On Mindset + Following the Ease

Last week, when I shared limitations of “following the ease,” I left something out. I didn’t want to confuse the issue at the time, but it would be unfair to ignore why I personally don’t want to “follow the ease” and that’s mindset. Let me explain.

When it comes to intelligence, I’ve always believed that we have a certain allocation and that’s that. Luckily, I seemed to do pretty well with what I had. As a child, I was frequently praised for being smart and invited into the gifted program. By high school, I equated expending effort with having less intelligence. If something came easily to me, I felt validated and kept exploring it. If something was hard, I took it as a sign that course of action wasn’t for me.

I’ve realized recently, thanks to Stanford psychology professor and author Carol Dweck, PhD, that I had a fixed mindset (at least where intellect is concerned). In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck explains: “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.” If this resonates with you, you can test your mindset at Dweck’s website.

The alternative to a fixed mindset is one of growth. “In a growth mindset,” Dweck outlines, “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.”

In recent years, having a fixed mindset caught up with me. And the assertion that I should follow the ease didn’t help.

When I moved my successful photography business—one that had been fairly easy to launch—from Virginia to California and things no longer came so easily, I wondered what had changed. Was the Universe telling me something? Was I on the wrong path? Was I manifesting challenges because my heart was no longer in it? Or was I not trying hard enough?

It’s that last question that gave me pause.

Remember, I equated effort with being less able. I’d grown accustomed to not applying myself. As embarrassing as I find this to admit, apparently it is fairly common.

According to Dweck, “Malcolm Gladwell, the author and New Yorker writer, has suggested that as a society we value natural, effortless accomplishment over achievement through effort. We endow our heroes with superhuman abilities that led them inevitably toward their greatness.”

Now, the way I see it, if I continue along my current path, I could live my entire life without reaching my full potential. That doesn’t sound like such a good idea to me.

The good news is, “mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind, and you can change your mind.”

I may have been born with a fixed mindset—or my upbringing may have helped to evolve one, I don’t know—but it is my choice whether I want to stick with it or cultivate a growth mindset instead.

I’m going to have to go with change. In the growth mindset, struggles don’t define you. They are a step along the path and signify that you need to try harder and learn more.

Thus I can’t follow the ease. Doing so is too close to my natural inclination to stop trying at any sign of resistance. It’s time to internalize that I am not diminished by effort—that, in fact, success stems from effort—and that I must apply myself when something really matters.

Do you have a fixed or growth mindset?

As Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, a violinist and child prodigy who once struggled with fixed mindset, said, “This is something I know for a fact: You have to work hardest for the things you love most.” Ok, Nadja, let’s do this.

Who’s with me?

Kate Watson

P.S. This is my second read through Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. I’m learning a lot and it’s not all fixed mindsets.

Photo Credit: vfowler via Compfight cc

Why I Won’t Follow the Ease

Someone encouraged me to “follow the ease” a few years back. I don’t remember who but it was something I took to heart. I’ve been trying to figure out what it meant and how to apply it to my life ever since. But, after much consideration and analysis, I’ve come to the conclusion that I disagree with the idea completely. Here’s why.

What does it mean to follow the ease?

Ease can be a noun or verb depending on usage and, in the case above, I see a noun. Therefore, here’s the definition straight from Google:


1. freedom from labor, pain, or physical annoyance; tranquil rest; comfort: to enjoy one’s ease.
2. freedom from concern, anxiety, or solicitude; a quiet state of mind.

Thus, I take “follow the ease” to mean that you should go where you’re free from labor or pain, both physical and mental. To trust what comes easily. To follow the path of least resistance.

To make sure I was getting the concept, I asked some friends what “follow the ease” meant to them. One told me it meant that you should “act from a place of peace.” Another said to “go with the flow.” Still another suggested that ease was more of a mindset whereby you strive to be at ease with yourself despite what’s going on in your life.

And one last posted a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson as explanation: “You are like a ship in a river; you run against obstructions on every side but one; on that side all obstruction is taken away and you sweep serenely over God’s depths into infinite sea.”

Ok, have we got a handle on what it means to follow the ease? I don’t know about you but I’m taking the message pretty literally: To follow the path of least resistance.

Why following the ease is limiting

Many things in my life have come easily. School was easy and, frankly, so was college. Starting my photography business was easy. But moving my business to California wasn’t easy. Neither was launching Art Aligned. Doors didn’t open naturally as if I was drifting down a river of rightness.

Does that mean I was on the wrong path? Maybe. Or maybe it means I wasn’t applying myself, that I didn’t try hard enough.

Was the Universe trying to tell me something? That it was a bad time for my offerings or perhaps that my heart was no longer in what I was doing and I should stop?

These are all questions I’ve asked myself to better understand this “follow the ease” concept.

You might say that I’m misinterpreting, that it really means to follow your interests or to allow life to unfold on its own schedule. Well, if that’s true, then I think ease is a misnomer.

