One of the many dichotomies of life: How failure really isn’t as bad as we make it out to be, while comfort is not really our friend.
Comfort Zones Suck (our lives away)
Feeling for a moment like a big fucking failure, I started re-reading one of my many success self-help books, because no one’s going to read it for me. I’m barely into the first chapter, when a sleepy creature groans and pokes it head above the debris of my life, peering out with bleary eyes.
Oh, wow, I haven’t seen this critter in a while! It’s my Hunger to Succeed.
It seems my comfort zone had been quietly lulling her to sleep with Lo-Fi music and stacking distractions up around her to hide her from view, once more trying to keep me from that scary thing called Change. Comfort zones do that. It’s their purpose, to shield us from the saber tooth tiger outside the cave.
“Just stay by the fire,” it says in our ear. “I know you’re hungry, but let someone else go hunt for food and possibly not come back. Be safe, don’t risk it.”
The comfort zone’s job is to protect us, keep us safely ensconced in our easy chairs in front of the television, where no one can break our hearts or tread on our egos. The people on the screen do all that for us now. No need to risk it ourselves anymore.
Our comfort zones are adept at sapping our confidence so we don’t put ourselves out there, and risk that most fearful of all creatures: Failure. But this is just silly.
It may sound ironic or even crazy, but without failure we’ll never know Success.
We can emulate others all we want, read their books, watch their YouTube videos, but until we put ourselves out there and actively fail at things, we won’t learn who we are, what we can do, what actually works for us in life. What our purpose is.
When We Learn to Hate Failure
Unless we were lucky enough to have a set of those truly inspired parents and teachers who know the score, most of us are brought up in a failure-unfriendly environment.
- Classmates who jeer when you fall down, tripping up and bullying the one who fails–the supposed weak one–to keep the focus away from their own weaknesses.
- Teachers and coaches who actively tear you down for coloring outside their lines, thinking outside their boxes, doing anything that might show you can be better at something than them.
- Online peers who enjoy trolling and flaming your troubles as well as your accomplishments, to take the spotlight off of their own failed lives (otherwise they’d have more positive things to do and say).
- Media content bent on Success, Success, Success! It’s all about Winning! Heaven forbid you fail at anything.
- Commercial content bent on telling you what a failure you are … if you don’t buy and use their product to “fix” the situation.
- Loving parents who only want to protect their offspring from harm, from the heartbreak of being a “failure”, so they try to teach them how important it is to win at all costs.
These are not easy things to put behind us when they are ingrained in us so young. I know: I am fighting this fear of failure on a daily basis, when I’m aware I’m giving in to the fear at all.
The Face of Failure
Failure is that awkward geeky kid with the big glasses who never gets picked for the team. The kid who now owns a multi-million-dollar corporation he started in his garage. All because he didn’t waste his time conforming.
Failure is that quirky kid who made jokes in class and drew pictures in her notebook instead of memorizing dates and names she would never ever need in real life; whose paintings now hang on a gallery wall and will create their own history.
Failure is how entrepreneurs become millionaires–or happy average people living their dreams. These people try everything, embrace the entire process as an adventure, including the failures. They know every attempt provides a lesson in what does and doesn’t work.
I want to be like them when I grow up.
It’s In Our DNA
There’s this string of organic programming that defines the form of all life on this planet, a string of molecules so complex it takes a supercomputer to unravel–and it was created from failure.
DNA makes mistakes all the time, called mutations. All life on this planet evolved from our DNA “learning” which of these random “defects” thrived. Without these mutations, life never would have happened, much less become anything complex or sentient.
We were created to fail! And that’s awesome. The problem is our view of failure, as a negative thing.
Our comfort zone, and the comfort zones of many of the people around us, cry out for safety. Don’t risk anything. Stay out of harm’s way. Don’t live. Don’t evolve. Die safe and unhappy and unfulfilled.
Wait… is this what we’re here for?
Find Success through Failure
Fuck that. Fail. Fail with abandon! Try awesome impossible things bound to fail!
Because once you get that forward momentum going, the little successes will start happening, too, more and more often as you learn what didn’t work; because, like Captain Marvel, you didn’t give up.
The only real failure is giving up before you get there.
And when you accidentally fall across one of those crazy impossible things that doesn’t fail? Then you will have found a thing no one else has found, because they were afraid to try: Your seed to Success.
If at first you don’t succeed; keep on sucking ’til you do succeed!— Curly, from The Three Stooges
Evolution: It’s not just for DNA anymore.
