We, by nature, are creatures of want, creatures of need. We need shelter, food, and even, I would argue, we need love.
Our wants of course, are endless. From the noblest desire for world peace to the hope of people ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ our latest online pic, there is no limit to our wants.
‘More’ is one of our greatest wants. There’s nothing a small child loves more than a cookie — unless it’s TWO cookies. It is a natural desire, not necessarily born from selfishness or greed in my opinion, but in the best circumstances born from love.
We’ve enjoyed something so much, it’s bettered our life in ways un-imagined, and honestly we simply never want to do without it again.
When I find certain people — just a few times in my life, I want more. To paraphrase F.Scott Fitzerald, I want to do everything in the world with them.
But, in another way, just getting to meet someone IS the world. Time quite likely is an abstraction of our own making, and so I like to believe this meeting will continue and exist somewhere, forever.
I don’t have to be everywhere they are, involved in every conversation. We were connected once — through a good conversation or a good laugh — and that moment will echo in a sacred glade where all the clocks have broken.
I probably think such things to lessen the pain of releasing friends and lovers into the world, to leave them to their wiles. I can only hope fate is kind, their loved ones steadfast, and that they sense, somewhere in their hearts, how very much they are loved. Even if I only shared in a few minutes of their glory.
A few minutes. For the ‘more’ crowd, that’s nothing, that’s pointless. What’s an egg-timer-length conversation in a life? What’s one exchange, one joke? Surely that can’t change my life, or theirs?
And how can there be meaningful connection with someone who chooses not to be connected? Whether distance or work or love drives someone from your sphere — then they and you are nothing to each other and share nothing, right?
Not in my mind. A connection can only be the meeting of the eyes, a fleeting understanding between souls on a crowded street — lines running from infinity to infinity and only crossing once. On this day, in this moment.
In this moment.
If we always want more, and believe only quantity matters — if years and joint mortgages and fifty year friendships are the only measure of worth, of connection, of love — then we are doomed to always desire more. We simply cannot have everything, all the time, with everyone. And like the child wanting that extra cookie, we may discover that more is not better. Would your life really have space for forty best friends, six dream jobs, or three soul mates?
Perhaps life instead, gives us moments. Best friends for a day. That summer we thought we would become fashion designers. A few bright fall days when we felt we’d met a soul mate.
As a human, I desperately want more of everything I love. More beautiful walks in nature. More gourmet meals with my sister. More times of looking into someone’s eyes and understanding exactly what their words cannot say. More moments with you.
But there’s someone out there who has taken their last walk, and eaten their last meal, and they still are blessed and gifted by all they have seen and done. Memories is a dead term, I prefer to dwell in moment.
I have experienced so much and so joyfully that I can never be sorry for the brevity when the berth has been so great. I speak of longing but I sing of gratitude.
The day we release ‘more’ ironically is the day we are given everything. Perfect satisfaction. Perfect experience. True friendship. True love.
Because when you don’t need to possess anything, the whole world belongs to you. The length of a connection is no more meaningful than length of a sunrise — you either experience it or you don’t. You’re best friends for the length of a laugh, lovers for the batting of an eye, family for the duration of a meal.
Still, we are human and we want. I do not require a lifelong ally, or a lifetime of friendship. All I desire now is a million more seconds of connection with you.
And yet, in this moment, I find everything I seek.
Just a couple of days ago I sat down to make a business plan while waiting in a Chinese restaurant for my takeout order to cook (tip: if you can’t figure out a surefire plan for your business in ten minutes, then why bother? 😉 The only thing I had time to do was make a list of 11 money-making ideas related to writing, and then rate each idea on a interest/excitement level of 1-10 (ten being screaming-at-the-ceiling-excited [so what, I scared a few patrons]). I put down the numbers as fast as I could, with a minimum of thought. The idea here was to get an almost subconscious feeling for how much I wanted to pursue these options. That idea may sound touchy-feely, but I believe that what draws you in is also where you have your greatest potential.
As I wrote down the numbers, I was surprised — there were strong feelings, and no hesitancy, in my actions. When I looked back at the list, the path — usually so muddied by my indifference as to HOW I earned a living writing — was suddenly crystal clear.
- Novels: Self Published — 3
- Novels: Traditional — 10
- Screenplays — 9
- Self Improvement Books — 7
- Articles — 1
- Teaching — 2
- Teleplays — 1o
- Greeting Cards — 1
- Editing — -1
- Web Site Design — 3-5
The truth, however scary, was right before my eyes. I might enjoy writing articles (like this one!) and teaching for free, but my soul blanched at the idea of doing that as a job. The problem with this ‘revelation’ was that I already was making plans to push it this fall and write for Huffingtonpost, set up paid classes, etc. etc. But my list said (since I already have a ‘day job’ that pays the bills) that I should only really be working on four things — novels, screenplays, teleplays, and self improvement books.
Woah. That IS what I want to be doing, but is it also what I SHOULD be doing? To answer that, I need to go back and introduce you to a book that absolutely changed my life.
What are your strengths?
The online Strengthfinder test (which you get a code to take when you buy a NEW copy of the book ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths‘), has 34 themes or ‘talents’ that a person can have, like Includer, Intellection, Input, Positivity, or Responsibility (those are actually my themes). You get your top five revealed and for me, it was a life changer.
Like never before, I was able to see my positive qualities laid out before me. These talents are so integral to who I am and come so easily to me that I took them for granted. They are the traits that, when praised, make us say with a dismissive wave of the hand, ‘Oh, everyone thinks like that’, but other people are drawn in and in awe of your abilities. And we ALL have talents, but often we can’t see them without help — we’re just too close to their source.
Talents like ‘Intellection’ (the ability to think deeply about things), when combined with knowledge (like how to build a story) and skills (hours upon hours spent writing) equals a strength (fiction writer). It’s soul-level compulsion meeting a thing you love to learn about and do on a regular basis.
