Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘failure’

Once upon a time I was talking to someone about my writing. And this person said to me, “Yeah, but if you don’t succeed in a year or so, you’d probably quit and try something else, right?”

And I thought to myself, “Wow, we are really not on the same page here. In fact, we are so far apart I don’t know that there’s anything I can do to change that.”

So when I recently read an essay by Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, I was happy to see the following:

“The most defeatist thing I hear is, “I’m going to give it a couple of years.” You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul.”

I don’t know about the “should” in that statement, but for me, the sentiment is true. I’ve been a writer since I was seven. When I wasn’t writing prose, I was writing music and lyrics. This impulse to write is so deeply buried in who I am, I don’t have the first idea how I’d extricate it. Nor would I want to.

Because commitment matters. As Elizabeth Bear says, “…to succeed at a thing–a job, a relationship–in the long term, the thing is: You Must Commit, even though commitment is scary.”

I used to joke that I had commitment issues because I like to take a bit of time before I commit. I’m a “stick my toe in the water to test the temperature” kind of person, and then I hesitate at the first step or two of the pool, thinking about how cold the water is and wondering if this is actually a good idea, and then suddenly I rush all the way in, and I’m done. I’m committed.

20160301_231836

I even hesitated a little bit about adopting this cutie.

But the reason I like to take my time is because once I commit, I AM COMMITTED. And I will put everything I have into whatever it is. So being a little cautious at the beginning is an important protective measure.

Do I think this means I make better decisions? I have no idea. It’s part of my temperament, more than anything else. And I still make mistakes, and I still have failures, and I still make commitments I wish I hadn’t made, not because of failure so much as because the price I paid was too high.

Ultimately I think commitment requires a lot of trust: trust in whatever or whoever you’re committing to, yes, but perhaps even more importantly, trust in yourself. Trust that you can be there–really show up–for yourself. Trust that you can brave the storms and survive the failures. Trust that you can keep learning, that you can keep adjusting, that you can keep in touch with the things that matter to you. Trust that you can leave old commitments behind if it is time. Trust, even, that you can keep trusting instead of clamming up so tight it will become impossible to function in an open-hearted way. (Or, if that’s where you are, that you can figure out how to begin opening that heart back up.)

And finally, trust that we can’t always know and yet we must act anyway. None of us know what the future will bring. We can do our research and collect data, we can try things out, we can discuss the pros and cons, but ultimately, at that point of commitment, there is a LEAP. That leap is unavoidable. And it is terrifying. And it is glorious.

So if I had actually answered the question this person had asked me instead of being polite, I would have said, “What? No, are you kidding? I took the leap to write seriously years ago, and so far it has been a fabulous decision. It’s not always easy, by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t know when or if I’ll succeed in the way I want. But NO REGRETS. On the contrary, I feel incredibly lucky to be doing this at all. And I really doubt I’ll stop in a year’s time, whatever happens. I kind of doubt I’ll ever stop. I guess we’ll find out.”

Here’s to that glory.

Read Full Post »

Sometimes it can be scary to want things.

I just read an Ask Polly advice column, and the whole thing is pretty interesting, but here is the passage I want to look at today:

You don’t know what to do about it, so instead of throwing a fit or walking out the door, you become someone who exists in the margins, someone who can tuck herself into the background and make do with whatever leftovers come her way.

The problem is, that kind of passivity tends to bleed out over the rest of your life. You are willing to wait and see where you’ll live, and wait and see whether you’ll ever have kids, and wait and see if you’ll ever find a better job, until eventually you forget that you have control over these outcomes and everything else in your life.”

This kind of passivity is also a way to avoid commitment, to avoid figuring out what you actually want. What you want enough to really invest in it. What you want enough to risk sacrifice for it. What you want even though you might not get it.

In the last few years, you all watched me go through the decision of where I wanted to live. Before, I felt like I’d just ended up living in the Bay Area. It wasn’t so much that I’d made an active choice to live here as that life events pushed me toward it and I hadn’t resisted. So then, for me, part of learning who I am and what I want was really looking at where I was living and deciding if it was what I actually wanted.

And I have to say, while going through that process wasn’t the most fun ever, I am much more satisfied with my life having come out on the other side with an actual well-thought-out decision. Yes, I want to be here. Yes, I am committed to making certain sacrifices in order to stay. And sure, at some point those sacrifices might be too high and I might change my mind, but even if I leave at some point in the future, it feels good to know what I want right now.