When the world is being mean to us for no reason, is it actually trying to wake up our Inner Hero?
An Ode to my 2nd-Gen Prius,
… may she rest in pieces.
A few days ago, some lovely example of humankind made away with a piece of my car in the night. It wasn’t a pretty piece by any means. It didn’t play music or gleam in the sun or make my tires stay round. It was just a metal blob of environmental piping covered in road grime underneath. It also helped my little Prius not to sound like a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Which it did when I started it up the next day.
Someone had cased my car, waited for darkness, jacked it up enough to get under it, and hacked away my catalytic converter. All within a few feet of my apartment.
I can only imagine how tough the job was for the poor criminal, on his back on wet gravelly asphalt in the cold drizzle of night, making all that racket sawing metal that should have woke the neighbors–or me. Just for a few hundred dollars in precious metal.
I almost feel bad for them.
No, that’s a lie. Despite my usual empathetic, compassionate nature, I cannot condone their sheer selfishness, taking away my hard-earned (and under-insured) mode of transport. I think it warrants a little ire. I think I could happily have squirted lighter fluid in their crotch and applied a burning match.
Allow me to savor that image for a moment before the guilt sets in…
Empathy and Other Lost Arts
Despite my vengeful imagery, Empathy is important to me. I personally believe that it is the one trait living creatures are gifted with that has the power to save this world. If only we exercised a little more of it.
So, the image of flaming nether regions will remain in my imagination for now (although I’m hoping karma will have its day with that person).
Instead of stepping on each other and one-upping each other to get ahead, we should be reaching out to pull each other up, so we can all get ahead together. I think we will get there so much faster that way, too. It’s a shame so many religions and governments seem to be bent on keeping that from ever happening.
This particular act of local selfishness won’t be passed on to an insurance company, sadly. Since I’ve been doing the starving artist thing, I unwisely decided not to cover my car for damage, thinking it too old and unvaluable. I should have thought a little harder on that.
Moral: If you own an older Prius, get comprehensive coverage. Don’t be an idiot like me.
Ten minutes of shady work turned my trustworthy steed into an overly large parking lot paperweight. A perfectly running car that can’t be fixed, because repairs would cost more than the car is worth. More than I’m worth at the moment.
It still sits out in the parking lot, all cute and curvy, hinting at a nice wash and wax for spring. But all I can envision for it now is being stacked in a junk yard with a few dozen others of its kind, all missing the same part.
I wonder if she’ll miss me. Ugh. I should never name my cars.
When Bad Things Happen for Good
It is a difficult exercise trying to envision something good coming out of this, as painful and undeserving as it feels right now.
But I know from experience, time has a way of showing us that it sometimes takes bad things to knock us out of the ruts and unproductive grooves we get ourselves coasting down for the sake of our comfort zone.
Comfort zones are nasty little life-eaters we think are so lovely, until we look back on them in regret.
Most of us hate change. And yet most of us secretly pine away for something to change. We’re just afraid to do it, or clueless as to what to do to make it happen in the right direction.
So, life steps in.
As a writer who often writes about life, if there’s one thing I’ve noticed it is that Life (substitute Universe, God, guardian angels, wombat spirits, or whatever form they take for you) doesn’t care about Things. Those will be dust in a blink of an eye, from its perspective. Life cares about You. And me. It cares about small actions that make big changes in our history, in our survival as creatures sharing this big blue rock.
It takes action to affect the path of living history. Usually uncomfortable, heroic action, like in the movies we all watch so much.
A Fun Exercise
Go watch any movie. It doesn’t matter which one.
Within the first 15 or 20 minutes, our hapless protagonist is going to have something taken away from them, like Indiana Jones, or Marty McFly, or Luke Skywalker; and this sends them onto an uncomfortable and unwanted path toward Change.
And it always seems to be the change they needed from the beginning.
Why do we love watching movies that do this over and over? I think it is because we all know deep down this is the way our life works. We identify with it. We want it, if only we can be as brave as our heroes on the screen to go for it.
Think about how many real life people they’ve made movies about, whose story started with a small tragedy that began their battle to become who they are now. Tell me on some level you don’t want that to happen to you, too, scary as it sounds.
I believe we all have inner heroes waiting to come out to make our dreams come true, to rescue us from living lives beneath those dreams. And this world we live in is trying its best to help, with nasty little Inciting Incidents, like mine, when we don’t make the effort on our own. I figure if I don’t do something about this one, it’ll be worse next time. Life can be mean when it loves you so much.
Wish me luck. I’m going to need it … and some lighter fluid.
