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?Pin It