Well, folks, I’ve hit another life snag. I guess it was bound to happen again, right?
I’ve done my best, but life is just doing a much better job at getting in the way of my writing these days than ever. I’ll do my best to power through, but I thought that in the meantime we could reflect on some of the lessons I learned in the past, when I hit a life snag before. Maybe by reviewing them we can both be illuminated.
As I re-read some of these old posts, I wondered if maybe the most important lessons aren’t meant to be learned only once, but over and over again. Maybe it’s because the important lessons have to cut deeper into you as time goes on, like waves making a dent in the sand every time they slice the shore.
5. Allow Yourself To Suck
First Learned June 2, 2010: Allowing Myself to Suck
When I first shared this lesson, I was mostly talking about the writing process. I was talking about how all writers must allow themselves to be terrible in order to eventually reach some form of excellence. These days, I am seeing how this lesson also applies to life in very profound ways. Sometimes we have to wade through all those years were we might look like a loser or our lives might appear less-than-thrilling to others while we sacrifice to reach our dreams. In a sense, we have to let our lives suck before we can reach a point where we can say our lives are excellent.
Allowing yourself to be terrible, whether it is in writing or in life, is the hardest thing that you can ever allow yourself to do, and it goes against what everybody would have you do. Make mistakes? Allow yourself to look bad? Go where no else has gone before and risk coming out looking like a total douche bag? Be willing to share or face your most unpretty, unfinished, unpolished self and be okay with that?
Did I say this lesson was easy the first time around? I was wrong to imply that. It’s one of the hardest lessons you’ll ever have to learn–or relearn.
4. Don’t Judge Yourself By External Indicators
First Learned March 12, 2010: Failure
When I didn’t get into an MFA Creative Writing program 2 years ago, I was really down on myself, but it was that big “failure” that lead me to a fantastic and incredibly fulfilling journey with this blog. (If I had gotten into an MFA program there would be no C2C. Period.) I also wouldn’t have learned one of the most important life lessons I’ve ever come across: that you cannot judge yourself by outside indicators. Whether it’s a plaque or a reward or a degree or an accolade, or even something negative like a nasty comment or some hate mail, you simply cannot value your worth according to anything that is outside of you. This is because outside factors are constantly changing, people’s opinions and interests are constantly changing–so one day you may look great, and then the next day you may look like trash. You attach yourself to what others think of you and you will certainly be on a crazy roller coaster ride all your life–not to mention you’ll be stressed out of your mind.
This lesson is so much more important today for writers than it has ever been. I always smile inside when people get all panicked about the publishing market changing, or bookstores closing. Are things changing? Of course they are. They will always be changing. You can count on that. So if you attach who your identity, your worth, or your value to the market or to traditional bookstores, of course you’re going to drive yourself up the wall every time you see another huge change in one of these traditional structures.
Come on. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that the way we write, sell, and read books was bound to change someday. So, why so shocked?
Instead of freaking out, try detaching your sense of worth and value from all those external indicators.
3. Giving Up Is A Choice
First Learned February 28, 2010: Giving Up The Most
Not only is giving up a choice, but I’m also learning that the “idea” of giving up is also a deterrent to progress. When you’re going after a dream, there are no real markers or measurements as to when you have “failed” in pursuing that dream. In fact, no one else but you gets to decide when the time is over for you to stop pursuing your dream. I’ll give you an example:
My mother always loved dancing and her dream was to become a popular dancer someday. She ended up having kids at a young age and sacrificed her time to raise us well. She did a fantastic job, but when her children grew up, my mom feared her life was “over.” She feared that it was time to became an old grandma sitting in front of the TV watching soap operas and knitting Christmas sweaters. But then, one day, she decided to sign up for some dance classes. After only a few months, she started to perform in front of big audiences and she felt alive and fulfilled again. Today, she feels like she’s living her dream and she can’t believe it.
All it required for my mom to pursue her dream was to shift the way she saw things.
It is we who decide when our dreams are over–and it is never too late to keep going.
2. When Challenges Increase, Simply Increase Your Coping Strategies
First Learned June 20, 2010: Persistence
Through trial and error I came across an important life lesson that psychologists have known for years: whenever life’s challenges increase in intensity, you must increase the amount of tools you use to cope with these challenges.
Whether it’s emotional pain, or a spiritual crisis, or even financial troubles, the best way to move through the problem is always to find more and more ways to cope. Unfortunately, we are not automatically born with everything we need to confront adversity. We have an amazing physical body that does do a lot of amazing things for us–a brain that thinks on its own, a heart that pumps without us having to tell it, and eyes that blink automatically.
But life is still… hard.
And to paraphrase that song from the TV show Scrubs: you’re no superman.
However, although you are not a superman, you can still acquire superhuman tools. When the stakes start to get high, go on a mad search for new books or teachers that will give you the superhuman tools to help you overcome your super challenging life. Ask friends and family for advice, maybe they know someone who can help. Remember to address all parts of you, too: your mind, your body, your spirit, your heart, your community, and your relationships.
Once you acquire all those new tools, turn them all up on full blast until your challenges are forced to run away scared.
(And if your best still isn’t good enough, then maybe enduring the challenge is a lesson in itself.)
1. Every “Down” Is Really An “Up”
First Learned August 9, 2010: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Process
When I first learned this lesson I was a bit naive to imply that I could ever “stop worrying.” Of course I can’t stop worrying, no one will ever stop worrying. Especially not about the process of life, which often times unfolds in incredibly mysterious, somewhat erratic, and often confounding ways.
Whether it’s the process of writing, or the process of life, I realized that even though we are given proof that every one of our “downs” later ends up being an “up,” we still will doubt whether our current “down” will ever yield itself to an “up” one day.
It’s true that every thing we perceive as a negative moment ends up being a positive later on, but there is another layer to this lesson: it is only when we are “up” that we can trust the process to unfold for our benefit.
When we are “down,” however, it is very had to convince us of this universal truth. Whether we are suffering from writer’s block, or whether life’s got us in another choke hold, we’ll feel certain that our current difficulty will last forever.
Until, of course… it doesn’t.
So we end up having to learn this particular lesson over and over again until we get it through our thick, stubborn head that no important lesson can be fully understood on the first try.
No, eventually, every important lesson needs to be relearned, and relearned, and relearned, and… relearned.
So wish me luck as I register for this class one more time. If you’re signing up, too, let me know.
Maybe we can compare notes.
What lessons do you find yourself relearning? Please compare your notes with us in the comments below.
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