A little memoir piece that came out of someone asking me on Quora: “What was Amateur Radio like when you were first licensed?” and a little story kinda happened…
I was living in rural Pennsylvania, fortuitously in a slate roofed house high on a hill overlooking the tiny town we’d just moved to. I was in high school and shy, and ham radio seemed a cool way for a nerdy girl to get out there socially. The fact that it made me do so in Morse code was actually a motivator, because I was too shy for a microphone just yet. Two meters (handheld VHF radios) cured me of that a while later.
In a rural community, ham radio seemed more a concept than anything else. I think I fell across a CQ or QST magazine in my school library and found out what it was about from that. The kids in my school were too much about Farming and Football to know about it. Once I put it out there I was interested, my parents somehow connected with an older man who knew all the other hams in the area.
I was surprised there were so many in such a tiny town.
One of them was an Extra class who worked for the power company, and had the tallest telephone pole I’d ever seen planted in his yard by his house. He had a deep accent, perhaps Scandinavian or thereabouts (I can’t remember now), a handlebar mustache, a pristine radio setup, and was possibly the best Elmer a 16-year-old could ask for.
He and the original ham loaned me Morse code tapes and then drove me to a late night theory class in the city. It was great. They took me to my first Hamfest (a flea market for hams) where I found an old Heathkit rig, a vertical antenna I planted on a hill behind our shed, and a Morse code key.
By the time the license came in the mail, I was already copying code (practicing decoding a bunch of dits and dahs to letters on paper) from that for a while, before I finally got up the nerve to put out a call in slow Morse. I logged two contacts before my nervousness took over.
That weekend I went back to my Elmer’s and told him about it, and he said, “Let’s see!” And he fired up his rig and pointed the massive beam antenna on top to somewhere noisy. The next thing I knew I was tapping away at my first DX (long distance) contact, in New Zealand! About as far away as one can get on one planet!
My code was so slow that the Kiwi on the other end flicked a switch… I heard a hum, a piano playing in the background, and a lovely down-under accent, saying he couldn’t do Morse that slow, mind if we cross-mode chat? Turns out his son was practicing the piano in the background and his wife was clanking dishes in the sink. On the other side of the world! This was perhaps my best day ever in ham radio.
A few years later I moved from home for a job and joined a local club, which was pretty active and very family friendly. I wish I could find one like that now. I was barely 20, but far from the youngest there, since there were kids as young as 10 or so learning Morse code and having a ball. This club introduced me to Field Days, where we camped in tents out in the woods with generators, and long wires strung up in trees, and took shifts trying to log as many contacts as possible, drinking beer, or goofing off.
The club would also “band” together for antenna parties, where one ham with more money than sense would buy a used tower and a new monster beam antenna (a huge yard-sized “H”-shaped thing) and need help putting it all together.
I found out a scrawny girl didn’t have much to do at these gatherings, with all the men and their wrenches clanking and moving stuff–until they figured out I wasn’t afraid of heights (I actually love them). So when all the tower sections and beam parts were thoroughly wrenched together with lots of testosterone, I’d get to be the heroine of the day and climb to the top of a 200 foot tower and bolt the new thing in place.
I remember all of these middle-aged and elderly men staring up at me looking a little ill, or nervous for me, or perhaps a little embarrassed for not volunteering, while I shimmied up and waited for them to winch the monster to the top. I’d guide the thing in and tighten it up and watch while they tested the rotor (rotating motor–I love a portmanteau). I felt a little like a rock star for a little while.
After that, when the club was looking for a new place to install a repeater (a gizmo that “repeated” our handheld or mobile radios with more power and from a great height a much further distance), they knew who to call. I got to talk to people on simplex (person-to-person) from the top of a huge water tower, legally, just to see how far away I could get people on a little two meter handheld. Everyone on the ground was looking up at me like I was crazy, but it was fun!
I think I’ve bored you enough, but that’s what it was like back when I was a nerdlet. I realize the Internet and cell phones have done a hurting on the hobby since, but if I could find a ham radio club that was more into family fun than survivalist training in my area, I’d probably join them. It’s a shame they don’t realize they’re putting prospective young hams off by being so serious.
It’s amazing how quickly the brain adjusts to intentions when it comes to remembering dreams, as if something deep within us wants us to pay attention to them, and it only needs a little encouragement to make them want to be remembered when we awake.
A Funny Thing Happened …
I love writing dream sequences in my stories. The rules of reality are (for the most part) suspended, but you get to have the fun of making a pretense of them for the sake of creating a story within your character’s mind. A story that tells them something about themselves they need to know to advance the plot in their waking life.
