Opportunities, Potential, and Failure

I’m winging today’s post. It’s due tomorrow and I really didn’t have a direction to head (did I mention I lost my blog ‘plan’ for the year–there will be a lot of winging it in the next couple of months). So today, I wanted to talk about opportunity, our own potential, and reframing failure.

What do all of those things have to do with writing? So very much.

Whether you write for the love and fun of it, for yourself, for a small base of fans, for your dog, or for millions of avid readers, we are all engaged in a delicate balance of these three elements. Let’s take a look at them from a writerly perspective.

Opportunities

As a writer, or artist of any sort, when you decide to commit to your craft for whatever end result, you should look at ways to not just get those words in, but to improve them, challenge your writing’s boundaries, and explore different dimensions. Examples of creating and pursuing opportunities include:

  1. Submitting your work to journals, newsletters, publishers, or any other outside source for consideration.
  2. Signing up for classes, workshops, critique groups, retreats and conferences
  3. Writing outside of your genre or comfort zone as an exploration (you can do this concurrently with the two suggestions above)
  4. Sign up to give talks, open mic nights, teach a class (adult, young adult, children) about what you do know that would be helpful for other writers/artists.

The key to opportunity is to not limit yourself by your own doubt. You may see a dozen different submission calls, or invitations to teach or whatever, but if you’re constantly thinking your work won’t be good enough, your experience not deep enough, then you won’t ever put yourself out there. And the fact is, opportunities are rarely about stumbling into the ‘right place/right time’, they are usually more about putting yourself in the right place and the right time (creating and fostering the glints of opportunity you do find). So don’t limit your potential with self doubt. You never know what you’re capable of until you step up and try. That leads us to:

Potential

I’ll tell you the only real thing I know about human potential. It’s limitless.

Often times we are held back by our beliefs, our history, our trauma and our fears. Any thing ever in our life that told us we were not good enough, undeserving, or powerless, seeps in and builds little walls inside our brain. And we often think that once we reach those walls, that we are at the end of our capabilities. Reframing how you think about your potential is the key to opening up new roads. How do you reframe? Well, I guess first you have to set your sights on something without killing it.

How often do we tell ourselves, “I can’t do that”, “That’s impossible”, “That won’t work” even before we let ourselves think through the logistics? Probably a lot. Now–I’m not saying that EVERYTHING is possible. We can’t time travel (yet) and change mistakes from our past (why would you want to?). We can’t/shouldn’t aim for goals that hurt or destroy others. I’m saying in the field of your writing, you have no idea what you’re capable of.

So find out what drives you, what you want, what you dream of and write it all down (you’re a writer after all). Follow it up with small and manageable goals that move you forward, a little each day. This is the way we get over those walls. By building a ladder, one rung at a time, by destroying the wall, one brick at a time. Stay constant, stay consistent. And remember that self-doubt is an insult to your potential. If you want something, if you’re willing to work for it, then you deserve it and are capable of having it.

Well, that little pep talk was kind of exhausting let’s move on to my favorite of the three.

Failure

Failure! Fuck yes. Failure is my favorite and I’ll tell you why. Because failure means you were reaching for something better, something impossible, something unlikely and unsure. Failure means you stepped past your line of ‘acceptable risk’ and went rogue. Failure means you believed in something strongly enough to leap over that wall blocking your way. Failure is never a failure.

I’m already 102 submissions into my 100 rejections in a year challenge. Before I started this challenge, every rejection letter I got was a tiny little knife in the heart. A potential dream killer, a step closer to hanging up my pen and getting a real job. But you come to learn a few things:

  1. Failure is rarely fatal. (Ok–there is a disclaimer that you can totally fail something and end up killing yourself, so let’s not get into any discussions of Evil-Knievel stunts) Getting a rejection letter, even the worst and harshest one imaginable, will not kill you. But it may just teach you something.
  2. Failure teaches us. Failures aren’t setbacks as long as we learn something from them. Look I’ve had this kooky little story that I love, rejected like 40 times. Which tells me that even though I love it, there is something missing or needing cleaned up about it. I’m learning what makes a better story every time I write and send out a ‘less-good’ story. I learn that I can tweak and re-read and edit and cut out what doesn’t work. I learn to send it to the right markets. I learn to follow the submission guidelines. I learn that maybe my freak-flag is too much for some. Maybe it’s not enough for others.
  3. Repeated failure is a lesson book that you can take with you. In writing, especially, you learn what works and what does not. In life it is the same. And we gain these lessons and this experience from exploring and creating the opportunities for ourselves.

And just like that, I brought it full circle. Opportunity, Potential, Failure–rinse and repeat.

