Persistence …and Isaac Asimov

Great science fiction writer and persistor.

In a second hand bookshop I stumbled upon a three book collection of Isaac Asimov’s First Orbits. It’s a collection of his early science fiction works with commentary in between each story with biographical details of how the pieces came to be with an evaluation of each work.  As I began reading, it seemed like the perfect choice over the New Year as it charts his “eleven years of trying” as he attempts to make a living at writing. What struck me was the methodical persistence he set about this task as if he were training to be any other profession. He spent time writing and submitting his work for sale to magazines. If a piece was rejected he would try and sell it elsewhere and if he couldn’t shift it, he moved on to writing a new piece.

There is something refreshing and inspiring reading about someone who didn’t wait for luck to seek him out, but sought opportunities persistently and resiliently. Not each piece he wrote was brilliant or earth shattering, but sometimes they were good enough and someone would buy them.

Asimov did what he loved, but actively promoted himself and his work. Was it just a case of keeping going until something stuck? Or was it his talent alone that saw him as one of the most successful science fiction writers of his time? Or a mixture of both?

Does this also translate to business ventures I wonder. Do you need to be able to produce brilliant and original ideas, or just have the stamina to promote and carry your idea to the paying people?

It has certainly given me much food for thought.

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Fear of Failure and Mediocrity

Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin

Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin

It’s my last night at the cottage and I will be very sad to leave. I’ve had a wonderful time walking, reading, writing, napping, catching up on CSI thanks to the wonders of Freeview at the cottage, and discovering a new firm favourite – the Gilmore Girls. Fabulously written, and very well acted – I want to live there!

Being in the middle of A.A Milne country I have seen the Pooh bear bridge, went to piglet’s house – but he wasn’t in and also got to see the enchanted place, which was beautiful and peaceful. I had bought a Winnie the Pooh book to read whilst I was up here, and the story that stayed with me was the last one called “The Enchanted Place”. It’s here where Pooh and Christopher Robin leave each other, presumably for Christopher to go to school, and there is a moment between them:

“Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.

“Pooh,” Said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite -” he stopped and tried again – “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?””

My week here has made me excited about soon being able to have the time to pursue my own interests, but there is a doubt that I might not be able to achieve whatever I think it is I want. I’ve often felt this, and shied away from putting myself in a position where I really have to test myself. That time is now running out. I have three more weeks of job security and then I suppose the real fun begins!

My boyfriend is picking me up tomorrow morning, I have spent all day writing and working on my short stories so tonight I’m packing up my laptop and relaxing. I have a can of Dr Pepper, a pork pie, some Twiglets and a Muller yoghurt that I ironically ran 5 miles this morning to buy…

Ploughing to Prevent Regret – Monday 3rd Nov 08

Getting away from it all

Getting away from it all

I am writing this from a cottage in a remote location as a result of doing something I have always wanted to do. For years I have had a romanticised notion of packing up and getting away from everything to take a holiday on my own, and for years I have denied myself. Convinced that people would think I was strange, my friends would be offended, my parents would worry about me being alone, I would get bored, I wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere (I don’t drive), it would be expensive and dangerous. I finally plucked up the courage to use some holiday days (unnecessary as I resigned since then) and go. A bit of research found somewhere that ticked the boxes and even some of my friends thought the idea sounded fantastic (though some thought I was a little odd!). Today is day three and as I look at the beautifully cloudy and green country landscape, with the cosy lamps on and the Aga murmuring behind me, my only regret was that I hadn’t done this sooner. How often do we finally take the plunge with a dream only to discover it wasn’t as difficult as we first thought, and wish we had done it sooner?

Regret can be painful, but it is a useful indicator of dreams we wish to pursue. Failing to learn from your current regrets may see you continue to notch up missed opportunities and become consumed with the idea of what might have been if only…

We learn from regret by recognising the situations where we wished we had acted differently, and preparing ourselves (ploughing – I’ll come to this a little later) to act differently in the future. We can spend hours regretting something we have or haven’t done, and though we are recognising the situation, often we’re not actually learning from it, we’re not focused on moving forward, we’re stuck, immobilised by regret.

The Bonus Feature “Alternative Ending” – currently not available in the DVD of life.

My dad has an interesting perspective on regret, which almost always leads to getting knocked over by a truck. He can turn any regret into an “alternative ending” which, although undoes your regretful action…well… watch for yourself:

ME: “If only I hadn’t thrown away that receipt I could have swapped these shoes for a better pair…”(great sadness and bad feeling in the stomach)

MY DAD: “Ahh yes, but let’s say that you still had the receipt, you went back to the shop and swapped your shoes, but in your excitement at the new shoes, you run out from the shop, into the road and get hit by a truck…and then die.”

I have heard my dad say this many time and though the logic is simple, it is a great exercise in perspective and helps you stop thinking too much about some of the “what ifs” in the world. Looking at what could have happened is useless if we’re hoping it will happen through time travel, but if we’re assessing it based on how we can act differently in the future (saving the receipt till I’m sure I like the shoes – always helpful if you’re flat footed but get seduced by heels every time you’re in a shop…) then it is an essential part of growing.

