I’ve always been a positive person. Annoyingly optimistic. Eternally grateful. A lot of fun. I haven’t been that way for the past few months. Not here on this blog, not in emailing with friends, and certainly not at home. I know it’s wearing on my family — my short fuse, my constant restlessness, my absence as I take on too much. But I sense I’m discovering a lot of important things about myself and the way I operate. I am reinforcing what works to really motivate me and make me happy. I am noticing — and slowly shedding — what keeps me small, scared and stuck.
Some of the ways I am accomplishing this transformation is just noticing. Noticing how I react, noticing my patterns, noticing my feelings. This seems so simple — I mean how could you not notice yourself? You’d think anyone who is alive would be aware of themselves. And that’s partially true. But I’m noticing from the outside — almost as if I was an observer in my own life. You know how when your husband or best friend has a problem, you see the answer and the course of action SO CLEARLY but they are stuck in their own mire that it seems they can’t see their own hand in front of their face? I wanted that kind of clarity. So I have tried to observe myself from the outside — to the extent that’s really possible of course. But let me assure you, with practice it is possible. I even think I’m getting better at it.
Anyway, there’s been a theme I’ve noticed lately. A lot of people encouraging me to not be afraid of failure — which I admit is a wonderful piece of advice — but it’s been coming at me in funny ways. Ways that allow me to contradict it and therefore give up. Let me give you an example. A friend sent me a great article encouraging writers to keep trying and not give up. There was a quote that went straight to my heart it was so powerful: “the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” If that doesn’t give me permission to fail, what does? It was perfect and I held it close. But less than 24 hours later I read an article about a girl who had an idea in the shower for a book. She decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) with this idea. She did her pre-plotting and set to writing every single day in November. She finished it, corrected some typos and started querying agents. In her own words — from shower idea to having the manuscript sold was NINE WEEKS. Yes, I said weeks. She signed a three book deal.
My friend, some people get lucky, and that’s life. She certainly wouldn’t agree that a master has to fail to earn her success. Now, you can debate what it means to be a master (though I’m going to go ahead and say a 3-book deal qualifies in my world), but it doesn’t matter what you think in this instance. I’m trying to explain that by holding so tight to that initial quote — by needing it to be true to give me permission to pursue a life of writing — I left opportunity for that truth to be disproved and thus fail me. I need to give myself permission. Permission so deep and real that no quote will move me in either direction.
Here’s another example. During a yoga class this week, the teacher was talking about hard work and perseverance. Again, great qualities and ones I hope to continue to cultivate. During headstand practice, she gave everyone variations depending on their skill level. “Remember,” she said, “the only difference between the person in down dog and the person who can hold headstand for five minutes is practice.” Well unlike the writing example, I knew instantly this wasn’t true. I have been able to do headstand since the very first time I tried. Of course my technique has improved, but it’s mostly genetics that allowed me to do it in the first place. My body understands headstand — I didn’t have to work for it at all. But just like the story of the girl who became an instant author is no reason for me to give up, my natural headstand is no reason to gloat. It’s up to me to balance what I really want to spend my days practicing. Forget about the good and the bad and just do.
I’m struggling to accept that there may be no answers in life. There is no one perfect quote that’s going to get it through my head so that I never struggle again. It’s a constant practice. The work must come from within. And not just the work, the permission to do the work, the encouragement to continue the work, the pride in the work we’ve already done. A quote might accurately capture how we feel, but it can never give us what we don’t already have. This I know to be true.