me to me, too. After IDEO I started, I wanted to get more into startups, so I just started pitching app redesigns for different startups and got the Uber was still really young and there in San Francisco. And I walked right up to Travis at a bar and said, Hey, my name is El. You don't know me, but you should hire me to redo your app because I use it all the time and I really don't like it. And then he hired me on the spot and. I think it has been a very rewarding journey to just say this is what I can do. This is where I am and my work. And and that's really kind of opened all the doors for the different teams that I've I've had the opportunity to be a part of.

Tapping into Your Greater Intelligence

Elle Luna:
So you said something in the very beginning of that. You talked about tapping into an intelligence that's greater than yourself when you were making art as a college student. And I'm really interested in your perspective on how we start to do that in our own lives.

Elle Luna:
Oh, that's such a great question and I love it. So I was at dinner last night with some friends and there was maybe some wine involved and I started kind of ranting about this idea. So in the spirit of experimentation, I'm going to I don't know, maybe you can help me work through this today. So this is kind of how I'm thinking about it right now. I think that the other day I was walking and I saw this tree, it's I'm in New York right now and there all the trees are beginning to bloom. And I saw this tiny little leaf that looks like it was just kind of born in winter. And my first thought was, wow, wow, wow. Each of us hang with me. Each of us is kind of like this little leaf, like a little leaf born in winter. And as we begin to grow, this thing starts happening called spring. But as a leaf, if all you've ever known is winter, spring can be very overwhelming or even scary. And I think that in our lives we have these opportunities to change, to transform, to grow. But that change or that shift, we don't understand. We can't possibly understand that because we haven't experienced it yet. And I think there is this moment where we say, am I going to do it or am I going to stay as I am? Am I going to be in control of these these matters of my life? And if we do, it's like this little leaf on this tree that if it doesn't transform and change, it'll just die, it'll fall off of the tree.

Elle Luna:
But if the tree if the leaf lets go and if the leaf says, oh, my goodness, I don't know what's happening in my life, I don't know where this is going. And, you know, it is really scary. But I'm going to trust that there is greater intelligence beyond just me. The minute that leaf does that, the most miraculous thing happens. The Leaf receives all of the miracles of spring, which are color, fragrance blossoms, these concepts that it never could have understood on its own. I think that the more we go within and the more that we choose must, the more that we connect with our passions, the more we honor the gifts that are inside of us. It's like us saying, OK, I trust that there is greater intelligence here. And if I just let go and allow this force to flow through me, I will experience transcendent things like color and fragrance and blossoms in my life. And once that begins to happen, you can begin to see that you are not just a leaf.

Elle Luna:
I am not just a leaf. We are a part of this incredible organism, this very layered, complex system. And yes, I am an individual. I am in my life, and I will always experience it in that way. But at the same time, I am also a part of this incredible life for this this entire web of people and ideas and energies. And I can also touch the oldest roots of the tree that maybe extend three, four or five generations beyond and outside of my life. And once you begin to see the system and to see your place within it, things become truly like warp speed and Star Trek. It's just like you are going through time. And I think that's the journey. That's that's the that's the space that Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist Joseph Campbell, he said once, I think this is the great spiritual teaching. It's a man standing on a whale fishing for minnows. That's the tree, that's the tree we are standing on the whale fishing for minnows, so how do we open up our lives and connect to that larger energy, that larger consciousness of of of everything? It's OK so that I'm done. That's my experiment for today.

Elle Luna:
So we know a lot of you have been listening to us for years and it means the

Elle Luna:
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Elle Luna:
That was brilliant. I'm not even going to touch it because there's so much there is one of those like monologues that I'll have to go back and replay over and over again because it was so beautiful.

Elle Luna:
Oh, good. Well, we can we can build on it. I think the leaf metaphor is a little is a little I don't know, it could use some work.

Elle Luna:
Well, so the other thing that really interests me is you said you got rejected from every law school you applied to, but. At a very early age, you had the foresight to see that it was a gift from the universe. I don't know that people that young normally have that level of intuition. And I'm interested in what it is about you that allows you to see the world that way and how we can cultivate that in ourselves, because I've had some tough things happen. And amazingly enough, they've led to some really amazing gifts.