I love this idea so much that it makes me jealous… because I typically don’t remember my dreams. Not a whit. The alarm goes off and, oh, there. Nope, gone.
There are exceptions: Yesterday morning, I was having one of those dreams you sometimes get when things are so intriguing (or sexy) that you don’t want to open your eyes for fear of it ending too soon. Your body is waking up, you realize you’re dreaming, but somehow this doesn’t end it. So the dream actually becomes more lucid, and you want to see it through.
Ever have those? I hope so, because otherwise I’m going to sound silly.
In those situations when you’re already partially awake anyway, it’s not hard to hold onto the memory of them for a little bit once you do open your eyes.
And if by chance you decide to write them down… watch what happens the next morning! It’s pretty amazing.
Why a Dream Journal
From my experience, it seems to be the sheer act of recording a dream that opens the floodgates of remembering more dreams. From memory to hand to paper, this conscious processing of subconscious information seems to be a signal our mind was hoping for, encouraging the process.
Write down a dream and the following day the next dream will be waiting for you, too, just itching to be scribbled in a fat pink journal. It is as if our dreams want to be looked at in the light of day.
I remember when I was living in Hawaii for a year and my girlfriend at the time encouraged not only remembering and recording our dreams, but would help me find the symbols within them and see what they were saying about my internal life, the one that influences how I’m dealing with the world. So I started writing down the ones I could remember when I woke.
Just the action of recording a dream on paper immediately signaled my brain to hold onto them. For my entire time in Hawaii, my dream journal was filled with almost daily entries, some several pages long, with detail that was normally lost to me within seconds of waking.
And then one day it stopped. It was my own fault. My dreams once more became that thing “I didn’t have anymore,” but I knew I just wasn’t remembering them.
This morning, when my phone woke me (I feel sorry for the alarm clock industry with phone apps these days), my dream was right there waiting for me to jot it down. Any day prior to yesterday, the alarm would have sent it flying into the wind of forgetfulness.
I think it is the journal itself, or the promise of it, that spurs our brains to give us this gift.
What We May be Missing
When my Hawaii relationship ended and I moved back to the mainland, alone, my dream journal went silent. Just one of a handful of things I lost motivation for after finding myself once more in my own company.
But I think it was to my detriment that I didn’t keep my dream journaling going. I was missing out on some prime meta-data; some wonderful life stuff I could use to advance the plot of my own real-life story.
Time alone is the perfect time to explore our inner selves, to find what went wrong, and to see what we should have learned from it.
It is pretty common wisdom that regardless of who we blame for the situation, the plight of any relationship is shared equally. And I should have been taking the time to see what my part in the ending of it was–and the beginning. Perhaps only then will I figure out why I keep attracting people who are ultimately wrong for me, despite how right they seem for a time.
Our dreams come from the smartest part of us: our subconscious (the part that doesn’t forget anything, just ask a hypnotist), busy in there figuring us all out.
Perhaps we should grab a journal and listen to it.
Where I realize that working on too many things at once makes it hard to finish any one of them.
So, there I was, blithely flirting with YouTube addiction, looking up videos about storyboarding for my Batteries project (the one with the piranha), when YouTube’s silly autoplay-some-random-video thing started playing this video without warning, titled “The drawing advice that changed my life,” (by Struthless).
Since I’d been feeling a bit stymied by life of late, I was a little curious about life changing stuffs…
Turns out, it’s a vlog by an Australian artist who felt like he was being super creative, but felt “scattered” and not going anywhere despite being creatively active. He had all these ideas and projects, but not much forward motion.
Meanwhile, the guy he was working for and his wife were making a name for themselves making sculptures of a dog and a rabbit in different social situations. The same dog and rabbit each time, sometimes larger than humans, doing something mundane, like drinking coffee together.
You should get the story from the source (at the link above), but the gist of the video for me was … really quite immense. The moment he said the word “scattered,” I realized he was describing exactly how I’d been describing myself for a while, regarding my own creativity: Super busy on lots of things, but apparently not moving much.
Only a minute and a half through a ten minute video, I realized I was dividing my time between so many projects I loved, I wasn’t getting any of them done.
So, mind already blown by this dude talking on a porch, I’m continuing to watch the video for …
He had been whining to his boss/friend that he’d been so creative and busy with so many things, but without the success his friend had, and his friend comes back so eloquently:
All you’re doing is laying a single brick in a million different houses and expecting that one day it will magically become a mansion.
