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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I'm Doing What I Want, but Where is the Money?

This week, I was supposed to go to Boston for a job training, but it was cancelled. Saved me six hours round trip in the car, but it bummed me out. I was all packed, checked my email one last time, and there was the message. "Client's needs changed," whatever. Yadda yadda. Lucky I checked.

Everything happens for a reason, passed through my brain.

Um, yeah.

I thought it was funny that phrase passed through my brain, since I'm not one of your crunchy-airy-believing-in-signs kind of people, much as I would like to be. Yes, really, I would. Life seems so much more thrilling, or at least meaningful, to people who believe that way.

I observed the phrase flitting through my mind--result of lots of mindfulness meditation practice, ability to notice these passing thoughts with dispassion. I also observed the retort that followed along right after. Yeah, everything happens for a reason, but it just so happens that the reason has nothing to do with you.

Then I recalled the 3 queries I recently sent to agents for a project and the 3 rejections that came sailing back to me, practically instantaneously. After that, I lay down for two days and read Broken Harbor by Tana French. I also decided the husband was annoying, I am fat, and the world is grey.

Today I'd had enough wallowing. I ran. I showered. I opened up Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, by Marsha Sinetar.  Heard of that book? That old chestnut? I've been joking about that title for years. Decades, even."I'm doing what I love, but if the money's following, it's sure a long way behind"...and so on. It was published in 1987, just when I decided not to go to law school and to work for a phone sex company instead.  Excellent decision.

I opened at random to a section about three aspects to the "the money will follow" part of the title: letting go; waiting; and inner wealth.  The specific part I put my finger on was this: "in the critical months and years of 'waiting' for the money to follow, the person who ventures into the loved, not-yet-successful work area faces the risk that not only will the money be delayed, but also that he will feel he has experienced a failure.... This is, in the final analysis, a very personal judgement call, and no book can give the formula for when to stay or quit."

Aw, hell.  Why not? That's why I'm reading this book. I want the freakin' formula.

Sinetar continues on the next page, "We must become good readers of our own situation."

Isn't that just like every single self-help book you've ever read? They fob off the really hard work, usually the problem that has brought you to buy this book, by telling you it's up to you to figure out the nubbin at the core of the situation. I mean, if I could read my situation well, lady, I wouldn't need your book.

So I ask you, readers, how do I read my situation? The potential job fell through, which is perhaps a sign that I ought to commit myself to my creative pursuits more confidently and thoroughly. However, I am three for three with those agent queries, which suggests that I ought to conduct a much more thorough job search than I've done so far, and leave my creative pursuits behind.

Perhaps it's time to pull out the I Ching....Or can someone just give me the name of a decent psychic?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Angst is Okay, Thank Golly Gosh

Recently, at a party, I was introduced to someone with, "This is Hope. And her angst."
Ok. I admit it. Life as I see it isn't always a smooth flowing stream on a gorgeous, cloudless, blue-sky day, and I'm not always lolling in a gigantic rubber innertube, flowing along with it, dipping my hands in the water and glorying in the sun.

Of course I am not. After all, being short, I have trouble reaching the water when I am in a giant innertube. And lolling with my face towards the sun involves a strong layer of protection, preferably Anthelios--the kind imported from France, with the ingredients they haven't yet approved by the FDA but approved in Europe a decade ago, not the kind you can buy at CVS--as well as sunglasses.
Quite often, I feel I'm barely hanging on to the ropes on a whitewater rafting trip I don't remember having signed up for, hoping my contact lenses don't get washed away if I fall overboard, and too white-knuckled to double, or triple check, that my lifejacket is properly strapped.

But here's the good news, readers. And it comes from more than one source, so you can believe it when I tell you, you don't have to be all optimistic and positive thinking to succeed. Despite what many experts tell you about always thinking positive and building up your self-confidence and so on, there are situations where optimism and self-confidence aren't the be-all and end all.

For example, I have right here beside me an article from the Harvard Business Review Blog titled "Less-Confident People are More Successful."  The title reflects the content, which simply adds reasons why. Do you want to know? Do you need to know? Don't you believe Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic who wrote it? No? Okay, well, I will summarize the piece.  Less self-confident people (1) listen to and apply negative feedback to make changes and strengthen weak spots better than highly confident people, (2) can be motivated to work harder, and (3) don't come across as arrogant, deluded mouthpieces, so people want to work with them.

Furthermore, according to my latest touchstone, Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, too much optimism can derail you in attempting to reach your goals IF you have the kind of goals I mentioned in my recent post--prevention goals. She says, "Optimism can lead to costly mistakes--not thinking though all the possible consequences of your actions, failing to adequately prepare, taking unnecessary risks."