Growing, ploughing? Has the countryside gone to your head?

Perhaps, but stay with me on this one…

Regret often indicates a desire for something we were unable to achieve: asking someone for a date, speaking your mind in an argument, not completing that essay in time or treating someone badly for example. The 20:20 vision of hindsight oversimplifies the situation and it is easy to either beat yourself up about where you went wrong, or dismiss that there was anything you could have done to change the outcome: “They would probably have said no…I’m just not confident enough…I had too much on at the time…he shouldn’t have provoked me.”

Does this sound familiar? Neither of the above is enabling us to learn from our past and grow…and that brings us back to ploughing.

To grow crops you have to prepare the land. You can’t just throw seed down on a nice looking field of grass and hope you turn it into Barley. Have you ever seen a ploughed field? It looks muddy, messy and clumsy – the best foundation for change into something new. And that is what’s needed to change our actions over our current regrets. I’ve got many things I wished I had done that I hope to pursue and giving up my job is probably the muddiest and clumsiest thing I could do! But change doesn’t always have to be so drastic I don’t think. Sometimes bitesize changes can be just as, if not more helpful in undoing our habits which generate the same results.

Bitesize change – the fear vaccination

To go after something we regret not doing, most people have to get over the fear that has prevented them from getting it in the past. Fear of seeming selfish, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment or fear of failure. These fears can seem terrifying enough and to start the change we have to open ourselves up to small doses of the uncomfortable feelings of being embarrassed, rejected and failing. Pretty much like a vaccination. A small change repeated again and again can soon form a better habit, until we’re no longer worried about being embarrassed because it’s happened so often you realise you can survive it. Such “bite size” exercises can help vaccinate you against your fears so that current regrets are opportunities to learn and not just excuses to drink vodka and listen to country music…

Some Bitesize change exercises could be inviting someone out for a drink (and not minding if they say no), asking a question in a meeting about something you don’t understand, giving someone a compliment and meaning it. Anything which inches you outside of what you’re comfortable doing means the next step shouldn’t be so big…and so on and so on.

My biggest fear is failure, but rather than the Bitesize approach I’m taking a leap into the unknown. I suppose we just need to watch this space and see what happens to me!

Don’t Look Back – Monday 27th Oct 08

Mary Engelbreit’s greeting card appeals to me at this moment in time. By now the people I am close to at work know that I am leaving and on the whole seem very happy for me. Some people think I’m being foolish leaving and not having a plan but to me it just seems more foolish to stay when my heart’s not in it. I feel liberated and in touch with myself again, even though I don’t have a clue about what it is that I want to do, but that blank canvas doesn’t frighten me too much. My last day is November the 28th and it will be the end of an era for me. It’s been one of the best learning curves of my life. After I finished university when I was 21 I went to work in Canada for a year with just a rucksack, return flight and no plan. It turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. 4 years later and I feel ready to take that plunge again.

Greeting card by Mary Engelbreit

Greeting card by Mary Engelbreit

Old Goals Sunday

Since deciding on a final date last Friday I’d be lying if I said doubt hasn’t crept in. As pointed out by my friend – there’s a credit crunch happening and as my boyfriend’s mum queried “Doesn’t she have a good job?” There’s certainly a lot to be said for financial stability in uncertain times but I’m no longer convinced that a job guarantees any such security, unless you’re employed by the Government perhaps, which I’m not. I’m dependant on other people to run a profitable company to see that I get my wage. To me that seems less secure than if it’s up to me to go out and get my wage. Granted I know only a little about running your own business and I’m not even sure of what it is I want to do after I leave, but I just think I need to at least try and do it myself.

I have been organising old photos and ticket stubs for my scrapbooks – I am about 3 years behind though everything is still hoarded and ready to be put together in my illustrative medium of recording my life. I came across my “10 month plan” which I had composed March 2006, 2 and a half years ago at 23. This would have been when I first moved down here. It’s interesting to note that the same dreams I am having now I had then which gives me some confidence that I am at least consistent. The main ones are:

1. Sing regularly

2. Improve Spanish

3. Brainstorm ideas for your own company

4. Try and get your dissertation published

5. Submit your short story to be published

6. Join a script reading / writing group

7. Begin developing an idea for a series

8. Dance

9. Brainstorm ideas for a self help book for women

Despite these being dreams and goals, before they were an arduous list to be fitted in around work, snatching 40 minutes here and there with a cup of tea and not knowing where to start. Now I hopefully have time to make this work.

There will also be new ones to add:

10. Have your own website

11. Have a blog

12. Do more Pilates (just to make use of the giant rubber band I received for my birthday – and to improve my hip for running – there’s nothing wrong with it but you never know)

13. Travel as part of your work

Just writing these excites me. I know it won’t always be like this, and I’m going to face a lot of rejection and uncertainty and difficulties, but that’s just life, and as Bill hicks told me – life is just a ride.

In essence – I am happy and positive, let’s see how long it lasts before my cynicism (caged for the moment in the beauty I’m seeing in the world) breaks free.