Setbacks. We all have them and, strangely, they like to cluster together and dog pile us at once. The trick to setbacks is to adjust our perspective of what happened and use them to to make us stronger, wiser and grittier.
You might not believe me, but instant success is not always good for us. There is something about the process of learning and doing and failing and starting again and again even when we want to give up that is healthy. In fact it is vital for any kind of long-term achievement.
I know because I’ve encountered my share of people who were promoted too soon, beyond the scope of their abilities and far past the strength of their character. And it ended badly every…single…time.
Growth is a Process
All human growth is a process. It has steps. We skip steps at our own peril. Everything we are doing is training for something bigger. If we get the promotion too soon? We are going to be ill-prepared for the dream.
And this is what I want you guys to keep in mind when you face setbacks.
There are all kinds of stories of folks who won the lottery who then ended up bankrupt. Stories of athletes or musicians or actors who got promoted too fast too soon before their skills and character could develop. We even have writers who by some fluke, saw vast success with a book only to never be able to duplicate that lightning in a bottle.
Don’t get me wrong, this is sort of like the whole “Money can’t buy happiness” line. I sure would love my chance to test that theory 😉 . And instant success? Would love me some of THAT. But since instant fame and fortune are not the norm, and since I assume most of you have no desire to be flash-in-the-pan-successes…
We must learn GRIT.
Today I want to talk about the three most common types of setbacks and what they can teach us if we are open to the lesson.
Setback #1—The Judas Kiss
E tu, Brute?
I’m pretty sure anyone who’s lived longer than a few years has been through a betrayal. And not just any betrayal. The one you never saw coming.
Writers are emotional creatures. Our art springs from our heart and if our heart just got rammed through a Vit-A-Mix? It’s really hard to focus. Maybe it was a writing partner who bailed halfway through the novel you were co-authoring together. Maybe someone in your personal life took major advantage of you and you’re reeling from it. Maybe you got majorly screwed over at work.
Thing is? It happens. And it is never ever pretty.
I’ve been through my fair share of betrayals, but guess what? We can cry and whine and feel sorry for ourselves or we can use it. I just absolutely love the song “Fighter” by Christina Aguilara regarding betrayal:
‘Cause it makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little bit harder
It makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making me a fighter
Made me learn a little bit faster
Made my skin a little bit thicker
Makes me that much smarter
So thanks for making me a fighter
Humans are flawed. Many come with baggage (and not just carry-on). The only way to avoid ever being hurt is to isolate ourselves, but then we are deprived of the many wonderful people out there who can and will make excellent friends and partners.
The same fire that will boil out the users is the same fire that will also reveal the gold around us.
If I hadn’t been through four other crappy writing partners who totally flaked? I would never have found my current gem, Cait.
So yeah, just expect that knife in the back. As you get older and wiser it does happen less frequently and hopefully we will get to a point it never happens. But the blunt truth is risk and reward are related and so it can still happen to the wisest among us.
Just expect it, plan for it and learn to roll with it.
Setback #2—You Just Aren’t Ready
Most of us have been there as writers. We have worked and worked and edited and polished and we think THIS! THIS is the book that will make it…only to realize we still have no idea what the hell we are doing.
Before the digital age, becoming published was a very slow, private, and painful process. Most aspiring writers remained just that.
The process of querying and being rejected and rejected and rejected…and rejected again weeded out those who were not truly committed. It forced us to get better, to go to conferences, to take classes and try again and again.
Thus, by the time we actually were published (if we made it that far) the book was actually pretty decent. Granted there is no accounting for taste (so I am not claiming everything NY published was better than unicorn tears), but when we compare the books published 15 years ago against this modern era where publishing is instant and no gatekeepers are required?
Vastly different quality.
And before anyone shouts me down, I am an indie. I love many indie books and think some of the best writers of our time are not traditionally published. But we ALL have seen the books that probably should have had more work before being offered for sale 😉 .
Here’s the deal. Some writers still are not ready even once “published.” Maybe we need to write more books to become better storytellers. Maybe we write great books but we just do not have a platform/brand that can drive sales.
Hey, my first book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media was an excellent book. It was groundbreaking and desperately needed. But, my first royalty check was good for a dinner at Chili’s. I didn’t have a solid platform yet. I hadn’t built my brand enough.
In short? I wasn’t ready. And the reason I mention this is, what if I had gotten discouraged and given up? What if I hadn’t just faced this setback for what it was? I needed to grow.
Sometimes we need outside help to see if we are ready and where and how to grow. My mentors did it for me and now I pay it forward to you guys.
This is why I am offering my favorite class Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages. Instead of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, sometimes those outside professional eyes can help us work smarter, not harder. I am offering two upgrades where you get me ripping through your pages to help you get better. I am a master at taking out little darlings 😉 …
Setback #3—Burning Bridges
Ah, the burning bridges
Now there are two types of burning bridge situations. In one? We hold the box of matches. Maybe this is when we decided to quit the day job to write full time. We are in control of said bridge burning.
But then there is the other scenario.
This is where you go over the bridge to maybe pick up some nibbles for the family and stretch your legs…and you come back to your bridge ablaze with no way home.
I’ve been here, too. This might be the job loss you weren’t expecting, or a death or an illness. In my case, I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy thereby ending my career in corporate sales. I had no choice but to sink or swim. Only after I’d lost everything was I willing to dare to pursue my childhood dream.
I mean, why not? I had nothing left to lose.
I would love to say I was always that evolved when I faced this, but I wasn’t. I spent a year crying and in depression that I was a failure. Bemoaning my lost career and whining so much I couldn’t even stand myself.
It wasn’t until I quit crying over my burned bridge that I could harness the freedom it gave me. I had no way back and nothing left to lose. It made me much braver than I ever would have been with some kind of a safety net in place.
And trust me, this is probably THE most terrifying of all the setbacks, but we have to make a choice. There is no un-burning the bridge, so the only thing we can control is our attitude. So cry, call a prayer hotline, gripe in my comments and get it all out…then dig in. Sometimes the only way out is through.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever had a betrayal SO bad you thought you wouldn’t make it? Did it make you better? What did you learn. Do you struggle with knowing if you are ready? Have you ever attempted something too soon? What did you learn? Have you ever had a bridge blow up on you? I want to hear your stories!
And remember next week at W.A.N.A., we are starting that Master’s Class series with Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg so make sure to get your spot!
I love hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
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