Elle Luna:
I really wish that what you just said was so true when I got rejected from every law school, I cried and cried. I was so sad. I didn't understand why the universe was being so mean to me. And to be honest, it was somebody close to me who really, really brought the wisdom that I didn't have and said, you know, like, it's not really such a bad thing and really said eliminated what what was happening. But that I couldn't see. And I think this is what we find in our our our close relationships, that these people can serve as mirrors for ourselves because we can't see ourselves and to really look to our peers and our our closest community as people who have wisdom beyond ourselves and can teach us things. So that was that was my my state at the moment. And since then, I've really begun to nurture that, I guess, relationship of mirroring within relationship. It's really, really powerful.

Elle Luna:
Wow. Yeah. It's it's interesting, you know, funny as as you were saying, I was thinking, well, you know, if it's any consolation, the people I know who hate their jobs the most are attorneys pretty consistently. They all tell me they hate their job.

Elle Luna:
Oh, wow. Wow. That's that

Elle Luna:
Cool. With rare exception. But so, you know, I want to talk a bit about the time at IDEO because I am I've always been very curious about what it must be like inside the world of working IDEO. But the really specific question that I have around your time at IDEO is how did working in that environment change the way that you see the world, the way that you see design and the way that you see creativity, which I realized is a really big question. So feel free to go as long as you need to go.

Elle Luna:
Do you remember that book? It was I think it was written in the 80s. It said everything I've ever need to know about life. I learned in kindergarten, I believe that I could hijack that title and say that everything I've ever needed to know about life I learned at IDEO.

Elle Luna:
Ok, so on that note, what did you learn at IDEO?

The IDEO Creative Tool Kit

Elle Luna:
Ideo teaches you some very basic, powerful tools for your tool kit for life. A lot of them are captured in ideas, brainstorming rules like when you're brainstorming, you go for quantity over quality. You defer judgment, you build on the ideas of others. IDEO has two things culturally that have stayed with me forever. One of my earliest mentors at IDEO, her name is Beth Feiner. She said to me when she looks to hire folks to work at IDEO, she looks for two things curiosity and optimism. Those two traits can carry us so so far, curiosity to keep the wheels spinning, to keep searching and digging and moving forward in our creative pursuits and optimism, to be really just a can do attitude in life. Once somebody said to me, there's two types of people in life can do and can't do. And it really has has struck me that idea. And I think it's really true. You you want to be a can do person in life and you want to be a can do partner and relationships and friendships and family. And IDEO taught me so much about iteration, about process. I mean, like in my art practice, I think my art practice is very much rooted in design philosophies, like I still throw out tons and tons of work. You know, there's some artists that give it a go on one, try and do it all in one fell swoop. And that's that's not me. I hope maybe one day to be there, but I still throw out tons of work and that's cool.

Elle Luna:
IDEO teaches you to this is a wonderful thing about deferring judgment to say like, I'm going to draw a sandbox around this time and I'm going to play with reckless abandon and I'm not going to judge anything I create in that space. And at the end of it then maybe will come through and will filter. But you have to have that space, that permission to play and have freedom in your work and other things. At IDEO. I think one of the biggest things about IDEO is, is that I learned was collaboration and the importance of a team. I here's here's a strong opinion loosely held, which is I don't think any of us can do this alone, period. You have to have a team, you have to have a community, you have to be a part of something, maybe it's a group of folks reviewing paintings on the weekends. Maybe it's people to read your blog post before you publish it. There is so much wisdom in the community and and to be able to riff off of and bounce off of and mirror one another through our teams, it's where one plus one adds up to infinity. IDEO really taught me whenever anybody says, Oh, you designed the Uber app, I always say, no, no. I was fortunate enough to work on a team of people who designed the Uber app. And that's a huge mental shift that I was able to make really early on. It's never about me. It's always about the team.

Elle Luna:
It's interesting to hear you say that because, you know, you look at the artwork on our website and all the things that happen creatively and I'm like, yeah, I can't take credit for any of that. That's all. People who have far more skill and talent than I do.

Elle Luna:
It takes a village. And, you know, maybe you're like, let's take the book, for example. So just wrote a book. Yes. The words are mine. Yes. The illustrations are mine. Yes, the design is mine. However, I have an amazing editor that I get to work with. I have a designer at the publisher who I get to bounce ideas with. I have a guy whose entire job is to fall in love with paper and then them pick the most perfect paper for this book. There's printers and publish press people and logistics folks. And I mean, there's like hundreds of people involved in a book. And so I keep saying we wrote a book, we made a book. It's like we all made this this baby and brought it out into the world. So even something as simple as that you would think of is like, it's my book. No, no, no. It's it's our book.