Photo Credit: Shenghung Lin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Shenghung Lin via Compfight cc

Part of the reason I am writing this now is because it can be easy to fall into passivity. Especially for a recovering people pleaser. It can be easy to wait and see, all the while hoping for the best. And it’s not always wrong to do that, that’s not what I’m saying. Optimism can be a beautiful attitude to adopt. But sometimes it can also allow you to hide from certain realities and steer you away from being fully yourself.

So right now I am trying to embrace the experience of wanting things in active ways. It is terrifying, because once embraced, it makes it feel like I have so much more to lose. I feel vulnerable. And I realize the wanting means I have to take risks. I have to write things I don’t know if I can write. I have to do things I don’t know if I can do. I have to be myself even when that might lead to the necessity of letting go.

I write about this kind of stuff all the time. I write about it because I think it’s important to talk about it, and I also write about it because it is hard for me. Here on the blog it is easier to be clear. It is easier to take an idea and distill it down and develop an understanding of it. And then I carry these ideas out into the world, which is a murky, messy place at the best of times. I get confused, and sometimes I get frightened. Sometimes my ideas don’t seem so easy to implement anymore, and sometimes I forget what I actually think. But even so, I’m better off with these gems of ideas in my pocket, and I hope you are too.

So then, here is today’s gem: Sometimes it can be scary to want things. But that is who I want to be: a person who wants things and goes after them even when it’s scary and hard. A person who will choose risking failure rather than hanging out in passivity.

This isn’t always the person I will be. It certainly isn’t always the person I have been. But it’s the person towards whom I can aim.

Yes, I want things, with all my heart. Let’s see what happens next.

Read Full Post »

Isn’t there a saying that everything in this life worth having requires a certain amount of risk?

If there isn’t, there should be.

Life doesn’t come with a guarantee.

#

The trick, then, is figuring out what you’re willing to risk and what you’re not willing to risk. Or if you’re me, figuring out which risks are healthy and which risks are dysfunctional.

Fear, unfortunately, does not tend to be the most reliable indicator. Fear can exist for both positive risks and harmful risks. Sometimes we are more afraid of risks that will be good for us than risks that will be actively detrimental.

Sometimes we want to choose a risk that would be bad for us because those old unhealthy patterns are so very comfortable.

Sometimes what we want has nothing at all to do with the wise course of action.

#

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

#

Here’s what happens when you aren’t willing to risk at all:

Nothing happens!

Unless life forces itself on you, which it has a habit of doing. So maybe a few things will happen. Eventually. Randomly. And inevitably. The days will pass, and you will get older, and the world will slowly change around you.

You can embrace stagnancy. Which, when you think about it, is actually a pretty big risk to take too. It just takes less effort.

#

Here’s what happens when you are willing to take some risks:

Maybe you will fail, and you will be completely and absolutely devastated.

Maybe you will fail, and you will learn something.

Maybe you will fail, and you will realize it wasn’t very important to you after all. Or that it is SUPER important, and you are determined to keep trying.

Maybe you will fail, and you will see that you are strong. Maybe stronger than you think.

Maybe you will succeed!

Maybe you will kind of succeed, and end up taking some strange tangent, and it turns out to be the best thing that could have ever happened.

Maybe you will realize that risks are okay, and pain is okay, and disappointment is okay, and All the Emotions are okay.

Maybe you will succeed, and then you’ll realize you have to take ANOTHER risk. Darn it.

#

The past few years, I’ve taken some big risks. Big enough that beforehand, I feel sick to my stomach, and I have to take deep breaths and make strange Amy hand gestures to convince myself to go forward.

(You think I’m kidding about the hand gestures?)

I’ve laid myself bare on the page. I’ve asked for what I needed, even when I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be getting it. I’ve said no, and I’ve said yes. I’ve taken a close look at things I don’t want to look at, and I’ve shared things I’ve been afraid to share. I’ve committed myself to change, and I’ve committed myself to holding boundaries that force me to acknowledge the painful behavior of others.

I have taken a few long shots, because the unlikely payoff would be so freaking beautiful, it makes the risk completely worth it.

I would take them again.

And I have failed

And I have lost.

And I have found things that are infinitely precious to me.

I have cried myself to sleep, and I have been blissfully happy.

And my life is so much richer for it all.

#

Everything worthwhile in this life requires a certain amount of risk.

The choice is yours.

