In our family, we love to watch the first weeks of American Idol. The train wreck portion of the show. We know its all staged, but we can't look away as person after person sings their heart out--poorly. We're left asking, "Where are her friends? Who let her believe she could carry a tune? Why didn't her parents protect her from this delusion?" Of course, that's all part of the drama.
I often fear I'm deluded. So, to insure that I don't make the same mistake as thousands of American Idol hopefuls , I study people's reaction to me very closely. I've learned to read when their words don't match their body language and I've placed a high value on the opinion of others. When I ask Richard "Do I look fat in these jeans?" He knows its a setup. I can tell what he thinks before he even speaks.
This pathology isn't all bad. I'm open to feedback and it allows me to grow. I surround myself with good counsel and it helps me make better decisions.
But what about when the judges disagree?
If you've ever seen the show, or one of the many knock-offs, you know that sometimes the judges have different opinions about the contestant's talent or potential. For a person like me, this is a conundrum. I like unanimous affirmation. Some people like the challenge of proving people wrong, of overcoming their objections. I think that sounds like a lot of work that could potentially end up in failure.
But nothing of value comes from so little effort.
The Journey or the Prize?
Many of you know I have a book proposal making the rounds at publishing houses around the country. Earlier this year, one of the smaller publishers made an offer on it. However, in the meantime I'd decided that wasn't the book I wanted to write and we withdrew the proposal so I could make some changes. A few weeks ago we resubmitted the proposal. I was pretty excited about the changes and we received some very positive feedback from the initial query. Photo Cred
Sure enough, one of the big publishers was quick to get back with some feedback. I was in a conversation with my son when I saw the email notification from my agent. My insides started to churn. I couldn't keep myself from hope. This might be it!
I paused Caleb in mid-sentence and went to my inbox. Yes, I was talking to Caleb with my computer in front of me. In my defense, I was working when he came in to talk. Plus, he was going to be very proud of his mom in just a few seconds so this faux pas would be forgiven.
As I skimmed the email looking for the words "loved your proposal" and "made an offer", I became aware that I wasn't breathing. My brain seemed to be floating away from my body and the room started to spin. "False alarm." I stammered to Caleb. "They don't want my book."
But that was an understatement. I finished the conversation with Caleb and went back to the email. This publisher didn't just pass on my book, they seemed intent on dissuading me from the whole writing game. My first thought was, "How did I miss the signs? I must have been delusional to think I could do this."
I toyed with the idea of sharing this rejection with you only after I was sitting comfortably with an actual offer. How dramatic that would be. And, inspirational.
But this is reality. I may never get an offer. And, I'm learning that a book deal may not be the primary reason God had me in the process in the first place. (Although, I'm really hoping it is a by-product.)
Something is different and God used this event to show me what he's doing in me.
The first hours were tough. I wondered if I'd ever feel good about myself again. Or, at least, my writing. But I decided to let myself experience the hurt and the pain. Not push it down or pretend that "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me." On the contrary, I was acutely aware of the power of words. I made a couple of attempts to read my proposal; to see if I could fix it and make these people like me. But I was too anxious, too wounded to view it objectively. So I went for a run, hung out with my kids, played a game on my iPad. I talked with God and cried with my husband and then went to bed.
I woke up feeling less anxious, but hardly back to normal. I have a morning routine that involves writing three pages of longhand ideas and thoughts each day. I didn't feel like writing. I stared at the blank pages for a long while, silently justifying a pass for this daily discipline. I picked up the pen and wrote a paragraph. I stopped to feel sorry for myself. I picked up the pen and started writing again. But this time I'd decided to suck it up and keep going. What is a discipline for if not for the days you don't feel like it? By the end of the exercise I had processed through my next steps. And the anxiety was gone.
I called my agent (who confirmed that the feedback was unusually harsh) and shared my potential modifications. She agreed and I got to work.
And it was done. A miracle. I was at peace. Not defined by someone else's opinion of me or my work and still able to learn from it.
This must be what it feels like to be a grown up.
I've picked up some helpful nuggets in all my years of therapy. And I don't mean the obvious analysis or guidance with all my neurosis and obvious character defects. Along the way my therapists have sometimes blown my mind with passing statements. Like this one...
