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Posts Tagged ‘failure’

  1. Discouraged? These three magic words will make you feel better

    March 19, 2017 by Diane

    Words have power on wooden table

    Do you ever tell yourself…

    “I’m a failure,”

    or

    “My work is mediocre at best, I’ll never measure up,”

    or

    “I can’t make a living doing what I love, I’m wasting my time.”

    Do you hear words in your head that sound like your third-grade teacher, your high school coach, your fill-in-the-blank who doled out messages back in the day when you were a tender young sprout building dreams, words like:

    “You might fail, so why even try?”

    Those are words of envy, of someone who’s faced failure, cringed, and retreated. Those are words you absorbed and squirreled away and overheard in your head when you sat down to rewrite that novel, or compose that blog post, or start that home business, or face that empty canvas, or practice that trombone.

    Spit them out.

    They’re bitter. They need to be boiled down to an edible consistency so they’re easily digestible.

    Sometimes, those words are offered as a way to protect you from disappointment, like when you announced: “I’m quitting my job so I can write The Great American Novel, and I’ll support my family on the advance check alone.”

    Oh, come on. Don’t tell me you’ve never said that to yourself. Or something like it.

    “I’m going to open a food truck, get discovered on Shark Tank, and open a fleet of food trucks.”

    Okay, somebody actually did that.

    The point is, sometimes our dreams get too big for their britches. Doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming them. We just need to decide where to best focus our energy.

    As a good friend recently told me, quoting the author of Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System:

    And then there are the little dreams, like…

    Getting picked for the high school basketball team. Not.

    Getting that part-time job that paid more than your full-time job. Think again.

    Getting the lead in the local community theatre production. Know how to carry a spear?

    Disappointing, right?

    Makes you want to sink into the sofa with a Cotsco-size bag of Cheetos.

    Here’s another quote, from a Buddhist nun:

    When there’s a disappointment, I don’t know if it’s the end of the story. But it may be just the beginning of a great adventure. – Pema Chodron

    There will be times when we dream big and fall short, or try something and fail. Rather than wallow in discouragement, I’ve found the antidote. Three magic words. Three words so powerful, they erase any self-doubt, unstick any stuck places. Words so powerful, whenever you use them, you’ll shoot past that naysayer, you’ll straighten your spine and look that doubter dead in the eye and smile with knowing, then spread your fingers on the keyboard, the trombone keys, around that paint brush, and do what you were meant to do.

    What are those three magic words?

    At. This. Time.

    Huh?

    AT THIS TIME.

    I’m doing the best I know how, AT THIS TIME. With the skills and knowledge I have AT THIS TIME, I’m doing all I can do. As I acquire more skills and knowledge, I’ll do the best I can to at THAT time, which will be THIS time, only THEN.

    Confused?

    Yeah, me, too. But that’s okay.

    Those three magic words act like jet fuel when you’re on the fiftieth rewrite of a ten-page story.

    Oh, you don’t rewrite fifty times?

    Huh.

    Well, anyway, instead of rewriting fifty times like I do, you (or, ahem, I) can stop at the tenth time, saying, “Let it go. You’ve done the best you can do at this time,” then submit it to a literary journal. Off it goes!

    AT THIS TIME keeps you in the moment. Not somewhere in the future, or with Joe Schmo the bestselling author, or with Lucky Leo the ace tennis player. It keeps you with you, at your current level of experience.

    Now, that’s not to say you stay stuck in this moment forever. This moment becomes the next, and you flex your muscles a bit more, stretch a bit farther, and take the next step into the next moment, building your skills as you go. You’re in competition with nobody but yourself. Nobody else can fit in your shoes as long as you’re wearing them.

    So the next time you give your heart to a project and it doesn’t pan out, or your kid does something that leaves you doubting your parenting skills, or the cake you bake for your spouse’s birthday falls flat; the next time your blog post is anything less than stellar, or your rewrite is going badly, or your trombone-playing makes your brother lob a ball at your head; the next time your cold-calling results in a dozen hang-ups, or you slave over a report and your boss makes you do it over–don’t despair. Take a deep breath, straighten up, and say, “I did the best I could do. At this time.” And pat yourself on the back.

    Because the truth is, we’re all on a learning curve.

    And next time, we’ll do better.

    Now that you have those three magic words to propel you onward, what dream, big or pint-sized, will you take on this year? Tell me in the comments. 


  2. Friends by Default: Confessions from the Seventh Grade

    February 19, 2017 by Diane

    team huddle in color

    In seventh grade, I played quarterback in gym class. This was remarkable, as I usually landed on a team by default. When it came down to me and the girl who played tuba in marching band, tuba girl got picked every time. But one day Mrs. Wattenburger, our P.E. teacher who resembled a football, assigned me to play quarterback for one of the teams. And the other girls looked at me like, “Who are you again?”

    Football for girls wasn’t the same as football for boys. We didn’t make actual body contact like boys did, pitching ourselves onto whoever carried the ball, piling up like dirty laundry. What the girls played was flag football, a delicate version of the more masculine butt-slapping, full-body tackling sport. The “flags” were two strips of cloth hanging on both sides of our waists, Velcroed to a belt. To tackle someone meant ripping off a flag, holding it aloft, and doing a happy dance.

    My job as quarterback, in addition to pitching the ball, was to generate plays. Since the only athletic feat I had at the time was balancing on one foot, my ability to dream up plays involving pigskin was somewhat limited. But I soon discovered that I aced the huddle. Stick me in a group, and I’ll seize the leadership role, barking orders.