In other words, “scattered”. Like me.
The solution given to him by his more successful friend?
Just draw the same thing over and over for a year.
So the guy picked a thing, in this case a scavenging local bird he empathized with. He would draw this bird over and over … until it bored him. So, sticking with the plan, he decided to keep drawing the same bird, but in different situations, with different messages or jokes.
Before he knew it, he had created a theme, a niche, a character in an ongoing social story. Bricks in the same house. Again, I suggest you get the full story from him, because he tells his story better than I am, and he goes into a lot of the why and how of it.
What it meant to me, as a writer (a kind of artist, I think), is that I was in the same boat and needed a similar solution, which came a little later on, while journaling (personal whining to my future self) about this thing I just realized I was doing to myself.
(I’m hoping I’m not alone in this or I’m going to feel silly talking about it…)
This is going to sound odd (as if anything I write here doesn’t), but it hit me that I need to make the same decisions with my life that I make while creating my characters‘ lives.
What I mean is, asking myself this question, repeatedly:
What decisions from the myriad of possibilities available will move the plot along?
My Real Life’s plot, for my own personal story. Because, whether we’ve thought about it or not, when we’re old and not long for this world, we tend to look back and see that our life is a story, too!
It doesn’t matter if we’re writers, we’re still writing our own story. And when we get to the end, do we want that story to be about a whole lot of . . . nothing?
So, just like with Struthless in his video, it’s down to Decisions:
To decide on a direction means realizing I cannot go in all the directions I want to, chasing all the passions I’ve held onto, simultaneously. Shy of creating my own multiverse, expecting that I can plot my way in all these directions and think I’ll reach one destination is thoroughly unrealistic.
And ultimately doomed. And my subconscious knows this. I’m sure that’s where that feeling of being lost, scattered, hopeless, or unprolific is coming from.
I’m only just realizing this is the feeling of a plot line pausing at a crossroads, with several roads branching off into their own directions. One for each passion I’ve wanted to follow. I get the feeling that crossroad has been there for a long time, maybe since childhood.
And I recognize this feeling from my writing, too! It’s the feeling of indecision while plotting, knowing that if I can’t decide right now I can’t continue writing this story. I’ll have to put it down and try to put the passion and excitement I have for it on hold. This is frustrating. I don’t want to lose that energy and momentum!
The thing is, Real Life works the same: the longer I put off deciding which road to take, I’m taking none of them. Just like with my characters, I’m going nowhere, despite how hard I’m working, because that work is split between too many things.
Meanwhile, while I sit at the stop sign with my motor idling, time is dribbling past like water running into a storm drain. And as I watch, one or two of the many roads before me fade and pop out of existence, perhaps even a favorite one, out of lost interest, or lost opportunity, or out of sheer frustration or hopelessness.
And if I sit here long enough, letting enough time dribble down the drain, all of the roads before me will eventually do the same thing. Damn, my characters didn’t have this problem, did they? Well, yes. They did, actually. Those were the stories I eventually moved into my Inactive folder, with sadness, because I knew there was little hope of opening them again.
Is that what I want for my real life story?
Do I want my story ending without much action, without a hero, or a climax? That’s barely a story at all. No one, not even (insert deity of your choice) would want to write that story for us. What is the point of being born if we waste it on a non-story like that?
No. Despite how far down the road I’ve driven, it seems to me Now is the perfect time to decide on the plot of my own story. To decide on the ending so I can figure out in which direction to go to get there. And then choosing the dream or passion that will propel me there.
Just like a writer must do for their characters.
Making a decision on a direction means choosing only one Life Passion that will take me there. It seems that life–fictional or otherwise–has physics, too, including forces and momentum. Each passion pulls the story in different direction, just like the passions of my fictional characters.
It won’t be easy. I’ve carried some of those passions around for a lifetime, like learning a musical instrument or a foreign language; or traveling the world; or programming the next great computer application, like a fluffier, nicer version of Skynet…
Sacrificing a big fat bunch of my life’s passions, along with the physical debris that goes along with some of them, will probably make me cry–perhaps from relief! All I know is that this RL character needs less weight on her head, and a clearer direction to steer.
The cool thing is, I’ve noticed something about those endings when I’m writing a story:
- Oftentimes the ending I was aiming for turns out to be a miss, and the ending I get is a lot better, because my characters bring something unexpected to the table.
- Sometimes it’s not as good.
- But in either case, I still have a story in the end.
It seems to me real people deserve one just as much as my characters do.