Elle Luna:
Yeah. You know, it's funny. We're working on a writing project called The Compass, and it's a collaborative effort between multiple people. And it makes me think of one of the chapters which, you know, was inspired by me attempting to do a yoga class and, you know, non pretzel humans can't do all the poses. And apparently, if you can't do the poses, the instructor will come over and hand you a block. And to me, that was such a profound metaphor. I thought, you know, anything of great significance is accomplished with the help of other people. Sometimes you just have to ask for a block.

Elle Luna:
Oh, I love that. Yes, I love that.

Elle Luna:
And I'm still not a human pretzel. You know, one of the things that you said about the time of IDEO was this idea of curiosity, optimism and sort of reckless abandon. And the reason this came up is there's a book sitting on my desk called What it Is by Linda Barry. I'm not sure if you're familiar with her. She's a cartoonist in Austin. Cleon had mentioned her to me when we had him here on the show. And she writes about all the things that we stop doing as we get older, like making art, like dancing, like singing. And if we do do it, we do it in private. I'm really interested in why you think we you lose that sort of childlike curiosity, optimism and reckless abandon and how you start to get it back as an adult if we aren't as fortunate as you were to work in a place like IDEO.

Elle Luna:
I feel like, OK, imagine that your body is a pipe and imagine that there is this water just rushing through your pipe from your feet all the way up to your head. It's just rushing through like a river. There's something about society that as we get older and I would say that it's the shouldst of our life, the shouldst. It's like it's like a like a wrench that we wrap around the pipe. Imagine it like right at the neck. And it's this it's this action of beginning to tighten the flow that's running through that pipe. And then we tighten and we clamp it down and we close it up until the water no longer flows. And I think the process of reversing that action is is is really looking at the shards of your life and saying, cool, I no longer want this to to to divert or to clamp or to to in any way inhibit this flow from running through my life. And it's about opening up that valve and beginning to stretch it and let it go. And I mean, this is one of the cool things. And you see people who have really been living their lives and should for a long time. Wow. When you begin to open that valve and let the water go through, it is a lot of pressure that's been building up on the other side. And it comes through and it begins to flow through our lives. And this is what I think I began to feel when I started painting again. It was this pressure that it was it didn't go anywhere. It didn't dissipate. It just erupted. And I think that society in theory really wants us to be these flowing pipes. But there's something about should, unfortunately, whether it's society or the community in which we're and maybe even the time in which we're born into, there are so many things that can divert that energy in other ways. And becoming self aware of it is the first step so that we can we can let that water keep flowing.

Elle Luna:
So two things. How do you cultivate the self awareness and how do you trust that flow?

Cultivating Self Awareness

Elle Luna:
How do you cultivate self-awareness? Well, one of the things about, as I think about should and must we kind of imagine should and must going in opposite directions. There's one image that I feel like I missed in the book, and I wish I could just post it noted in there today. They should and must do go in opposite directions. However, oftentimes the best way to get to must is by understanding should first, because should is this thing that takes us away from us. It goes in the opposite way. It's sort of like a girlfriend of mine said the other day, well, you seem really scattered in. What she meant was literally I had energy going in every direction, so it was hard to laser beam focus on what was right in front of me. Scattering your energy is becoming unshattered is literally like collecting it all and kind of coming back to center. And so if you want to get to know must if you want that energy to be flowing towards the creativity, the passion, the projects spend time getting to know should. And in the book I outlined a couple of examples. One of them is as simple as grabbing a piece of paper and writing your shows down. You should fill in the blank. You should never fill in the blank. These are oftentimes belief systems that we inherit early on in life. You should know better than to you should not fill those in on a piece of paper or take ten minutes, do it and then line by line, go through that list and ask them three questions.

