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July 23, 2015

Why Is Our Journey So Hard?

Person hiking on a mountainside in the snow with text: Why Is Our Journey So Hard?

Sometimes the posts I write are like challenges for us to do better or try harder. But as I’ve talked about before, we don’t always need the same kind of advice.

Some days, we might need pushy advice, and some days, we might need sympathetic advice. Both can work, and both can be harmful depending on our situation, our mindset, or our mental health. (And I’ve written both kinds of posts here. *smile*)

Others can’t know what we need from day to day, so it’s on us to understand ourselves enough to know what we need—and ignore the unhelpful-to-us advice. We need to be kind to ourselves and only let in the helpful-to-us advice, even if that changes from one day to the next.

This reminder to be kind to ourselves is important in the context of my last post, where I asked what actions we were taking to achieve our dreams. Depending on our mindset, we might feel ashamed for not having reached our dream yet.

But as I mentioned in my post about advice:

“We can push ourselves and yet have compassion for falling short. We can strive for success and yet forgive our failures.”

As I pointed out last time, we will fall short and we will have failures. No one can live a perfect life 100% of the time. (Says the perfectionist who’s an expert at knowing that truth. *nods sagely*)

What Does “Life Is a Journey” Mean?

One of the things I mentioned last time to soften the frustration or shame or impatience we might feel for not reaching our goal yet is that life is a journey. There is no finish line.

Once we get a good contest score, we want a contest win. Once we publish one book, we want to publish more. Once our writing skills are solid, we want to make them great.

That constant striving is part of life. In a way, humans are like sharks—if we stop moving, a part of us can die inside.

Among the older people I know, those still interested in learning about computers or email or whatever seem younger than those who have declared themselves “done.” The step between being “done with learning and growing” and “done with life” can be short.

So if we’re constantly comparing where we are now with where we want to be for our goals or dreams—and being frustrated with that gap—our life will feel lacking. Always.

That’s not the fault of our goals or dreams, but rather of how we’re viewing our life. We’re thinking of our goals as the finish line and thinking that we’ll be happy when we get there…

…and yet as soon as we get there, we’ll have new goals.

The finish line will move. So it’s better to not think of our goals or dreams as a finish line or destination. Instead, they’re mile markers or milestones along our journey.

Happiness Is an Attitude

In other words, our frustrations are often not about our goals or dreams but about something inside us. How we’re thinking about our life, or how we expect our life to suddenly change or improve once we have X.

Happiness is never about the “stuff” we have or don’t have. Happiness is a choice.

That said, I can’t simply command myself to be happy. *smile* What I’ve found that works better is making sure that I’m “framing” my emotions properly.

I suspect part of the reason that we struggle to see ourselves as happy is that—thanks to our society—we often have a screwed up version of reality. And because of that, our expectations might be off-kilter.

What Do We Expect?

The gap between lust and love has been well-documented recently, but there are still some who expect love to feel like that initial fluttery feelings of a new relationship. And when that fades, they think their “love” has faded (when really it was never love at all).

Similarly, too many in our culture seem to expect happiness to feel like giddiness. They think they’re unhappy if they don’t have that bubbly, joyful feeling in their gut.

However, happiness actually feels closer to satisfaction, contentment, or a warm hug. When we allow that mismatch to take hold in our attitude, it can lead to problems like divorces just as much as the lust-love gap, as people assume they’re much unhappier than they really are.

Ugh—Is This What It Means to Be an Adult?

I have a couple of cousins who practically throw an emotional temper tantrum at the idea that life isn’t a super-energized, giddy, exciting, fun, joyous, whatever experience—all the time. On some level, I don’t blame them.

Reality can be a downer if we have unrealistic expectations. Yet the problem isn’t with reality but with the expectations.

I’ve lost count of how many people I know who have divorced, thinking that will solve all their problems, only to discover too late that one of the biggest problems in their marriage was within them. And their problems followed them into their single life.

Life in general is like that too. Many problems in our life come down to our internal thoughts.

Commenter after commenter on my last post brought up how fixing our internal perspective can fix what we think of as external problems. (Sounds like our characters and their false beliefs, doesn’t it? *smile*)

What are our expectations for our journey? Remember that happiness doesn’t come from a thing but from an attitude.

Our Journey Can Be Hard…and Fun

Yes, we’re going to occasionally have those giddy moments along our writing journey. The first good feedback or review on our writing. Getting an agent or a contract offer. Holding our book in our hands for the first time.

