I’m failing hard right now.
The book I worked on for literally ten years and have been querying like crazy hasn’t gotten a single manuscript request. The only job I’ve even gotten an interview for so far ended up being a scam and I quit before I even started. My blog readership has steadily declined since my first post (which is probably why I feel comfortable writing this—very few people are going to see it anyway) (and if you ARE reading this, you are awesome).
—And that’s just career-wise.
I wish I could say I’ve already grown thick skin, that I don’t get sad/frustrated/angry/depressed/distraught every time I see another query rejection in my inbox. That I don’t question myself and my decisions. But the fact is that I do, and I’m exhausted. I’m lying face-down in the boxing ring, mouth bloodied, eyes bruised, dragging myself across the floor.
All that to say, I do not have all my ducks in a row. There are these sort of expectations set for when you’re supposed to have a certain kind of job, when you’re supposed to be married, when you’re supposed to have things generally “figured out.” But even disregarding the opinions of others, there are places I wanted to be in life, and I’m definitely not in those places yet, and maybe I never will be.
In fact, I know I won’t be. Because ultimately, what I want is for life to be absolutely perfect—no pain, no loss, no disappointment. (Obviously I’m talking about more than career goals now. There are other things going on too, things I’m not going to smear all over the internet. But you get what I’m talking about. It’s life.)
All this failure makes me want to grab my ducks by the neck, and then maybe shoot and stuff them when they inevitably start to wander off. I want to jump at the first safe plan, even if it’s not the right plan for me, even if it means giving up on the things in my life that I know are good.
Which kills me, because I always thought I was good at persevering. As G.K. Chesterton said, “An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered,” and I took this to heart growing up.
Missing Halloween because of a surgery meant celebrating with my friends, who were amazing enough to share their candy with me.
A tornado meant camping out in the basement with friends and neighbors, then traveling up the street to repair the damage together.
Accidentally finding our car stranded in the middle of the naked Philadelphia bicycle parade while hundreds of totally nude people rode by meant… well, I don’t know that anything good came out of that, exactly, but it was a crazy memory. One I can’t scrape off my eyelids no matter how much I try.
But this making-the-best-of-things kind of “perseverance” is a totally different thing than facing actual disappointments and losses. Getting your hopes up only for them to be crushed,
Hope is a heavy burden, isn’t it? (Second only to not having hope, I guess.) You have to have hope to attempt anything in life, but hope takes real effort and strain. Hope and doubt are two sides of the same coin, and you can’t really have one without the other; you just have to choose which one is going to be dominant.
If you choose hope, you have to face the fact that your hope is sometimes going to be crushed. Plans fall through. Sickness comes. People come and go. It’s so much easier to choose doubt—to not expect anything out of life, to not attempt anything new.
But if you don’t risk being disappointed, you close yourself off from any opportunity to be happy.
I have two things to say about pushing forward.
Let yourself mourn the things that hurt you. There’s a difference between getting stuck in self-pity and allowing yourself to grieve.
Grieving makes it easier to open yourself up to hope again. It shows you that you don’t have to be so afraid of pain.
I tried not to mourn because I wanted to be strong. But it takes more strength to face sorrow than to run from it. Face it—but not get wrapped up in it. To be honest, I sometimes don’t know where to draw the line. But I think that if you make an effort to add gratitude and generosity to your tears, you’re doing okay.
Learn to appreciate beauty. For a long time, it filled me with despair and jealousy and bitterness to see, for instance, wedding photos, or to see authors on book tours, or couples with little babies. It was a big moment for me when I could see a couple holding hands at a store and be happy that something so simple and beautiful existed, even though it didn’t exist for me.
Things don’t have to turn out the way I wanted them to in order for me to be happy. When you let go of the life you expected, you open yourself up to treasures you never knew to look for.
I love this exchange from the 1949 movie, Holiday Affair. Connie, who is engaged to a man she doesn’t love but who is safe, finds herself falling in love with Steve Mason, who is very much not safe:
That. That line speaks to me. No matter how messed up your life has been, if you don’t open yourself up to new possibilities—good and bad—you’re never going to find a life worth living. Because it turns out that the only way to keep all your ducks in a perfect row is to strangle the life out of them.
I’ve found a lot of treasure in the midst of all this failure. I’ve had time with my family that I would have missed out on if I’d skipped town right away like I’d hoped. I’ve had time to write my dream series (whether it gets published or not), I’ve learned about myself, and I can even be grateful for the loneliness and mundanity of the past few years when I look at how much I’ve grown from it and how much better I’m prepared for the future now.
Don’t quit. Take risks and take them again—not stupid ones, but ones that mean something to you. Even when life doesn’t look the way you hoped or expected, it can still be good, and you’ll never notice its richness if you’re too busy trying to protect yourself.
I’ve decided I’m going to keep writing, and keep hoping, and keep opening myself up to new adventures. I hope you will too.
What I’m Listening to: White Shadows by Coldplay