How does this fit into your life (and mine)? Well, I highly (HIGHLY) recommend buying the book, just in case it gives you a fraction of the joy it’s given me. But for now, look at the list of talents and see if any jump out at you —
Now, any talent can help any job — ‘Self-Assurance’, say, is helpful everywhere. But, when combined with your personality and passion — your talents can push you in certain directions. If you look back at my list of money-making writing ideas, you’ll notice that teaching rated quite low. I’ve done it from time to time, and even enjoyed parts of the experience, but it’s also nerve-wracking, exhausting, draining. I love the results — happy students and a chance to think more about a topic (that ‘Intellection’ again) — but the idea of doing it all the time for money sounds tiring. Also, none of my talents involve people except ‘Includer’, so a ‘Maximizer’ or ‘Developer’ might be more at home in a teaching setting.
On the other hand, take novel writing. I’m as happy as a pig in slop. Oh, the work is still hard, but I want to be doing it all the time. And it makes sense when you look at my talents:
- Includer — I love to look at the misunderstood, broken, forgotten characters and try to understand them and pull them into the story
- Intellection — Thinkin’ about stuff 24/7/365
- Input — Learning about Victorian England, old-fashion carriages, the experences of orphans, the periodic table –everything’s interesting!
- Positivity — Novels take a long time, but faith that I can finish and finish well keeps me going
- Responsibility — Doesn’t tie in exactly, but it helps me manage myself and get the work done (sometimes)
Now, doing what you love and enjoy can sound like an overly simple answer. But if you think about it, even now, at whatever job you’re doing, there are facets of your job that draw you in and others that repel you. Try doing what you love a little more and the things you dislike less. Seriously. Stop doing the junk you hate and see if anyone notices. I did this at my ‘day job’ and now our department has risen to be ranked in the top ten out of over 1,000 stores. I didn’t do it alone, but I’m sure spending time on the things I was more passionate about helped.
The risk in not following your talents and passions is that you can work very hard and not really get ahead or have anything to show for it. You can give your life away to the ‘supposed-to’s and only end up with the ‘oughta-haves’.
But if instead you make your own list, and write down — real quick — your own 1-10s, you may discover what you should be doing with your life. And if you find a way to use your universe-given talents in service of your passion? Well then, we should all get out of your way, because you might just be about to take off like a rocket.
And now, I’ve got to get back to that screenplay. And that novel. 😉
Check out my first post for the folks at Be. Magazine here. And check back there for another post coming soon… ‘You’re the One You’ve Been Waiting For.’
- make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction.
- strive to achieve or attain something in the face of difficulty or resistance.
- have difficulty handling or coping with.
- engage in conflict.
- make one’s way with difficulty.
Struggle doesn’t sound like fun. Maybe, it doesn’t even sound right — if you’re strugglin’, did you take a wrong turn somewhere, make a mistake, or overshoot your abilities? At best it sounds like something to be borne, and then quickly gotten past.
And while I consider myself very lucky and have never known true hardship, there were early days in my adulthood of struggling to make ends meets and then figuring out how to build a new life with my sister after my mother suddenly passed away. My sister Sarah and I also had to fix up our childhood home to move back there — water pipes and electrical outlets needed fixing, and new fences for a dog pen had to be built.
These times were not fun — hardly any of it. Back then, we dreamed of a unknown, rich uncle showing up out of the blue and whisking us away to live on his Frisian horse farm in Spain (he was a Gary Oldman/Sirius Black sort). We didn’t choose any of that struggle, and yes, we wished for it to be over. And yet, around the edges we still found bits of fun. I vividly remember digging post holes with Sarah for the dog pen while pretending to be characters from our favorite sci-fi shows (Earth 2 and SeaQuest DSV) and laughing our heads off. And that moment was important.
The other kind of struggle is the struggle you choose. Now, it beats the other one, hands down. But… it’s kind of like choosing to jump into a raging river to save someone’s life instead of being pushed in: you get the warm, fuzzy feeling of doing the right thing but that’s little comfort when your lungs are full of water and you’re thrashing around in the water. For me, this type of struggle has defined 2016.
Ahh, 2016. I just keep expecting it to turn a corner and get easier and yet I’m pushing against all barriers and really trying to reach a new reality with my dreams of health, fitness, having less stuff, and taking my writing career to the next level. It hasn’t been easy, really none of it, but the results are real and the progress is visible (and now I can say I’ve cycled 65 miles in a day).
But is it enough to just find tiny moments of joy and appreciate what we gain from struggle? Isn’t that kind of gratitude akin to ‘Mmm mmm, these Brussels sprouts really taste like they have a lot of vitamins!’ Whether chosen by us or chosen for us, this state of increased difficulty can last months or even years — shouldn’t our lives be full of joy and adventure even in the midst of challenge and change?
I just read ‘Peter Pan and Wendy‘ for the first time. One of the striking things was that Peter never really seemed to seek comfort and peace. Oh sure, he and the Lost Boys enjoyed coming home in the evenings and having Wendy mother them, but that was just so they could rest and renew for tomorrow’s adventure. And sometimes in a battle, if the tide turned and Peter’s forces were easily winning, he would switch sides and start fighting the Lost Boys just to up the challenge. Most of us can’t imagine asking for more of a struggle, but Peter gleefully embraced it, found it interesting, and even became bored if triumphs came to him too easily.
Back in the real world, how can we re-frame the struggle as adventure? Our struggles are as unique as our lives, and some of them may seem joyless and insurmountable. But whatever our challenges, we always have control over our minds and how we perceive ourselves —
How to See Your Struggle as the Greatest Adventure of Your Life
- Be grateful for the chance. Whatever you’re doing, where ever you’re going, someone somewhere wishes they were in your shoes. Whether you’re in debt, want to lose weight, working your way through school, or fighting cancer — somebody wishes they had that fight. A person hit and killed by a bus yesterday would love to have your today — it may not be easy but there’s a beautiful breeze whispering through even the hardest days.
