A Year’s Worth of Persistence

Last year – around this time – I was writing about persistence. And how important persistence would be in the coming year.

Self-fulfilling prophecy or not, this year has been exactly that: a major test in persistence.

For starters, 2015 been the most difficult year for me, personally, than any other year I can remember. 2015 challenged every aspect of me, my character, and goals I set for myself and my family. As proud and excited as I was to become a father (I think I was literally leaking joy for a while) I felt the burden of fatherhood rushing upon me. My son was born in June so from January till day of birth, my mind was set on all things fatherly: reading books, getting advice from parents, reading books advised by parents, and making space for my son’s arrival. These these were the things I had to do. These were the things I felt compelled to do.

But even after many moons of prep, I found myself feeling no more prepared than the day before.

Truthfully, there is little you can do to prepare for parenthood. It is simply an experience like no other. Reading a book about middle-of-the-night crying is wholly different than experiencing middle-of-the-night crying. I found myself sympathizing with so many parents who appear to be at their wit’s end, especially when they are out in public. Thankfully, our little guy hasn’t had too many meltdowns. So we’ve been blessed in that regard. However, that’s not to say it hasn’t happened at home. And when it happens at home, you still have to operate within the notion that somebody – someone – is watching you.

Parenthood, despite what any sitcom or cheesy commercial may play it up to be, is a gloriously, amazing challenge. It tests more than just patience; it tests resolve and selfishness. As a writer, I need time to think and be alone in my thoughts. I need space to breathe for my mind. But, when you have a baby, that time becomes extremely limited. And no, this is not a moment to complain. Or to promote not having children – no, I am merely stating how much my own life had to be readjusted for the sake of my son. No longer can I come home and dig into a new book or head off to Starbucks for some therapeutic journaling. No, my responsibilities now lie with the little life I helped create. Throw in the fact that my wife and I have been married for little more than a year and you have an even greater recipe for learning how to serve someone other than one’s self. Talk about being humbled!

So parenthood was the biggest adjustment. But, there were other twists and turns I did not expect in this year of persistence: new work. New books. New friendships (and the parting of old ones). And perhaps, most unexpectedly, the doubt.

Doubt is truly one of the human experience’s biggest enemies. To a writer, it’s paralyzing. It’s immobilizing. It makes you feel like you’re the only one going through the aches and pains of a failed draft. And another failed draft. And another. And no matter how many uplifting essays you read. No matter how many email lists you find yourself a member of; or fortune cookies with inspirational messages you find – none of these things do much for learning to deal with doubt.

Like a first time parent experiencing middle-of-the-night crying, learning to overcome doubt is simply something you have go through.

And it’s something I look forward to crushing further in 2016.

See you all in the new year.

Persistence – That Creeping Voice

Before I finish any major project, I try to take a step back and let it simmer a while. This could be for an hour or two, maybe even a few days; any break mentally will do. It’s something I’ve learned to apply over the years; not something I put into practice right away. In fact, I used to be the type that would do whole projects in a single night, waiting till the last moment to make my move. But, that was mostly because I could. I’ve always thrived under pressure and whenever I was in a pinch, my best work would seem to come forth. It was great for a while, but I had no idea I was building some terrible habits within myself.

At first glance, it’s a familiar story: putting off the important stuff, allowing one’s self to get distracted, and then following through when it’s almost too late to wait any longer. Welcome to Procrastination 101: learning to work under deadlines when you should have started weeks ago. It’s an affliction that can be reinforced over many years without even knowing it. But, when life experience meets your own limitations, it might be a signal you need to change something.

For me, it was recognizing that creeping voice. The one that said, “You can get to this later,” but somehow managed to change its tone moments before I was near completion by stating, “You know, this isn’t going to work.” Now, I’m not claiming to have had bouts with multiple personalities, I’m merely trying to point out that common enemy we all face in the midst of something important to us: ourselves.

When the stakes are high and there is much at risk, we don’t find a friend in ourselves very often. We fight to drown out the noise of failure, albeit struggling to do so. As a Christian, I find it easy to blame everything on the devil. “The devil is after me again”; “I know the devil was in that,” but honestly, applying that type of hyper-spiritualism to everything we face is foolish. Every person does have a real counterattack coming against them and it’s not just from the father of lies – it’s coming from inside our own heads.

It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it. Why would your own mind allow negative thoughts to take precedent over positive ones? Especially when it knows (yes, we are self-aware beings) that success means a need for laser focus? Shouldn’t our brain know better? Shouldn’t it know we need a filter for those things to achieve maximum results? Of course it does, but the question is how well you’ve trained your mind to be that filter. Therein lies the difference.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to consider what areas you struggle to have confidence in or struggle to find the proper initiative. It could be work. It could be a relationship. Or, if you’re me, it could be fighting to churn out 3,000+ words a day for that next book; all the while remembering the passion you had when you first started the journey.