That's right, there are loopholes to the Merry Sunshine Fueled by Optimism Theory of Success. Thank God. Because right now, I'm feeling a little blue about my prospects. I've submitted a couple of queries to a couple of agents, and the agents have said, No thanks. Does this mean I will never succeed? Sometimes the Think Positive mantra can turn into a kind of self-blame. Like, Geez, I failed. It must have been because I didn't say enough positive affirmations. And then you feel bad about failing at positive thinking, too. This kind of magical thinking prevents you from examining what you might need to improve, like your query letter, or the types of agents you approach, and keeps you muttering strange sentences under your breath instead. Then people start crossing the street when they see you coming, and it's all downhill from there. So c'mon, let yer inner pessimist out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Core Values
Have you noticed that these days it’s all about having a strong core? Core strength is the catchall, must-have, source of all good things for the Two Thousand Tweens. Like stress-induced illness was considered to be in the 1990s, lack of core strength is at the root of all of our problems, according to every article on health and fitness I read. Sure, Pilates devotees have known about this for years. And Martha Graham might’ve had a thing or two to say about core strength. But now, in the popular culture, it’s core, core, core everyday.

Just the other week, upon the recommendation of my running friend Jane, I breezed through Chi Running, by Danny Dreyer, to get some pointers on running form. They  boil down to these three: assume correct posture, tighten your abdominals, and lean forward when you run. Three different ways of saying, engage your core. Because when you stand correctly, you engage your abs; when you tighten them, you are by definition doing the same; and when you try to lean forward when you run, you are forced to engage your core. Try it. Just try standing up straight with good posture and then leaning forward with your feet flat on the floor, bending only at your ankles. Your core must engage.

All this core focus lends itself nicely to sports-life analogies about how to be truly successful in sports or life, you need a strong one. Stephen Covey would agree. As would Montaigne. As would I. And as would, you guessed it, my faithful readers, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D, who weighs in on the subject of core values in chapter 5 of Succeed: Goals Can Make You Happy.  She talks about different kinds of goals, and says, “Not all goals will bring you lasting happiness and well-being, even if you are successful in reaching them. The ones that will are those that satisfy your basic human needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy. “ (p. 121)

Basic human needs. Principle-centered life. Strong abs. Core values.

Let me tell you, you need a strong core to stomach the other book I read recently on my vacation, Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons. This is a book about how girls bully other girls. Simmons's thesis is that, despite being a "post feminist" society, we still expect girls to be nice. What this means is that when girls feel anger, they have no direct ways to express it. Unlike boys, whose aggression is tolerated, girls don't feel free to express theirs. So they go underground to express it, all under the guise of niceness. Adults in their lives often, therefore, miss it. Also, because their aggression is subtle and under the radar, they can deny it exists. Their weapons are rumor-mongering, ignoring, excluding, turning others against the girl they've identified as a problem, and generally isolating her.

The book is full of stories of girl hating girl. Since I was hated on when I was a girl, and since I have two daughters, the book called out to me. Actually, it was a mom friend on Facebook who called out to me a few weeks ago, after I posted that the 10 year-old's best friend had said to her, after discovering they'd both been invited to another girl's birthday party, "I'm surprised you were invited to K's party. I didn't know you were friends." My 10-year-old explained that she and K had been on the same soccer team, that K had been to her party, and that they'd been in the same class in 3rd grade. Her friend then said, "Well, that doesn't seem like enough." After that post, this mom friend messaged me that she and some other moms were reading Odd Girl Out together, so I checked it out of the library. You know, for  light beach reading. 

After my second sleepless night, the husband forbade me to read it before bed. 

"But I have to finish it," I said. "There has to be a section about how to handle the bad stuff. They can't just write these awful stories." 

"Yes, you have to finish it," he said. "You have to find out what to do to stop it. Just not before bed."

So what does this have to do with my ten year old asking her friend how she ranks on her list of favorite friends? I know, you’re cringing. I cringed, too, when she told me she did this. What does a strong core have to do with the 10-year-old’s best friend ranking her at #2? This friend who calls all the time. This friend who never wants the playdates to end. This friend ranked my 10-year-old at #2. And what does the 10-year-old say to this? Was she upset by this?


No? She shrugged and said, #2 is not bad.

People, I ask you.  

Some time ago I posted the following list on the refrigerator.

I got it from NPR. Some expert, whose name I missed because I tuned into the program late, was talking about essentials of good character. I don't attend any religious services of any kind, except the Jewish High Holidays, so I tend to worry whether my children are acquiring solid morals. I figured taping this to the fridge was just as good as regular Shabbat services. And much less expensive than Hebrew school. Last time I checked, NPR was still free. I am happy to report that the younger daughter (the 10-year-old), who was probably 8 at the time, ran through the list and found herself in possession of each and every item on it.

Job done. Good morals. Good core. Will withstand any girl on girl bullying, will not participate in any, nor be a guilty bystander.

I have done a good job. Success. 