- Know that you’re getting a chance to show off your badass-ery. The biggest fights show the hero off to their greatest advantage. In ‘The Princess Bride’ our hero Westley is dueling with a very accomplished sword fighter, Inigo Montoya. He’s been really challenged by their fight and THEN Inigo makes known a devastating secret — ‘I’m not really left-handed.’ Inigo switches to fighting with his dominant right hand and we wonder if our hero is doomed. Instead, Westley deftly switches his sword to his other hand too and reveals, ‘Neither am I.’ He’s as good as the best in the world. And so are you. People run from struggle. Most lives are carefully built around its absence, so just being willing to wake up every day and resubmit yourself to many punishing challenges qualifies you for a lot of kudos and admiration. That’s not saying everyone will notice but many more will than you realize (you may be inspiring your teacher, parent, or child without even knowing it). So remember, you’ve got the tools and you’re got the talent — and you’re handling on a daily basis what would scare the shit out of lesser mortals 😉
- Redefine what you’re looking for in life. Do you really just want that lee in the storm? A warm beach and a cold drink? When we’re tired, peace and relaxation sounds like the best things life has to offer. But again and again studies show that our greatest satisfaction and even happiness in this life comes from working toward goals that deeply matter to us. Life should have pleasures and we should enjoy them — but pleasure isn’t what makes life worth living. Get out of the mindset of desperately seeking easy street — that place where your job is perfect, your family life carefree, and to-do list done. Goals are very important to our satisfaction, but remember that John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ This wild, turbulent time is exciting and full of possibility — enjoy the race more and look toward the finish line less. Because what you will remember later is always the race.
- Own your struggle. You chose to be here. Yes, you did. Because ‘here’ is the struggle and you could have just laid down, given up, or exited out. You decided to be here and you decided to fight for what you want. One of the most important things I ever learned about having a job was that I chose to have a job — no one coerced me do it; it was a decision I made to have money for the things I wanted. In the same way, you can get ahead of your challenges and at least feel like you’re choosing this life instead of having it forced upon you. Be proactive about taking care of the issues you can control (pay your bills on time if you can instead of adding late fees on top of your other money woes), develop a plan for going forward, and trust yourself to be able to handle any challenges that come your way. For myself, I know I can always quit fighting, and go live a life of fast food, reality TV, and mediocre achievements — but I chose to keep fighting: to create great art, to find my fans and embrace them, to get the body and live the life I want, and to never settle until I have the man of my dreams in my arms.
- Embrace uncertainty. A lot of the trouble with struggling is fear. We’re fighting for freedom or to make our way forward. We have hopes, goals, dreams, or even just the desire for a little peace and quiet. During the hardest times of moving into our old house after Mom’s death, I remember hanging a poster on wall of my bedroom by the artist SARK and thinking that that poster would still be there when things were much better, and so it connected me to a future I desperately wanted to come to pass — and it did. And then it passed by, and became the now. The point is, whether or not all our dreams come true, we’re still moving forward and everything will be all right, in the end. If we release our fears, then struggle looks a lot more like just acting out our deepest goals and desires in an exciting, unfamiliar place. We’re having a dashing adventure, sword fighting with pirates. Or we’re exploring lands no one has ever laid eyes on before. Or we’re risking it all in a ‘hail Mary’ shot that will either fail spectacularly or land us in the company of legends.
When my sister and I talk about ‘adventure’ movies versus ‘action’ movies, we often say how — No matter how hard, difficult, or dangerous the path is, there is nowhere in the world the adventurer would rather be, and there’s nothing they’d rather be doing. Because here is where your gumption’s tested, where heroes are made, great discoveries of knowledge, treasure, and secrets revealed, and you’re living the story that will be recounted joyously a hundred times around a hundred campfires when you’re safely back home. The adventure is where you are most alive, using all of your talents to escape traps and outwit enemies, in awe of your abilities and fortitude, and where — when you catch your reflection in a quiet moment, in a lull in the battle — you find yourself with the biggest grin on your face, shocked at your good fortune and strength, your trials and triumphs, and astounded at the recognition that this is the best moment of your life and that you were so blessed to be gifted with this struggle, for inside it, you found yourself.
A little over a year ago I decided it was time to start getting rid of some of my and my sisters extra possessions. We had been limiting the amount of new items for a while but there were several rooms full of things that I hadn’t even looked at since we moved 11 years ago. Just, hadn’t looked at. Actually, it was more like — hadn’t dealt with. A lot of this stuff had belonged to my mother before she passed away, or were ‘useful’ things from her herb shop like books and essential oils. We also had stuff from our childhood, from our grandmother, and tons of old books the family had collected.
I started going through every room and soon my cry was, ‘Why didn’t I do this years ago?’ Now, there are tons of good articles on ways to reduce clutter, but I just want to share with you a few of the things I did and why they changed my life forever. I can’t imagine going back to the way I lived before — and I’m so excited about where I’m headed next.
8 Things I Learned While Halving What I Own
- We don’t KNOW what we own. Weird but true. If you have ‘mystery boxes’ you aren’t really owning and using those things — they’re just taking up space. I had two boxes full of my grandmother’s photos but I’d never looked at them. I didn’t know about those pictures in any sense of the word. But looking through them taught me a lot about my grandmother’s life, and then I was able to keep some favorites and send the rest on to my uncle and his family — allowing others to know more too.
- We only interact with a tiny portion of what we own. Imagine for a moment that you have electric blue, glowing dust on your fingers — how many things do you touch in your home on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis? Now imagine that gazing upon something also lights it up with blue dust — what things in your house would glow — how many pictures? And how many rooms would have nothing at all touched or seen over the course of a month? I learned that ‘storage’ (except for winter/summer clothes) doesn’t actually seem to have a point. Why are we keep up with this stuff?
- It’s much easier to let go of things in rounds. Last spring I made a list (always make lists!) of every room that I wanted to go through. Then this spring I did it again. The goal here is to let go of what you can, and then happily keep all other things till the next round. Maybe you’ll use it by then, or maybe you’ll realize that it’s not important to hold on to. The point is, the more times you return to a place, the easier it is to get rid of stuff.
- It’s fun to gift your things away. One of the downsides of hoarding/collecting/acquiring is that you can feel possessive and fearful — ‘These are MY things, and someday I’ll use them.’ When you let go of things, the opposite is true — you feel generous and trusting. The universe and you have got this and you’re not imaging that somehow a broken Nikon camera from eight years ago is all that — one day — will stand between you and starvation. So give books to your friends, give tools to your neighbors, and give everything to Good Will/charity etc. Selling off things is so much harder than giving them away — trust yourself and let it go!
