Last week, I was meeting with some friends when I got interrupted by an emergency call. As I excused myself to take the call in the other room, I heard one of my friends say quietly, “Poor Sarah, she never gets a break.”
My initial reaction on hearing this was to smile and think, “Yes. Someone gets it. Someone understands just how sucky things are for me. How sucky they have been and how unlikely they are to improve.”
It was nice, this feeling of solidarity and support, something I frequently don’t get enough of some days.
But a moment later, it hit me. I don’t want to be that person. The person for whom nothing ever goes right, the one that can’t ever catch a break.
Now mind you, I deeply appreciate my friend’s support. She’s been a staunch ally in my corner for the last several years now: being there when I needed a shoulder to cry on, surprising me with the perfect Make My Day gifts in the mail, believing in my writing when I’m ready to chuck the whole thing in the trash and get a second job flipping burgers… It is not her sympathy and support I mind. I mind needing it.
I won’t lie. It’s been a rough couple of years. I’ve been hit hard financially, physically, emotionally, you name it. Creativity tends to dry up in rocky ground, so one of the things that brings me the most pleasure in life has been one of the hardest to maintain. My productivity went from roughly a novella a month to a novella a year. I went from struggling with depressing circumstances to being outright depressed–and the very fact that my circumstances weren’t going to change made it hard to snap out of the cycle. Not to mention I’ve always taken my health for granted and now I can’t do that any longer. I’ve been forced to accept far too much in the last few years as being the ‘new norm’ for me.
This inner loop has been playing in my head these last few years that whispers once a person reaches a certain level of ‘down’, things just continue to spiral out of control, as though I were a stalled airplane and had no choice but to plunge to the ground. I’ve seen this play out with enough other people in my life that it’s hard to believe I’m not caught in this vicious cycle myself.
But along with that feeling of “No, I don’t want to be that person”, I’ve had other inklings that perhaps what I need more than anything is an attitude adjustment. I’ve been trying to locate an article I read some years ago on the dangers of focusing on what you don’t have rather than what you do. I wish I could find it: the gist of it is that by dwelling on the things you lack, you create a mind-set whereby you never get the things you do want. I’m not talking about The Secret or any mumbo jumbo like that. To be honest, I frequently have trouble with the concept of positive thinking or trying to make yourself believe something that is frankly impossible. If I don’t feel sexy, or powerful, or successful, no amount of self-talk is going to persuade me otherwise.
Still, the last few weeks, the BF and I have been watching some quirkly little movies. Always his choice, and I’m learning to trust his judgement. The first one was About Time, which I wrote about here. More recently, it was The Giant Mechanical Man and last night, Chef. None of these were blockbusters. In fact, you may not have even heard of them. But there seems to be a running theme about decent people like you and me living their lives as best they can, not really knowing what they want or how to get it until they find the one person that makes it all make sense to them. Nothing about their lives outwardly changes until they change how they think about themselves. There isn’t any magic, or super powers, or explosions. It’s just people discovering there is more to themselves than they thought because someone believed in them.
Then there was today’s Twittascope. Now, I’ll be the first person to tell you that I frequently mock Twittascope, using it as a guideline to do the exact opposite of whatever it recommends, yet there was something about this that resonated:
If you’re always fretting about the scarcity in your life, you’ll never feel the abundance around you. Prosperity starts as a state of mind.
I am conscious of the fact that when I put my mind to achieving something, it happens. The fact that I rarely believe in myself to the extent of making this happen all the time is beside the point; when I do believe in something, I’m unstoppable. So here is my formula for breaking the cycle of defeat. It might not work for you–I fully believe we all have to find our own Patronus spells to ward off the Dementors in our lives. But here are mine:
- Stop focusing on what you don’t have. Concentrate on what you’re grateful for. I know, sounds like your typical pop psychology clap-trap, right? Only there is some truth to this one, at least for me. When I stop focusing on what is lacking in my life, and truly sit down and give thanks for what I’m grateful for, it changes my thinking. Maybe you have to dig deep to find something. Maybe your ‘somethings’ aren’t the kinds of things most people think of when they are looking at the markers of a successful life. But there are things in my life I wouldn’t trade for anything: not financial or creative success, not public accolades or a secure future. Someone who gets me, who believes in me, who makes me feel worth knowing? Worth more than winning the lottery.
- Stop focusing on what you don’t have. Picture what you want. Imagine it in great detail a few minutes every day. This truly has worked for me, but only when I was very specific in what I was looking for and hoped to achieve. Telling yourself you’d like to lose weight or write a best-selling novel without a specific for either is a pipe dream. Make it real. Make it count.
- Stop focusing on what you don’t have. Stop focusing on what other people DO have. Stop comparing yourself to others! Sure, maybe you don’t write 4 or 5 novels a year, but you know what? Maybe the person who does has made sacrifices you don’t know about to do so. Maybe that person doesn’t work 50-60 hours a week, and isn’t trying to take care of elderly parents and raise kids at the same time. Or maybe they do. Whatever. They are not you. Maybe someone else has launched a terrific series just when you were sitting down to write something along the same lines. Does that mean your ideas have been blown out of the water? Does that mean no one is going to be interested in your Vampire/Space Cowboy shifter stories? No, it does not. No one is going to write Vampire/Space Cowboys the same way you are. I would strongly suggest if you move forward with that project that you not read the competition, simply to keep your material fresh and original in your mind, but the truth of the matter is if there is a market for vampires and cowboys in outer space, then there is room for more than one set of stories on the subject. So someone you like and respect has written an awesome series about FBI agents, or treasure hunters, or ghostbusters? That doesn’t mean your stories won’t be loved and cherished by readers. PUT THE WORDS ON PAPER. Worry about your audience later.
- Stop focusing on what you aren’t. Remind yourself what you are. There’s a reason why certain heroes and heroines resonate with you. Something about those characters speaks to you, and they wouldn’t if you didn’t value their traits and attitudes. Embrace them. Accept the things you like about them as the things you like about yourself. You’re not as different from them as you think. They are just further ahead on the same path as you. Borrow their strength until you can find your own.
- Stop focusing on the number on the scale, the image in the mirror, the ranking on Amazon, all the little ticky boxes of success as we’ve come to know it. Remember that so many industries make their money out of making you feel bad. It is in their vested interests for you to fail, to be miserable about yourself, to buy that self-help book, or this diet drink, or that product to try to make you feel better. That is not who you are. You are not a number on a scale, or the thickness of your hair, or how many books you’ve written/sold in the last two months. You are not the joint that is going to cause you pain the rest of your life, or the disease that robs you of so much joy. You are the stories you have to tell. You are the person your dog looks up to with love in his eyes. You are the person who laughs during an unexpected downpour, who can honestly be happy for a friend’s success, who the kids will call when they get locked out of the house in the middle of the night. Do you know what pictures I like the best on Facebook? The pictures of my friends wearing something that makes them feel good about themselves. That’s the look I want–the one that says, “I look smashing in this, don’t you think?” And they do, every single one of them. They look fabulous because they feel fabulous. I love the pictures people share of their kids in some moment of pride because the love for their children (or pets, or grandkids) shines through their posts. This is also who you are. You are the person who loves.
It isn’t easy to break the cycle of defeat. Lord knows I struggle with this more often than not. But I am not going to accept it. I’m not going to bow down to it, and nod sadly and say this is my lot in life. I will go down fighting, and then I will get up again. You’d better watch out for me when I do because I’m gonna come up swinging. 🙂