"Some things are worth doing poorly."
She said it like it was an obvious truth. A basic life skill. This axiom was thrown out on the way to a bigger problem solved but I wasn't going to let that one slide in under the radar. This was exactly the opposite of everything I learned in my Midwestern Ethics workbook. (Okay, that book doesn't exist, but you know what I mean).
"Like what?" I asked.
She went on to explain that sometimes things were worth doing even if we couldn't do them at the highest level of our ability.
"Like what?" I inquired again.
"Well, like bringing store bought sweets to your child's kindergarten Valentine's Day party."
Still not getting it.
But over the years I have perfected this art of doing worthwhile things poorly.
Photo Cred: fauxpress
Practice makes imperfection easier.
This simple philosophy has helped me experience numerous joys that I would have otherwise avoided because I could not undertake them with perfection. Take last weekend, for instance. Madison invited 17 girls over for a Murder Mystery Dinner at our house and I had exactly two days to prepare. In fairness, she did have a distracted discussion with me earlier about this which I vaguely remember, but the reality hit me two days prior to the event after a two day business trip to Dallas.
What I wanted to do was go all out. There were two games with two different themes and I could instantly picture the Hollywood room and the British Manor room. I envisioned gold statues at each place setting in one room and real china with cut flowers and biscuits in the next. But I had two days and I was working on both them and I had no budget.
As I saw it, I had three viable options...
1. Cancel the event.
Not fair to Madison since I'd already agreed
2. Stay up all night preparing.
Nope, that was not going happen. I'm too old.
3. Go ahead with the evening with less than perfect ambiance.
Because they are in middle school, they've never been to a murder mystery dinner and I have nothing to prove.
You guessed it...I went with option 3 (if, for no other reason than to be a good steward of the thousands of dollars I've spent in therapy). And, I'm so glad I did.
Yes, they ate Costco food on paper plates. There were no themed decorations, I had no costume, the food was average at best and there was no prepared playlist filling each room with sound.
And...it was awesome. The girls laughed and ate and laughed some more. They accused each other of murder, lied about their alibis and filled the house with shrieks and giggles. They emoted and cried crocodile tears. And when it was all over there were white boa feathers scattered throughout the house and plastic cups in every room.
I have to admit that I had moments of loss prior to guests arriving. I so wanted them to be 'wowed' by the event...by my creativity and work. But on this night it was relationships that stole the show. And my beautiful daughter who has an amazing ability to bring people together and make them feel good about themselves.
Perhaps next time there will be glitter and streamers and fine china. But perhaps not. Either way, this event was worth doing poorly.
"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."
How inspiring! Only I don't believe it. Intellectually, yes. But if true belief is marked by action, then absolutely not.
Mary DeMuth (a favorite author of mine) tweeted this question earlier this week: How has failure shaped you?
I don't usually engage in these conversations but this one got me thinking. I am terrified of failure. Sadly, the fear of failure has probably shaped me more than any actual failure. How lame!
That is not to say I've never failed. (You can't spend time in treatment without acknowledging some failure.) It's just that I often don't allow failure to make me better.
Here are some of the growth-limiting behaviors I've been known to engage in:
The Shallow Pool
The worst part of all of this is what it reveals about my relationship with God. Apparently I'm still trying to prove that I'm good enough for him to love. And that I'm playing around in the shallow end of the pool, only engaging in activities I believe I can accomplish in my own strength. Worst of all, that godliness=success.
And now for the epiphany (this what happens when I write): I have taken the necessary tension of "being" and "doing" and used it to spiritualize my fear. As I learned to bask in the presence of God absent the pressure of performance, I grew comfortable and lazy. Instead of using his love and mercy to propel me into fearless action, I've hoarded it; afraid of disappointing God or experiencing loss.
Oh crap! I'm the useless servant in the parable of the talents!!
Well, all this has been very enlightening. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Thanks, Mary DeMuth, for your thought provoking question. And thank you, Holy Spirit for your timely and clear conviction.
Looks like 2013 may be the time for some productive failure!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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