- The equation ‘MORE STUFF = BETTER LIFE’ is false. I wasn’t raised to be materialistic, but we also never got rid of anything. If you were tired of having something on a shelf, it went to the closet. Cleaning the closet? Move it to the pantry. Then the garage. Our life wasn’t ‘richer’ for having more things, and we didn’t have more fun by having every room crowded by junk either.
- Making it a joyful process is a key to success. Don’t think ‘I must get rid stuff to make my life better’ . Instead, just see what you’re excited to get rid of. Everything in life works better if you happy and excited.
- Trick your mind by taking everything off the shelf/out of the closet and only putting back what you want. My sister taught me this one. For years, every square inch of her bedroom walls were covered in art — from tiny cards to giant posters. And occasionally she’d take a couple of old ones off and put a few new ones up. But it was only this year that she transformed her room into something awesome. She did the work and took every single picture off her wall. So now it was harder to put the things back on than just get rid of them. This changed her way of thinking and she threw away a lot of pictures that no longer inspired her, and re-sorted the other stuff so that similar works could be together.
- You become richer by having less. When I started getting rid of my ‘to-be-read’ books last year, it felt like a betrayal of who I was — I’m a writer, a reader. But that very first day also taught me a lesson: down on a bottom shelf, un-examined for years, was ‘Roots’. I was about to get rid of it but then I read the first pages and it ended up being one of the greatest reading experiences of my life. I realized then that I only really enjoyed the things that I saw and interacted with — I ‘got’ a book that day instead of losing the 20 I gave away. And over and over again I’ve found more peace, more rest, and more joy as I’ve given away excess items.
A year later, I look around and I can’t imagine why I had all that stuff. I didn’t use it, I didn’t need it, and the emotional weight I was attaching to old family items didn’t increase my love for the family members who had owned them.
Now I feel like I have breathing room. And with each carload I take to Good Will, I feel closer to being able to travel the world, to move cities if I wish, and to live the life of my dreams. But even if I wanted to stay right here for the next 50 years, I’d be glad to do it without sharing the space with that old, broken Nikon camera.
Try it for yourself. But be warned: you might just jump-start a revolution that reverberates throughout your entire existence. Today the pantry, tomorrow — the world!
This has been a crazy time for me. I work retail and I basically just become an eating, sleeping, and retailing machine for the six weeks before Christmas. Then life gets back to normal. I’m not proud to have fallen off on my exercise and writing goals BUT I am proud of how excited I am to get back to them in the new year. I’m gonna be all right — in fact, in 2016 I plan to be spectacular.
And I’d like you to be spectacular too. You can do it. Whatever your dream is you can make a big step forward this year. It’s not easy. If it were easy you’d already have done it. But it SO possible, that’s why you’re smiling a little now, why you’re getting excited somewhere deep within your soul. The truth as I know it is that there’s a thin line, a sliver of possibility between the mediocre everyday and impossibly extraordinary — a path you can walk and — to quote Henry David Thoreau — “Meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
But if you want to change your life in a significant way, as I did last year when I went from a size 18 to a size 12 and as I hope to next year with my writing — you have to understand that you only have so much energy — mental and physical — and it’s precious. As far as I can tell, your regular life takes up 80% of your energy (work, relationships, day-to-day chores) so your success depends on guarding and focusing the other 20% on your goal.
Succeed and you’ll feel like you’re tied to a rocket blasting into the stratosphere. For these suggestions, I’m gonna to assume you already have a goal (click here if you need some planning inspiration) and just are looking for ways to move your dream into reality.
So here’s my five tips to actually freakin’ make your dreams a reality in 2016:
- See yourself as amazing. Just recently I gave a friend the wonderful book, Now, Discover Your Strengths , which encourages people to worry less about their weaknesses and instead see the greatness in their innate abilities . I know I’m awesome, but seeing myself as someone with strengths in Inclusion, Intellection, Input, Positivity, and Responsibility helps me focus on the things that set me apart and come easily to me. I know you can do great things, and you just have to believe it too. Look at your whole life, what you’ve done, what you’ve withstood, the kindness you’ve given others. Part of the book’s power is that it points out the special talents that come easily for you are the first things you overlook while saying ‘Everyone thinks that way,’ or ‘It’s nothing special.’ But you are special, and you can absolutely nail this — just go read some inspiring quotes and believe in your potential.
- Don’t spend your energy on negative relationships. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I RUN, I don’t walk, I run from negative relationships. It doesn’t matter if the person meant to hurt me with their words, or absence, or choices — if I feel bad after talking or thinking about them — I move on. I’m not callous, and I don’t judge. But I don’t believe I can ‘fix’ anyone who isn’t personally asking for help (or looking for it on my blog 😉 ) or change anyone’s personality. And I’m almost sure you can’t swim to the island of your dreams with the 500lb yoke of a negative realationship around your neck. Stop trying. Step away. Give up. And remember —
- Realize that this is not a time for ‘normal’. From now till whenever you achieve your goal, recognize that you may be giving up a lot of free time, limiting outings with friends, working extra hard etc. And that’s okay — no one’s asking you to give up the things you enjoy forever. I gave up sugar for five months so I could be the size I’d wanted to be for 15 years — and so I could be the healthiest possible going forward. Five months is nothing in the scheme of things.
- Hard work is a form of magic. By now I’ve come to see that gladly working hard is a rarity. I’m not sure why. Maybe parents punished you with work early on, maybe school made it boring and dumb and soul-sucking. Maybe your peers taught you that only suckers go the extra mile. Or maybe you think you’re smarter than the rest and are gonna find the ‘shortcut’ to success. I really don’t know. But man, you have got to work hard. I wish I could wave a magic ward and make you love putting in the effort, because then you’d be so far ahead of the crowd. Now, it’s never easy — and it’s only sometimes fun, but you get such amazing returns. If you like working hard, that’s great — now just make sure you aim yourself toward things that matter (I’m still working on this myself). If you don’t like work, try to work harder anyway — move faster, stay later, do the thing you’d rather not. Because your dreams are possible but they are also on the other side of a lot of dedicated practice. And as my sister Sarah, an artist, says, ‘I don’t think dreams ever come true with half-assed effort.’
