“I’ve Read The Leonardo Trait—When Do Things Get Easier?”

EasierI get a lot of email about The Leonardo Trait. No one has ever asked, “When do things start getting easier?” I know that a lot of people wonder, though. When does the hard part stop?

I’ve got some bad news, but also some great news.

The bad part is that the hard part never really stops.

Being creative in a world where most people think you’re eccentric, weird or even crazy will always be hard in some ways.

You’re not going to suddenly morph into someone who fits in the world, and not fitting is always going to be a little tough.

The great news is that once you know you’re a Leonardo things get, if not all that much easier, then better.

Once you know who and what you are and that there’s nothing wrong with you or about you…

You start to care less about fitting in the world.

You start to find the people who care about you because of who you are.

You start to value your creativity, and your personality, a lot more.

You start to let the hard stuff roll off your shoulders—at least once in a while.

And I promise this next one:

You will never be the same.

Easy? Probably not. But better? Oh hell yeah.

The Moving Finish Line: The Leonardo Right to Change Your Mind

[This is a reworking of a chapter from the first edition of The Leonardo Trait]

[Yes, I’m aware the photo is a starting line. I like it]

Understand that “people” may expect you to choose a life and lie in it. Know, even if no one has never told you before, that you have the right to change your mind. Learn to explain that to the few who have a right to know, and learn to ignore the rest.

My mother, bless her heart, will swear to her dying day this never happened (so please don’t tell her about it), but I know it did happen, because I was there. It happened to me.

A little background: When I was eight, I got a Kodak 110 camera for Christmas, and I was in love.

I don’t know if I’d ever used a camera before, but I’d certainly seen one. My family had one of those old Polaroids where you had to peel off the paper and then, at least in my family, wave the photo around until the image appeared.

But this was my camera. I was a photographer. I was an artiste. It was an awakening for me, one I’ll never forget.

In the summer of my twelfth year, my brother’s girlfriend was in journalism school and suggested I might want to be a photojournalist. Of course I did. I dreamed of nothing else for three solid years. At the library every week I stared at old issues of magazines and dreamed of being a National Geographic staff photographer.

Then I joined Future Teachers of America; I’m still not sure why. But suddenly I was in love again. I was assigned as a student aide to Mr. Felker, the best elementary teacher I’ve ever known. In 1984, he had a computer in his classroom. Now, in 1984, where I lived, computers were like aliens from outer space. We’d heard of them He had one, and knew how to use it. He was a fantastic teacher and a dear man. His students adored him. I wanted to be him.

Now back to my story. During my junior year of high school, I went with my mother to a doctor’s appointment (hers). The doctor asked me what I wanted to do after high school, and I said I wanted to teach English. My mother, whom I love dearly, honestly said, “What she really wants to do is be a photojournalist.” I swear. I remember it like it was 21 years ago.

I’ll come back to this story later, because it’s very important.

Short-Term Project Kind of Gal

Leonardos can take on long-term projects. We write books, raise children, grow roses and go to college.

But most of our projects are short-term. We thrive on change. We thrill at beginnings. We’re energized by starting something new.

I think a lot of this is due to our creativity. We can generate a lot of ideas at the beginning of a project, and we have that “beginner’s mind energy” to work with. It’s very exciting to start something new.

In case you don’t already know, people who are “not like us” hate that short-term thing. Makes them want to pull their hair out. Through their ears.

My son is entering sixth grade. Middle school. His new school has two “majors.” In sixth grade.

In a way this is not so bad; Jack is interested in computers (which is like saying a fish is “interested” in water), and his new school has an information technology curriculum. He can still do just about anything. It’s just the idea that startles me a little.

People will tell you that “part of being an adult is settling down.”

You’ll hear that you’re supposed to know what you want to do after college by your junior year, and then you’re supposed to do it. Forever.

You’ll be informed that life is not a dress rehearsal.

Humbug.

Life is its very own dress rehearsal. Change is why we’re here. What else is there?

You only get one shot. You have to live while you’re alive. And if you could do it over, you’d have even more reason to try new things, not less.

Live your life like it’s a buffet but you only get one trip through. It is. You do.

“Finish What You Start”

Let me give you just a few thoughts on finishing what you start.

First, you finish, or continue, a lot of what you start. You’re still alive, you’re in relationships, maybe you have kids, maybe you’re in school, maybe you have a job.

You haven’t quit those things. You’re doing what you started out to do, at least in some form.

And you’re still reading this book.

You finish more than you may get credit for.

Second, you don’t have to use anyone else’s standard for when something is “finished.”

Finishing vs. “Getting Done”

About a year ago, I decided that I really wanted to learn to draw. I had always wanted to learn. So I started teaching myself. I taught myself from books, web sites, and just doing it. I worked really hard for a couple of months.