Questions to Explore Inherited Belief Systems

Elle Luna:
The first, where did you come from? When did I first meet you? You can look at the first should. The second question is when did I begin integrating you into all of my decision making and do I want to keep holding on to you? And the final question is about do I want to keep this should in my life? Maybe the answer is yes. Actually, this is something that's really hard, but I want it in my life and then that should ceases to be assured and becomes a must. Or you can say, you know, this thing has served its purpose, its time is done and it's really getting heavy to carry. And that's when you set that shut down. And that is a powerful moment, because the more we scrub away at the sheds of our lives, the more space we make for the energy going towards must. And there's a bunch of other examples in dealing with should. But I would say for people who want to get more in touch with should, a really brave, courageous way to go is to say, I'm going to go and look at these shirts. I'm going to I want to bring self awareness to where I don't want my energy to continue to go, because often those things are camouflaged and they're kind of mixed in. And that's why they're tricky to find. But but once you begin clearing space, you begin saying, OK, now I've got energy, now I've got time. What do I do with it? And and then that's where you begin to step into Muzo.

Elle Luna:
So the book talks about all kinds of things from one of my favorite recommendations is to have people call their mom or call somebody who knew you when you were little, because nowhere is the essence of must more purely exhibited than when we're kids. It's just this wild, free flowing spirit. And call your mom or someone who knew you and your little and ask them to tell you stories about what you were like and take notes, because those stories contain some of the earliest seeds of our must. Another great tactic is this is actually a tip from IDEO is to build a toolkit of of unconventional tools that you keep and maybe in your home or next to your desk wherever you work and fill it with all kinds of things that inspire you to play. It could be Wiggs or pipe cleaners or scissors and construction paper. It could be photocopier paper or anything. Just fill an unconventional tool kit of parts and then keep it next to your desk. And when you need a break or when you need to shake things up, literally grab it and start to play. And the answer will come because the brain is brilliant and it works these things out as we as we do our work. And it will come up with a solution. It will it will guide you somewhere and just stop and play. And that was one of the great joys of working at IDEO, is it's a culture who takes their place seriously. And it's you can see it in the work. It's fantastic. Wow.

Elle Luna:
Yet another monologue that I will have to go back and play over and over again and I have actually done that exercise and it was very, very revealing. It was also very therapeutic and lovely.

The Benefits of Therapy

Elle Luna:
That's I think that's a great word for it. There are a lot of really awesome therapeutic tools out there in the world. When I grew up, there were all these stigmas around like therapy and self-help counselors and coaches. And what I see happening in the world right now is that that's really shifting. It's so exciting to see, you know, young teams bringing in coaches to to work with everybody on their team. At IDEO, we had a woman whose entire job was to teach people a tool called the Enneagram. It's a personality typology tool. There are all of these amazing ways that we can get more in touch with what's happening in our in our inner psychic world, which really drives the whole ship. And the more we can go with then and the more we can address that and become aware of it, the the more space we create in our life for us. And I think it's a little a little tricky sometimes for people who maybe don't enjoy thinking about those kinds of things, are wanting to do those kinds of things. The coolest way I've thought about describing this and this one really works like we all go to a lot of people, go to the gym and have trainers and spend time and money on having a trainer at the gym. Right. The trainer works the muscles, the trainer works the body. Having a therapist or a counselor, a coach is the same thing. Except rather than work your muscles, they work the kind of organ that thinks it's running the show, which is the brain and really the organ that's actually running the show, which is the spirit. And these people are trained to help create healthfulness and sustainability in your life. And so if there ever was a more exciting and I guess inviting way to think about how we think about self-help and growing like, I think that's a really, really good analogy for the type of strength and power and all of the amazing things that come from working out. Like you can do that to your mind, which is how you perceive and understand of the world, which is incredible.

Elle Luna:
You know, it's funny, I read that section of the book. It very distinctly stood out to me because I had never been into a therapist's office until the last year. And I remember thinking, wow, what the hell took me so long to get in here? I should have done this a lot earlier. This is actually pretty useful.

The Gift of Pyschological Health

Elle Luna:
Oh, it's so useful. It's thank you for sharing that I, I love, love, love therapy and I can talk about it all the time. My friends are always asking to hear therapy stories because it's it's it's just such a a gift to give yourself. Now therapy can be expensive. Some therapists have sliding scales. Well, they'll work with different people. There are a lot of different ways to kind of get therapeutic help in your life. And I see psychological health as being one of the greatest gifts that we can give ourselves and on an individual basis, because then it affects not only our creative projects, but it affects our entire life. It affects quite literally how we see the world. I I hope that through this book and through talking about it, more and more people begin to think about therapy and self-help in this very exciting new way.