- A good plan + hard work + time = success. There’s really no secret to getting where you want. You already know how to do this —
- Set aside a couple of hours (hopefully somewhere alone and quiet) and write out your big goal. Then break your goal into smaller monthly goals, then weekly goals. If your goal requires several points (i.e. go to Ireland requires money, passports, time off etc) make sure each of these sub-goals gets broken down too. Note: Actually writing them out is essential (don’t just think about them).
- Work hard. Push yourself to do a bit more than you feel comfortable doing (i.e. 12 sit ups instead of 10). Do something every day toward your goal. Imagine you’re already world-class — how would you exercise, write, talk, dress, etc if you’d already achieved your goal? Note: Doing a crummy job, I’ve learned, is just about as pointless as doing nothing. Be all in.
- Give it time. Once you’re working hard at a good plan, stop second-guessing yourself! You can refine a little from week to week, but for the most part just say to yourself, ‘I’ll see where I am in six months,’ because all good things take time. Note: If you’re doing it right, your plan probably feel like it’s ruining your life almost immediately — for a time, things will get harder. When this happens don’t change your plan — you are probably going full-steam in the right direction. Give it six months. 😉
- Prepare for success. Dreams do come true. And there’s no feeling like committing yourself to a big dream and then starting to reap the rewards. For months last fall, everywhere I went friends commented on my great appearance and health — and I had the satisfaction of seeing a long-term dream come galloping — full-glory — into reality.
Let’s do it together in 2016.
Now, we all want to be right — to be smart, admired, to think for ourselves and not let anything sway our convictions. But at a certain point does certainty inhibit progress?
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot in 2015. Firstly, as I move forward toward becoming a professional writer, I have started thinking more about what audiences want — and deserve. A little background: I’ve been a follow-your-vision, write-only-what-interests-you, write-what-you-love-and-the-money-will-follow type for years and years now. And as I started to discuss the idea of writing more toward the audience’s desires with other writers, I heard my own arguments returned to me again and again.
“I think you’ll be more successful if you just follow your heart.”
“It’s more interesting to just create what you like.”
“Doing what others tell you and chasing popular opinion is no way to live your life.”
True. True. True.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that just being self-satisfied with ‘being me’ wasn’t — actually — helping me get better. I wanted to take the confidence (and experience) of listening to my inner voice and pair it with something more — with the tumultuous seas of outside opinion.
Rarely has the universe responded so quickly as it did now. 😉 Within weeks of seriously starting to think about this issue, I was challenged with a huge question — Did I want to be right, or better?
I had sent my newest novel, the 1810s-set Society & Civility, out to several friends for feedback. But this novel — you have to understand — it had become such a favorite with me. Ever since I’d started it last fall, I had enjoyed its world and characters so much, reread it several times almost just for fun, and thought it was a huge step forward for me as a writer. It was a lark, a love story — and the best thing I’d ever written. SO. When the reviews came in there was a lot of love (most rated it 7 to 8.6 out of 10) and a BIG problem. Toward the end of my story it totally breaks with the whole Jane Austin genre. I knew that might be a problem, which is why I’d sought feedback before completing any more drafts. People didn’t understand or like ‘the twist’ (as it came to be called).
I held out hope that my sister (the last of my beta readers) would feel the same way as I did and ‘get it’ as it were. Then the crushing blow came — she felt the exact same way as the other readers. So my perfect novel wasn’t considered by others to be perfect at all — now what?
Well, here was the puzzle of pleasing the audience writ large: they loved the book except for the twist. Did I hold fast and complete it as was — the way I loved it — or should I change it? I knew I could just brush off the opinions of these smartest, kindest friends — all creators and lovers of this genre — and tell myself that *my* audience would totally get my choices — whenever and under whatever rock I’d find this mystery group.
But– but. In my heart of hearts I knew these were my readers — and I’d let them down. I could always have a copy of *my* edition, but now what? Didn’t I want to challenge myself and make a story everyone could fall in love with? Didn’t I want to become BETTER that I was? The answer — after only thinking about quitting writing six times in one morning — was yes.
So far the rewrite is going well.
So when you come up against that question, that challenge — should I listen to others or go my own way? — I would ask yourself:
- WHO is giving you this feedback? Are these people you respect, people you want to emulate, or people who have valuable experience? There no point in following someone down a road you don’t want to travel anyway. In the example above, I had every reason to admire these readers and believe that they would give good advice. In a different example, a co-worker was recently applying for a job I’d previously held for two years and I offered to help them out and answer any questions they had. They pretty well blew me off, believing they already knew ‘everything’ about the position. I was someone with insight and a desire to help — and that could have been a powerful resource to help them if they’d been willing to listen.
- WHY are they telling you this? Some people just like to complain, nitpick, or put others down and you should never be using these people to judge your work or your life. But if you’ve asked someone for their advice, you should listen because you probably thought they had something valuable to say — you know, before they told you what you didn’t want to hear. And if you are creating products you want people to buy, consume, or love — you need to listen double-hard. Most likely, they are disappointed — and now they are trying to help you — maybe imperfectly, maybe in the human language of anger or frustration — but what they take the time to tell you are the words a hundred other customers may have walked away with still written in their hearts.
- Are YOU 100% happy with your results? If the answer is yes, you’re done. Stand firm. Tell the rest to go to hell and hold true to your path. Discover your fans and let them discover you. But… if in your heart you know you could be better, then listen. Acknowledge that you may be very good — you’re at least very smart and full of potential — but you not as good as you could be. So learn a better way to jog, take a class to improve your painting skill, and be open to starting anew on that book. If you see a gap, you owe it to yourself to bridge it and get better. Even if the gap is just between the audience’s expectations and your design.
- Are you EXPERIENCED enough to weed out the noise? This is high-level stuff, this balancing of being true to yourself and listening to others, and I want you to side 100% with your heart and intuition until you’re ready for this level 16 challenge. Keep in mind that you always get to decide in the end — listening to others and getting feedback is nothing more than offering you more options to choose from. And like I said, beware unsolicited advice, negative people, and anyone who truly doesn’t ‘get’ what you’re trying to do. You really are trying to separate the wheat from the chaff here (okay, not really 🙂 — what you are looking for is that small bit of advice that interests you, challenges you, and makes you say ‘Damn it — they might be right’.
