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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.


  1. It doesn't mean you will never succeed. What it DOES mean is that we all have to continually challenge ourselves to think creatively and "outside the box." I'm finding a big 'ole lesson in having started my blog and self-publishing my newest mystery series. I'm being called to reach out and connect with people in ways that I simply never did before. The result, so far, isn't that I'm selling books (not at all!).

    It's that for a less than self-confident person, I'm developing confidence. I see, on my blog, that I have useful and helpful things to say to other writers, for example, which I didn't know I possessed. It makes me feel damn good if I can reach out a hand to another writer and give that hand a squeeze of encouragement.

    So, it seems to me that the way positive thinking works is to tell yourself, and the universe, that you're eager to learn and move in directions you might not have been open to before. You're ready to leap, jump, DO, whatever it takes, even if it's unusual or makes you a little (a lot!) uncomfortable.

    1. I find a lot of pleasure in my blog, too. I really love that people read it--I'd love for more to comment, but I'm happy to have readers. Like you, I get a thrill when I touch a nerve in a helpful way. Sometimes I think that the blog could be enough--but then that mood passes.

      Your description of how positive thinking works for you makes a lot of sense to me. I think I must operate along similar lines. Rejection is hard, but I'm trying to keep going, and that does make me uncomfortable.