Don’t Feed Your Discontent
Back when I was in my 20’s, I went through a phase in which I was extremely unhappy with my looks. My hair, my face, my weight, my clothes — nothing was right. I was buying more expensive makeup, going on fad diets, and spending too much money on clothes in the attempt to feel better about myself.
One day I had an “aha” moment when I realized I was feeding myself a steady diet of fashion magazines like Glamour, and entertainment magazines like People, that featured an endless array of “beautiful people” who would always be prettier, skinnier, and more fashionable than I (and who, in fact, didn’t really exist except as a product of endless Photoshopping). Deciding to give up my magazine addiction, I noticed a substantial improvement in my self-image over the next several months. The difference was striking and left a powerful impression on me, and I’ve been hyper-aware of insidious, unrealistic influences in my life ever since, avoiding them when possible.
I learned an important lesson: We can identify the things that are causing us to be less than contented, and eliminate them. I’ve used this lesson to make other changes, such as:
→ After joining Costco, I realized we were buying more and more junk we didn’t need. Simply shopping in that store gave us the discontent of not having the junk that was such a good price! I stopped going to Costco ten years ago, have never missed it, and have probably saved thousands of dollars.
→ I used to be highly involved in the parent-teacher organization at my kids’ school. But it was always a combative environment, and while the goal was ostensibly to improve the educational experience of the children, nothing was ever accomplished and everyone was always unhappy. I quit my involvement (finding ways to help the school without attending those meetings) and as a result, my satisfaction with the school increased.
There’s a reason I’m giving you these examples. I think we all can stand to ask ourselves if there are ways we can increase our day-to-day satisfaction by paying attention to things that feed our discontent, and eliminating them.
For writers, my observation and completely unscientific conclusion is this:
The #1 cause of writer discontent is talking to other writers.
Ironic! Talking to other writers is also the most helpful way to get support, encouragement, and knowledge about the industry. Nevertheless, a large percentage of the problems writers have are from either,
(1) comparing themselves with other writers, or
(2) getting inaccurate information from other writers, or
(3) hanging out in writer loops or chatrooms where discontented writers are venting their woes.
If you’re unhappy with something in your writing life, ask yourself: Am I comparing my sales to those of other writers? Am I comparing my experience with another writer’s experience? (Remember, everyone’s path is unique.) Am I upset about something another writer told me, without having any objective verification of its truth? Am I paying too much attention to the complaints of unhappy authors?
It’s crucial to avoid comparison, and set your own yardstick for success. Your path is not going to look like anyone else’s.
Are you wasting valuable time and energy ranting about the unfairness of the industry, or the difficulties of getting published, when you could focus elsewhere—on writing for instance—and be happier? Are you worrying about things you can’t control instead of focusing on things within your sphere of influence?
While author loops can be terrific forums for high-minded discussion, too often they devolve into complaints and “piling on,” where everyone feeds everyone else’s dissatisfaction.
If you’re experiencing discontent about your writing life, what can you do to stop feeding that? Is there anything you need to eliminate?