- Will this help you get BETTER? In the end, it doesn’t matter if the critics are right or wrong if their advice hurts your progress. Weird but so true. With young writers, my secret feeling is ‘Yes, you are not there yet, but all you need is ten years of enthusiastic hard work. Then you’ll be great.’ No one really wants to hear that, they want the shortcuts — but you can still bleed from those cuts. Don’t wound yourself upon the opinions of others if you’re not ready. I loved my first critique group but then came a time that I felt I must withdraw, and grow in secret like a mushroom, pushing out of the leaf litter and into the sun only when fully formed. And now I’m ready to face the light.
I believe you can get 95% of the way to your goal under your own steam, keeping your secret counsel, and trusting your instincts. But when it comes time to finese the final pieces, to push yourself further than you know how to go, you have to seek, to see beyond your own faith and fallacies, to press and push yourself ever upward — to become more than you are, more than you thought you could be.
To stop being good and to become truly great.
I recently led a class about ‘How to Reevaluate Your Life’. Some readers will remember that I’ve talked about this topic a couple of times before and so I felt pretty confident. I printed handouts, talked for over an hour, and thought I’d covered my bases pretty well. Then — during the Q & A portion of the class — I got a question that threw me for a loop.
Jill Hartmann-Roberts — wonderful person, talented writer, and fellow Athens Writers Association founder, asked how I drowned out the ‘noise’ of other people and the world to live the life I wanted to live. In essence, her question pinpointed a weak spot in my talk: I’d focused on how to realize if you wanted a different life, how to find goals that mattered to you, and how to pursue your goals. But I hadn’t addressed:
- How to deal with friends, family, and coworkers who continually ask for your help
- What to say to people who belittle or challenge your goals
- How to balance your idea of an ideal life with society’s definitions of success
- How to say ‘no’ to extra work when you’re a nice person
- Creating what you want even when others don’t like it
Of course Jill’s a super-nice person and didn’t ask her question in any way to challenge me. But I was struck by what a good question it was. I thought about it and answered as best I could (in the on-your-toes manner that talks necessitate). But I thought that the answer also deserved a more complete response, because it’s really hard to live the life of your dreams and the life society has ordained for you at the same time.
This question is challenging for me because I kind of don’t give a fig about peoples expectations anymore. But why and when did this happen? I’m a sensitive soul (to quote The Lion King) and an unhappy customer at my retail job can almost reduce me to tears, so why don’t I feel the pull to follow your people expectations in my own life?
To answer that question, let’s look at the sources of this ‘noise’ and how you can negate its impact on your life —
— Not So Fun Noise-Makers —
Whether parents, siblings, or friends, these people have life all figured out and want to point out the folly of your path. Maybe they think you can only be happy married with kids, or by becoming an accountant, or by moving up the ladder at work. At their best, they have found something that has brought them much joy and want you to experience it too (certainly many a yoga/health food/exercise fan has sought to convert others [I’m as guilty as anyone]). At their worst, what they suggest has made them miserable but they still think you should follow their common wisdom.
Not exactly who we want to think is influencing us, but almost invariably ‘they’ are. Who’s this ‘they’? People who are paid to make us desire the latest car, the newest tech, and promise us the best night of our lives if we buy a certain beer or soft drink. And even my beloved entertainment industry is little better, though I’d argue the sins committed there are more often from ignorance than cruelty (to paraphrase Anna Sewell). There’s a great post about How The Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World. Hollywood (and other pop culture) is about wish fulfillment, and fantasy. I think back to how people wanted to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance and banter during the second World War — beauty and joy and escapism in a troubled time. Fantasy has its place — but don’t let it ruin your real life.
These people think they are better than you, or know someone better than you, and maybe just like to compare their favorite, most famous authors (artists, actors, etc) in history to you. Even a ‘Ha ha, well it’s not Shakespeare!’ can hurt an author. A lot of us may think ‘Hamlet’ is the greatest thing ever written in the English language and yet to be cut short, clamped down on — it stifles us and our potential. And somebody will be the next Shakespeare. And I will be the one and only Katherine Cerulean and being compared to people who are doing different things, with different aims, with more experiences, isn’t going to help me get there.
Oh, not the truly needy — the poor, uneducated, etc — by all means, take some time to give your energies or money to them. Who I’m talking about is the ‘needers’ in your life. If you have a job, and take care of your house/family, and are pursuing your dreams and goals — you are probably a hard-working and reliable individual. And those are worth their weight in gold. So you may find everyone — your church, your child’s school, neighbors, work friends, charities, interest groups you belong to — everyone may ask you for help. What each person asks maybe be small, but it all adds up. And if you say no, you may be called selfish.
The Biz Experts
Whatever your dream is, there’s probably a business for it, and there are probably stars, CEOS, critics, trend-watchers, and more who will gladly expound on the ‘rules’ for succeeding. And some of this can be very good advice. But a lot of it is just what worked for them, combined with fear — business can often breed conservatism: do what worked before, and don’t try anything new.
This may be more internal noise than external. You may find yourself wondering if your doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right field. You might feel you should be doing more. It can become stifling. We have met the enemy and he is us.
How Do We Tune Out the Noise?
It’s not always easy. The people interrupting our flow are our friends, our family, even ourselves. But if you want to do truly great things, we need to be able to concentrate and trust ourselves. So here’s how to deal with —
- Well-Meaning ‘Correctors’ This is probably the hardest category because ‘correctors’ are often family members, and they have an out-sized influence over us. The best defense I know is to remember is ‘they don’t know you as well as you do’. You know if you can get in shape for that marathon, move to that new city, or ask that guy out. At best they are guessing about your abilities and interest. ONLY YOU KNOW. It helps if you can (privately) find humor in their suggestions. Keep in mind that they are probably trying to help you avoid pain, and that they may still see you as that little kid you once were. In the end, they will be happy for you if you succeed on our own terms — otherwise they are people who you should have limited contact with in your life. Period.