Elle Luna:
So that actually raises a question for me, one that I've asked a handful of people throughout this entire journey of yours. Have you had any really sort of dark or rock bottom moments where you're wondering how the hell it's all going to work out or you're mired in fear, panic and anxiety?

Elle Luna:
Totally. Totally I am. Somebody asked me two weeks ago, she said, what's the relationship between choosing must and desire? And I thought it was such a brilliant question, because I'm sure maybe your passion is. I don't know. Passion is something that you really desire and something that you really yearn for and you want to go for and and you go for it. What if your passion or your calling leads you to a door that you actually are terrified to pursue? And I actually think that when you're really close to must, it is scary. It is terrifying. There's something about standing nose to nose with this thing that you unavoidably, unequivocably have to do with your life. That when you know it, like in your gut, know it, it's really scary. What if I fail? What if I don't succeed? What if everybody laughs at me? What if this is a horrible idea and the vulnerability piece is a very good indicator that you are onto something? My therapist has this wonderful saying that she shares with me, which is go where there be dragons. Therein lies your treasure. Wow, I love this. And I would say for anybody who is. Maybe not necessarily feeling a rock bottom moment, but maybe just feeling like, wow, I could never do that, I could never pursue that exact thing, I would say take a second look.

The Gifts of Hitting Rock Bottom

Elle Luna:
There might be wonderful gifts to be gained there in terms of rock bottom. Absolute bottom of the barrel. Yeah, you betcha. I've had those, too. I remember one day it was a couple of days before my very first public art show. I had a pop up show at a gallery in San Francisco and I was exhibiting over 60 pieces of new work. So in terms of a timeline, I had quit my job. Everybody was thinking, why has she done this? This is such a horrible idea. Mailbox was really a great startup, like doing all kinds of amazing things and now she's just painting in her room by herself. This is very strange. It was it was days before my first show when I had just a total meltdown of confidence and I felt like I was about to basically stand in a room naked with about one hundred two hundred people in San Francisco to come look at my art. And I remember writing all of those fears down and hitting post on a blog, on a blog post that I wrote. And it's literally a wild list of the most horrific things.

Elle Luna:
Just one after the other, after the other, after the other, after the other. And I think when you look at those things, what I did in that instance was, OK, cool. Like, we've got two choices. We either keep going that way or we have a new narrative. What's what's the narrative going to be? Joseph Campbell once said, when you think you're falling dive. And I began to wonder, what is it about this show? What is what is the dive? What is that moment? And I realized that I was. I needed to reframe what good looks like in my mind, what good looked like was all these people coming and loving it? No, no, that actually wasn't it. What Good looked like was mounting a show of 60 pieces of new work in a gallery. That was it. That's all I had to do. That was the finish line. So after we finished mounting all of the work, I remember standing in the space and looking around and thinking I did it, I totally did it. And then when all the people arrived, it was icing on the cake. And what they thought at that point didn't matter because my goal had shifted and it was a much more important goal.

Elle Luna:
Ok, I love this. And it's a piece that I wanted to get to. And I'm going to share something that I haven't shared on the show before because it reminds me of a lot of what I got through in November of this year. I almost quit and nobody knows that. Like, I almost thought about shutting the entire show down because I felt that I wasn't where I wanted to be and it scared the hell out of me. And something kept me going. I think it was my most.

Elle Luna:
Wow. Wow. Thank you for sharing that with us. So.

Elle Luna:
You know, you mentioned what was important, which is not what other people thought, and, you know, the reason I brought this up, this is something that's been really of interest to me. There's a section in the book where you say, what if who we are and what we do, become one in the same. And I asked Seth Godin this question about not taking the work personally, but taking it seriously and. The challenge that I have faced throughout the last year as we've gone through successes and failures of big highs and lows, is learning to separate my identity from my work and learning to separate my sense of self-worth from work. And I'm wondering what your thoughts are around that and how we start to do that.

Elle Luna:
Ok, admittedly, I can't even focus I feel like you just shared something really big and beautiful with us and and I. Can we talk about it for just a minute?

Elle Luna:
Yeah, absolutely.