At the end of that two months I was great at line drawings. I had a very nice toucan hanging on my wall, and had made gifts to a couple of friends, of my drawings. I was “ready” for perspective drawing.

But I was not interested in that kind of drawing, and I really didn’t want to continue with my drawing at that point, so I didn’t. I was done.

The Great Secret

There is a secret that unhappy people never learn, and if they did, they wouldn’t want anyone else to learn it.

You have the right to change your mind.

If you really think about it, you’ll realize what a liberating statement that is. If you have the right to do something else, you’re not stuck.

If you realize that “photojournalism” means something very different from what you love to do, you can choose to become a teacher—or an astronaut.

With Great Freedom…

What you have to remember, though, is that you cannot just go around changing your mind and darn the consequences.

You have to take care of your responsibilities. Your real ones, not the ones everyone wants to force on you.

Mainly, you can’t hurt yourself and you can’t intentionally hurt another person. There’s more to it than that, but if you stick with, “First, do no harm,” you’re probably on the right track.

Sidebar: It’s All About Choice

One of my best friends, who’s been around long enough to say things like this, often says, “The worst choices I ever made were when I felt I had no other choice.”

Sometimes people believe that if you have the right to change your mind, you’ll be changing it all the time, you’ll have no stability, and your life will be a wreck.

Maybe it will. Maybe some people act that way.

But I’ve known many, many people for whom knowing they could do something different kept them happy with the way things were.

When you’re choosing to do something, even if it’s not what you’d hoped it would be right now, it’s easier to hang in there and wait for things to get better. If you’re stuck in quicksand, I’m told the best thing to do is wait, not flail. But if you discover the quicksand is actually just water, you can swim.

Jack of All Trades

If I could find the person who first said, “Jack of all trades, master of none,” I would cheerfully strangle him. Or her. I’m an equal opportunity outraged Leonardo.

I know people believe it. I just don’t want you to believe it.

How many things are you really good at? For myself, in five seconds I counted six:

  1. Mommying
  2. Writing
  3. Web design
  4. Marketing
  5. Computer graphics
  6. Cooking (which I cordially hate, but am great at)

You know the thing about being “master of none” is not true. You’ve always known it. You’ve just never had permission to not believe it. I hereby give you that permission.

 

Sidebar: Some Jacks of All Trades No One’s Complaining About

By the time you read this, maybe I’ll be famous enough, and Leonardos will be respected enough, that this whole section will be unnecessary. Until then, here are just four names of people who do more than one thing and do it well. I’ll leave the commentary to you:

Bette Midler

Paul Newman

Bo Jackson

Cher

Dealing with Difficult People

So now you know all this, but your brother still thinks you’re a dilettante, and he says that like it’s a bad thing. What do you do?

Here’s one solution I used once, very successfully. A friend told me I should settle down and do something with my life.

In response, I sent her a list of my accomplishments over the last twelve months, including writing and completely rewriting (twice) a mystery novel and finding an agent for it. I’m still waiting for a reply to that email.

You may not wish to be that blunt, or you may not be able to, for reasons like trying to keep your job.

Some other good responses are:

 

“Yeah, I know I don’t finish everything I start. But I start a lot of things. I finish more than most people.”

“Some things are just better left unfinished.”

“Yes, I flit around a lot. Like a butterfly. Life’s sweeter when you can smell all the different flowers.”

 

Or, if possible, ignore them. Maybe they’ll go away.

The Leonardo/Straight-Liner Relationship Guide, Part 2:

The Leonardo’s Guide to Straight-Liner Friends and How Both Parties Can Make It Work

[This is a reworking of part of a chapter from the first edition of The Leonardo Trait]

The Leonardo/Straight-Liner Relationships Guide, Part 2 - The Leonardo Trait - Angie DixonWhat We Love About You

We love you. And these are some of the reasons.

You’re Solid and Stable.

We need to know something in our lives is going to last and always be there. That something is you.

You’re Intelligent.

We want someone we can carry on an intelligent conversation with. We know you’re intelligent because we don’t suffer fools.

You Try to Understand Us

We know you don’t get us. It’s okay. You try. You celebrate with us when we have victories and offer sympathy when we have setbacks. You do your best, and that’s all we can ask.

You Love Us.

‘Nuff said.

This is part 1 of a series on Leonardo/Straight Liner relationships. Part 2, “The Leonardo’s Guide to Straight-Liner Friends and Family,” is technically coming next Monday, but you can read it here if you’re impatient and it’s not next Monday yet J

What Makes Us Wail and Gnash Our Teeth

We’re not going to go into a lot of detail here, just sort of a list. Sometimes you drive us crazy.