- Consumertainment Remember that the whole industry exists to sell you things (even if it’s only a movie ticket). And the sellers have had decades to perfect their pitches. Though you want to be inspired by people who are living their dream lives, look for reality first. What are the best moments in your own life on a weekly or monthly basis? Who have you met that seems happy and to be living the life of their dreams? Reading articles and interviews can help you understand the day-to-day lives of famous people (though beware that a biography is also a product and may be filled with stories meant to sell it). Recently, I started listening to the podcast Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin (it’s really good), and Alec said something that stuck with me. He, while talking about Hollywood said something like, “There are things I like about it and things I hate about it. I love my job, but it is a job.” Some might say Alec is ungrateful; I think he was just honest. No marriage, friendship, or career is perfect. I love, love, LOVE writing — and yet it’s so much harder as a job than a lot of things I could have done. It’s hard because I care. It’s not just sipping lattes and daydreaming (for instance, right now I’m sipping a Starbucks dark roast not a latte). So stop comparing your life to make believe — dragons and giant robots and the Entourage life are all products of Hollywood writers’ imaginations.
- Braggarts Honestly, I have found that shutting them down or shutting them out is the only way to deal with this type. If the comments under the ‘help you out’ category, then the first time I’d thank the person for their advice. “Stephen King uses a lot less commas than you do.” “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” But that may only encourage the braggart to keep comparing your work to everyone (including themselves) who they think is better. Then I would say something like, “Thanks, but I have my own style and am doing my own thing right now and I’m not really interested in comparing myself to anyone else.” If the person still keeps putting you/your work down, you have to understand that YOU are not necessary for their monologue; they are looking to inflate themselves or their ego by putting others down. They probably can’t help it, but they are never going to change. Cut them out of your life or, if they work with you and you can’t, make it absolutely clear you don’t want their opinion. “Hey, sorry to interrupt you, but I really don’t enjoy talking about my work with you or hearing about yours. Can we talk about something else? Like how much we both hate the (local sports rivals)? I think we’ll find we have a LOT to agree about on that topic.”
- The ‘Need’y Jack Canfield (in his book, The Success Principles) says to ‘Say no so your yeses have more impact.’ Tell others that you have made a commitment to your family/job/dreams/health and you are going to have to say no to their offer/request. You can soften the blow by posing a counter-offer — “Sorry, I’ve made a commitment to improve my health by running in a marathon in November so I’m going to have to say no to chairing the school fall festival this year. But I would be happy give my notes from last year to the person you choose and they can email me if they have a few questions.” Also, realize that you will do a better job on the things you do say yes to if you have less on your plate. Lastly, think about the fact that as a useful person you will be needed to ‘help out’ from now until the end of your life, but that the best way you can help out — I’d argue — is to become a totally realized, extraordinary human being. Being amazing at your life will bring money, connections, and even time into your existence which you can use to improve the world. But, as Scott Adams says, ‘You have to be selfish first.’
- The Biz Experts There a quote from Steve Jobs — “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” I think that sums up a lot of my beliefs about experts — they don’t know what the great new thing is until they see it. And I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t get a consensus about what works, or which paths often lead to success. But if anyone says no one of your background, age, etc has made it, remember to add silently — ‘…yet.’ You could be the first, but there may already be tons of successes that other people don’t know about. As you develop your talents and if you’re passionate, you will start to see these gaps — things you wish existed but haven’t seen yet. And believe me, the world is hungering for you to fill those gaps, for something amazing and different and exciting. I think the world needs some Katherine Cerulean and needs it right now so I spend my time trying to hone my vision, to improve myself, all while remembering that what makes me special is exactly the thing ‘expects’ would probably want me to change.
- Second Guessers The best thing I’ve found for this problem is to think deeply about a issue/goal/etc — whether over a few weeks or a concentrated couple of days — and then make a detailed plan with a timeline. I decided to go Paleo for 6 month to get to my ‘perfect shape’. After I decided that, I didn’t have to think about it anymore. I was paleo. I’m not saying it was easy, but I didn’t wonder after three weeks if I should quit it and try a different diet — I had already thought this through and made a plan. Short of any health problems, I simply wouldn’t even consider another course of action till I had given this one a chance. A timed goal can work for anything — it says you don’t have to worry about something every day and yet are monitoring it. “If I still hate my job this much in one month I’ll send out 20 resumes.” “We’ll do six months of ‘date nights’ and then see a counselor if our relationship hasn’t improved.” One screenwriter suggested that every six months you ask ‘Is this making me happy?’ He was talking about writing but that could work for anything — just remember to quiet the second guessers (even yourself) while a timed goal is going on — you got this in hand.
In the end, noise is all around us, and always will be. What changed for me was when I realized a few years ago that everyone deals with these issues and feelings and challenges. I could either continue as I had been and be shy, lonely, and questioning for the next 10, 20, 30 years or I could become the kind of person who inspires others by doing the thing and having the power. I could feel the fear and do it anyway. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been so worth it. And somewhere along the way I lost a lot of my fear of what people think. I have no magic answer, but I do know one thing for sure: you are SO IMPORTANT and so special and you deserve to fight through the noise and never stop fighting and claim the unique throne that is held only for you.
The world may be full of noise but, in the end, only you can silence your roar.
And only you can give yourself the time, space, and confidence to show the world how special you are. Go get’em.
Even though the year isn’t over yet, I’m so excited about the things that are exhilarating me and moving my writing forward that I just had to share them (note: no real spoilers here, just a few lines of non-revealing dialogue) —
#1 — Hannibal
Hopefully season three isn’t the end, but if it was — what an ending! I can’t even count all the ways this series awes me and makes me jealous. It is more beautifully shot and designed, more intellectual, and has more intimate relationships than almost any series I have even seen. I did feel like they lingered on the beauty a tiny bit long in the beginning of the season but once they picked up the pace they were incredible. This is one of those shows that has changed me and will be with me forever. I want to make things this rich, this thoughtful, this surprising.
Hannibal Lecter: Killing must feel good to God, too. He does it all the time, and are we not created in God’s image?
Will Graham: Depends on who you ask.