But the vast majority of our journey will be hard. We have to learn writing craft, struggle with self-doubt, market our story to a distracted public, etc.

Can our journey also be fun? It depends on our definition of fun. *smile*

If we expect fun to feel like satisfaction or doing what we love, then yes, our journey is fun. We are doing what we love. (Even though we might hate it sometimes because such-and-such character isn’t talking to us, or our release date was moved, or revisions are driving us crazy. Love-hate attitudes are acceptable here.)

On the other hand, if we expect fun to be a happy-happy-joy-joy feeling in our chest… Well, no. The vast—vast—majority of our journey won’t feel like that.

The journey often is hard. The romance genre’s mega-author Nora Roberts has railed on authors for whining about it being hard.

At a speech she gave in 2010, she said something along the lines of (I’m paraphrasing from memory here):

“You want to talk about hard? I started writing before computers, and every page had to be retyped by hand with every change I made. It’s supposed to be hard, or else everyone would do it.”

That’s not to say we have to be satisfied with the ratio of fun-to-hard. We can always hope for more fun. *smile*

But we do have to be careful. For some, “fun” might be too strong a word and lead to disappointment from too-high expectations.

If we find ourselves being constantly frustrated with the normal elements of a journey, that’s a good clue that our expectations are off. (And unfortunately, many negative things—rejections, deadline stress, aspects out of our control, bad reviews, etc.—are all part of the normal elements of the publishing business.)

Most of the time, the good parts of our journey are far more likely to feel like satisfaction. We can be satisfied with our word count, with what we’re learning about our craft, with how the revisions are making our story better, or with our sales. Not necessarily thrilled or joyous or excited—but satisfied. And not necessarily satisfied with where we are—but satisfied with our efforts or our progress.

In other words, like I mentioned last time, most of our journey will consist of little slow-but-steady steps that add up to progress. We can be satisfied with the progress of our journey (even if it’s slower than we want and we vow to improve), or we can be frustrated for not reaching that non-existent finish line yet.

It’s up to our attitude and expectations to determine if that satisfaction is good enough for us, as well as whether we focus only on the destination rather than the journey. But reaching that point of acceptance is hard as well.

Some never reach that point in their life. They want the superficial “rush” all the time, or they don’t want to hear that fixing their problems is within their grasp but requires work to change themselves. Many reach it only with the maturity that may or may not come with age or experience, or they reach it by recognizing the power they have to change themselves.

Just because I’m pointing out that we have this power within ourselves doesn’t mean I’m implying that it’s easy to reach this point, or that those who struggle must not be trying hard enough. It’s never easy, just as life, a relationship, or our writing journey is never easy.

Heck, I still suffer from all the normal frustrations and wishes for more fun. So there’s no shame in still being in the throes of this struggle.

However, I think I’ve reached the point where I’m more satisfied than not, and that feels close enough to happiness that I’m usually pretty zen about setbacks. So maybe that’s proof that it is possible? *smile*

Do you disagree with my perspective? Do you see life as a journey, or do you want to cross a finish line? Does your attitude embrace happiness, or are you tempted to think that X, Y, or Z will bring happiness? Do you ever struggle with disappointment from too-high expectations? What’s been your writing journey’s hard-to-fun ratio? Does that cause frustration for you?

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What do you think?

22 Comments on "Why Is Our Journey So Hard?"

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Robin
Robin

Great post! 🙂

Things that are easy are rarely worthwhile – and the most worthwhile things in life are usually difficult.

Jennifer

Jami,
You speak of needing – and this post was exactly what I needed in this moment. Thank you for writing it. 🙂

Ava Louise

Yet another wonderful—and timely—post, Jami. Thanks so much!

Kim

Great post. I like the perspective that happiness does not equal giddiness. It’s easy to forget that.

That sense of accomplishment when I’ve reached a worthwhile goal is what life is all about! If the journey was difficult then the accomplishment is that much more enjoyable.

dolorah

“We can push ourselves and yet have compassion for falling short. We can strive for success and yet forgive our failures.”

Sometimes I get stuck in “forgiveness” and stagnate. I do appreciate the happiness of satisfactory progress though. I just need to make it happen more often. Setting little daily or weekly goals is best for me, but some days I do need someone to hit me over the muse with a proverbial club 🙂

Carradee

As I told my mother, back before you-know-what: “Negativity is a choice. You don’t have to focus on the negative all the time. You can look for the positive.” She called me naïve.