People, I ask you.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Once More With Feeling: Growth v. Fixed Mindsets

It's the Olympics, in case you missed the memo. 'Tis the season of goal setting, of winning, of losing, and of TV-packaged success and failure stories with lessons for us all. Here's a lesson I can't resist  ramming down our collective throat, readers: a growth mindset is a better tool for success than a fixed mindset. Call it growth or incremental, call it having "getting better" goals, whatever you want, it's just a better choice.

Compare these photos:

The exuberant reactions of Wells and Harper to winning silver and bronze medals in the 100 meter hurdle race last night stand in stark contrast to the sour pusses of Mustafina and Komova, who won Silver and Bronze in the all-around gymnastics contest last week.

Last night, listening to Harper and Wells talk to the microphone after their race, it struck me. They were excited, they were happy with their performances, they were pleased with their second and third places and grateful they'd had the opportunity to participate. They each talked about how, aside from the medal, they'd reached their personal goals in their race times. In fact, they almost seemed more happy to have met their personal time goals than to have won medals. So if they'd come in fourth and fifth, but met those personal, incremental goals, they'd have been satisfied. Not thrilled, of course, but not devastated. They were certainly not devastated not to win gold. I turned to the husband, who was eating cookies, and said, "That is the growth mindset at work." He ignored me, so I repeated myself, because I am willing to work and work to achieve my goals, one of them being his attention, from time to time.

Meanwhile, interspersed with the running and the commercials was women's gymnastics on the balance beam. Komova was pacing around looking miserable and anxious before her turn, and the announcer told us that she'd been dissatisfied with her bronze in the all-around competition, and that she'd said she just knew she "had a gold" inside, and nothing was going to satisfy her but that gold. Then she went up on the beam and wobbled and messed up, and came down, looking more miserable than ever. Fixed mindset. Entity mindset. Be good mindset. It's the all-or-nothing attitude, the idea that unless a particular goal is reached, you are worthless and a failure. It's the mindset that makes you look like a sore loser  while holding a bronze medal. At the Olympics.  It's the mindset that, if you perform at less than perfect, will nag you until you choke.

Are we clear on this? Okay, then let's move on.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vacation: Promotion or Prevention

beach-undisclosed location
I am on vacation this week. At the beach. Which does not mean, at all, by any account, that my home is standing empty. Although it did mean that my neighbor contacted me to let me know that our garage door was open. Gaping open, to be exact, while I was several hundred miles away. Which does not mean, at all, by any account, that my house was empty AND wide open. So let's get that straight, in case any of my scores of readers think it's a sitting duck.

Phew. It's good to go on vacation. Vacation is where you can relax. Which does not mean, at all, by any means, that I do relax on vacation. But I can try.

One of the things I did on my vacation yesterday afternoon was stare at the backs of the husband and the 13-year-old and the 10-year-old as they were bobbing up and down in a rather choppy ocean, diving through wave after wave after wave, as the water roiled around them. I was holding a novel on my lap, but I was not reading it. It was, in fact, digging into my stomach, as I leaned forward, trying to will the husband to decide enough was enough, the water was rough, and it was time to return to shore.

This was not relaxing, even though it qualifies as "on vacation."

However, it was instructive, readers, and I will pass on my knowledge to you. While I was attempting telepathically to get the husband to make this decision, I was also thinking about Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. Yes, I know. Crazy, right? I was multitasking. What I was thinking about was her discussion of promotion goals and prevention goals. Promotion goals have to do with--no surprise here, if you know your Latin--goals that move you forward, goals that push boundaries. Prevention goals are about staying within parameters, or in other words, about avoiding bad outcomes. Such as your child's breaking her neck in a bad tumble in a rough sea. Such as your child being scarred for life by being swept away by a rip tide and having to be rescued by a lifeguard. Or your child not being rescued.

As I sat, the edge of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which is an excellent book, by the way, jammed into my belly, I saw with great clarity that I tend towards prevention goals.

The good news here is that that is okay. The good news is that it can be just fine to be prevention-minded. The world needs people like me, with prevention goals dominant. We're the pragmatic types who figure out what can go wrong and remember to bring umbrellas and mad money. But the really great news is that it's okay to be a worrywort, especially if you work, say, in a nuclear power plant and are in charge of safety checklists and such. Which I do not, but nevermind.

It's also true that the world needs promotion-goal oriented people, too. In this case, that was the husband, who was allowing the 13 yo and the 10 yo to experience a lot of fun in the wild and dangerous sea. And the world needs promotion-goal oriented people to give the prevention-goal oriented folks something to work on, too. Which was why I eventually caught the husband's eye and gave a big time-out signal, and felt just fine about it.  He, of course, said he'd been just about to say it was time to get out of the water when I gestured. Nevertheless, I felt my near apoplexy had been justified.

Then I had a few moments to relax, so I returned to reading my book. It's by Margot Livesey, and is an updated Jane Eyre. The main character, Gemma, is both enamoured and wary of the sea. Overall, her goals are promotion-oriented. Otherwise, there'd be no story, readers. Otherwise, there'd be no story.