So be encouraged; stay persistent, but also stay focused.

 

Persistence – Feigning Happiness

It’s hard to be happy when your situation is not an advantageous one. But, I feel that it’s even harder to pretend being happy – even if your situation isn’t necessarily a bad one. It’s December and I should be moving on to the next topic, but ironic as it sounds, I’m feeling stubborn about moving on and felt it right to release another post on persistence. This time, covering the subject of happiness.

Feigning happiness is a tough act to keep up on a consistent basis. Growing up, I had a hard time dealing with the fact that my father had a debilitating illness, and I didn’t want people to know it either. Even my closest of friends stayed in the dark. And when asked what might be wrong with my dad, I came up with an original story to keep the secret hidden. Faking it seemed easier and for a time, that seemed to make the most sense. But, as I’m saying, it worked for a time. 

The problem with putting up a mask is that it’s reliant on the reactions of others. If someone asks you, “how are you doing?” and your conditioned response is always “Great!” then the person asking has no reason to dig any deeper – even if what you’re really saying is, “I’m really struggling, but I don’t know how to say it. Please keep asking.”

I used to be in the thinking that this was a good way to keep people around me. That I was doing other people a service so as to not cause any bad vibes, but I’ve found this to actually be the opposite. A mask is a selfish thing because ultimately, the mask belongs to me. It’s not something people hand over when they see me; it’s something I can put up when I want to. But, in that same breath, it’s something I can let build up if I allow others the right to define how that mask will look.

That’s why feelings aren’t a good indicator of how you are doing. One day you could be up; another you could be down. And I know some people who think, or have thought, that this is a bad thing – me, included. That every day, every hour, every minute – they need to be at the utmost level of their happy zone. But, that’s just not realistic and it’s not healthy either. Peace of mind should be a better goal than 24-hour happiness. That’s where all the joy comes in and joy has no masks.

I find this to be another of life’s great battles, but it’s certainly worth it. When I pray – something I highly encourage – I pray for peace of mind before I pray for happiness. A mind at rest can hear the clearest of voice’s and it’s something I want to become better at daily.

Which, once again, is another challenge in life worth being persistent about.

 

 

 

Persistence – How Long Will It Take?

I really hate waiting. Especially when it’s something I want or I think I want. That makes the wait even worse. As a kid, birthdays and Christmas were two events I hated to wait for. When I got older, it became parties or getting a paycheck. And now that I’m a little bit older, I find myself waiting on some other things: getting recognized, possessing a proper writing platform, a new idea worth digging into, to name a few. But yes, waiting for a paycheck is still in the mix too (as it should be). However, I find myself struggling to remain patient – or at the very least, defining what a healthy version of patience looks and acts like.

I find this to be one of life’s more difficult dances to perform. Running over other people will eventually ruin the road you’re on, but don’t get to running and you yourself will be trampled. Not everyone runs at the same pace, but simultaneously we are all running the same race. So how does one do this gracefully? Or rather, effectively?

For one, we must be willing to make mistakes. When I finished my first two books, I felt a real sense of accomplishment. “Hey, I made it” – that was my new mantra. But, just as Rome was not built in a day, neither is a successful author. People who read my material – and had the opportunity to speak with me on it – would inform me of a few grammatical snafus I didn’t catch and yes, I felt like recalling every last order and throwing the book out for good.

But, my failure was ultimately good. I needed to know that I couldn’t count on the first book I wrote to be a raving success. There were pieces and parts to this journey I couldn’t have seen until I started off upon it. Mistakes were inevitable, the journey was not had I remained on the sidelines.

Secondly, we must be willing to know the difference between observation and initiation. I wouldn’t learn much about driving cars if all I did was read about the process. It’s when I take the wheel and drive that I find where my limitations lie and where I have basic understandings already mastered. Oftentimes, I feel like I can wave my flag proudly if I’m well-read on a certain subject; letting my opinion fly like it matters. But, if I haven’t actually experienced the topic I’m claiming to be an authority on, then I really don’t have a platform to state my case at all.

Like, every voice who claims he or she should be boss but knows nothing of the responsibilities that go along with being the boss, there’s a clear space between the two. Even if it’s invisible to the person who thinks he knows what’s best without knowing much.

