Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lessons from the Revision Desk

Making Time

The adage goes that if something is truly important to us, we'll make time for it.

If we really cared about our writing careers, we'd make time each day or week to put words on page. If our art was truly important to us, we'd schedule the time to work on it, with it. If a relationship has value to us, we'll take time to be with the other person and make it grow. If we want to acheive anything, we'll give your energy to it.

But what if it takes so much energy that we have none left for anything else?

When I first added this topic to my list, I'd planned to make it inspirational. I'd planned to use it as a way to demonstrate that taking time for ourselves is just as important as putting in the long hours on a project. I wanted to show that giving ourselves time to do the things that fullfill us is just as meaningful as chugging along to the tunes of others' needs.

This week I received a little taste of reality that brought home exactly how difficult all of those things can be.

I'd always known they weren't easy things to do. I've been struggling with them myself for two years now.

And I'm pretty sure I've just had a major setback.

The idea of guilt and the idea that we owe anyone our time are tools of control. Tools that have worked effectively for generations to keep communitites together and working toward a common goal. They still work today, even though our increased ability to communicate with one another has made them obsolete as community growth tools. And these ideas are ingrained in many of us from the cradle up.

I come from a family that uses "family comes first" as a mantra and a guilt tool. As I've aged, I've come to understand that the latter was, and still is, unintentional. The family group, to my relatives, was a safe place, a normal place, a place that didn't change (even when it needed to). To an unconventional child, it was a prison, and it takes a powerful control tool to keep a caged specimin where one wants it.

I mention both of these things as context for the story of my wake up call.

My grandmother passed on this week, and I've done some crying. But it wasn't until this morning that I realized I'd been crying more because I wished we'd had a stronger relationship than because she was gone. (Part of me had, honestly, been wishing for her suffering to end.) But I couldn't bring myself to visit because that cage was too small for me, now. The expectations and the demands of those around her were too much for me to bear just to interact with her. To see her just once would put me in a downward spiral of listlessness that would last for two days afterward. My life would suffer, my work would suffer, and I would suffer.

I wanted that relationship with her. Yet making the time to nurture one required me to sacrifice everything else.

In the end, making time isn't just a matter of shifting hours in a day. It's a matter of deciding if this thing you want is worth the energy expenditure it will take to get it. And if the answer is "yes," only then would a schedule change be necessary.

Our priorities are our own. As much as the guilt tries to tell us otherwise, we have to accept this fact, because acknowleding this idea is the first step into truly taking control of our lives.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Myth of the Solo Success

Have you ever heard the phrase:  "I've worked for everything I have." ?

Or how about: "I've never asked for anything I didn't earn." ?

It's a nice sentiment, right? It brings to mind ambitious individuals who aren't afraid to do what needs to be done. isn't true.

Mind you, this doesn't mean successful individuals are exaggerating their accomplishments or the effort they put into their goals. It simply means they have forgotten an element to every success story.


The inherent advantage they have merely by being who and what they are at a specific moment in time.

These individuals did not earn the basic education that allowed them to pursue their fields. The privilege of being born in a time and country that values education gave them that. The did not earn the cerebral capabilities to do what they do. Genetics and biochemistry contributed that without any effort on their part. The ability to stand, talk, care for themselves, use technology, even to make their own decisions are things they didn't earn.

But these things were necessary for the success they have.

Success isn't a measure of hard work alone. Success is a better measure of privilege than effort.

How much privilege a person has, how well that privilege stacks toward his or her goals, and how well said person manipulates that privilege effects how the work translates into success.

For example: let us consider two writers. They have the same amount of free time, work ethic, and they can produce the same amount of words each day. The only difference is that one writer (I'll call her Sally) has access to a home computer and the other (Hellen) does not. At the end of six months, each one has a rough draft, one digital and one handwritten.

Unfortunately, agents won't accept handwritten manuscripts, and self-publishing also requires a digital copy. Therefore, without doing any extra work, Sally is a step ahead. In fact, to reach the same goal marker, Hellen will have to work harder.

Yet we're told that the success Sally has when compared to Hellen is proof that she put more work into her goals, when the reality shows the exact opposite. And that example assumes Sally only had one advantage over her counterpart. Real world gaps are much wider than that.

The truly insidious part of this myth is that the individuals who claim it as their own don't purposely erase the role of privilege in their narratives. They actually don't realize they have any.

LIke many of us, these individuals mainly interact with others who are like them. Which is good for cooperation and self-esteem. But it normalizes their experiences, and makes them incorrectly assume that everyone has the same advantages they have, which in turn leads them to believe what separates them from the unsuccesful is only work.

The solo success myth.

And we're all succeptible to it.

That's why being an ally takes vigilance and the willingness to listen. It's also another reason why the idea of a socially acceptable form of success should hit the wastebasket at terminal velocity.