Go out there today and find or make an opportunity. Submit someplace new. Query an agent. Finish that novel. Get through that hard scene. None of these things need to be pretty or perfect. But they do need to get done.

Like this blog post.

Fear and Loathing in Middle Age

Hey kids…

Let’s talk about fear and how it changes us, how our fear changes over time, and what purpose it all serves.

This all began in yesterday’s yoga class when we were told to try a handstand, with and without the use of the wall. The instructor is amazing and even at 5:30 in the morning, she’s been able to get into my pre-caffeinated head and merge my body and mind in a beautiful symbiosis of breath, and heat, and general bendy awesomeness.

But yesterday…

Yesterday I began the morning by suffering through five miles of a run I didn’t enjoy. The week itself had been long and the weekend was short on sleep…yesterday was a cumulation of unhelpful factors.

So even though I was on my mat, carving out my own space in the universe to detach for an hour, I was still too much in the world. And watching my tiny little guru flip herself upside down effortlessly, knowing that my ass is WAY bigger, and understanding that I wasn’t on the most solid of ground emotionally, didn’t help my middle-age sense of insecurity.

While hopping up on one leg repeatedly in a effort to find balance the thought of “Why is this so hard, I’ve done cartwheels, I’m tough…my ass is big but I’m a sturdy girl all round, I got this…why, can’t I just–“?

*grunt*, *groan*, *heave*, *plop*.

It came down to fear.

I was afraid.

I was afraid that my own body would overcorrect. That to avoid pain, I’d swing my pendulum too far to the other side and really end up in a mess. Even though the wall was right there to catch me and there were no demands for me to even achieve the pose.

My physical fear was manifested out of my emotional fear of going too far.

Sure I worry for my rotator cuffs, and I don’t like the idea of barreling into the wall, but I think I was more afraid I would leap out into the world, heart on sleeve, hope in eyes, and fall off the edge. The headstand was a metaphor, for the cyclical “Why bother–you’ll just end up hurt” pattern that affects so many of us.

I held myself back physically. Because I was trying to protect myself emotionally.

I gave it effort, but not:

maximum effort

 

I knew I could do it, if I’d let go of the expectation of perfection and the fear of falling. Just like anything in life.

But humans are funny creatures and we spend a lot of time trying to protect ourselves from past physical and emotional pain by avoiding the effort that resulted in that pain.

Yesterday’s lesson brought up an honest question about my fears and where they came from and how they became so entrenched beneath my surface.

Fear serves the purpose of protecting and defending your life and your livelihood. But it also cages you. It stops attempts before they start. It can even set you up to fail.

Now failure isn’t a bad thing. It helps us grow and learn. And it’s not as Churchill so aptly said, “fatal”.

So why can’t I put my ass over my head?

Maybe the answer lies in the day I was having, maybe it’s that I wasn’t physically stable enough yet…maybe it’s because I’m afraid I’ll get it right.

Because sometimes failure is more easy to accept than success.

Why is it scary to succeed? Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do, in life, in our writing, in our day to day?

You’d think that’s what we want for the effort we put in. But self-sabotage is something most of us have done before especially at that hair-breadth distance away from obtaining our goals.

Maybe it’s the unknown aftermath of success…or the expectation to always be searching for the next success, climbing ever farther, faster, higher. If we stay mediocre. If we give up or don’t try…then we can stay nicely tucked into our pajamas on the couch midday, and no one would expect anything more.

Maybe if we start off mediocre, then any effort or tiny improvement we make seems like a mountain climbed.

And that’s just us lowering our standards.

Is it good to let our fear pigeon-pose…er…hole us into mediocrity?

I dunno. I think that’s something you need to talk to yourself about. Maybe it’s a good measurement of what we really want in life, and what we really hold dear.

If you no longer want to give it your best then maybe it’s not worth doing all

Thoughts and comments appreciated on this discussion.

Until I hear from you, I’m going to go find myself a wall and see if I can hoist this ass over my head, in the privacy of my own home where my grunts and groans will be mirrored in the aging basset taking over my yoga mat.

 

grayscale photography of basset hound sleeping
Photo by Maximiliano Ignacio Pinilla Alvarado on Pexels.com

VerseDay 11-22-18

Today I hope you are all safely tucked inside, enjoying the company of friends and family. Take a moment. Take a breath. Let us all be grateful for what we have and generous with what we give.

In Quiet

 

Snow buries the sound

Of footsteps and breath

All softness of touch

And heavy with forgiveness.

 

A blanket of repose,

To cover the spoiled ground,

Bringing a clean slate,

A world of potential and rest

 

Waiting.

Patient.

Not asking to be changed,

A pristine shroud to remind us

Some things are best left,

Untouched.