Elle Luna:
So I think it would be really helpful and valuable. Well, for me and for other people to hear in that moment when every single doubt is coming in, aren't just showering down like can we what is that what is that moment when we think, wow, here I am. But like I but I'm going to go like I have to do it. Like what, what was that like glimmer of hope or that thing that can you identify it in some verbal way or is it experiential. I don't know,

Elle Luna:
You know, funny it funny enough, I was writing about this this morning. I spent my entire 20s making decisions that led me to where I was at in my 30s. All of them were decisions based on ego, validation and accolades. And what's funny is I never got any of the validation. I never got any of the accolades. Most people know I've been fired from every real job I've been at, and I knew that if I was going to end up in a very different place by 40, regardless of what the world around me thought, I would have to make very different decisions in my 30s. And that would mean sticking to where I want to go. And I'll share a quote, which, you know, this is what reminded what was brought up for me as you were talking somewhere in Neil Gaiman speech that he gave at a commencement. I'm sure you've seen this. He says the words don't walk away, he said. And I knew as long as I kept walking towards the mountain, I would be OK. And I guess for me, the six simple words it all boils down to is don't walk away from the mountain.

Elle Luna:
Wow, that is so beautiful. That is so, so beautiful. Yes, I it's almost like we are the mountain, and I, I think that when you're really tapping into my chest and when you're you're really on it. Must your passion and your calling it is us, how can you leave yourself? It's impossible. I and I, I feel like most is so rooted at who we are and quite literally why we're here. That there is. Something that even at the bottom of the barrel, even when you just want to throw the towel and walk away from it all, you can't because it's you. Hmm. There's this Paulo Coelho said this amazing quote once he said, We who fight for our dreams suffer far more when it doesn't work out because we can never fall back on that age old excuse. Oh, well, I didn't really want it anyway, because we do want it and we have risked everything to make it happen. And I think this is sort of the the blessing and the curse of must you are stuck with it. It's yours, it's your thing and it's you can't leave it in once you know what it is. And maybe it's not a particular way that it's manifesting. Maybe it's maybe it manifests as a painting over here one day in a different painting, another day. But this this kind of inner knowing of your gifts and your talents, it it it doesn't go anywhere. It's always there. And I'm I'm grateful that you have continued to walk towards your mountain because it's a very big gift for all of us to be able to experience it.

Elle Luna:
Well, I really appreciate that. And, you know, it's interesting, as you're saying, that I can't help but remember a conversation that I had with a friend and I may have said this before the year. I said, I think I've done irreversible damage to my life and my career. And he said, I don't think so, but sure, whatever. And it's funny because once I started to stop telling myself that story, I started to see all the other possibilities and they didn't know exactly how I wanted them to. But a world of things have happened in the last several weeks that I couldn't have planned or predicted that have been just absolutely magical.

Synchronicity

Elle Luna:
My my therapist, Suzy, says that that's what happens when, you know, you're really on it is when the synchronicity start to happen and they start to happen more at a greater frequency, they begin to unlock. It's almost like you're just going through your day and it's like door unlocked or unlocked. My friend and I, we have this kind of telltale sign, which is, of course, you know, of course, that person would arrive on the day that we were talking about potentially wanting to write them an email. Of course, you know, this free ticket to this museum would drop into my lap. Of course, you know, it's like the ridiculousness of the magic of the universe. And I really think that once we get into that, that the river of must it just the whole world says, we want you to do this. We want you to follow this passion because it makes the whole system better. And it's sort of like wind at your back that just helps you as you go.

Elle Luna:
Hmm. So I want to ask you a question on that note. In fact, I underline this passage from your book yesterday, and I put it on Instagram saying I couldn't wait to chat with you. And I want to ask you about this. It's here standing at the crossroads of should and must, that we feel the enormous reality of our fears and expectations from others. And this is the moment when many of us decide against following our intuition, turning away from that place where nothing is guaranteed, nothing is known and everything is possible. And what I want to know is why people decide against following their intuition and turn away from that place.

Why We Struggle to Follow Our Intution

Elle Luna:
What if I fail? What if the whole world laughs at me? What if. It's no good, it's it makes a lot of sense. What if what if I can't make ends meet with my finances? It goes on forever and forever and forever. It's again, my amazing mentor, Susie, to say to step into that place of must, it feels like. It's the place where you could totally fail. It's the it's the place where you could lose everything. It feels that scary to go after what you really want and why you're here. And it feels like you maybe could die if you step into that that gift, that passion. But it only feels that way because on the other side of that. Wall on the other side of all of that is total and complete freedom in your life, if you can just make it past that, it's like being in a video game. It's like this is the final level. It's the final duel. And it's really you versus yourself. Once you deal with the shards of what society says, you should do, what your friends say you should do, what maybe advertising says you should or shouldn't do.