#2 — Mad Max: Fury Road
The trailers looked so exciting, so balls-to-the-wall, so over the top that finally seeing the feature-length film had to be a letdown.
ONE WOULD THINK.
Instead, Fury Road managed to not only hold onto that excitement and craziness for two solid hours but it also added in a great plot, strong characters, and the best female hero the genre had seen since Sarah Conner. And finding out that — on Amazon.com — silver spray edible cake frosting is ‘often bought with Mad Max: Fury Road’ has restored my faith in humanity.
Nux: If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic on the fury road!
#3 — Nate Ruess / Grand Romantic
I’ve really enjoyed Fun. Now their lead singer’s new album has become one of my favorites of the year. He has this emotive, beautiful, lilting voice and it just screams ‘story’ to me. ‘Brightside‘ especially makes me want to write another love story.
Cause there’s just something about you my love
Something in the way you comb your hair
And fall apart at the seams
#4 — Friday Night Lights / Season 3
Aww FNL. I started this series last year and have been waiting about six months between seasons. I got past season 2 (the truncated sophomoric stumble) and watched FNL regain its footing and rise again like an eagle (or a panther) in full glory in season 3.
I love, love, love these characters. I don’t care about football. I don’t care about teenagers’ love lives. I don’t care about small town politics. But I care about everyone, and every second, of Friday Night Lights.
Tami: I love that about you.
Coach Taylor: What? That I can’t make a decision to save my life?
Tami: No. That you make the decision with such a conscience. What other coach would think like that? I think it’s because you’re a teacher first. You–you are a molder of men. And I find that admirable, and I find that very sexy.
#5 — Daredevil
I’m only halfway through this one, and yet have been blown away again and again by the writing and the visuals. The use of light — greens and yellows and neon words shattered among the darkness of an endless night turn the hero’s blindness and growing heroism into a physical landscape. And the introduction of the Kingpin rates among the best, and most surprising, entrances by a villain in TV history. I believe Netflix has not only met the quality standards set forth by the Marvel movies, but in many ways it has eclipsed them.
Ben Urich: There are no heroes, no villains. Just people with different agendas.
6# — Jim Kroft / Journeys #1 & #2
How Jim Kroft isn’t famous yet I cannot say, but I’m sure he’s on his way. ‘Journeys’ 1 & 2 are beautiful, imaginative, heartbreaking, and hopeful. ‘Break For the Light’ is a perfect anthem for reaching for your true desires, but ‘Beijing Morning‘ is the one that breaks my heart every time.
Days may come and the days may go
Sometimes the demon is taking hold
I want the courage to make these steps
To walk from error and regret
#7 — The Unusuals
“You should watch ‘The Unusuals’.” I kept hearing some version of that from my sister, again and again, over the last few years. She’d seen it when it first came on, while I sometimes avoid new shows till I know if they’ll last. Terrible, I know. Well, this show didn’t last beyond its first season but it doesn’t matter, in one season it created more memorable characters, moments, and stories than many shows do given a decade. Come for Jeremy Renner, and stay for the dialogue — heartbreaking in one moment and gut-busting in the next. My only regret is that I didn’t see it sooner.
Det. Shraeger: I swear, if you took all the time that men wasted thinking about the female breast throughout history, there’d only be enough time to read a magazine.
Det. Walsh: What, like Juggs or Maxim?
Det. Shraeger: Yeah, you’re adorable.
#8 — Far From the Madding Crowd
O-M-G. I’m not usually someone who goes gushy for love stories. I really enjoy them, but only the well-done ones. So I’d been aware of this movie because I love that 1800s English setting but I wasn’t sure if it was for me. Then my friend and fellow writer Jill Hartmann-Roberts saw it and suggested we go see it together. Wow! What a story.
There’s just something about the moments here, seconds when the light hits two people who were going about their lives, unites them in a pure second of love or lust or hate — and then the world spins on but each’s life is changed, almost ruined, because of that profound pause. All the actors are great here, and the scenery is SO beautiful.
Bathsheba Everdene: From now on you have a mistress, not a master. It is my intention to astonish you all.
#9 — Dragon Age Inquistion
Bioware’s ‘Dragon Age’ series is one of my favorite sagas in video games. ‘Dragon Age 2’ may always have the edge because, for me, it was like living and making choices inside an HBO drama — the characters were that well-written. And you never forget your first Fenris romance!
That said, DR3 lived up to the hype and then some, with an unbelievably open world and an even better combat system. It was the grandeur of the journey though, that caught me up most. I don’t spend a lot of time gaming, and it can be easy for me to play around in an open world and then lose interest (see every Bethesda title ever [still enjoyed them!]). DR3 seemed made to stop that from happening. It united the expansive world of ‘Dragon Age 1’ with the climatic plotting of DR2, making you and your character change and grow along the way (one can feel the beats of Joseph Campbell — ‘and here the hero crosses the threshold’). Havor, my Qunari warrior, progressed from captive to hero to leader of men — and found himself a flirty mage named Dorian along the way. Not a bad for a hero’s journey.
Solas: I am surprised you do not practice blood magic, Dorian. Is it not popular in Tevinter?
Dorian: While we’re sharing surprises, you’ve done a lot less dancing naked in the moonlight than expected.
Solas: Tevinter lore about elves remains accurate as always.
Dorian: I wanted to see you make flowers bloom with your song, just once.
#10 — Chappie
‘Chappie’ is ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag but, for me, it works. Is it a drama? A comedy? An action movie? It’s all these and more. At its heart is Sharlto Copley — amazing and visionary — as the lead character. Chappie learns and grows throughout the movie and since much of his ‘childhood’ is spent with hoodlums, the movie is both an indictment of violence amid poverty and an example of the power of love and family even in the worst of situations.
And it’s laugh-out-loud funny.
And filled with great action.
The best way to put it is: it’s a Neill Blomkamp story and — for some of us — that’s an awesome thing.
And still to come —
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- 007’s Spectre
- The Martian
- Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs movie
- Crimson Peak
. . . and more.
Even though there haven’t been a ton of things to inspire me this year, the ones that have are off the charts! If you have a second, tell me one of your current inspirations.
After all, this list could always use a Part 2 . . .