    In the huddle we draped our arms over each other’s shoulders, something I hadn’t experienced since third grade when Stacey and I paraded like big shots around the playground, forever linked, until my family moved to the mountains and I never saw Stacey again. But in the huddle, we nestled under each other’s sweaty armpits—the cheerleaders, the drama club members, the science geeks, the tuba player, and me—all eyes focused on me, just me, for ten seconds while I spelled out the play.

    “I’ll pretend to throw the ball to you, but instead I’ll run with it myself.”

    And everyone nodded like this was a solid idea.

    We clapped once to signify the end of the huddle, and got into position.

    I hunkered over the ball, counted down, “Hike one, hike two, hike three,” then tucked it under one elbow and plowed head-first into a solid mass of female. When I picked myself up, still hanging onto the ball, I ran in the opposite direction, toward the wrong goal, then doubled back, everyone shouting and trying to catch up until the tuba player, who hadn’t moved since she took her position as tight end, ripped off my flag as I ran past and did the happy dance. My own teammate!

    At least that’s the way I remember it. The reality is probably somewhat different.

    But I do remember the huddle.

    And calling the play.

    And flubbing it.

    The next day, the girls promptly forgot who I was, and I went back to slinking from class to class, berating myself for having failed to reach yet another dream. Not that I dreamed of being quarterback. But still. Anytime a dream seemed within reach—like when that curly-haired guy at the school dance settled his gaze upon me and it was love at first sight until his gaze skittered elsewhere, yeah, that close—when I failed to reach the dream, I kicked myself in my bell-bottom pants the whole way home. I muttered stuff like, “You stupid-head. Nobody wants to dance with you. Nobody wants to go out with you. Nobody wants you on their stupid, stupid team.” With a lot of sneering. Because failing wasn’t bad enough.

    I did console myself with the fact that at least I wasn’t google-eyed over Tom Jones, like Jill Slater. She owned all his records, and watched his weekly variety show where he sang “It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone,” as he snapped his fingers and swung his hips, head slung back, white ruffled shirt split open. Because she hung out with me, I overlooked that minor flaw. Because I hung out with her, she probably overlooked my striped bell-bottoms, and the chain I wore around my wrist for three days thinking it was cool, until it turned my skin green.

    Sometimes we don’t pick our team. Sometimes we’re the last two standing on the sidelines and we look at each other and say, “Wanna play?” I knew my friendship with Jill wouldn’t last long. The only thing we had in common was being misfits. And at some point we’d drift apart, when one of us met a girl who really was our tribe.

    Secretly, I hoped I’d be the one to meet her.


  3. A Pep Talk for Writers Who Think They Suck

    June 19, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    “I suck at writing!”

    How many times have you told yourself that behind the writer’s curtain? Or publicly, on Twitter, in a forum, or to your best friend as you gobbled down a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia?

    I’m here to say, “You don’t suck.”

    The fact that you’re writing means you’re putting in effort. Nothing sucky about that.

    Now, you might be a beginning writer. Nothing sucky about that either. You’re learning. Genius rarely happens when you pop out of the womb.

    I took golf lessons in college. I love watching a golf game on television. There’s something meditative about all that green, the sports announcer whispering about club choices, the placid ponds that dot the grounds. But out there on the course with my own club, I spent a lot of time in the bunkers, and hollering, “Four!” as my ball sailed into another student’s thigh.

    I could moan, “I suck at golf!” But I refuse to accept that label. I haven’t yet mastered the swing. If I wanted to, I could invest years practicing my swing, but frankly, that doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather watch golf than play it.

    So, are you saying you suck at writing because you don’t want to expend the energy? Do you want an easy out? Do you want to throw in the pen?

    If so, claim it. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t want to put in the work. Be honest. “I’d rather read, than write!”

    But if you want to study the craft and improve, if you want to write every day, you’ll discover that some days your writing vibrates with energy, and other days when it’s just “meh.” Some days you’ll read your work and say, “hey, that’s pretty good,” and other days when you want to rip it in half and grind it under your heel. Your writing will surprise you and embarrass you, inspire you and depress you, move you and bore you.

    That’s how it goes. Up and down. Sometimes sideways.

    Now, If you’re an old hand at writing and you play the “I suck” card, well, my friend, you’re not playing with a full deck. I implore you to set aside your work for a day and go out and play. Then come back and read it again.

    I guarantee—you’ll find something in those pages that shines. One sentence. Grab it, and use it to start a freewrite. Put the new pages away for a day, come back and read what you wrote. Find another shining sentence, use that as the start of a brand new freewrite, and keep going until you hook into something strong.

    Let’s say you just started blogging, and after a post or two, you’ve run out of ideas. The words you write sizzle out after three paragraphs. Do you suck? No! You’re learning how to blog. Maybe you don’t have a solid idea of what to blog about yet. You need time to experiment, discover your topic, discover your voice. You will. Keep at it.

    Let’s say you labored over a short story, or a book, and sent it off, and it was rejected. Do you suck? No! That particular journal or publisher wasn’t right for your work. Or you had too many typos, or cliches, or a passive voice. Or the story didn’t grab the editor. All of these things are fixable!

    Research journals or publishers to find a better fit. Submit again. And again and again and again. Have a good editor go over it with a red pen. Rewrite, if need be. Don’t use the “I suck!” excuse to avoid the work. Yeah, it can feel draining, and frustrating, having to rewrite and resubmit after you’ve invested oodles of time in the darn thing. So take a break. Recharge. Then get back to it.

    Takeaway this week:

    To learn more about submitting to literary journals, and what an editor wants, read this.