Perhaps by “follow the ease,” what people really mean is follow your passions. Or find your flow, the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter, as defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

I agree with both of the latter. I wholeheartedly believe that we’ll live our happiest, most authentic lives by finding something that we love to do and doing it as often as we can. But—and here’s the real rub with this ease concept—you still have to work for it. Not every day is going to be a picnic and boat ride.

By taking the idea of “follow the ease” literally, I could simply make a wish and sit around all day watching tv, waiting for it to come true. That’s too passive, too easy, and likely not to result in my deepest wishes or goals coming true.

So I say to heck with following the ease. Try this instead:


Agree, disagree, or think I’m being overly semantic? Tell me why in the comments.


Kate Watson

Kate Watson - As far as ease goes, I like your notion of “living with ease,” Corinne. However, I have trouble believing that “following the ease” is the same thing.

corinne - Yeah, I resonate with “ease was more of a mindset whereby you strive to be at ease with yourself despite what’s going on in your life” Because life gets shitty and life gets awesome. if you are not at ease with where you are at, you’ll be more shitty or more awesome. Seems less balanced. But then again, what do I know? 😉

inFocus: Artist + Changemaker Kira Corser

This month’s inFocus interview is with artist and changemaker Kira Corser. Kira is an award-winning photographic artist, writer, and video-producer with over 26 years’ experience, including 8 years teaching at California State University Monterey Bay, specializing in Service Learning courses and community arts. 

She has a Master of Fine Arts Degree and a BS in Journalism. Her nationally traveled collaborative exhibitions, along with 3 books and 9 videos, have been supported in part by many foundations and awards. Her photography has shown in major museums, including the Smithsonian and the Museum of Photographic Art, as well as in many state capitals and the U.S. Senate and Congress Buildings.

Artist + Changemaker Kira Corser

Kira, tell me a little bit about yourself and your work.

I am an artist who believes that art is a voice for social justice, for building community strength, for healing and education.

An original artwork by Kira Corser

What brought you to combine art and social justice in your work?

I think I always have been a person who believes in social justice; maybe because my parents were active in the Democratic Party, my mother was a social worker and my father an English professor. I grew up in a small town in Georgia, and saw prejudice in my daily life with neighborhood and school segregation. I used to get in trouble because I would stop and play with African American kids on my way home from school.

In 1984, I got my undergraduate degree in Photojournalism and produced the first of four nationally traveled collaborations with poet Frances Payne Adler. That exhibition and book was called Home Street Home, and included stories, poems, photographs, and statistics. That work helped legislation pass in Sacramento, hung in the Cannon Congress Building in Washington DC, in the Arizona state capital, and in Los Angeles was part of the Comic Relief HBO broadcast with Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams. The goal was to help people who were homeless.

President Clinton in a national CNN Broadcast, Oct. 1993. Ten of Corser

President Clinton in a national CNN Broadcast, Oct. 1993. Ten of Corser’s photographs, from the exhibition “A Matriot’s Dream: Health Care for All,” were enlarged and used on the set with the President, as well as the exhibition showing in the Rotunda of Congress.

What is it about art that helps people absorb such transformative and important messages?

I have seen my art stop legislators long enough to open their hearts and hear the roots of a problem, I have heard stories from people who have felt emotionally moved enough to try change, to help others less fortunate, to keep living despite depression or family illness. Thousands have read and experienced my art as my collaborative exhibitions were shown in 19 states, many state capitals, national conferences, universities, galleries, and museums.

I think the average person and many artists don’t understand the power of art or perhaps HOW to structure a supportive collection of elements that, when combined with art, have the power to change. This is why all of next year I will be working on four small eBooks about Creating Effective Art for Changemakers that will include lesson plans, videos, and templates.

Children participating in a workshop by Kira Corser to promote nonviolent resolutions to gangs, bullying, and domestic violence, as part of First Night Monterey Artworks.

Children participating in a workshop by Kira Corser to promote nonviolent resolutions to gangs, bullying, and domestic violence, as part of First Night Monterey Artworks.

What do you think is the most important skill to be a successful artist or changemaker?

I think persistence, patience, and the belief in the power of collaboration and partnerships are more important than artistic talent. But artistic presentation has a major part in how the audience accepts the message you want to voice.

If the technical skill of the artist makes the work beautiful, then the eye and the heart of the observer work together to create caring. No change takes place without someone who cares enough to listen.

In my exhibitions, I often print large—sometimes 30″ x 40″—on silver gelatin paper that was toned or more recently hand-painted color prints on watercolor paper, matted and framed with the words so each piece tells a story with beauty and pathos. These skills are difficult for many artists because the ego, or ideals, of personalities often are challenging.

Spirit Source by Kira Corser

You’re working on a couple of big projects right now, Sea Changes and Art Is the Next Peace: Connecting Communities. Tell me about them. What is the expected outcome from each and how can people get involved, if they want to?

Sea Changes is a project that started in San Diego and we are growing statewide and internationally. On New Years Eve this year, we projected Save the Earth and Ocean messages and imagery on the front of the Monterey Conference Center for thousands who attended First Night Monterey. We welcomed visitors to experience the Virtual Undersea Experience, Ocean Creature Shadow Puppets, and much more.

