Persistence – Bold Moves

Talking about persistence is one thing and actually being persistent is another. Some people get caught up in the notion that being persistent means holding onto a certain thought or idea. And if they hold tightly to that idea – that thought forever circulating in their minds – then something will eventually happen to make that thought a reality. Obviously, this is not the case. Thoughts require action to become tangible. They (thoughts) need more than inner-mindedness; in other words, they need you to do something other than keep that idea a prisoner in your head.

Growing up, I was always more of a cautious soul. I didn’t like getting in trouble or disobeying my parents or even getting less than an A- on my tests. I’ve never liked the idea of letting people down and that attitude has permeated every facet of my existence for nearly 30 years. The danger in that thinking, however, is a stark and very dangerous desire for absolute perfection. Perfection in work, perfection in relationships, and perfection in every endeavor I take on. It increases expectations; it makes them – the expectations – practically impossible to ever reach and instead of embracing a good risk in life, you become paralyzed; afraid to ruin that perfect record of endless success. It’s maddening, to say the least.

But, I’m not here to appeal to all you other Type A’s out there who can’t stand when another person takes the driver’s seat or to say that it’s “okay” to demand perfection of yourself and others – no, the meaning of this message is to redefine what is considered bold behavior. What does that look like and what does it mean? To the cautious soul – like myself – bold behavior could be seen as intolerable actions. Breaking the law, rebellious acts, challenging an authority, even violence – may be among what many would consider “bold” moves. But, none of those behaviors are boldness in action or boldness in its truest form. It’s actually immaturity or a lack of understanding – not being bold.

I’ve wrestled with the courage to be bold for a good portion of my life so I know how complicated the first steps of acting bold can appear to be. Especially if you’re someone like me. It’s maddening, as I said, but it doesn’t have to be. When I felt the call on my life to pursue this professional writer business, I was racked with “analysis paralysis”; just like I’d always been. And when that familiar feeling arose, I wanted to back off and think it too much to handle. But, the shift happened when I stopped trying to appease that perfect image of who I wanted myself to be in other people’s eyes, and changed that view to who I really was inside – and who God had desired me to be.

A pursuit of perfection isn’t as much about the person as it is about the people around that person’s life. Who are you trying to appease? Who is it you are trying to gain approval from? If it’s not yourself or God, then who is it? There must be someone you’re trying desperately to impress and if that person has a name, then break free from that. It’ll be one of the first bold moves you make as an individual.

As for me, my next bold move will be releasing some of my unpublished short stories. Again, I’ll be attacked with “analysis paralysis,” but I don’t fear it as much as I used to. It’s just another bold step towards the wholeness I’m meant to pursue, not the perfection I thought I deserved.

How Much Pressure Do You Face?

Pressure can be a cruel thing.

As a noun, pressure functions in two ways: first, as “a persistent physical force exerted upon or against another object that it is contact with” or secondly, as “the use of persuasion, influence, or intimidation to make someone do something.”

As a verb, pressure functions like this: “any attempt to persuade or coerce (someone) into doing something.”

Basically, whether it’s being used as a person, place, thing, or action – pressure is defined in one way: to throw off the balance of whatever it is in contact with. And it does so from the outside, but the level at which it is pressing is defined by what’s on the inside. Not the other way around. In other words, whatever pressure you find yourself under, it’s often blown into the proportion that you – yourself – have made it to be. Your expectations are causing you duress – not the thing you must accomplish or succeed against. And that’s a key understanding to have when you’re talking about or dealing with pressure. That whatever you feel is pushing against you – whatever you feel is dominating your existence – well, it starts with your flag in the ground. A strong stake in the dirt can weather those onslaughts and keeps a person from thinking he needs to avoid every bit of pressure that comes his way. So beating pressure is not about avoidance, but about influence – influence over our own mind.

And hey, that’s good news because you can at least control your own thoughts day-to-day.

You don’t have much control over life anyway, right? Life is not a movie called ‘You’ and life will go on regardless if you have a good day or not. So having a desire for perfection – specifically in one’s own self – is a fool’s game. You may be able to perfect certain areas of life like, a great golf swing or making a solid chili recipe. But to place the same expectation on one’s own self – in its entirety – is never a good plan. Wholeness of one’s own being should be the goal; not perfection. A wholeness of self will handle pressure like a feather landing on your shoulder; not the brick you may be accustomed to.

