“It’s Only Scary Because It’s New”

I just did something that was not objectively scary at all. No rational person would think so.

Yet for me it was slightly terrifying. I’ve been putting it off for years because I knew it would scare me.

But I’m not into being limited by my fears, so today I did the thing.

And the whole time, I repeated a line in my head that I heard last weekend in a movie called The Internship, written by and starring Vince Vaughn. It was a sweet and funny film and I ended up watching it twice over two days. Obviously I recommend it.

The plot of the movie revolves around Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson entering a summer internship program at Google. When they first arrive on campus, they’re a little lost, and Vince suggests they ask for directions from the person in this car going by. Only there’s no one in the car. It’s self-driving.

For a brief moment, both men stand there in shock. But then Vince turns to Owen, slaps him on the back, and says, “It’s only scary because it’s new.”

And isn’t that true? About so many of the things we’re afraid of? Until we’ve done it once and can see what it’s about, we put it off and fear it and avoid it. At least I do.

Or at least I did. I’m actively working to let go of that habit.

So thanks, Vince. I needed that. I needed it over and over this morning on a loop inside my head.

Maybe some of you out there could use it, too. Because maybe this is the summer you do whatever that thing is for you.

Be brave! It’s the most fun way to be!

And remember, you can always decide to do the thing now and schedule your fear for sometime later when it’s more convenient.

Come on, gang. Let’s do this.

“Embrace the Suck” In Action

Yes, I’m still here. Why haven’t I posted anything new this week? Because I’ve been embracing the suck for the past six days, finally cleaning my office for the first time in 7 years.

How do I know it’s been 7 years? Because the stuff I’m throwing away is at least that old. Some of it is from 2001. Don’t judge me. I’ve been busy. I’m sure you have been, too.

What finally pushed me to get going and stop just letting it hang over my head was showing my messy office to someone who was visiting me this past weekend. I never show my office to anyone. It would be like showing someone a scab you’ve been picking at for 7 years but refuse to go to the doctor to treat. It’s embarrassing and you know you have no excuse for not doing anything about it, but … you know. Reasons.

Anyway, bless her heart, this friend, instead of saying, “Oh my gosh, it’s worse than I ever could have imagined,” just looked at the situation and said, “Huh. Maybe if you moved those boxes…” That was all. Not, “Maybe if you rented a backhoe” or anything else that might sound reasonable under the circumstances.

So on Sunday, after posting that post I linked to above, I moved some boxes.

And ever since then I’ve been moving boxes and tossing and purging for hours every day and night.

It’s as big of a job as I knew it would be. That’s why I’ve been putting it off.

But I know if I just keep going until I’m finished, even if it takes me another week (which it very well might), I will be happy and satisfied and DONE. Done for at least the next 7 years.

Maybe you need a nudge from someone, just like I did. (Thanks, Bethany!) So allow me to be that nudge: Psst. Just move some boxes. Just throw into recycling that stack of magazines you’re never going to reread. How about boxing up all those lovely books you’ve been storing forever and will never reread, and taking them to your local library branch to donate? Someone else will be so happy to have them. I’ve been doing all this and more. And every day I feel better and better.

Good luck. It’s a big job, whatever your own massive cleaning and purging job is. I empathize. But we can do this. In fact, it’s a kindness to ourselves to do this.

Even though it will, it all honesty, suck.

Embrace it and let’s go!


How To Psyche Yourself Up for Whatever Your Next Big Thing Might Be (Part 1)

Here are the categories I’m dealing with lately: planning a new backpacking adventure. Planning a new book series. Planning another new series in a whole new genre. Which right now equals about 15 new books. I’m not even kidding.

And this morning it was starting to feel a little . . . daunting. As in, Can’t do any of them, just have to sit here and think about what I want to do.

That kind of stupor that could easily go on for days.

But I’m going to approach it a different way this time. Because recently I heard a great talk from outdoor adventurer (and mother and wife and owner of my favorite outdoor store Summit Hut) Dana Davis.

Dana has hiked up Mount Rainier. That right there qualifies her as badass. But she’s accomplished many other physical feats, and is currently training for her first Ironman triathlon, even though as she tells it she has bad knees, bad ankles, can’t run, isn’t so hot at either biking or swimming (I can’t remember which)–clearly not ideal when you’re going to be doing all three for miles and miles in one day.

But somehow that sounds fun to Dana.

And that fun is infectious. While it’s possible that some of the people in the crowd the other night might have thought to themselves, “Dang! I’m going to Ironman it, too!” I have the feeling they reacted the same way I did, which was to take Dana’s lessons about training for something hard and think about how we might apply them to some of the upcoming challenges in our own lives.

