If Only I’d Known. Letters to Lost Years: 1988.4

When you suffer disappointment or embarrassment from failure, think about the lesson of the trees:

Biosphere 2 attempted to create a perfectly balanced environmental system.  But scientists were baffled by plants that toppled over when they grew past a certain height.  Eventually, they discovered the missing element necessary for plants to grow tall: wind.  When wind blows against plants, it stimulates the development of stress wood, which holds them in an optimal position.  Plants use the challenge of a storm to make themselves strong for survival.

What can we learn from nature about how to use the storms in our lives?

It’s strange how seemingly innocuous showers can have an inordinate impact on us –  in response we twist ever-so-slightly and wind up growing with a funny kink in our trunk.  One of my “knots” grew after an unsuccessful run for class office in junior high.  That loss became my secret injury.  It was the moment that instilled in me fear of exposing myself to the judgement of others and planted the seed in my psyche that said, “I can’t… I won’t succeed…. I’m not good enough.  It isn’t going to work.”

Every now and then, there is something I can envision perfectly – something I am so completely confident about that I know beyond doubt it will happen: college, jobs, meeting my husband, places I’ve been.  I have other goals and dreams about which I am passionate, but when it comes time to pursue them, I do so with a touch of timidity and a pinch of doubt.  I go after these dreams – no matter how much they mean to me – with an air of apology.  I am that little girl who put herself out there before her school and they said no.  Probably means everyone else will say no, too…

“I realize this probably isn’t the best book you’ve ever read,” the undertone of my query letter says, “but please publish it anyway.”  How can I expect anyone to get behind me, if I’m not entirely behind myself?  

Understanding this has made me aware of two things:  1) I have to convince my subconscious that the past isn’t prologue.  I can get a “yes” on the things that matter most to me; I just can’t be scared to go after them;  2) I have to keep working until I am entirely confident in what I’m doing.  

It’s time to reach into my past and tell that little girl not to take every “no” so personally.  Tell her that rejection doesn’t shine a light on her fundamental flaws.  Help her understand that sometimes it’s just pointing her in a better direction or forcing her to give that extra effort.

After all, a dream delayed is not a dream denied.

I have to let go of that little girl’s hurts and humiliations because they aren’t who I am any more. 

If I am willing to work hard and am genuinely proud of what I produce, there is no reason I won’t succeed.  

No one is entirely successful all the time.  And no one who achieves anything worthwhile does so without struggle and stumbling and disappointment.  When it happens, it’s time to take a deep breath and learn what we can.  But never, ever allow that moment to seep in and infect our understanding of who we are.  

We learn the most from the moments that challenge us the most.  We learn what doesn’t work and what we can do better; what we want and are willing to work for, and what actually isn’t all that important to us.  

We learn to use the wind to develop the traits we need to stand strong and attain the potential within us.


Published in: on July 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm  Comments (3)  
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Patience and Perseverance

For those of us trying to achieve some personal ambition, my god, it can seem like the path to that dream is one of those horror movie hallways that just gets longer as the hero runs along it .

I’ve occasionally heard new authors make comments like, “I’m not published yet because I haven’t finished my manuscript, but as soon as it’s done, I plan to go with X agent and use Y publisher.”  I want to scoff a little, but also give them a reassuring hug – like you do to a small child who says he wants to be Emperor of the World when he grows up.  These naive writers seem to imagine that the publishing world is just sitting there waiting with baited breath for their submission.   The advance check is already filled out and signed, ready to be sent.  Maybe I was a little like that, too, when I finished the first draft of my novel.

Ten years later, I realize it’s only that simple for a couple of people – people with celebrity, connections or such genius that their work cannot be ignored.  The likelihood of it happening that way for anyone else is about the same as getting struck by lightening while a shark attacks.  And so, for the rest of us, the way to success is to persevere… even when it feels like you’re getting no where.

When asked how a writer keeps going after a rejection, the incredibly talented Marc Nobleman, author of Boys of Steel, said to me, “I just remember that the very next person I ask could say ‘yes.’  Would I ever be able to forgive myself if I knew I gave up when I could have succeeded?”  Such a positive mindset does help keep one focused on the goal, rather than the setbacks.

I also think about sports greats (Federer, Louganis, the Manning brothers, the Williams sisters, to name a few).  Would they have gotten where they are if they’d ever given up when they’d lost?

And sometimes I’ve felt like I am the sound of one hand clapping; I am a tree, alone in the middle of the forest, and I fall… did I make any sound?  When waiting for a reply to an email, I feel invisible, like a silent ghost trying to make contact with the world that cannot… or will not… hear me.  But, I know that everything can change in a moment.  Success is always possible, as long as one maintains patience, faith and perseverance.

It’s hard to keep going when it seems like you’re not getting anywhere, but you’ll never succeed if you stop.  Those of us with a dream that seems so far from being realized must remember that the road is long, but only those who stay on the path will reach their destination.

I always liked this quote from Thomas Mann’s Mario and the Magician:  “Shall we go away whenever life looks like turning in the slightest uncanny, or not quite normal, or even rather painful and mortifying? No, surely not. Rather stay and look matters in the face, brave them out; perhaps precisely in so doing lies a lesson for us to learn.”

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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