Follow Me on Twitter

Friday, October 25, 2013

System Breakdown is Part of the System

The other day I went on the treadmill with my old friend Kimberly the StarTrac coach, and even
Milo with part of my Container Store score
though I’ve been jogging outside, the treadmill whipped me. That is pretty pitiful, since people say the treadmill is easier than running outside.

Since everyone including me knows sports function allegorically, I left the gym feeling not only exhausted, but depressed. I had a realization on the treadmill - a realization being de rigeur if sport is to function allegorically. (Did you note my use of the Britishism “sport” rather than the American “sports”? It’s because I’ve been reading the marvelous Old Filth by Jane Gardam and I have the voice of an 80-ish English gentleman judge in my head.)

Anyway, my realization was that I don’t push myself enough. I need a coach. I need hand-holding. I need a team. Something to make me work harder, because left on my own, my default is to work under my capacity. If I had that drive to overachieve, then my runs outside with music would definitely have gotten me into better shape and the StarTrac treadmill lady whatsername wouldn’tve whipped my double melons.

The above isn’t really allegorical yet, since I’m only talking about my approach to sports up there; but the approach seems to apply to other parts of my life as well. Take my book. Because I’m waiting to be pronounced upon, I have pages and pages of drafts, but no final draft. Sidling, Readers. I’m sidling towards my goal instead of running full on towards it. The obvious downside to this approach is that if I don’t have pages to send, I am not going to get this book out there, so I need to make those pages.

Maybe I’m being too self-critical. That would be a first, huh?

Let’s pull back and get a little persective, shall we? In fact, with the help of a friend, I pulled together my proposal, and now a couple agents have it. A couple have passed on it. But a couple still have it. And I know that if they’re interested in the proposal, the next thing that they’ll want to see is the actual book, or at least a chapter or two of it.

This is the glitch. People can and do help with many aspects of my work, but one I have to manage alone is waiting. That is what I’m doing poorly. Waiting to hear from agents. Waiting to be pronounced upon. I am a terrible waiter. When I’m waiting to be pronounced upon, everything else breaks down, too.

While I’m waiting to hear from agents, my brain is skewing negative, not positive. My brain is saying, Hope, you haven’t heard from these agents, which is probably a bad sign. This makes me feel like writing the book is futile. Therefore, I avoid it.

However, I could skew towards optimism. I mean, people do. I love those people. I wish optimism came more naturally to me, but I’m a Jew whose mother died, so I expect abandonment and rejection. I could say, Hope, no news is good news, and you might as well get your first chapter ready, so that when an agent wants to see it, you can send it right off to her. I could say, Hope, maybe this batch of agents will say no, but if so, you’ll fix your proposal and sent it out to another batch, and then you’ll need to have that chapter ready to go, so get to work.

Apparently I have that voice inside me, too, only she goes dormant when I’m waiting to be pronounced upon from on high. That voice waits, and then the writing waits, and then because the writing is dormant, I’m not doing what I want to be doing. This makes me cranky, and is the time I start thinking that the husband should get a different job, or a raise, or we should move, or I can’t stand to see one more hair elastic used as a bookmark. Pretty soon everyone but the dog is avoiding me.

Recently a writer friend sent me an article by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert comics, titled “Scott Adams’ Secret of Success: Failure.” Scott Adams has a brand spanking new book out called “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.” In my broken down state, I remembered I’d tucked the article away a couple of weeks ago when I had to clear off the dining room table for a dinner party. The secret to success, according to Scott, has two elements: One, know that you will encounter a long string of failures; and two, “one should have a system instead of a goal.” That means that if your current goal or project fails, you have a larger view. You learn from your mistake, and take another longshot. That way, success depends not on attaining a particular goal, but on continuing to take risks and set new goals; meanwhile you’re getting “smarter, more talented, better networked, healthier, and more energized.”

Interesting, don’t you think? A system. Well, I do have a system of sorts. It involves writing, blogging, attending monthly writers’ lunches, a monthly goal checking conference call, exercise, meditation, reading, refueling. It also includes temporary breakdowns. Those are hard to see for what they are: part of the system, not total collapse. So if I’ve contradicted myself here, it’s all part of the system. When things get cludgy, I get down on myself. Optimism idles. Optimism idles, but it’s there. In fact, part of what I get down on myself about in these periods of idleness is that I won’t give up and pick something more practical and lucrative to do with my time.

So how to get restarted? Well, there’s usually a brief wallow in misery, followed by a cry for help, and a little shopping. I finally ordered the things from the Container Store that have been on my list for three years. Then there’s Kimberly the StarTrac coach. Once I get moving again, it’s not too long before the whole jalopy’s rumbling down the road.


  1. This is a great post. Honest. Real. And true.

  2. This is a great post. Honest. Real. And true. It's a system, not a series of individual molehills.

    1. Thanks, Alison! It does help to see it that way.