Dealing with the "Shoulds" in Our Lives

Elle Luna:
The minute you after you've dealt with all of the shows that they put on you, your last one is really yourself. And no matter how much help you have getting to that door, it's you by yourself crossing through that final passageway. And if there is one thing that I have learned in all of this work, all of it and living it and writing about it and talking with others, it is this. Choosing must is the greatest thing that you can do with your life. And when you're standing at that door, I hope that those words will come into your head and you will trust that this process has so many gifts to give you, if you'll just trust it, if you'll just let go, if you'll just step into that thing, that really, really scares you, because that's must. And on the other side of that is the most incredible miracles of your life. It's like it's like the leaf on the tree. They're all waiting. They're waiting. But we just have to understand that there's a greater potentiality with our lives and to trust that that will manifest over time.

Elle Luna:
Wow. You kind of got me at a loss for words, and that doesn't happen very often.

Elle Luna:
It's it's really special to get to talk about all of this and to I mean, you're living it, too, and you're going through it with your work. And I think that's the great thing about this. The cool thing about this work and this book is that so many people, the more we talk about it, they say, me too. Me too. And so far it's been about me sharing my journey. But now what's been happening is there's enough time where I'm hearing about other people's journeys and what other people are doing and how other people are doing it. And then they're telling their friends and their friends, and I'm watching this work. These ideas ripple through the community. And like just two weeks ago, I gave a talk and at Creative Mornings in San Francisco. And at the end of the talk, we did a Q&A and this woman raised her hand. I didn't have my glasses on so I couldn't see her, but she was on the far back side of the room and she was really overwhelmed. And she said. I read your post a year ago and I decided to step away from my job and it almost I couldn't see if she was crying, but it felt like the emotional intensity of that. And she said a year ago I read this post, I decided to step away from my job because I knew that my calling was to teach.

Elle Luna:
I have always wanted to be a teacher. And so I joined an online teaching academy and I have been teaching there now for one year. And it has been the greatest joy of my life, and today I brought all of my students from my class. Well, those are the moments and the kids were there, they started clapping and those are the moments when. You just stop and it just wow, wow, they were there. Now, the fact that she has made that decision has empowered all of these students. And what must it be like to be a student with a teacher who loves their job? I bet she's an amazing, amazing teacher. And it just that's that's really where the book ends. Is this idea that to choose must in your life is not just for you, although it is a lot of very inward personal work. But when you choose, must you actually give the gift of it to so many others? And there's this wonderful quote that I love by Howard Thurman. He says, Don't ask. Oh, man, I'm really going to butcher this quote. I'm actually looking for it. In the book, he says, Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. Well, yes, yes.

Elle Luna:
So I want to wrap with one last question, which is how we close all our interviews at the unmistakable creative, what do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakeable?

Elle Luna:
I would answer this very, very simply. I think what makes someone or something? Unmistakable is when it comes from a place of must. Because there is something about work and action and intention that comes from that unavoidable. Unmistakable place that's palpable, you can just feel it. You can see it and the the work, the design, the words, the images. It's simply undeniable.

Elle Luna:
Amazing. Well, I have to say, this has just been mind blowing, really beautiful, really one of those conversations that I'll probably replay 100 times because I'd imagine there's so much inspiration and juice in it. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story and your insights and your journey with our listeners.

Elle Luna:
Of course. Thank you so much for having me. This has been really a gift.

Elle Luna:
And for everybody listening, we will wrap the show with that. Thank you for listening to this episode of the unmistakable creative podcast while you were listening. Were there any moments you found fascinating, inspiring, instructive, maybe even heartwarming? Can you think of anyone, a friend or a family member who would appreciate this moment? If so, take a second and share today's episode with that one person, because good ideas and messages are meant to be shared. Hey, did you know that every Sunday, your community manager, Molina, sends out 10 key takeaways from episodes just like this one, just text the word U.S. News to the number four for two to two and reply with your email address to get them delivered right to your inbox? Again, that's U.S. News to the number four four two to two and reply with your email to get these takeaways delivered right to your inbox.

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