She later insisted that conversation never happened, of course, but the longer I’m away from family, the more I’m realizing that I’m a realistic optimist. I have some major pie-in-sky dreams that I don’t even dare state publicly—but they’re actually possible. Huge and perhaps unlikely, but possible.

Then there are the more feel-unbelievable-but-are-actually-feasible dreams, which say a lot about what my life’s been like so far. And some of my dreams are actually likely to happen, if I can balance my work/health/earnings stuff better and get a regular release schedule.

Lately, I’ve paused in juggling my dreams and am instead organizing them and figuring out “Okay, what do I need in order to reach these? What has to change right now in order to make progress towards that?” That showed me 1 major item that I needed to address before anything else could happen. I’ve started addressing that just in the past few weeks, and it’s already helping. 🙂

Robert Doucette
Robert Doucette

Getting good at something we think is important IS hard work. The trick is enjoying the hard work. I’ve never kept a journal or a diary, but I don’t think I would have worked hard to get better at it day after day. I certainly would not have worried about plot or structure or even grammar. In my novels, I work at all of these, plus character, word usage, originality, etc.

Why? Because I enjoy the process.

I enjoy coming up with an interesting character, a clever plot twist, and apt description, or an witty comeback line. These are the well-place step after step. If you only enjoy getting to mountain’s peak, isn’t coming down a literal and figurative “come down?” Or are we already thinking about the next mountain?

While winning an award would be nice and selling lots of books would be really, really nice, part of me would think “Which runner-up would want me dead, and why, and how would they do it?”

Deborah Makarios

“it’s better to not think of our goals or dreams as a finish line or destination. Instead, they’re mile markers or milestones along our journey.”
Very helpful – thanks!

Tamar Hela

Excellent post and very timely. I think many people who aren’t in “writers’ world” think that what we do is a lot of fun and games. That in itself can be frustrating. Or, a lot of people think that just because we have a book or two out there, we’re making the “big bucks.” It’s easy to become overwhelmed and cynical about our journey if we view it as that finish line you mentioned, and I think it’s harder when we focus too much on the negatives or allow ourselves to become frustrated with outsiders’ views of us/our work/etc.

I wrote in my journal the part in which you touched on comparing where we are now versus where we want to be. Such sage advice. 😉 It’s important to readjust our goals and make new ones as we continue to work on our careers.

The best advice I can give to those who are struggling with where they’re at is to remain flexible. That was something I constantly preached to my junior high students while I was teaching, and it made the classroom a more peaceful and less frustrating place to be. It’s the same with any life situation, really, and I love how you reminded us that happiness doesn’t come from a thing but from our frame of mind.

Thanks for sharing this. <3

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Yeah I think some people underestimate the happiness of satisfaction and contentment (the calmer happiness.) Giddiness is exciting and fun, but I honestly DON’T want to feel giddy all the time. That would make it hard for me to focus on my work, lol, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep or rest. Maybe this is just me, but I really think the public should be educated that they shouldn’t expect their marriage to always feel so giddy and passionate. It’s too physically exhausting to be so all the time anyway. I think a lot of people need to know that the feeling of satisfaction and contentment is a richer, deeper joy that they should treasure, not dismiss. Some people seem to feel that excitement is crucial in a relationship and that feelings of comfort and safety are inferior. Not always. Comfort and safety as in settling or aiming too low is not good; but comfort and safety as in you deeply love your partner and know they love you deeply too, so you feel very safe and comfortable with them, are definitely NOT inferior feelings! The former, “settling” kind of comfort and safety, is like fear and insecurity inside (too afraid to stray outside the comfort zone), whilst the latter comfort and safety, is blissfulness. In fact, I have a theory that for happy couples, normally they don’t feel giddy because their passionate fires are dormant, so that they can get on with their daily lives and do the… Read more »
Karen McFarland

Life is a journey and I want to cross the finish line. I want both Jami. But I think it’s almost impossible to cross that line when we always have another goal to attain. So we might as well enjoy the ride along the way. Excellent post my friend. By the way, some day we will have to meet. As you may know, Jenny Hansen is coming to town very soon. And Angela Peart lives here now also. So a Wana meet up may be in order. 🙂

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