One of my favorite blogs ever to read is Study Hacks. I read it a lot to get ideas for how to approach and organize my chaotic day job differently, but several of the articles apply incredibly well to writing. The article that really caught my attention is here, but if you just want the quick summary, the author references an interview of President Obama, where he talks about a time he got creamed in an election race, and had to cope with that and how he wondered if that level of losing meany maybe he wasn’t supposed to be doing this or something. And then he had to remind himself it wasn’t about him, it was about the work – losing there didn’t mean anything about him as a person, basically, it meant he still had work to do, and he had to decide if he thought himself capable of doing that work and willing to put in the time.
What I love about this, and other Study Hacks articles, is that they completely dismiss the idea of passion. I’m going to blog a little more about that next week because it’s been on my mind, but for now let’s side it aside and think about that idea – it’s not you. It’s about work still being left to do. Failure, even failing in a really big and spectacular way, rarely has anything to do with you as an individual person. It has to do with the work. It has to do with putting in hours and hours of thought and careful crafting. It has to do with spending time doing the nasty bits, and with persevering, not by ignoring detractors completely, but by weighing advice carefully and being humble enough to dive into projects again and again, digging deep and sifting thoroughly.
I especially like how the idea of it being about the work separates the self so tidily. President Obama’s quote even talks about the idea that questions like “Am I succeeding?” “Do people notice me being great here?” are the wrong ones, and lead to frustration and irritation because for a long time that answer will probably be no. But turning it to the work always leaves you a path forward. Making rejection and failure about the work means you have opportunities to improve, because work is not intrinsic. Work is art and craft and science and labor. Work is action.
When I was a kid and got very upset about things, my mom used to tell me I was focusing on myself too much: that I was having “inward eyeballs”. Though at the time it made me QUITE irritated, I still think of that phrase often, and I’ve seen in myself and others how too much time and too many thoughts focused on yourself only lead to negative, self-pitying, stagnant places. I’m quite familiar with those places as well, but I know I hate them and I think it’s a pretty fair guess to say you do too, my lovely reader.
So it boils down to something pretty simple in the end. Rejection is going to come in a million forms, both in life and in writing, and probably ten thousand times. But we get to pick how we’re going to react to it and where we’re going to focus on our attention. We can allow ourselves to make it about us – we suck, we’re terrible, we’re never going to be good at writing and why are we even wasting all this time getting back problems and carpal tunnel when Netflix is calling? We can let that focus on our selves make us angry and bitter both at our own selves and everyone else in the universe. Or we can make it about the work, weighing one thing with another, balancing the truth of being the only ones who really know our story with the wisdom of people more experienced and knowledgeable than we are, and take decisive action to move forward.
As I say to children ten quadrillion times a day – you have a choice to make.