It’s OK to close doors in life

I wrote recently about dreams and that sometimes it’s just impossible to reach certain dreams and goals. Well, that’s tied in to other conclusions I have drawn about my own life. I’m in my 40s now and still have plenty of good years ahead, very likely, but I’m not 20 anymore. And I’m really generally OK with that: more than OK, really — I’m happy with where I am and wouldn’t want to go back to those early years of adulthood.

I love to write, and I love to read. I’ve always wanted to have a book published, and when I was in my late 20s, I wrote a memoir that was just a series of vignettes about my experiences raising my first child. (Now she’s a senior in high school, a stage in life I never could imagine in those long, early days.) I worked on it and worked on it, and I wrote dozens of revisions of query letters and mailed out hundreds to agents and some publishers. I kept all those rejection letters in a file folder and just went through them again, more than 10 years later. I don’t think I’m ready to toss them all. They’re somehow a reminder of the work I put into this goal, and how dedicated I was to achieving it.

Even so, I never acquired an agent or got a traditional publisher to take on the work of publishing my magnum opus. Not too surprising; getting memoirs published is nearly impossible. So, after a few years, I decided to self-publish. I really did my homework and made my product the best it could be without completely breaking the bank. I found a printer and had 2,000 copies printed. The day they were delivered, I had 20 white boxes full of my pretty pink books sitting in my living room, a testament to my optimism and, probably, stubbornness.

bye-bye booksI sold 200. And through two moves, one all the way across the country, I have kept all those remaining boxes. But now I am ready to get rid of most of them. I accept I’ll never sell them. I don’t think they’re my best work anymore. I’ve evolved as a writer. And they might just be too cutesy for most people. So, all these years later, some are being donated to the local book sale, and the rest are going to the recycling bin.

I realized a while ago I’m probably not meant for fiction, either, though it is easier to get published (I’ve tried writing some and I like the results even less than I like my memoir now). I think I’m too much of a journalist after all these years to write stuff completely out of thin air. So, nonfiction seemed still the best way to go. I thought that I’d develop my series of articles about plastic surgery in Utah into a faith-based book on self-image and beauty. I worked on it for a year. I sent it in to a good publisher for our faith community. Two months ago, my chapters were rejected. The company wants to publish a book on that topic, but my manuscript isn’t quite the right fit.

I’ve also now decided it’s time to put that book on the shelf for good. It was a good experience and I learned a lot from it, but I’m done with it. I feel it’s time to move on.

It’s time for me to focus on what I’m truly good at, and that’s editing and helping other people with their writing. I’ve been editing for newspapers for years, and I can say with all honesty that I’m very good at it. More than that: I’m excellent, really talented. I’ve always wanted to get into editing manuscripts for book publishers, and it seems I now have an opportunity to get a foot in the door for that goal as well. So I’m going to take it, go for it, put my time and efforts into that. I’m ready to move forward.

That means I’m closing the door on the book writing, at least for now. New doors may be opening, and I have to close the doors on the old stuff behind me first. I only have so much time and energy for career-oriented goals in my life, so I have to focus on the real opportunities and let go of the old dreams. Besides, this is a dream, too, just a different one. Watch me turn the knob to see where this door takes me.

How much should we really say ‘anything is possible’?

I’ve thought about this idea a lot, but seeing this little article reminded me: “Do we really want cartoons telling our kids they can do anything?

Now, I haven’t been thinking a lot about the idea in terms of cartoon or movie themes, but the media portrayal of this concept is one facet to consider. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen motivational posters, pins, memes, etc. online or somewhere out and about that say something to the effect of, “If you work hard enough, you can do anything you can dream of!” In the case of this article, it addresses the related but even less likely trope, “If you dream it and believe hard enough, it can happen.”

I don’t believe either one is right, true, or even healthy. Let’s just think about this: how many people do you know of who dreamed of being NBA stars or actors? How many of them actually achieved their dreams? My husband played basketball in high school and was pretty talented. Problem: he’s only 5’8″. I think there have only been a handful of players in the past few decades of NBA history who have been that short. So my husband still sighs sometimes: “If only I’d been taller.”
I also happen to know a couple of people personally who became actors. And they’re not even particularly well known. But they are making a living in the movie business.

pie in skyI’m in no way saying we shouldn’t encourage each other, particularly children and teens, to dream big. But at the same time, we’re doing them a disservice if we tell them “all they have to do” is believe hard enough or work hard enough and their dreams will come true. Because in reality, those kinds of pie-in-the-sky dreams don’t usually come true for most regular people. Even those who dream of going to a particular university (which isn’t quite as lofty or nearly-unattainable) quite often can’t, no matter how talented or hard-working they may be. Sometimes we may try and try and work really hard, but things just don’t fall into place; there are mountains in the way that we simply can’t climb over or move.

Even as I write this, I must clarify that I’m an optimist. I love to encourage people and to shoot for the stars myself. But I’m also midway through my life, and through personal experience and plenty of observation, I know what reality tends to be. What the odds are. Sure, we hear of stories of people who “beat the odds.” But the nature of “the odds” is that one person is the exception to the rule, while the rule comprises a million others. Only a few win a million bucks in the lottery; the rest lose lots of hard-earned cash.

Let’s still encourage each other and young people to work hard, to do their best, to dream, to envision futures that will please them. But let’s also help them to shape goals and futures that are realistic, that have a touch of “dream” to them but still a good chunk of attainability. Because don’t we want more people to really be able to achieve their goals and find that glowing, wonderful satisfaction in reaching that star, even if it’s still in our own galaxy?

My resolution? Not to make any resolutions

I triumphantly announced a couple of days ago that I’d managed to check a couple of major items off my to-do list. Rather than being excited for me, my husband countered, “Well, are you going to add any more things onto the list?” Sadly, he knows me all too well.

2013I am a type-A personality, capital A. I have always been goal-oriented, planning and working for the future. That personality served me well in school, leading me to be valedictorian of my high school class and earn a full-tuition scholarship to my desired university. Since then, it’s not been quite as useful, at least in day-to-day life. In fact, it’s probably downright detrimental when raising children. ‘Cause honestly, it’s pretty difficult to get things done efficiently when the house is full of children. They do not care that I have a list of things to do. Their raison d’etre is to prevent me from doing anything for myself, having any quiet time, or reaching goals.

Even so, I don’t know any different way of doing things, so I forge through every day with kids, taking care of them and squeezing in my goals and to-do’s and trying to think straight in the moments they’re not asking me for something. It’s like swimming upstream in molasses. But since I am so programmed to check things off a list, I just keep swimming, regardless of how thick the water is.

So making resolutions at the beginning of a calendar year is completely pointless. One, I make goals (aka resolutions) every single day. I simply CAN’T HELP MYSELF! Two, I’m already so busy with the goals I’ve already set for myself that coming up with new ones simply because it’s January means I don’t have time to work on the new ones; I barely have time for the old ones.

Therefore, I am resolving to not make any more goals, at least until I’m caught up on the lists that are scribbled on scratch paper on my desk, on the yellow sticky-note program on my computer desktop, and the ones that just crowd my head. Perhaps I can demote myself from a capital-A type-A personality to a lowercase-a. We’ll see. That’s the most grandiose resolution I’ve ever considered.