  • You’re too predictable.
  • You’re too organized.
  • You just don’t get us sometimes.
  • We just don’t get you sometimes.

 Living Happily Every After

I think, with some adjustments and coping strategies in a few areas, most Straight Line/Leonardo partnerships can be very successful. My husband and I are very extreme in opposite directions, and have been happy together for 14 years now. In fact, we’ve been together over 14 years and happy all of it. Just to clarify.

Finances

Unless there’s a good reason not to, the Straight Liner should probably handle the finances, and the Leonardo should probably do the best he/she can just to write down checks, control spending, and stay in the budget. I’m generalizing, but that’s often the way it goes, and finances can be very tough on a relationship.

Work and Downtime

Straight Liners tend to work regular hours, mostly, and take weekends and evenings off. Leonardos, often, don’t. You may need to come to some agreement about when will be work time, when will be downtime, and when those traditions can be changed to accommodate a project. One thing I try to do, even if I’m planning to come back down and work, is to go to bed when Jim does, and talk to him until he turns out his light. Then I come back to my office. That is one of our few “our” times to talk, and I don’t miss it.

At the same time, the Straight Liner may need to make some allowances for the Leonardo’s need to hibernate. It’s not something we can control; sometimes we use all our energy and have to make more. Please be patient with us while we do that.

Reminders About HoneyDew Lists

No, you shouldn’t have to remind your Leonardo spouse to do things around the house. In an ideal world, we’d remember. We often don’t. But most of us, if you’ll remind us, send us a quick email, put a note on our computer monitor, will do it, and we’ll do it gladly. We just get sidetracked. Please try to understand.

Making Family a Priority

Something I am guilty of at times is not being with my family enough because I’m working. That’s sometimes a Straight Liner problem, too. You’ll have to figure out your own solution, of course, but do be aware that it can be a problem and you do need to address it.

Trying to Accept Each Other’s Passions

Straight Liners have passions. They’re called hobbies. Leonardos’ passions are called our life. We’ll try to understand you, if you’ll try to understand us. In fact, let’s talk about it.

The Most Important Thing

If I could only give you one, single, solitary piece of advice on living in a Straight Line/Leonardo couple, it would be this. Remember you love each other.

Sidebar: You’re Both Right

One thing I want to make abundantly clear here is that both sides are right, and neither is “wrong.” We are the way we are, and we love each other that way, but sometimes it’s easier if we can work something out to deal with the differences.

But we’re both okay just the way we are.

[This is part 2 of a series on Leonardo/Straight Liner relationships. You can read Part 2, “The Spouse’s Guide to Leonardos,” here.

The Leonardo/Straight-Liner Relationship Guide, Part 1:

The Spouse’s Guide to Leonardos

[This is a reworking of part of a chapter from the first edition of The Leonardo Trait]

The Leonardo/Straight-Liner Relationships Guide, Part 1 - The Leonardo Trait - Angie DixonJust a note: While I wrote this chapter for the Straight-Line spouse, I recommend that all Leonardos read it, as well. After all, don’t you want to know what someone’s telling your partner about you?

Another note: I recommend this chapter for best friends as well, because I can’t think of a closer non-spousal relationship.

The simple truth is, many Leonardos marry Straight-Liners, and this can be very difficult for both parties unless there’s a basic understanding of the Leonardo personality. This chapter will seek to help create that understanding on both sides.

An Imaginary Real-Life Couple

Let’s drop in on Mark and Lisa. Their names have not been changed; since I made these characters up, they can keep their real names.

At 24, Mark is almost finished with law school, has a fairly good shot at an associate position at the job where he’s spent his summers, and has his life completely under control. If you’ve guessed that Mark is not the Leonardo in this story, you can now pass GO and collect your $200.

Then Mark meets Lisa, a waitress at his local coffee house. Lisa, a painter, is working on a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. Since she’s also an actress, she does a one-woman show on weekends. In her spare time, she restores vintage Volkswagens.

Mark is smitten. Lisa is bowled over. They begin dating.

The first year passes in a blur as each finishes a final year of school. Mark finds himself loosening up a little; Lisa finds herself settling into a routine at times. Marriage is mentioned, by both. Mark gets his dream job. A major gallery wants to show Lisa’s paintings. They set a wedding date and move in together. Life is great, and they are as perfectly happy as it’s possible to be.

At the two-year mark, they’ve been living together a year, and things are starting to get a little difficult at times. Lisa often stays up all night painting or rehearsing her show. For weeks at a time, she and Mark hardly see each other because of their respective hours. Mark feels that when he does manage to get home at a decent hour or have some time on the weekend, Lisa should spend it with him, but when she’s not painting, she seems to be sleeping for days on end.

