When I decide which voices to listen to (I’m not talking about the voices in my head, here) I want to choose the ones that speak with wisdom – wisdom that’s gained from experience. There’s nothing worse than someone giving you advice when you know very well that they haven’t been anywhere near your shoes, never mind having walked a mile in them. Heck, sometimes the people offering advice don’t even know what size you are, or if you’d rather wear heels or high tops.
My friend Maureen McGowan knows. She’s walked long and hard enough, and has the callouses to prove it:
“In this business, more than most, we get enough opportunities to learn how to accept criticism and disappointment. And over time, for me anyway, it’s become harder to celebrate the good stuff, because it starts to feel like it’s just a matter of time until the other shoe drops. Which makes me feel like such a negative person. And that’s not who I want to be.”
See? What did I tell you? Maureen’s even had shoes drop! She gets it. She’s been there. I know she gets it. So when she talks, I listen.
See, there’s lots of stuff that can get us down. I won’t give examples, you know what that stuff is for you. I know what it is for me. And I know it’s easy to let that stuff keep us down.
But what about the other stuff? The good stuff. Yeah, the good stuff. You know, the stuff that’s not the bad stuff. The stuff that Maureen says is sometimes hard to celebrate because of the bad stuff.
Yeah, we all know what the problem is. Sometimes it’s hard to see the good stuff through the bad stuff, right? Like, for a mild example, if I get five good reviews of my book and then one bad one, which one do I think about the most? Which one rises up and plants itself at the forefront of my mind? Right.
And not only that, but I often have this fabulous way of telling myself that if my good stuff isn’t really good stuff, I mean super good stuff, then how good is it, really? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I compare my good stuff with other people’s good stuff. And then my good stuff doesn’t look so good anymore. ‘Cause to me, well, their good stuff is super good stuff. It’s sparkly.
So really, no wonder it’s such a great feeling to commiserate with fellow sufferers on this long hard road, those who have walked in very similar shoes to mine; to share disappointments, frustrations, and horror stories (And better still, to have the worst one! Because then – ta da! – I’ve got a really good story; a super good story, even!)
But do you know what? If I just stay focused on the scrim of disappointment or hurt or discouragement or fear or whatever, and never (or very rarely) look beyond it, then I run the risk of becoming a negative person. And that’s not who I want to be, either, Maureen.
That’s not to say you or I should ignore our disappointment or deny our feelings of discouragement or hurt or fear. They exist. They are real. They are valid. And it does help to talk about them with people who really do understand where we’re coming from. But those feelings shouldn’t own us. They shouldn’t define us. They mustn’t be allowed to overcome us and get in the way of doing what we want to do, of becoming who we are meant to become.
So what then? How do we not let the bad stuff overshadow the good stuff? How do we avoid becoming a negative person? How, Maureen? How?
By adjusting the lighting. By casting the shadows where they belong. By making a conscious effort, no matter how hard it might be, to angle the spotlight away from the scrim and then flicking the switch on the other side so we can see right through it, right through to the good stuff. (Yes, there is good stuff there. There is always something good beyond the scrim. We might not think it’s really super good stuff, but it is good stuff nontheless.)
And then what? What then?
Like Maureen says, “… celebrate the good stuff!” Celebrate it, don’t just acknowledge it! Invite your friends, take your beat up shoes to the other side for a while, and see how well you can dance in them. You might be surprised. In my experience, shiny new shoes are never as comfortable and freeing as well-worn ones.
Oh, but don’t be disappointed when the music fades and you turn around to see the scrim is still there. No one said it would disappear just because you were off celebrating. Remember, it’s real and valid. It has a right to be there, too. And it may never go away. But in the end it’s still your choice how to angle the light. And how you’ll use those shoes of yours.