Read Full Post »

Some of you will remember that after many tribulations, I decided to leave last year’s novel unfinished, at least in the short term. So a question that I’ve been necessarily invested in is this: What do you do after a failure? How do you move forward?

Luckily for me, I knew exactly what project I wanted to work on next, and I spent several weeks brainstorming, researching, and outlining. But making the leap to actually putting words of the novel on the page took a surprising amount of discipline.

So I was fascinated to read Megan McArdle’s recent article in the Atlantic entitled “Why Writers are the Worst Procrastinators.” While the article ends up waxing on parenting techniques, it also postulates that the reason writers procrastinate so much is because the fear of not meeting a deadline has to become greater than the fear of having the end product suck. Basically, we procrastinate because we’re afraid of failure.

I’ve definitely noticed that I’m more afraid of writing than I usually am. As a consequence, I’m allowing myself longer periods of time to get the writing done (building procrastination time into my schedule, as it were). I’ve also begun listening to music while I write. I’ve always preferred silence while writing, but now I’m trying to distract myself from worrying that the writing won’t go well, and music helps divert my focus from thinking about failure to thinking about the work.

The funny thing is, for all that I’m worried, the writing is actually going just fine. I’m writing a rough draft, so there are going to have to be many revisions, as always. But I finished the first act earlier this week, and so far I feel like I have a good handle on what I’m trying to accomplish. There is none of that feeling of floundering around in the dark that I had with last year’s novel, but instead simply a striving to write to the best of my abilities.

Apparently, this is the way to go, embracing the challenge instead of obsessing over how the end result will turn out. As with so many things in life, staying in the present seems to be a helpful idea to keep in mind.

What to do differently… Photo Credit: Mufidah Kassalias via Compfight cc

So what really happens after a failure? We figure out what went wrong. We decide how we want to go about the next attempt differently. And then we go for it, all the while knowing this could be a failure too, but trying to stay in the present and revel in the process.

Because this could also be the time that everything clicks together and we create something that works.

Read Full Post »

Oh, 2013. How glad I am that you are almost over. You had your moments, many of them, but you sure didn’t spare the punches either. You taught me many new things and reminded me of many things I already knew.

Photo Credit: MomMaven via Compfight cc

Here are some of the ideas I’m taking with me into 2014:

1. Things often take longer than you think they’ll take. Especially things you really care about or that are particularly unpleasant.

2. Stress takes its toll on the physical body.

3. Perfection is frequently impossible. Doing one’s best is a more realistic target.

4. Meaning in life is created by relationships, engaging work, and an ability to reframe adversity.

5. Feelings are always okay. It’s what you do with them that you have to be careful about.

6. The gift of true and unconditional listening is rare. Shower those who give it to you with affection and appreciation.

7. The temptation to lie is data about you and your relationship with the person to whom you want to lie.

8. Sometimes pretending you belong even when you feel like you don’t will get you pretty far.

9. Knowing who you are is magic akin to knowing a true name.

10. Sometimes other people are wrong.

11. Learning to recognize the difference between things that are true about yourself and things society has told you are true about yourself can help you achieve things you never thought were possible.

12. The food in France is really, really good.

13. Home is a little white dog, a piano, a place to create, and good times with friends.

14. Asking is a good skill to cultivate. So is saying no. So is generosity.

15. Being imperfect makes you more approachable.

16. Failure is a part of life. Sometimes it feels like it is a larger part of life than you would like. That is the time to embrace it even more strongly. You are learning, you are growing, you are taking risks, and you are the active driver of your own life story.

17. Change takes a long time and is often uncomfortable and difficult. You will need all your courage and belief in yourself to pull it off. Including the courage to fail and pick yourself back up to try again.

18. I can listen to Moonface’s new album Julia with Blue Jeans On over and over again and I never get tired of it.

19. Repeat after me: You can’t make everybody happy all the time. No, really. You can’t. Nobody can.

20. In times of darkness, it is the ability to find the pinpoints of light that keeps you going.

21. Sometimes I am lonely. But I am not alone.

What have you learned this year?

Read Full Post »

I made a hard decision on Friday.

I decided to abandon my current novel-in-progress.

Currently at 61,000 words in length, this novel represents a large amount of my time and effort. It is about 75% completed.

It is also not working. And I don’t mean that in a rough-drafts-suck kind of way, but in a there-are-several-deep-systemic-problems-here-and-most-of-this-needs-to-be-thrown-out kind of way. So I am putting it aside. Maybe at some point I’ll know how to fix these deep systemic problems and I’ll return to the project. Or maybe I won’t. It’s hard to say.