People can contact us, the seven scientists and artists who have been collaborating on this project for the past three years, via our website www.seachanges.org and Facebook page.

The other project is titled Art is the Next Peace: Connecting Communities. I have been working on it for eight years, since my partner was murdered and gangs threatened the lives of kids in Salinas where I was living. This project has a website, www.artconnectingcommunties.org, and Facebook page so people can share what they feel and what they are doing to promote peace and justice.

I will be in Atlanta in January and February of this year, and in Washington DC with that project later in 2015. The work includes One Billion Rising for Justice Atlanta, the Martin Luther King Center, the Carter Center, the International Child Art Festival, and schools in El Cajon with Iraqi refugee children.

To learn more about Kira Corser and her work, please visit her website: http://www.kiracorser.com.


Kate Watson

40 Before 40: Roundup #1

40 Before 40: My 6-Month Roundup

In addition to a visit to Winchester Mystery House, playing tourist, we visited some of our favorite Bay Area spots, including Pescadero State Beach over the last several months

It’s now been six months since I unveiled my 40 Before 40 list on my 37th birthday, so I thought it was about time for a check in and progress update. To date, I:

Giant Race 2014

In the corrals for the 2014 Giant Race

On the Field at AT&T Park

As Giant Race finishers, Brian and I got to hang out on the field at AT&T Park for a while.

  • Played tourist in home city  (#6), a bit. Over Christmas, the hubs and I took my mom to Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. I definitely have some more attractions to see to check off this goal but I think Winchester was a good start.
  • Exhibited my watercolor painting (#11) during August
  • Wore yellow (#21), thanks to my friend, Corinne, who let me borrow her mustard wrap sweater.
My Yellow Sweater

What do you think, folks, should I invest in more yellow apparel?

  • Flew in a glider. Interestingly, this one didn’t make the cut for my 40 Before 40 List because I didn’t think I’d accomplish it in the time available, but I was wrong. I found a special offer for Bay Area Glider Rides in Hollister and Brian and I each hitched a ride in November. I’m going to change up my list to reflect this success, making this #12.
Glider Ride

Here I am, returning from my ride with Bay Area Gilder Rides in Hollister

Flying a Glider

Brian, because he’s a licensed single-engine-aircraft pilot, got to fly his glider. Good fun!

So I’ve checked off just five of my 40 so far. Wow, there are a lot more to go in the next two-and-a-half years. I’m happy to have made some progress on playing tourist and I think I can knock out some of the easier ones in the coming months, including eating Peruvian food. Not sure about Scandinavian food because the Bay Area seems to have a dearth of relevant restaurants. I might have to make a pilgrimage to Ikea for some Swedish meatballs and that would just be sad… On a more positive note, Brian and I are definitely celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in May and there’s a lot more fun to be planned and had. Stay tuned for what’s next.

To stay informed about my progress, check out my original list.

What’s on your to-do list for 2015?


Kate Watson

My Word of the Year 2015

Accepting my word of the year for 2015

2015 marks my third year of choosing a word of the year. My first choice, love, was great, but I was so new to the practice that I’m not sure it consistently guided my path through 2013. Last year, I chose connection as my word and frankly, I hated it. Not in the way that Laura Simms hated her word; I simply didn’t know what to do with mine.

Connection didn’t give me any action items to take; instead, it brought my attention to what I wasn’t achieving. From that experience, I’ve learned that I prefer verbs—action words—for my word of the year. Had I chosen connect instead, for example, it might have reminded me to reach out to others or to focus on reconnecting with mind, body, and spirit. But I didn’t and connection didn’t.

As 2014 came to a close, I began to contemplate what my word for 2015 would be. A friend, knowing I needed to ramp up my self-care in 2015 suggested the words extreme or intuition. I journaled for word ideas and found unfurling, allowing, and accepting. When I looked up the definition of accept to better understand what I might be signing up for, I knew it was the perfect word.

I had come to it with awareness of the need to accept where I am, what I can do, and the need to heal. But the word accept means so much more and that’s what makes it my perfect word of the year. For example:

a :  to receive willingly <accept a gift>
b :  to be able or designed to take or hold
2 :  to give admittance or approval to <accept her as one of the group>
a :  to endure without protest or reaction <accept certain living conditions>
b :  to regard as proper, normal, or inevitable <the idea is widely accepted>
c :  to recognize as true :  believe <refused to accept the explanation>
a :  to make a favorable response to <accept an offer>
b :  to agree to undertake (a responsibility) <accept a job>
5 :  to assume an obligation to pay; also :  to take in payment<we accept personal checks>
6 :  to receive (a legislative report) officially

There are so, so many ways to accept, from receiving a gift to approving of someone to recognizing something as true. My word of the year is unequivocally:


Although I didn’t complete Susannah Conway’s Unraveling the Year Ahead guide this year, I journaled about words to bolster my word of the year, and intuitively selected love, write, heal, and explore.

2015 is going to be an interesting year, my friends, as I learn to accept all that comes to and through me with this inspiration.


What is your word of the year and how did you unfurl it?


Kate Watson