Lastly, if we are called to do something, then we must keep listening to that voice that is calling. This is probably the most confusing of the three and the easiest one to mess up too. I used to think that a “calling” was something big, dramatic – HUGE. Like, a person who feels “called” to one day be a CEO or a famous musician, a calling tends to get mixed up with false aspirations; possessing an image of one’s self where we are highly influential and always on center stage. The problem with that thinking, if you are willing to be taught otherwise, is that it’s extremely self-centered and self-serving.

Everyone wants to feel important and to be recognized – much like how I want to be with my writing career – but if I feel my calling is all about taking center stage, then I’m always going to be fall short of what that calling is after. There are tinier battles to be won and seemingly less important stakes to win that will ultimately lead to that position of influence. Because a calling is meant to help you so that you may help others, not to help you feel better about who you think you ought to be in other people’s eyes. And that means taking the hits, taking the setbacks, and doing so with the persistence that I must continue listening to the voice that called me out, not the one that tells me to die where I stand.

I would encourage anyone who thinks their persistence isn’t paying off for them to consider that a little more time may be all that’s required to get to the next step.

As I sit and type this, I am reminded that I have a book being released in just two days and about a half dozen more coming down the pipe soon. That’s something to stay persistent about.

 

 

 

 

Persistence – Stubbornness in the Right Places

Being persistent and being stubborn seem to go together. Their relationship seems to mirror what it’s like to have cousins. Same family, but different parental umbrellas. When a person exhibits persistent behavior, then you may say he’s stubborn. And when a person is stubborn by nature, he may exhibit unusual persistence in all his endeavors.

But, since they are different words, they ultimately mean different things. The difficulty lies in knowing when and how to use them, especially when you’re identifying areas of your own life.

For example, a stubborn person will keep certain attitudes or beliefs despite counsel or reason that says otherwise – for right or for wrong. Like staying in a toxic relationship. A friend may have advised another about the imbalance he is witnessing in his friend’s romantic life and still, the one receiving counsel will refuse to apply what he’s heard. The one in the relationship may think or believe that things will change or convince himself of the goodness there is – even if it’s not there. So in this case, it’s all about attitude and belief.

Conversely, a persistent person will stay the path despite the obstacles he faces. This could include or not include outside counsel, but doesn’t have to. Additionally, persistence is viewed over a prolonged period of time without change. You wouldn’t call a rusted screw ‘persistent’ as you try to remove it from a wall. That would imply a desire and a rusted screw has little desire to stay in a wall. And the screw doesn’t have a motive of staying in the wall either, it’s just rusted. So in this case, it’s all about desire and motive.

As someone who makes it his business to know as much as he can about words – and how to use them in new and different ways – I find stubbornness and persistence to be tricky tools of the trade. If I take a look at my own life, I’d rather be someone who is open to the advice of others, but I value the ideals of persistent people too. And many times, the most persistent of people – the ones who find success – seldom let too many voices in. That’s admirable, but it’s better to be teachable than a self-proclaimed know-it-all.

So here’s my own dilemma: writing for a living is a forever thing. Once you put something down, it’s there for eternity. The Internet teaches us that truth as much as the Bible does. So there’s a certain level of authority a person must exude if he is to be successful at it. And this is where it can get murky – the callings of a person’s life. This is something I struggle with daily: knowing when to stand firm along the journey; encompassing every attitude, belief, desire and motive I possess therein and yet somehow in the midst of that journey, remain open to appropriate counsel along the way. Again, that’s a tricky thing for anybody to do well, especially for someone who has only been on the Earth for a hair over three decades (that’s me).

I once heard that we shouldn’t doubt the call on our lives, but it’s okay to doubt if we’re the person to carry that vision out every once in a while. That may sound like a convenient way to hide future failure, but my experience has proven otherwise. It’s more of a reality than a cover up. Everyone has fears and everyone has times of darkness. If someone tells you otherwise, then they are covering up a potential failure themselves. It’s okay to break free from the trap of always feeling right or having to know what’s best. Again, another thing I struggle with daily, but to have a growing discernment of when to be persistent or when to be stubborn will help me grow as a person; something I want to be as persistent about as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persistence – what does it look like?

The end of the calendar year can often look like one of two things to people: a time for reflection or a time to scramble and finish whatever project was begun way back in January. Several folks will float between both categories, naturally, and do so till December has ended and the new year has begun. Some will even be fortunate enough to have their eyes completely on the year ahead, content with leaving the year behind. I find myself as one of those ‘floaters’ – alternating between reflection and completion. There’s plenty I’ve completed and plenty I’ve yet to complete. There are still many goals out there, but there is one solace that keeps my unfinished ventures in a healthy perspective: my persistence.

To some people, persistence is a way of life – an invaluable character trait. Nothing comes easy in life so anything easy just can’t be worth the effort. Failures may come, but it’s the failures that define and mold those who count themselves as survivors. From there, they adopt an enduring will for anything else that crosses their path. For others, persistence may appear to be wasted time; wasted energy; or even wasted talent. Only swift results with immediate impact – anything other than that is not a worthy investment. Persistence through lengthy challenges can be seen as inadequate planning. Instead of weathering an impossible storm, one’s persistence should be in finding what’s best for him, not what’s the most challenging way to do something. Staying in one place for too long may be a sign of weak-mindedness; a person who has yet to find his way in life because of immaturity or inattentiveness to his own desires. Because that’s what we should be persistent about – personal happiness and personal gain; not personal challenge.

One may look at either ideology and be quick to attach it to a certain age group or even a generation. Persistence belongs to the older generation, but the younger generation will argue that persistence belongs to them. And depending upon what angle you’re looking from, you can make these same assumptions too – that persistence really does belong to any one generation – depending on the source.

But, as I type this short entry, I can’t help but feel like persistence doesn’t belong to any one generation. Nor does it belong in any one part of life necessarily. That any generation’s persistence is always motivated by one thing: hope.

Hope is what drives anyone to be persistent; be it through challenges, through personal development, through jobs, or life in general. There must be hope at the end if there is to be persistence in anything. Otherwise we would find no need to attach ourselves to the future we are all heading towards. And it’s this faith in hope that keeps me persistent in life, as it should anyone else. No matter what the trials may be or what generation you find yourself within.

Courage – what it means to a writer?

Nowadays, most people can claim to be writers. Not that most people do; it’s just that most people can. Your coworker, your uncle, your unborn child – all are capable of having webspace. And all are capable of pushing their thoughts out for the masses to read and evaluate. We know that in the past, there was a definitive gatekeeper; someone who kept that barrier from being breached. But, today? Not so much. That’s why when I hear someone say, “I have this story idea. I think I’m going to write about it and get it published,” I can’t help but cringe a little. Not because I feel the sting of competition – I just cringe because this person has unknowingly entered into an agreement that is not what they think. Writing a bunch of thoughts down is easy. Writing a book is hard.

Generally speaking, someone’s perception of something can be lightyears from the truth. Experiencing a vision is much different than merely gazing upon that vision. That’s why when I hear those words, I don’t get angry, frustrated, or anxious – I just wonder what that person perceives as “being a writer.”

For example, I’ll be 30 this month. I’m in pretty good physical health, but if I were to tell someone, “Yeah, I’m thinking of taking up karate. World black belt champion sounds fun so I’m gonna do that” – people would probably think I’m crazy. Sure, I could do karate and work towards becoming a world class black belt, but do I possess the personal conviction to do it? Is it in my heart to work towards that goal? More than likely, there are years of practice, years of dedication, and years of failures ahead if I want that distinction. It simply won’t happen overnight. And yet, I feel like that’s what has happened to “being a writer” – we’ve seen or read stories of people who had popular blogs and we think a stellar book deal is easily achievable. Or rather, we think it’s easy because everyone is writing. Everyone has a voice somewhere. Everyone has a platform.

So, from the outside-looking-in, the logical question becomes: “Why not me? That looks easy enough….”

I don’t fault anyone for thinking that. Who am I to judge if someone has a killer idea for a story? But, in some ways, I feel like the courage associated with following that killer idea – the perception of what it takes to become an established writer – has been forgotten. And the only way someone will be recognized for having “made it” is when hashtags begin trending about their book idea. Obviously, a hashtag is not a sign of “making it”, so what is? Is that something an aspiring writer should be concerned about? Is this the only part of writing that’s “courageous” anymore – to have made it commercially or financially? People can get their 15 minutes of fame for a popular book, but is that all anyone should be after?

Well, that may all depend on what your perception of success is – a concept that’s difficult to pin down if you’re afraid of what success looks like to you. As a person who has been self-published, entered numerous writing competitions, and been freelancing for several years, the decision to be a writer was a hard one. It wasn’t as simple as creating a new Facebook page. What’s behind me, I see as a success. What’s in front of me, I see as more opportunities for success. But, success is relative without courage. And courage is relative without joy upon completion, which is truly what any writer should be after: joy. Consider who has more joy – the person who gets 15 minutes of fame for a popular, yet fleeting idea? Or the one who toils, working hard for years to master a craft that is long-standing and definitive of the voice and resolve he’s carried with him for a job well done?

The answer to that question – the person who can claim to be a writer –  is the one backed by their courage.