Scott Adams had a good point in his widely shared article about failure: that there are people who focus on goals and people who focus on systems, and it is the people who focus on systems who tend to do better.

Don’t get me wrong; I think having goals is important. I’m a planner, and goals help structure planning. But ultimately, we want to have goals that support our system. When the goal no longer supports the system, it is time to change the goal.

My system is to be continuously improving myself as a writer while looking for opportunities to advance my career. My goal was to complete this novel. When I started the novel, the goal was in line with the system, but that is no longer the case. Being aware of the broken aspects of the novel, at this point I’ve been going through the motions, which isn’t teaching me all that much. (If I didn’t know how to finish projects, or if I felt I could learn a lot about endings by finishing, this might not be the case. But neither of those applies this time.) And finishing a novel this broken won’t do anything for my career except take time I could be using elsewhere.

That’s not to say I haven’t learned a lot from this project because oh wow, have I ever. I’ll take all of that knowledge and experience with me to the next project, where I’ll put it to good use. But sometimes it’s important to be able to figure out when to cut your losses and walk away. My own personal tendency is to hang on too long. This is another opportunity to practice not doing that.

If you’re wondering how I’m feeling, well, I just put 61,000 words into a drawer, which is not the most pleasant experience ever. But at the same time, I do feel good about this decision. I am excited to have more time to work on other projects that I believe in. I’m happy to be moving forward.

Failure is hard, but it’s also necessary when we’re trying to push our limits and become better. So this is not a horribly discouraging thing. I’d feel a lot worse if I no longer believed in my system, but I do. Nothing fundamental has changed. I’m just moving on to the next stepping stone.

What is your system? Are your goals in line with it? How do you feel about failure?

Read Full Post »

This summer I went to a workshop about dealing with fear, and I left it feeling disappointed. The teachers didn’t tell me anything I hadn’t already known. They kept using examples that either weren’t really about fear or that were about being afraid of public speaking. So it wasn’t a talk geared for me.

Apparently fear of public speaking is the second most common fear in the United States. But to me, it just doesn’t seem like a big deal. I get nervous ahead of time, and I over-prepare, and I don’t always do a good job with it. But it’s so much better than having to sing operatic arias in a foreign language I don’t actually speak that contain high notes I can’t actually hit from memory and then have my performance critiqued in front of a group of fellow singers. That’s what I spent my college years doing. Which was still better than actual auditions.

So one way to manage fear is to do something a lot harder, and then easier things might not seem so bad. Another way is to do whatever you’re afraid to do A LOT. So basically you’re practicing your way out of fear.

But really I was disappointed in the talk because there is no easy answer. Whether you’re afraid of speaking in public or dying, uncertainty or being treated poorly, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. And I wish there was. Fear is such an uncomfortable emotion. It can both hold us back and make things a lot more miserable even as we trudge forward. It can warp the nature of reality itself, making things that might be true seem like they are actually true. And it can make us physically ill in a variety of ways.

I have spent a lot of time being afraid. And ultimately it’s always the same thing that pushes me through.

Belief.

I remember once as a student, I was walking towards the music building where I had an audition. I think I was sick (I was almost always sick), and I already knew I wasn’t going to get the part. I thought to myself, Why are you even bothering? Why don’t you just go home? Why are you doing this to yourself?

But the answer was clear. I had decided to do this. I believed this was what I should be doing, even though I felt awful and I was really nervous and I knew I wouldn’t get the part. I had a vision of what I wanted my life to be, and this crappy audition experience was a part of that. So I went, and I did the audition, and I didn’t get the part, and I moved on.

Belief is still what gets me through fear. I fix my eyes on my idea of the future, and I clench my jaw, and I do what needs to be done to give myself a chance of getting there. The fear is still there, making things harder, making me pause and ask myself why I am putting myself through such difficulty. But I believe in my vision, and I hold onto that belief as if my life depends on it.

So I guess if I were to give a workshop on overcoming fear, I’d explore how to create a vision strong enough to withstand whatever fear can throw at us. I’d look for some exercises to promote self esteem, because in order to believe in a vision, I think we also have to believe in ourselves. And I’d talk about how to take care of ourselves and handle rejection and disappointment and failure and other obstacles in a resilient way that allows us to keep moving forward.

How do you overcome fear?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »