Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When Enough Isn't Enough

I've been unhappy several times the last couple of months. More than several times, actually, and every time I feel myself succumbing to despair, I also feel guilty. "Buck up," I tell myself. "Why are you so sad? Is it because you're still struggling to achieve your lifelong dream? Oh, wait, you already did that."

Now don't get me wrong--I'm absolutely thrilled that Steve is getting published. But with Clyde still on submission, I've transferred all my worrying to him: "Yep, it's gonna stink if, after everything, Clyde still doesn't sell. You may have succeeded in the past, but you'll probably fall flat with this. And that's gonna drive you crazy, isn't it? That's gonna ruin everything."

Do any of you watch Frasier? I've probably seen every episode two, three, maybe four times, and one of my favorites is when Frasier is the subject of a focus group. He's a radio psychiatrist who hosts a daily call-in show, and in this episode, his station puts together a focus group to critique his program. Frasier watches from the other side of a one-way mirror, but the mirror probably isn't necessary. Eleven out of twelve participants give him glowing reviews. But the twelfth participant is less enthusiastic. He doesn't say anything negative, but he doesn't say anything positive, either. Eleven out of twelve people absolutely love him, but Frasier can't stop thinking about the one guy who (sort of) didn't.

Afterward, Frasier tails the twelfth participant to the man's newsstand and literally begs him for feedback. He's certain he can win him over if only the man will tell him what to fix. Finally, the man admits he just doesn't like Frasier, and through a series of mishaps, Frasier ends up burning down the man's newsstand.

I read this article the other day on this same phenomenon (as well as this article and this one, which the author linked to in her post). I found myself nodding the whole time, because this is exactly what I've been feeling lately. No matter how many things I have, I always seem to fixate on the things I don't (even when what I have is pretty great). I agreed with everything they said, but it was what they didn't say that rubbed me wrong.

All three authors seemed to think this lack of contentment was okay.

Well, maybe not okay so much as inevitable. This is just how writers are, they said, so we just have to accept it and move on. But I don't think it's good enough to say that this is good enough. We're ALL like this to some degree, writer or no, ambitious or not, but it's not okay to roll over and chalk our weaknesses up to human nature. I truly think we're here to become more than what we are.

I'm not there yet, but that's my goal. I want to learn how to be happy with the things I have, how to ignore that awful voice inside my head that tells me I'm not good or smart or brave enough. It's a lesson I've been trying to learn for quite some time, as you can see, but I'm not giving up yet. It's not over until the end.


Tracey Joseph said...

Lovely post, Krista ! I feel this way every single day, though I do try to remind myself that worry is a misuse of my imagination.

It's one of my new favorite quotes.

Mim said...

When I get down like this or have a negative thought--I've made it a point to list three or four things that I'm grateful for. I was always worried and discontent, and I often struggled with depression. I'm not perfect now, but since I made a conscious effort to stop and replace my negative thoughts with positive ones--it's easier for me to stay positive and I don't have the same amount of discontentment that I used to. I totally get where you are coming from.

Jessie Oliveros said...

I believe we are here to become more than what we are, too. Finding happiness with where we are (in writing and real life) is challenging, but happiness can't always be put off.

Shallee said...

I'm sending you BIG hugs because I so needed this today. And yesterday. And for pretty much a month. I'm doing my best to find happiness where I'm at right now. There are moments where I have that, and I'm trying to make those moments last longer!

Rosalyn said...

Oh, Krista. I'm sorry you're dealing with this--but I'm so glad you've posted about it. I think it's easy to feel, locked away in our writing caves, that we're the only ones who worry about not being successful enough.

If you find the key to being happy despite all the worries, please let me know!

Lorena said...

Krista, this is a very interesting phenomenon that I've been thinking a lot about lately. I don't think it's exclusive to writers, I think it's part of the human condition. We always want more. First, we want to finish our novels. Then, we want to get an agent. Once we have the agent, we want a contract. The happiness of achieving every step only lasts for a little bit and then we get an anticlimactic feeling and start looking for the next "high." I think understanding this nonconformity as a part of all of us, is what will eventually make us realize that we must stop and experience happiness at whatever stage we're in. Like someone said above, the only way to fight this feeling is to make a conscious decision to focus on what we do have. (I know, it's easier said than done, but it works sometimes). I want to watch Frasier now. :)

Jenilyn Collings said...

I haven't seen that episode of Frasier, but it sounds hilarious. I certainly know how he felt, though! I tend to ignore any good feedback and fixate the on the negative. But I'm working on that.

I'm sorry things have been rough. Let me know if you ever need cheerleading or whatever. :)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Tracey, that's a great quote! Not at all surprised it's one of your favorites.

That's a great coping strategy, Mim. I suffered through a bout of depression in high school, and it's really amazing how insidious those negative thoughts can become.

You're absolutely right, Jessie--finding happiness where we are is so hard. It's really one of the great quests of life.

Solidarity, Shallee. If you ever need to chat, feel free to get in touch:)

Rosalyn, reading those articles made me realize that this syndrome never goes away. If you're prone to it now, you'll be prone to it no matter how successful you are. I suppose it's great that life gives us a chance to practice when the stakes aren't quite so high:)

Well said, Lorena, and so true. I've met people who have next to nothing, and yet they're deliriously happy. It's because they've figured this out.

You're a good friend, Jeni. That is all.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post. I think we all feel this sometimes, both in writing and in life in general.


On the flip side, no ambition or discontent means we're pretty much dead! My husband just wrote a post about the importance of doubt in our lives and art. In his immortal words, "doubt is what separates people like us from all the assholes out there." So it's a balancing act for sure. I guess it's the degree to which we let ourselves be unhappy. You don't want to be too perfectly content though--that might make you some kind of Barbie-Stepford-Zombie!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

So true, Natalie. It's a never-ending battle, isn't it? (And thanks!)

Good point, Heather. If you never doubt yourself, you'll never grow and get better, and with no drive, you'll probably never get around to sticking your butt in that chair. Like you said, it's definitely a balancing act, because looking at my own life, it's also not healthy to obsess about the blank spots on your resume. That's what I need to figure out how to do--not obsess:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your honesty in your blog. Sometimes we need signs like this to awaken us to the goodness in our lives. We take things for granted way too often . . . the best is yet to come for you :-) Keep looking up!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Lovely comment, Jamie. Thank you. (And you're welcome:) )

Tara Dairman said...

This is such a good post, Krista. I don't have a solution, but something small that has helped is trying to celebrate everything good that happens in my writing life, no matter how small. Not only does it make the moment itself more enjoyable, but that way when I look back, I'll have tastes and experiences to associate with my accomplishments, which helps them feel more real. Does that make sense?

Melodie Wright said...

Oh my. I hear that voice all the time. ALL the time. And to counteract it, I just walk into the library and look at all those books on all those shelves.

Even if my book gets there, it's just one book. One story among billions. Does it have the potential to change a life? Will it even make someone's life better? Probably not.

Don't get me wrong. I'd still like to be published. But in the end, what really matters is if I was a good mom, a strong teacher, a kind friend, someone who loved to the best of my ability. That's it.

All the other stuff is just a distraction from what we're put on earth to do, I think. :)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Love that idea, Tara. I often put off celebrating, but I shouldn't. I should enjoy each little step along the way. (Also, why am I not surprised to hear that celebrating equals tasting in your book? :) )

Awesome comment, Melodie. Perfectly said.