I think my favorite piece of her advice was this: Embrace the suck. Recognize that somewhere along the way you’re going to have to deal with a certain amount of discomfort, pain, and unhappiness. But if you recognize that ahead of time, really reconcile yourself to it, then when it shows up you can calmly tell yourself, “Yep, here it is. I knew it was coming. Here’s the suck. Let’s keep going.”

What’s “the suck” for me? There are times in every single backpacking trip when it’s as if I turn to myself and ask, “Did you really think this was fun? Are you really doing this on purpose?” Because mountains are high, trails are long, lightning storms scare the crap out of me, mosquitos bite, dogs roll in human feces (don’t get me started on people not properly disposing of their turds), and things just plain go wrong. That is the nature of outdoor adventures. Of any adventure, really.

I see it with my book adventures, too. When I set out to write something new, I know the time will come when my hands will feel like claws from typing for so many hours at a time, my brain will feel completely exhausted and empty, and yet the drill sergeant in me will try to force me to keep going even though all I really want to do is take the day off and watch Pixar movies. There’s a reason why The Incredibles exists. It is there to restore the worn-out brains of adults all over the world.

In a few days I’ll be posting Dana’s full list for psyching yourself up and preparing for something big, but for now I just wanted to whet your appetite for the whole thing.

Until then, you might want to reread a few earlier posts (that’s right, to psyche yourself up for the next big post. See how it works?):

How To Know When It’s Time To Make a Change In Your Life

Becoming the Possible You

The 100 Things You Keep Meaning To Do

Deciding To Worry About That Tomorrow

Stay tuned!

It’s The Feelings That Endure

When I was doing research for my novel REPLAY, which deals with near-death experience and reincarnation, I underwent hypnosis and past-life regression at a workshop with Dr. Brian Weiss, author of Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives.

The experience was amazing, cool, and a topic for another day. Or for a speech like the one I gave last week to a great group of librarians, explaining how that past-life regression was exactly like my memories of my childhood librarians. If you’re a great group of librarians, I’ll come tell you, too.

But the short version is that what I learned during that past-life regression is that it’s the feelings that endure. Not specific faces or long scenes with dialogue, but the feelings you experienced at various moments in any given life.

That’s why I love this beautiful little film dramatizing part of a speech by author George Saunders. As George points out, it’s our own kindness–or lack of kindness–that sticks with us in this life.

I think you’ll like it. Take a look:

For Those Of Us Who Think We Don’t Like Math

Math is on my mind lately as I wrap up the Parallelogram series. (Yes, Dear Readers, Book 4 is coming! There are just so many words.) I, like my main character Audie in the series, enjoy quantum physics but do not enjoy the math. Or, to put it less charitably, cannot do the math.

But I can’t help wondering if I would have had a completely different attitude toward math in school if I’d had a teacher like this. Or at least seen a demonstration like this. Because there’s no doubt Arthur Benjamin makes math FUN. (Although no matter how fun it is, I still think there’s no way mere mortals could do what he does.)


This Is What Is Possible (Part 3)

This commencement speech by Neil Gaiman about carving out a life of creativity is one of those things I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time, but never seemed to get around to.

Which is why we need people who say, “Here! Look!” and send you the link. Thank you to author and illustrator Guy Porfirio for being that person for me today.

And now I get to be that person for all of you. Here! Look!

Embracing the Incomplete

Back when I was practicing law, I had a sign hanging in my office that said: Perfectionism is an elegant defense against real life.

I kept a separate note inside my desk that read:  If I don’t win your case, I’ll eat a bug. I leave it to you to decide how those two things matched up.

(And for more adventures of being a law student and lawyer, you can read my lawyer romance LOVE PROOF. It’s lots of fun.)

The issue of perfectionism haunts a lot of us. We’re never quite there. Wherever “there” is. And sometimes that feels like a moving target.

It’s why I was interested in this TED talk by Sarah Lewis about success versus the “near win.” About success versus mastery. I loved her stories of artists and writers who knew their work was never complete, but who put it out there anyway. (Or who ordered their friends to burn everything after the artist died, but too bad–friends hardly ever obey those crazy wishes.)

It’s why even though I know some of my novels aren’t perfect, I still let you read them. Because I like the stories and want to share them with you, even though sometimes when I look back at them I might wince at this line of dialogue, that awkward scene, some weird way of putting something that at the time I thought was cool. Oh well. I did my best. And I’m going to keep moving forward and write the next one, rather than constantly mess around with one I’ve already “finished.”

Which is my way of saying that if you don’t love every single word I write, that’s okay–I probably don’t, either. But overall I’m happy with the idea that you and I sat around a campfire one night and I told you this story from start to finish. And we had fun. There were marshmallows. And then the next night we moved on to some new story instead of me saying, “You know last night when I told you the girl in the story’s name is Rose? It’s Giselle instead. And that part about her hating her mother? Forget it–her mom died.” Etc. Etc. BORING. Move on. We already got to The End on that one–give me something new.

With that, I give you Sarah Lewis and her talk “Embracing the Near Win”:

This Is What Is Possible (Part 2)

I found this through Upworthy.com–a great site I highly recommend.

Last week it was what was possible as an 80-year-old. Today we’re going quite a bit younger:

The 100 Things You Keep Meaning To Do

You never know when you might “accidentally” be inspired in a very large way by a stranger you meet at the dentist’s office.

We were both early, waiting for our cleanings, I was reading a book and she pulled out her knitting. I said, “Oh, isn’t that so relaxing? I used to love knitting.”

“It’s like a meditation,” she agreed.

“I only know how to knit,” I said. “I never learned how to purl.”

“You could take a class,” she suggested. She asked what part of town I live in, and told me about a knitting store nearby.

And that’s when it got interesting.

Because she told me that for the past few years, she’s made a point of taking classes in all the things she’s ever wanted to learn: ballroom dancing, horseback riding, knitting, etc. But here’s the key: she fully commits to learning whatever it is, but only for one month. And at the end of that month, she moves on to something else.

Back up for a second. I’m familiar with Life Lists. I made one for myself about fifteen years ago, listing all the places I wanted to go, the new skills I wanted to learn, the other changes I wanted to make. It’s why I finally ended up writing my first novel. And also seeing a real Broadway show, learning martial arts, going on a Jane Austen tour in England, and all sorts of other interesting things.

But this woman, Danetta, took the Life List concept and made it better. Simply by putting a time limit on the things she was going to try.

She started the way a lot of us do, making an exhaustive list of absolutely everything she’s ever wanted to do and to learn and all the different trips she wanted to take. After that “brain dump,” she had a list of about 100 items. Big things from exotic travels to little things like getting a pedicure. Anything that sounded interesting or fun made it onto the list.

Next she organized her list into several categories: Health & Fitness; Travel; Friends & Family; Home; and Personal Growth/Learning Adventures. (I love that term learning adventures!) Then she made herself a schedule.

She knew if she wanted to try as many things as possible during the year and still give herself sufficient time to enjoy each activity, she could commit one full month to whatever she wanted to do. Twelve new activities every year, and they could be from any of her categories.

So one month she might tackle some home project she’d been meaning to do, and the next month she might take Czech lessons or hike as many miles as she could.

In the Friends & Family category, she made a list of all the friends and members of her extended family that she wanted to see more often, and made a rotating schedule of lunches, holiday gatherings, and other ways she could guarantee she kept in touch with all of them throughout the year.

In the Travel category, maybe she couldn’t take a big trip that particular month, but she could do all the research for it: look up airline prices, look for hotels, study a little of the language if she were going abroad.

And if it turned out at the end of the month that she had had her fill of a particular activity–like reading the Classics (because face it, a little of The Iliad and The Odyssey goes a long way)–she could move on knowing she had done it, tried it, and could check it off her list.

But if it turned out to be an activity she loved, like writing a novel, she could add it to her life more permanently.

It reminds me a little bit of Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. The difference is that Gretchen picked themes for every month, like working on her marriage, being a better parent, learning to have more fun in her life, and then worked on the whole category. I prefer Danetta’s strategy of choosing just one item on her list and really devoting herself to that. It seems easier and more doable.

And you just gotta love that whole short-term commitment thing. Get in there, try something in an intense, concentrated way, then move on. Yes, please.

I’ve done something similar by pretending every summer I’m sending myself to summer camp. I pick a few skills or crafts I want to try–like learning archery or how to make fire from scratch, or taking a beginning drawing class–and that’s something to look forward to when the temperatures here reach 117. At least I can go play at something for a while. Preferably somewhere that has air conditioning.

This summer I’m going to learn how to make lotion from scratch. I’ve already found a bunch of instructional videos on YouTube, and that will be my project for July. I might also take a sewing class. Who knows? I haven’t exactly decided on my themes for camp this year.

So there’s some inspiration that I’m happy to pass along to you. And it comes at a great time, since we’re about to enter a brand new month. What do you want to do with the remaining 8 months of this year? If you create your own list of everything you’ve ever wanted to do and try and learn, which 8 things could you start giving yourself right away?

And as always, if not now, when?