Life will always pushing back in some way so it’s best to have a firm stance where you’re at. What does that look like practically? It begins in the mind. As a writer, I struggle with a need for perfection in my writing. If I’m not careful, I can spend a good hour mulling over a single paragraph. And when I’m done mulling, I find I am still not satisfied. Why? Well, imagine the mental spiral that follows: Why’d you do that; That took too long; you should have went with your gut; look at all the time you’ve wasted; you’ll never get this done… and so on. Yes – not good.

But it’s not the need for perfection in the sentence that does me in – no, it’s typically the pressure I place on myself – caused by that mental implosion. That absolute need for me to be perfect comes out because I’ve led myself to believe that if I can be perfect, then I can produce a perfect work. A root problem most people experience as they try to complete the tasks set before them, but few recognize the issue as being from internal duress.

“I have so much against me everyday….”

“I am under so much pressure….”

“If only things were easier at my job….”

I’m not downplaying any one person’s situation. This is strictly fundamental and getting back to basics – how you perceive yourself in any situation is likely how you’ll respond, react, and take action. And if you’re having a hard time about it, how do you combat it? In my case, I’ve started learning how to halt this pressure – this unneeded, unwarranted, and unsolicited pressure – and consider how I am bringing myself into my work. Basically, training myself mentally. My work doesn’t require me to be perfect – it merely requires that I follow through with clarity; clarity that I have done all I can and if I haven’t, I’ll learn what I need for next time. Today’s culture struggles with this lack of commitment to go full force and with that – a HUGE fear of failure. Every duck need be aligned; every piece set; and every avenue walked before taking that said step – or even the littlest of said steps. Our lives are on a social platform now and the world is watching us, we feel. So unless we have a sense of wholeness and mental discipline about ourselves – that one failure does not define us – we are sunk before we even cast off from shore.

And “too much pressure” will always be an easy out whenever we cop out. A sense of wholeness should be our goal; not the need for absolute perfection – the latter of which will leave us staggered under the pressure we feel and robbed of any joy in the work we produced. A cruel concept when you think about it.

Tweaks, Changes…Bleh…

I don’t know of anybody – and I mean, anybody – who enjoys editing and rewriting his own work. Cannibalizing what you’ve toiled over is a self-defeating concept. Like all the work was for naught. Now, additions and upgrades are another matter. For example, if I built a house, I wouldn’t mind putting in a porch; adding a deck; or trading in a nasty old couch for a new one. Those are all necessary improvements. Changes put forth in order to make things better. But when it comes to editing, rewriting, or just plain starting over – I hate it. It’s a loathsome process; one that never takes as long as I’d like, nor does it translate with the same results as my first draft. Still, it must be done. And still, I must go on with the understanding that it’s simply a part of the process.

Case in point, my local writer’s group put the screws to my latest work just this past weekend. They’ve been helping me by reading through the first draft of a novel I’ve been hashing out. A novel I’ve been creating for almost 9 months (yes, 9 stinking months), but it all came to a head last week when several parties involved said, “You need to go back and edit a lot of this.” And grudgingly, I agreed with them.

Ugh.

Imagine painting a five-story building – by yourself – and when you’re finished, you realize you used the wrong color. That’s the type of feeling I got. And what’s worse, I agreed with them. I knew that it needed some tweaks. I knew that it needed some changes. I knew that it needed a new coat of paint, so to speak. But my first reaction was this: ain’t no way I’m doing that again

I’ve always been good at getting my first draft done “well”. Like a good chef, I don’t need to grill four or five burgers until I get the proper patty. One shot and I’m done. But taking on a project such as this has made me understand – or rather, come to grips with – my own shortcomings as a writer. The first draft is never perfect. And if it is, you may be kidding yourself. There’s always some blind spot the writer is missing. So lucky for me, I have another set of eyes to poke and prod at what I’m doing. That way, before it gets to final print, I’ll know I’ve put the story through its proper paces.

But until that time, it’s back to the rewrites and revisions. Doing so with as much joy as I can muster. Which may be even harder than the rewrite itself….