Lisa feels that Mark doesn’t value her work because it’s not practical and tangible. She believes Mark doesn’t understand how hard she works or appreciate how much she needs her rest when she can get it.

Things seem to be going south, but neither knows what to do about it.

During the third year, however, they begin to understand their differences. Mark, a very settled Straight Liner, is expecting Lisa to work “regular” hours, and Lisa, a very strong-willed Leonardo, is expecting Mark to understand her working for 37 hours straight and then sleeping for 72.

Mark does value Lisa’s work. He just doesn’t understand how much it means to her, because his work, while he loves it, is work. Her work is her, period.

They dicuss, cuss, and discuss some more. Finally they agree to keep trying to understand each other and to each make some changes to accommodate the other—and to each accept some things about the other person.

Five years after their meeting, Mark and Lisa are again as happy as two people can possibly be, now married three years and expecting twins, which Lisa views as the ultimate Leonardo project.

What Makes Leonardos Lovable

Admit it, Mr./Mrs./Ms. Straight Liner. You find your Leonardo irresistible. Sure, sometimes you want to wring his or her neck, but you’re soul mates and you know it. Here are my thoughts on why that is.

We’re Fun.

Face it. Leonardos are a hoot. We love to laugh, and we love to think, and we love to laugh about things that most people don’t even think about. We can carry on a conversation about anything, and often do, if only with ourselves.

Our creative spirits make us highly entertaining.

We believe relationships, like life, are supposed to be enjoyable.

We want to have a good time, and we do.

We’re Intelligent.

For all our witty banter, we’re thoughtful. We ponder. We know things.

I like to say my mind is a treasure trove of useless information, but when my daughter, who’s eight, asked where root beer comes from, my husband said, “Ask your mom,” and I, sure enough, knew. I can go for a long time on the impressed look on her little face.

We’re Enthusiastic.

Enthusiastic is actually the Swahili word for Leonardo. Learn something new every day, don’t you?

I know our enthusiasm can be wearing. But wouldn’t you really rather be with one of us than one of “them”? By “them” I mean, of course, the people who always have a complaint, who can never be happy about anything because it wasn’t just right, and for whom enthusiasm is a word that isn’t in their dictionary. Honestly. Who would you rather have in your life?

We’re Loving.

Leonardos are like puppies. We love everyone. Like puppies, we even sometimes continue to love people who give us reason at least not to like them.

We love wholeheartedly and energetically. We care about you more deeply than we can express, even when it’s not obvious. You’re our soul mates. We want to be with you and we wouldn’t choose anywhere else to be. We love you.

We’re Interesting.

Not much more to say about that one, so I’ll leave it out there.

Why Leonardos Are So Hard to Live With

We know we’re hard to live with, and we know why, but we’re not sure if you know why. Here are some reasons.

We’re Unpredictable.

We like this in ourselves, but Straight Liners often find it frustrating. Not only are we apt to do something no one expected us to do, at a very inconvenient time, we’re apt to make plans and forget to tell you about them until the last minute. Very frustrating and annoying, we realize, and we promise to try to not do that so much.

We’re Often Exhausting

If you’ve ever tried to keep up with a Leonardo on a mission, whether that mission is writing a book or finding the last Dora the Explorer backpack (with Boots on it) in the city before the first day of school, you know what I mean. We can be tiring. We can wear out anyone. We work very hard, and sometimes we expect everyone else to work that hard, as well.

The Rest of the Time We’re Exhausted

Leonardos run on adrenaline, until we run out. Not all Leonardos run out of steam this way, but most of us do. I’ve been told by a psychologist that there’s some chemical reason that some people run out of gas and some don’t. I’ll take her word for it. What I know is that I can work non-stop for two days, but it will take me four days to recover—and yet I can’t convince myself not to do that non-stop work. I know that’s hard for you to understand, because unless you’re a workaholic, you’re probably more in control of your work than we are.

We’re Sometimes Overwhelming

The kind of energy, creativity and spontaneity produced by one Leonardo in one week could probably fuel a local opera company for a year. I’ve been told more than once that I’m overwhelming. I’m sorry, I really am. I know it’s hard to deal with. But for me, it’s better than being underwhelming.

We’re Often Preoccupied

It’s not that we don’t love you. It’s not that we didn’t hear you. It’s not that we don’t want to do what you asked us to do. It’s that we’re on another planet. We’ll be back very soon and you can try again. We’re very regretful, but it happens, sometimes.

[This is part 1 of a series on Leonardo/Straight Liner relationships. Part 2, “The Leonardo’s Guide to Straight-Liner Friends and Family,” is technically coming next Monday, but you can read it here if you’re impatient and it’s not next Monday yet :)]